Bisbee Wire #8

editor: fred miller            April 20, 2020           #8 April/2020


Hello,


So soon we meet again...There are some cracks beginning to show in the economy as some of the reports below indicate. There are very difficult decisions to be made by city administrators, some in the absence of reliable information. They are going to be doing some guestimates simply because of the unknowns. One of those decisions,in the form of a sales tax increase will be made on Tuesday. For reasons mentioned below I think it should be removed from the agenda and more information about potential impacts be disseminated before the council votes on something that affect our pocketbooks.


fred


CharlieParker is 20 pounds on the way to 60. He has trained us to sit, bark when we want to come in, and come when he calls. He lets us sleep through the night mostly. It is very tiring. He is very cute.



BISBEE ECONOMY

High season in Bisbee...it is easy to find parking in OB and sidewalks are open.  On the other hand the Safeway parking lot is full. Merc on Main, 23 Main, has closed their business and sold the building, something in the works before the Trump virus. Art awakenings has vacated their space at 50 Main. 

It won't be clear for a couple months how many other businesses will close, but suffice to say there will more. It will be interesting to see how many landlords will be willing to work with their tenants to help weather the recession.


House Sales

Housing sales remained surprisingly strong in March given dwindling visitation and the beginnings of the lockdown. I think that perhaps some houses that were sold in February were reported in March as they closed.  (I hope to get clarification on this) There were 11 sales for $1,738,500. Average sale was $158,045 on the market for 128 days. Compared to March 2019 (10/$1,081,500/$108,150/114) number of sales were about the same, but the average price was about $50k higher while days on market were a bit less. Going back further to March 2018,which was anemic in comparison (5/$700,000/$140,000/186 as was March 2017 (7/$931,500/$133,071/197).

The past two years March, April, May, and June have typically been strong sales months for houses and it will be one of the main things to watch for economic weakness.  On-the-ground sales could be mitigated by the growth of online sales and looksees. I do not know how much of a factor that is in Bisbee, but it certainly has been in larger cities.

There were two commercial buildings sold in the past two months.


Building Permits

There were 40 building permits issued in March, eight commercial and 32 residential. Because the dollars per job are not broken out, I guessed that the commercial permits were  about $20k and the residential about $403,893. So residential activity proceeds apace to the housing market with vigorous remodeling and upgrading as evidenced by the number of permits (not concentrated into a few large projects). Commercial activity continues to be stagnant. Although in the next couple months we may see an uptick because two commercial buildings sold recently.


Retail Sales

(If you remember these reports are for actual sales two months ago and are always two months behind the report month.)  Bed tax, Hotel, and  restaurant/bar collections were down significantly compared to this period last year (I can attest to that our January was mediocre) however retail was up about $11k.


When is the shoe going to drop you might ask? It already has and we will see it in May reports which will be for March sales.  (There is one caveat because Safeway, Ace, B&D, generate significant sales revenue and they seem to be less affected by the slowdown, so retail may not show as significant a drop as Main St. would indicate. Hotel and OB retail have dropped to almost nothing last half of March and April because of closures due to the sequestering.)


To get some idea of what is ahead, I've looked at sales data for a year ago for several months beginning in May/19  which is (March) actual sales.

Retail May (March)/$78,559...June (April) $75,945...July (May) $80,039

Restaurant bar May/$40,659...June/$41,847...July/$33,076  three months total

Hotels May/$14,089...June/$13,608...July/$10,888

Bed Tax  May/$10,460...June/$9,686...July/$4,712


Three month totals

Retail $234,543

R/Bar $115,582

Hotels $38,585

$388,710 Total taxes went into the general fund/2019 for that period

Bed Tax $24,858 (does not go into the general fund, but funds advertising/viz center)


If the City has a shortfall of even 50% of last years taxes for 2020 May, June, July that would be almost $200,000 the City will lose in revenue just in sales tax. The actual figure is likely to be much higher.

This is one of the reasons you are seeing the council being asked to put a 1% raise in the sales tax on the ballot. The City is losing substantial revenue


Visitation

City statistics were not kept or at least not retrieved the first half of 2019. In Fall of 2019 a contract was let to Dog/Cat/Mouse media company to market the city as well as compile social media and visitor stats. Visitor Center (at the mine tour) visits were not kept or not retrieved so there is nothing for 2019/20. However, we have Visitor Information Office (VIO now the official visitor center) since July/19


If one wanted proof of the negative impact of not having a Tourism Director from jan./2019 through Sept/2019, take a look at the stats. It takes a while to rebuild momentum after not posting on various social media for nine months. After all we are in competition with many other cities for visitors and while they were putting their best views forward, Bisbee was silent. The effects of not posting are almost immediate illustrating the importance that social media has assumed for travelers over the past few years. 


VIO visits comparison of the last six months of 2019 to last six months of 2018, visits were down almost 200 people per month.

Visitation continued to fall Jan-March of 2020 to comparable period in 2018, 3049/20 to 5844/18. March/20 figures begin to show the effects of sequestration, visitation is down about 2000 visitors from March of 2018 & 2017.


The number of newsletter subscribers has increased about 66% to 6144 from 3637 in 2018


Google Analytics are used to see who is using the city’s tourism website, discoverbisbee.com. Use is down. Some of the reasons for this could indicate a switch in the use of electronic information gathering devices-computers/laptops/ipads-to phones, a lack of interest in Bisbee, a change of source information (websites vs social media), and stagnant or outdated information on the website/no fresh content.  Comparing Jan/Feb/March/2020 with the same period in 2018.

  • the number of website users has decreased by about 4000

  • the number of sessions on the site has dropped significantly

  • Page views have decreased by about 20,000

  • The amount of time spent on the site has decreased about one full minute from 3:20 to 2:26

  • Average age of visitors to the site is 65+

On the other hand, Facebook ‘likes’ as well as ‘engagement’ the first three months of 2020 have increased by about 3000 a month over the comparable period in 2018. The ‘reach’ declined during this period with March falling dramatically (6631/20 vs 11,478/18). The age range of facebook users was 35-44.


Twitter followers has remained about the same, about 1400, and seemingly is being used less by the marketers.


Instagram followers have increased by about 1000 over the past 18 months. The number of posts have increased by about 100 in that same period. The app continues to attract the 25-34 age group.

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

Regular Council Meeting Tuesday April 21 7:00

In-person audiences at Council meetings have been suspended. All meetings are online on Facebook. If you have a comment for call to the public or a specific agenda item, you may send an email and it will be read to the council and into the record by a staff member.


Meetings of the City Council are streamed here:

Facebook.com/COB118Arizona

Comments can be emailed to:

publiccomment@bisbeeaz.gov


Background here:

https://www.bisbeeaz.gov/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Agenda/_04212020-333

Of Interest:

#4, 5 designation of Saginaw and Zacatecas Canyon as Colonias, the first step before applying for community development block grants.


#8 Making a 1% sales tax enacted in 2014 permanent (due to sunset). This will NOT raise the existing sales tax. This would go on the November ballot.


#9 Increasing the TPT (sales) tax 1% dedicated to essential services. This WILL raise the existing sales tax. This would also go on the November ballot if council approves. If passed this increase would take effect in March of 2021. (Tax proposals can only be voted on in a general election.)


This resolution would raise the Bisbee sales tax to 4.5%, and overall it would be 10.6%. Bisbee would have the highest sales tax in Cochise County, the 7th highest sales tax in the state, and would be one of 14 cities, out of 97, with a sales tax of more than 10%.

I suspect this 'ranking' will change due to increases in sales taxes in many cities because  all cities in Arizona are facing the same problem; decreased sales tax revenue.

Sooo this is very tough decision for the city's administrators because of all the unknowns.


Anyone who says they know what is going to happen economically the rest of this year is just guessing-some more educated than others. Sequestration might be easing in the next month or maybe not for several months. Will crowds be prohibited? If it does ease, will people have dough to spend? If they have it will they spend it or be hesitant about spending, as is happening in China? Supply chains have been seriously disrupted so it will take some time to reestablish production. And if there are fewer consumers, that is less workers to produce for a smaller market. How many factories and white collar businesses will close or are moving more quickly into robots and AI. Are there enough immigrant workers to pick ag crops? Schools are closed and then it is summer and that has/will hurt the dairy industry already disposing of millions of gallons of milk who knows where.(What is going on with Minnesota based Riverview dairy in Sulphur Springs, are they dumping milk?) Perhaps people won't travel because of legitimate or illegitimate fear about contamination and tourism won't bounce back for a year or even two. Or maybe they will travel because of pent up demand. All of these and many many more questions impact Bisbee.


I do not support this tax as it is written.There is not enough information and there is no sunset. It is not clear the City is looking at this as a stopgap measure or something permanent.

However if there was a one year sunset and the public was provided with spending scenarios....

But sales taxes fall disproportionately on poor, fixed income, and working people; a large part of Bisbee population. That's not good. It is a real quandary; continuing services at the same level by taxing residents or living with reduced revenue and cutting employees and services. Stark choices.


My suggestion is to remove this from the agenda for this meeting.  Get a group together to chart out various economic scenarios and put that information out to citizens. And then, after some feedback, if it still is feasible, put a resolution to the council in the May meeting that has some particularity. That would be the business-like way to proceed-gather info, synthesize, evaluate, then make a decision.


The council and citizens need to know what can and can't be done financially. There should be financial projections to see what would be the impact of the proposal.  There are no figures attached to this proposal. There is no 'if this/then that'  scenarios. There is no elucidation about sources of money within the budget that might be used to make up for the precipitous drop in sales tax revenue.


As mentioned above, the City will likely lose a minimum of $200k in sales tax revenue and, if conditions continue, that could rise to as much as $500k or more in the coming months. I'm not a budget maven but I think there are some maneuvers that could replace the lost revenue such as using some of the $2 million from the city hall fire insurance, perhaps taking some enterprise funds into the general fund. I thought there was a 'rainy day' fund, but don't know where to find that in the draft budget. As you can tell, I don't know what can and can't be done legally.


All of this and more needs to be spelled out by the Treasurer and City Manager.It is poor policy for the council to vote on this before the budget talks.  When the administration asks the council and then residents for a tax increase we gotta have information.

&&&&&&&&&&&&


AGENDA

INVOCATION:  A Moment of Silence                       

PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE

MAYOR’S PROCLAMATIONS AND ANNOUNCEMENTS:

CALL TO THE PUBLIC

THE FOLLOWING ITEMS WILL BE DISCUSSED, CONSIDERED AND/OR DECIDED UPON AT THIS MEETING:

GENERAL BUSINESS:

1.        ACCOUNTS PAYABLE:  Subject to availability of funds

2.        Approval of the Consent    Agenda                        

A.     Approval of the Minutes of the Regular Session of Mayor and Council held on March 17, 2020 at 7:00 pm.


NEW BUSINESS

3.        Public Hearing and Discussion and Possible Approval of Resolution R-20-10; Regarding the Community Development Block Grant Set-Aside Funds for Fiscal Year 2019-2020 to Select a Project and Submit Application.

Theresa Coleman, City Manager 

4.        Discussion and Possible Approval of Resolution R-20-07; Designating the Saginaw Neighborhood as a Colonia.

Theresa Coleman, City Manager

5.        Discussion and Possible Approval of Resolution R-20-08; Designating the Zacatecas Canyon as a Colonia.

Theresa Coleman, City Manager

6.        Discussion and Possible Approval of a Park, Facility, and Right-of-Way Use Permit for the Bisbee Farmers Market for the use of Lower Vista Every Saturday from May 1, 2020 through December 26, 2020 from 7:00AM to 2:00PM; this includes set-up and breakdown.

Theresa Coleman, City Manager

7.        Discussion and Possible Approval of Resolution R-20-09; Approving Application for and Possible Administration of Grants Written by Volunteer Grant Writers.

Theresa Coleman, City Manager

8.        Discussion and Possible Approval of Resolution R-20-05; Submitting to the Electors at the General Election of November 3, 2020, a Proposition to make permanent the Transaction Privilege Tax levied by the voters in 2014 dedicated to Streets and Infrastructure.

Theresa Coleman, City Manager                               

9.        Discussion and Possible Approval of Resolution R-20-14, Submitting to the Electors at the General Election of November 3, 2020, A Proposition to Permanently Increase the Transaction Privilege Tax by an Additional One Percent (1%) Dedicated to Essential Services. 

Theresa Coleman, City Manager

10.    Discussion and Possible Approval of an Agreement for Airport Operations Manager and Maintenance Services.

Theresa Coleman, City Manager

11.    Discussion and Possible Direction to staff to schedule a Work Session for Easements.

Theresa Coleman, City Manager

12.    Discussion and Possible Direction to staff to mitigate Sewer Cost and to possibly eliminate late fees and interest on all accounts during the stay at home order.

Theresa Coleman, City Manager

13.    Possible Approval of a Motion to go into Executive Session for the Purpose of Discussion and Consultation with City Attorney to provide legal Guidance on pending maters. 

14.    Update on the Harris Litigation to include defense costs due from the City.

James Ledbetter, City Attorney

15.    Discussion and Possible Approval of a Notice of Intent to Adopt Ordinance O-20-06, Authorizing the Acquisition or Exercise of Interest in Real Property Located within the City of Bisbee.

Theresa Coleman, City Manager

16.    Discussion and Possible Approval of Notice of Intent to Adopt Ordinance O-20-07, Authorizing the Acquisition of Real Property Located within the City of Bisbee. 

Theresa Coleman, City Manager

17.    City Manager's Report:

·         Draft Budget

·         Grade Plan

·         MOU with Fire Department

·         Other Current events (No Discussion)



COUNCIL COMMENTS OR FUTURE AGENDA ITEM SUGGESTIONS: (Council members may suggest topics for future meeting agendas, but Council will not here discuss, deliberate or take any action on these topics.):


·         Councilmember Pawlik would like to comment on the possibility of reopening the Farmers Market at Vista Park.

ADJOURNMENT:




City Budget hearings 5:30 April 27, 28, 29  5:30

Draft Budget here:

https://www.bisbeeaz.gov/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Agenda/_04272020-332

 

I took a very quick look at this and hope to do more. Some quick takes with the understanding that some of these figures came in before sequestration took effect, and will be adjusted, some radically...

  • The total General Fund budget is $7,649,308

  • PSPRS payments for the police dept are up $51,000 (maybe due to overtime for Stonegarden?) and the Fire Dept are down $22k,(fewer personnel?) whatever the total is $1,460,939. And that is 19.1%, almost 1/5 of the total general fund budget. Since those payments are mandatory and the City can do nothing about them, it reduces the general fund budget to $6,188,369.

  • Sales tax revenue is projected to increase $130k to $1,830,000 which seems  optimistic.

  • Advertising/marketing for the city is $34,000, up $1000 from last year but down about $17,000 from previous years. If Tourism is going to come back this figure has to be adjusted upward. (There is no dollar projection for the last four months of FY21 when the 2.5% bed tax increase, if passed by the voters, will take effect and should bring in about $20k-$40k depending on visitation.)

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