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Berlin looking at virus impact on city’s budget

SALEM — Mayor John Berlin said it’s too early to know the total effect all the business shutdowns will cause to city coffers, but he’s expecting the city to lose some income.

The city relies heavily on the 1 percent income tax taken out of the paychecks of people who work in the city through income tax withholding. That tax pays for many of the operations people rely upon through the general fund, including the police and fire departments. The city also has a .25 percent additional income tax that’s strictly for improvements to streets, alleys, sidewalks, parking lots, curbs and storm sewers and can’t be used for anything else.

“The city will recognize a decrease in operating income from withholding. We’ll have to talk about making adjustments,” he said, but added there may be a lag in the timing.

Berlin said he and city Service/Safety Director Ken Kenst have already been looking at the capital budget and the city could look at changing the tax split to put more of the income tax money into the general fund.

For now, the city government is continuing to operate with the doors to city hall closed and staffing to a minimum for social distancing. His administrative assistant, Debbie Bricker, is working from home and so is Planning & Zoning Officer Chip Hank. Housing inspectors are on call and the auditor’s office has been rotating personnel. Berlin and Kenst are alternating taking the calls at city hall. The street department is working with half of the personnel on and half off and keeping contact to a minimum.

Many people are working from home or on call and many people in the community are out of work right now.

Berlin also serves as president of the Salem City Health District Board by virtue of his position as mayor and said the health department is trying to keep the people informed.

With the stay-at-home order in effect now, he said he’s referring any phone calls he receives from companies or businesses to the health department, especially for questions about who’s considered essential.

City Health Commissioner Lynle Hayes said she did respond to some complaints Tuesday about companies still operating, but a lot of the companies showed in the order where they do provide something essential that’s exempt from the stay-at-home order.

However, she said there were some valid complaints about the social distancing rule being violated due to social gatherings in workplaces.

She spoke to the companies about their responsibility to their employees to provide a safe work environment, stressing the social distancing at shift change, during lunch and breaks and at the lockers. She suggested they stagger lunches and breaks, maybe have some workers eat in their vehicles. If people are all out together on a smoke break, they shouldn’t be standing together socializing.

“If employees are ill, they don’t work,” she said.

For the most part, Hayes said, “I didn’t have any problems. People seemed to be really compliant.”

Citizens can read the stay-at-home order and all the latest on Ohio’s fight at coronavirus.ohio.gov.

mgreier@salemnews.net

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