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Two public health murals on railings at the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Lancaster on April 30, 2020.

Most of Lancaster County's larger municipalities are holding off on layoffs and furloughs even though some of their neighbors and colleagues around the nation have been forced to take more drastic measures in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Columbia Borough, East Hempfield, East Lampeter, Elizabethtown Borough, Lancaster Township, Manor Township and West Lampeter officials all say their municipalities have kept most or all workers on the payroll, while the situations in Manheim Township and Lancaster city are much different.

Some say they've even found a silver lining, as changes spurred by the crisis could help them in future emergencies.

“We've just adjusted all our activities to comply with the social distancing orders,” Lancaster Township manager William Laudien said. “The only thing we don't have is our doors open to the public, so we've switched to drop box and online payments.”

The situation is similar in Elizabethtown Borough, where borough manager Rebecca Denlinger said officials have no plans for layoffs or furloughs. Neither does Columbia Borough, although school crossing guards are not being paid at the moment due to lack of work, borough manager Mark Stivers said.

Staggered schedules

Dee Dee McGuire, West Lampeter’s manager, said the township has been “fortunate in that we have been able to stagger work schedules and work from home to maintain the safety of our residents, customers and employees.”

She said she expects all employees to be back to their regular schedules on site on May 11.

East Hempfield has had one furlough at its golf course and seasonal staff was also not called back to work, according to township manager Cindy Sweitzer.

“We have looked at all other positions in the township and feel at the present time there will be no further furloughs, however always subject to change,” she wrote in an email.

Nationally, many state and local governments are sidelining staff in response to the unprecedented national shutdown of economic activity. Twenty-six percent of municipalities with fewer than 50,000 residents will have to lay off or furlough employees as a result of the coronavirus crisis, according to the National League of Cities.

In Lancaster County, the only municipality with more than 50,000 people is Lancaster city, which furloughed or significantly reduced the hours of 69 employees. The county’s second largest municipality, Manheim Township,  furloughed 35% of its staff.

Reduced revenue

Most local governments are staring down significant impacts from the pandemic. Lancaster city is facing a $4.7 million revenue loss, and Manheim Township is looking at a loss of well over $1 million.

Elizabethtown, Lancaster Township and Columbia are likewise not immune, even if they have not yet determined the full impact.

Stivers said most Columbia residents have already paid their property taxes, but income taxes — which make up 40% of the borough's revenues — have yet to come in for April.

He said officials don't know what the figures will be yet, “but yeah, there will be a loss, and it is going to be difficult.”

Lancaster Township is in a similar situation, with property taxes — as well as fee revenue — remaining steady, but income tax revenue still uncertain, Laudien said.

Elizabethtown will be reviewing revenue shortfalls at its May borough council meeting.

Ralph Hutchison, East Lampeter’s manager, said the township is estimating tax losses for 2020 “just shy of $1.2 million.”

The pandemic has forced many businesses and governments to pivot to remote operations. As the crisis began, Lancaster Township upgraded its phone system and purchased necessary equipment for remote operations.

While the circumstances that spurred the upgrades are unfortunate, Laudien said, the move could have longer-term benefits.

“We're going to be in a position to react not only to this situation but anything that may come,” he said, referring to other unforeseen emergencies. “It has taught us to be more nimble, which is not always easy for government."

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