OCEAN SHORES — Anticipating major revenue losses to the city as businesses feel the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, on Thursday, Ocean Shores Mayor Crystal Dingler announced layoffs and cutbacks affecting some 50 jobs, about half the city’s staff, with cuts spread among all departments except for Police and Fire/EMS.
Nine full time and eight part-time positions will be subject to layoffs and 33 others will have their hours reduced. The action takes effect May 2, because the city is required by Teamster union contracts to provide employees with 30 days notice of any layoff or reduction in hours. She said the city intends to eventually restore the jobs affected.
The seaside town is heavily dependent on tourism and was about to start its busy season. Dingler said the slowing of some city revenue streams has already begun, with things like building and lot clearing permits on hold and reductions in some other service-related revenues.
“The shortfall is happening now. Are we in dire trouble? No. Will we be? Yes, if we don’t take action now, if this continues for two or three more months, or if it comes back in the fall,” she said. The big impacts, drastic reductions in lodging and retail sales tax revenues, have yet to hit but obviously are coming soon. She noted that, last month, Ocean Shores was beginning to emerge from its usual winter slowdown, but as the pandemic spread and the state and the city responded, the area quickly “became quieter – even worse than midwinter.”
Three months into her third term as the city’s chief executive, the mayor noted that, “it’s only been five years since we came out of the recession, when we had to lay off a whole lot of people. We just don’t want to do that again.”
Dingler told The Daily World that, in some instances, “there is truly somewhat less work.” For example, the library and convention center are closed, although convention center staff have been preparing a couple of hundred free meals daily for distribution by Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) volunteers to needy folks who cannot or don’t want to get out.
Permitting and planning are significantly curtailed and “we have a number of departments that are closed, they’re not accepting new business, or they’re not dealing face-to-face with people,” she explained.
She also said a number of planned projects are being put on hold, such as many street repairs — “not the $400,000 of road work we were planning, just emergency repairs.” Some scheduled maintenance will be pushed back and work on the High Dunes Trail “will not be getting done this year.”
The city also has begun a hiring freeze, with the exception of two police department positions and one at Fire/EMS that they have not been able to fill for several months.
Dingler wrote in her announcement, “These drastic measures were felt necessary in these uncertain times to protect the city’s ability to continue providing services and to protect the employees’ long-term interest in their jobs as much as possible.
“Our employees are vital to the effective operation of the city, and we understand that this is a hardship for them and their families. Certainly, we hope that the shutdowns due to the virus will end quickly and full business activity will be restored. The reality, however, is that we simply do not know yet what the situation will be this spring or summer. We also do not know, even if we beat the COVID-19 now, whether some variation of the virus will come back in the fall.
“… The city’s intent is to restore employees to the same hours they served prior to the COVID-19 cutbacks, as services such as the library, convention center, permitting, and planning resume full schedules and usage, and as we resume utility services at the previous high levels of operation and income.”