By Jack Mayne

The City of SeaTac was able to weather the financial storm of 2020 because of a rainy day fund created earlier by the City Council, Mayor Erin Sitterley said in the annual State of the City address on Tuesday night, Feb. 23, 2021.

It will be tough, but the Council and city staff have created reserves to “keep us careful and vigilant.”

COVID-19 pandemic strikes
Mayor Sitterley began the annual state of the city address Tuesday by saying. “I can’t believe I am entering my fifth year as a Councilmember and third year as mayor and I want to thank you all for placing me in the seat” adding it was “almost a year ago … that we celebrated 30 years of cityhood. That was one of the last times we publicly gathered as a city.”

Sitterley said last year the pandemic prevented the city from having an annual state of the city address.

“The celebrations took place right before widespread efforts were undertaken to slow the spread of COVID-19. Just a few weeks later, I found myself signing an emergency declaration that is still in place today.”

Sitterley said the last year didn’t turn out the way many expected but she added she wants people to know that SeaTac people are “still working hard. We are resilient and we are connected in our belief in SeaTac, and, yes, we are moving forward.”

Thanked valiant workers
She thanked frontline health care workers, police and fire first responders “who valiantly worked through this pandemic to keep us safe. I appreciate all that you do every day. Thank you to the hard working critically essential workers of our city who have continued to provide services for our residents through this crisis.”

“Thank you to our volunteers who are the heart of our city through serving on advisory committees, working in public safety and providing direct services to members of our community.”

She said the pandemic made her address the way to communicate with all of those involved in keeping the city operating.

All of the current problems are “not normal” and, she misses personal interaction.

“I hope this year we can return to in-person Council meetings and other gatherings in the community,” Sitterley said.

Changed our lives
The mayor said the biggest issue facing the city is what the pandemic did to SeaTac.

It devastated the community, “especially the hospitality industry and changed our lives,” she said.

“Our once-bustling airport saw passenger levels drop more than 80 percent and our hotels that normally have 90 percent-plus occupancy rates were forced to shut down temporarily,” she said. “Restaurants had to adapt from a dine-in to a takeout business model or close down entirely.”

Sitterley said stores and small businesses had to adapt to the effects of the pandemic and the Council understood “how this affected our residents and our small businesses owners.” The Council invested $1.3 million of federal money into the city. In addition, the mayor said $350,000 was dedicated to small businesses.

Pandemic outreach
The city’s economic development office “conducted extensive outreach” in dozens of languages to help small businesses connect with financial resources and federal loans, she said.

“Overall, city staff assisted 74 small businesses experiencing business interruptions (due to) COVID-19,” the mayor said. “I hope many of you, if not all of you, are still open tonight.”

The Council and city staff directed nearly $225,000 to food banks and for rental assistance, on top of regular general fund assistance, she said. The additional money allowed for expansion of the city’s meals on wheels fund and the Senior Center staff also distributed additional meals to the lunch program.

Some of the meals were delivered, Sitterley said, “allowing our Parks staff an opportunity to check in with our vulnerable residents.”

Sitterley said “our city is about helping people” and the “city delivered almost a thousand hot meals” to seniors in partnership with the Food Innovation Network, a program that enhances the local food system, increases access to healthy foods, and supports local food businesses,

To keep parks and other city-owned property in shape the city spent “nearly $150,000 to clean and sanitize to prevent the spread of disease.” The city, the mayor said, invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in technology to protect SeaTac city staff from the spread of the coronavirus.

Dramatic drop in revenue
“Economic downturns are not unusual,” Sitterley said, “But this one was sudden and very dramatic.”

“In 2016, facing a budget shortfall with no reserves, the Council began to prepare for moments like these,” she said.

“We created policies which required periodic review of all vendor contracts and the formation of a formal operating reserve,” she said. “Your Council has worked with city leadership to review all vendor contracts, allowing the city to cut expenses, increase service and put up that rainy day fund.”

Sitterley said 2020 “was a challenging year for our budget. The city had to navigate through a significant drop in revenue.”

The sales tax accounts for 40 percent of city revenue, she said. Because of the drop in the number of flights and passengers, the city experienced the drop in that money that is heavily dependent upon “airport related businesses” and passengers to spend money at them.

Despite “the challenges, the city avoided laying off any of the staff that serve our community,” the mayor said, but cut 9 percent of their budgets to get through.

“Staff also took five furlough days to make up for the budget shortfall,: Sitterley said. “Moreover, at the Council, we dipped into our rainy day reserves to keep the city running.”

Sitterley said the Council has approved a $42.1 million general fund budget that both increases services for residents and the business community.

As passengers return to airline travel, and guests return to staying at our hotels, our budget will improve.