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BY KYLE MOOTY firstname.lastname@example.org
May 24, 2020
Among the biggest losses Enterprise expects from the economic shutdown during the pandemic are
the lodging taxes and the gas tax.
BY FRANCIE BAKER/THE LEDGER
Enterprise is hardly like the town in the Jim Carey movie (The Truman
Show) with a giant dome over it, but due to certain demographics and its
location, the city has survived better than many during the COVID-19
The pandemic was only a couple of months before businesses began to
reopen. While there have been economic casualties, Enterprise is hoping to
get back on track soon.
The most telling statistic comes out around the first of June when Avenu Insights and Analytics (previously RDS) releases its tax returns collections to the city.
The city has not made cuts, yet has cut back, particularly on travel expenses. However, there haven’t been any new hires.
City Council member Turner Townsend said the council and Mayor Bill Cooper will know a lot more when the tax collections are reported.
The March collections reported the first of May were still ahead of March 2019, although not as strong as February 2020 was to February 2019.
“The hard shut down happened late March, so April was pretty much an entire month of shut down,” Townsend said. “We knew our revenue from lodging would be way down. Walmart and Lowe’s sales continue to be strong. There were certain things strong such as anything grocery and home-improvement type stuff. Is it enough to make up the lost revenue of some businesses that were considered non-essential — that’s not my term by the way; I hate non-essential — I doubt it.
“Let’s face it, small businesses in Enterprise do not have a large online business. Some went to practically zero. The mayor has commented to us about tightening of the belt. Our largest expense is our debt service and payroll. If things continue on trend it looks like we can hit our budget. We’ll know a lot more in a couple of weeks.”
Walmart’s online sales went up, during the crux of the pandemic, even taking a portion of Amazon’s online sales.
Cooper said the main focus is “keeping everyone safe,” but he knows there will be some economic shortages that will need addressing.
“The motel and tourism taxes are down, but everything else seems to be working well,” Cooper said. “Fort Rucker is here, so that helps and we do have a little shopping here from people in others areas.”
Dothan has been hit much harder due to the absence of shoppers coming to its city and beach traffic. At any given time, Dothan has about a quarter of a million people in its town during the daytime. That was not the case during the pandemic as beaches in Florida were closed as well as many local shops and restaurants.
Enterprise will be most drastically hurt with lodging and gas taxes, but Jonathan Tullos, executive director of the Wiregrass Economic Development Corp., said it’s not as bad as college towns like Tuscaloosa or Auburn which have been without students. In fact, the former Enterprise students that have graduated in the last several years and were normally away at college were presumably in town, which actually benefitted the local economy. Also, the Department of Justice placed a travel ban so Fort Rucker personnel stayed in the area.
None of the above will completely make up for lost revenue due to the pandemic, but it will certainly help off-set some of the losses.
“If we had to shut down in November or December it could be worse,” Tullos warned. “That’s when most retailers make or break their year financially because of Christmas sales.”
Decisions will be made in the coming weeks following the April tax return report.
“We don’t want to stop treating the water, the sewer, and cut police officers or maintaining our roads,” Townsend said. “We do have surpluses from previous years. Is this long-term economic downturn? It’s a little premature to say that right now. We’ll be getting into our budget sessions soon. Hopefully, April was the worst of it.”
Meanwhile, Enterprise and the immediate area have a large veteran influence, and those have already sacrificed a lot in life.
“It comes down to what kind of life you want to live,” Tullos said. “People have personal responsibilities such as washing their hands and other things, but I should have the right to choose; the government shouldn’t overreach. They’re not there to be a pastor or involved in every decision I make. Can they decide if I want to drive a purple car?”