With the coronavirus hurting tax revenue in Southwest Washington, Clark County is now pitching Gov. Jay Inslee to let construction start back up again.
County officials say the county budget is being “aggravated” after Inslee deemed construction a non-essential service nearly two weeks ago, as part of a systemic effort to slow the outbreak.
With work halted, the county faces a loss of sales tax revenue and budgetary strains.
“The near complete shutdown of our construction industry and loss of revenue in Clark County is dire,” reads a letter addressed to Inslee.
Clark County Council approved sending the letter on Tuesday by a 4 to 1 vote. Councilor Temple Lentz was the sole no vote.
Councilor Julie Olson said the council agreed to send the letter because the county leans heavily on construction. She said the county already struggles compared to other counties because people can easily shop in Portland.
“Thirty to 35% of our sales tax in Clark County is related to construction activity,” she said. “When that construction is shut down, that just amplifies the issues we have with sales tax issues in Clark County.”
Construction has not stopped in Oregon either. Gov. Kate Brown's "stay home" order allows it as long as crews maintain social distancing guidelines and other executive orders.
Olson added crews could similarly get back to work without spreading the virus in Washington.
“We would expect these folks would get back to work using social distancing and safety guidelines that are already in place,” she said.
Clark County is beginning to feel impacts to its budget. According to an email Interim County Manager Kathleen Otto sent to county staff on Tuesday, the county has frozen hiring, halted projects, canceled overtime pay and will no longer hire temporary employees.
“The challenging times we find ourselves in will continue, and that will have a big impact on the county’s finances,” Otto wrote.
The county's situation echoes that of its biggest city, Vancouver. The city's financial experts project about a $30 million loss as it takes a hit on sales taxes, utility taxes and fees to its recreation centers.
Money from sales taxes have grown in Clark County in recent years. From 2014 to 2018, the county has seen sales taxes go from $39 million in 2014 to $54 million in 2018, a 38% jump.