Louisiana mayors including Lake Charles express urgent need for federal aid

Published: Aug. 19, 2020 at 8:14 PM CDT
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LAKE CHARLES, La. (KPLC) - Leaders of several communities across Louisiana are expressing concerns about the financial impact of the continuing coronavirus pandemic.

Several Louisiana mayors participated in a virtual meeting hosted by the Louisiana Municipal Association and National League of Cities Wednesday afternoon to discuss COVID-19′s impacts on essential services--including fire, emergency response, law enforcement, education, and utilities.

“In short, our municipalities are one disaster away from a disaster...with hurricanes looming this fall, our members have no cushion to absorb additional disasters in the community,” said LMA Executive Director John Gallagher.

The press conference included mayors from across the state of Louisiana – including the mayors of Ruston, Woodworth, Lake Charles, and Kenner – to discuss the unique challenges their municipalities are facing due to the ongoing pandemic and why stalled negotiations in Congress must resume in order to help communities in Louisiana recover from the economic downturn caused by COVID-19.

“If you would have told me in February that we would be where we are today, I wouldn’t have believed it,” said Mayor Nic Hunter.

During the virtual meeting, Hunter gave an updated forecast on the city’s budget.

“It seems like the hits and punches keep coming but we’re rolling with them,” Hunter said. “We expect our sales tax revenue to be down anywhere from 6 to 2 percent. Our gaming revenue, we expect to be down 10 to 15 percent.”

Those figures amount to an almost $8,000,000 shortfall for the City of Lake Charles, which at one point held the title of highest per capita COVID cases in the country. Mayor Hunter said he doesn’t consider the deficit a complete loss due to the fact that there were no cuts or furloughs to city jobs.

“We did not have to layoff or furlough employees We did hiring freezes and shuffled around employees,” Hunter said.

Having felt the financial pinch of the virus, all leaders on the call said they're not begging for a handout... but stand united in the belief that more help should come directly from Washington.

“Not to talk bad about my state, I just know from experience that when it goes through the bureaucracy, we lose part of the money and we need to have every penny of that we can get our hands on to go back to some normality of business,” said Woodworth Mayor David Butler.

Wednesday’s virtual roundtable coincided with the announcement of a bipartisan bill designed to assist small communities experiencing financial hardships due to coronavirus. Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy co-sponsor the Coronavirus State and Local Financial Assistance Act, providing $500 billion in grants to state and local governments to offset lost revenue.

Local leaders hope the bill will be included in the next coronavirus stimulus package making its way through Congress.

The CARES Act, which passed in March, set aside billions for state and local governments but there was a population threshold meaning only 38 major cities across the country were eligible for that relief.

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