Toward the end of February, Bothell city manager Jennifer Philips gave a state of the city address at a Bothell-Kenmore Chamber of Commerce meeting. During the speech, she talked about what the city had accomplished in 2019 and what it was looking forward to in the year ahead.
But now that COVID-19, the disease resulting from a novel coronavirus infection, has turned into a full-scale pandemic, cities worldwide are having to adjust as new health mandates change by the hour.
In Bothell specifically, all city buildings are currently closed to the general public, with many of its services offered remotely. Utility payments have to be made over the phone or online, with a grace period for late payments now in place. The permit application process is entirely online. The police department has stopped doing fingerprinting for now.
All public meetings, classes and meeting rooms are canceled through April (though the city aims to have virtual council meetings beginning on April 7 via WebEx); park restrooms have been closed; reservations for picnic shelters and sports fields are prohibited for now; and the city’s municipal court has stopped its day-to-day operations.
With so much put on pause, one might wonder which of the city’s primary goals and projects for 2020 are being most affected — and how much of what was discussed in the February state of the city address is now subject to change.
In an interview with the Reporter, Phillips said that right now, the city is focused on how it is responding to the virus and how to make sure the community and city staff members are safe (the vast majority of city employees, she confirmed, are working from home).
“We’ve been in truly an emergency response mode,” Phillips said.
She noted that because the city has been predominantly looking at what to acclimate to and how to best react to changing concerns, Bothell officials are still trying to find a time to sit down and look at which of its priorities of 2020 and beyond are likeliest to change most.
“The good side is things are still being produced and work is still happening,” Phillips said. “But the overall major projects — all major agencies are all being affected by this — we’ll have to figure that out. I don’t have an answer as to what those are going to be and what the delays are going to look like. We just have not been able to have a moment even to start to think about that.”
She said that at this point, a big worry is what the financial ramifications will be for the city once effects of the coronavirus have decreased. When the city put together its 2019-20 budget, it had identified a structural deficit, which occurs when expenditure growth outpaces revenue intake.
“We knew that difficult decisions were going to have to happen in the coming years,” said Phillips. “So when we look at putting together the ’21-22 budget together, the city is going to look at some very serious financial challenges. And they are now amplified by what’s happening in the economy. We need to recalculate our revenue projections for sales tax and really look at what we’re going to be able to afford in the delivery of services to our community. For us, for me, that’s a major issue that’s coming now as we start to prepare that budget. This will absolutely have a financial impact on the city and on the community.”
She said that the city of Bothell is worried about its businesses, too. Currently, Phillips said, the city has an economic development manager working to contact businesses and connect them with resources and offer any support that it can. It is also working collaboratively with the Bothell-Kenmore Chamber of Commerce. But the proactivity comes with its limits.
“There’s so little we can do when businesses are literally closed down by state order,” Phillips said. “There’s not much we can do to help them except support them and stay in contact with them and hope that they can make it through this challenging time.”
Phillips said that the city is working “very hard to communicate” to its residents not only which resources are unavailable due to coronavirus concerns but also what external systems are best applied if a matter cannot be addressed by Bothell officials. Phillips added that the city is looking into how it can provide utilities relief.
The city manager voiced an appreciation for the community and how it has been dealing with the crisis.
“Quite frankly, the community’s been great,” Phillips said. “They’ve been really great. We’ve gotten great questions. They seem very understanding, and we appreciate our community and how well they’ve responded to this, and had a good attitude.”
Phillips reiterated the city’s dedication to its residents.
“We’re just working really hard for our community,” she said. “The teams [are] working really well together, [the] councils are very engaged with what’s happening and we have a great deal of concern and care for our community. And I think we’re making good decisions.”