Business in Worthington is slowly coming back to life after being shut down for months because of the coronavirus pandemic. Orders from Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and public health officials closed many businesses and canceled large public gatherings to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
As the city eases into a new routine, local government officials continue to plug away at running the city, as they did during the entire pandemic.
Most city employees who were working remotely have started to come back into the office. Community meeting spaces, such as the recreation center, have reopened with new guidelines. However, things have not returned to normal and might not for a long time.
Financially, for instance, the shutdown and stay-at-home orders made a substantial impact on the city’s bottom line.
“Approximately 70 percent of our income comes from income taxes,” said Matt Greeson, city manager for Worthington.
In May, the city saw a reduction of $712,000 in income tax receipts, he said, and they are expecting a loss like this in June as well.
“We are hoping receipts will pick up in August and September, but we don’t think it will be able to offset all of this loss,” Greeson said. “We also have seen an estimated $350,000 lost in parks and recreation membership.”
As a result, the city has put a freeze on the hiring of all nonpublic safety positions, as well as pushed back a variety of capital improvements projects.
Despite this financial loss, city staff has come together during these tough times to continue to serve residents and put polices and procedures into place to protect residents and staff in case there is another outbreak.
When the outbreak started, Greeson guided his staff to begin taking precautions quickly.
“We were fast and creative and came up with unique ways to work, while making safety a priority,” Greeson said.
“We did virtual building inspections, moved as many employees as possible to work at home to avoid spreading the disease, forwarded office calls to our home phones so no calls were missed and moved city council meetings to virtual meetings.”
For departments such as fire and EMS who couldn’t work from home, the city created protocols to protect these important employees. This included securing more personal protective equipment and opening a substation at the community center so all first responders weren’t working out of one building. The benefit of this was that if a first responder became infected with COVID-19, he or she wouldn’t infect all the city’s first responders.
Some of the changes the city enacted they are still continuing and others they are slowly phasing out. Right now, the city is continuing to have virtual City Council meetings. However, in July they are going to discuss potentially moving those to in-person in September.
“We have reopened the community center with modification including scheduling a time to come in,” Greeson said.
“We also have spread out equipment, have screens protecting staff at the front desk and are ensuring members are social distancing when they come in.”
The community center’s indoor pool is not open and the outdoor pool operated by Swiminc Inc., also is closed for the summer. The parks and recreation department also has not reopened activities such as preschool and summer camp, although playgrounds and other outdoor facilities did reopen in mid-June.
Greeson said while most employees are working in the office, managers have allowed some to continue to work at home and will allow them to do this for the foreseeable future.