The Missoula Parking Commission outlined its budget losses this week, prompting concern from committee members over how and when the losses could be addressed if the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
With a decline in downtown visitors for the months of July and August, the parking commission lost $4,300 – an income reduction that amounts to around $73,000 over the same months last year.
According to Jim Galipeau, an accountant for the parking commission, this was one of their better months. Other months this year have experienced far more significant losses, he said.
From March to August, according to draft documents, the commission has sustained a net loss of $206,000. In April, it lost $171,000 and in May, losses amounted to $119,000.
But the commission, which helps maintain and provide parking and parking alternatives in the downtown district, reported revenue gains in March and June. In March, it netted more than $30,000 and in June, it collected more than $56,000.
In an August commission meeting where the June amount was presented, Parking Services Director Tiffany Brander said it was “definitely not where we are used to being or where we need to be, but at least it’s not in the red.”
The months where it is in the red primarily stem from reduced revenue with less people parking downtown and paying the accompanying meter fees and other parking fees. For July and August, the commission’s income from operations decreased 35%, from $244,900 for the months last year to $160,000.
Board member Joe Easton expects the rest of the fiscal year for them to be met with net losses, even with relatively good numbers for July and August.
“I’ll state the obvious. These are pretty sobering numbers. And yes we had in context a pretty good August,” Easton said. “However, we are losing between $33,000 and $85,000 in just two months of our operation. It’s not as simple to say we will lose that much every two-month period going forward for the rest of the fiscal year, but we are going to be in a loss.”
Easton said that while the commission has a “hard earned” million-dollar “cushion” to absorb these losses, it’s still a “pretty dramatic absorption” for it.
Committee members mentioned looking at existing expenses and see what cuts could be made in a budget that has already been tightened to meet expected revenue reductions for the year.
“We can’t control revenue. And, unfortunately, I do think the expense side of the equation is where we need to focus on this circumstance,” council member Pat Corrick said. “Unless there are other ways we can look to manage revenue, I think we have a fairly tight window of options to do that through.”
Committee member John Roemer said he’s uncertain how many more cuts the parking commission can take while keeping up the same level of service.
“I’ve watched over the last year our parking commission team keep the doors open. I don’t know on the services side what other places they could make cuts,” Roemer said. “It frightens me a bit that we would make any more cuts. That being said, I’m a bottom-line kind of guy, and I look at that, and I see a trajectory of cash flow that’s really dismal, and I’m hoping it ends soon.”
Brander expects future months to fare better due to the summer month’s reliance on tourism. However, she said if things don’t pick up for the commission they will have to start having those conversations in December and January.
“That will give us ample time to really go through our first quarter and see where we are at and make some projections from there. And then look forward to the next quarter’s expenses, as you can see for August, and I can speak to September and October as well, we are doing our very best to cut as many expenses as we can, and be under budget while providing the same level of service.”
According to Galipeau, the budget adapted to the pandemic currently has the commission $67 in the black.
“Yes, the numbers are way down, but they are positive when compared to what you were budgeting last year,” Galipeau said. “At this point, we’re ahead of the budget you guys put together with those thoughts (on reduced revenue) in mind.”
Linda McCarthy, executive director of the Missoula Downtown Association, said that the losses faced by the parking commission are similar to losses faced downtown across the board. She doesn’t expect the current state of reduced revenue to change until at least next year.
“The numbers we’re looking at are relatively consistent from what we’re hearing from downtown businesses,” McCarthy said. “Generally, everybody is down 50% to 60%. And with the loss of Grizzly football, the loss of fall conferences and meeting seasons and all of our events, I’m pretty sure that’s what that loss is a part of. And when we look at what we’re planning for next year, it doesn’t appear to me that we will be doing events in the near future.
“I think the COVID thing is going to be the next six to eighteen months at least, and so we’re doing everything we can over here to kind of adjust. But I also think that when we get to the end of COVID, recognizing we are going to have to live with it, I think people will come back downtown.”