Some city revenue increasing despite pandemic; hiring freeze could end

An influx of tourists, hot real estate market, and help from the federal government all mean the city budget won’t be impacted by COVID-19 quite as hard as officials feared last year. In fact, a review of the city’s revised budget released last week shows more than $25 million in previously unforeseen revenue is expected for the fiscal year that ends June 30.

As a result, the city, which implemented a hiring freeze, laid off employees, and cut department budgets by $12 million as the pandemic set in last year, is now expected to bring back many laid off employees and start hiring again. City staff recommended the City Council approve those moves in a report the Council will review at its next meeting, Thursday April 22.

Packed streets in downtown Palm Springs Saturday evening are an indication that visitors are flocking to the city. Staff have revised the city budget to show an increase in taxes collected from those visitors, despite restrictions implemented during much of the past year due to COVID-19.

The city had every reason to fear the worst last spring. As the 2020 fiscal year entered its final quarter, hotels, restaurants and shops usually packed with visitors were nearly empty due to statewide stay-at-home orders. As lockdowns eased in the summer months, visitors from throughout Southern California flocked to Palm Springs, bolstering city coffers. The city averaged 12 percent more occupancy tax revenue in July, August and September compared with the year prior. But the revenue roller coaster ride wasn’t over. Lockdowns went back into place for the holidays, resulting in additional steep declines in tax revenue.

As previously reported in The Post in March, city staff predicted taxes collected through tourism-related activities, including a transient occupancy tax (TOT) paid by hotel and motel guests, would fall as much as 61 percent, or $12 million, this fiscal year. But budget numbers available at the end of February showed that revenue was on pace to drop by only nine percent. Now, with less than three months until the fiscal year ends, the city is actually predicting an increase of more than $3 million in that revenue compared to the previous year — bringing in roughly $30 million in 12 months ending in June, compared to the $26.4 million it brought in by the end of June 2020. The city collected $36.4 million in TOT during the fiscal year ending June 2019.

Other tax estimates show a similar rosier outlook compared to predictions made last year. Sales taxes estimated to add only $8.8 million to the city coffers should instead bring in $22.2 million; The Measure J tax — a 1 percent additional sales tax approved by city voters in 2011 — should bring in $16 million instead of $6 million; and $2 million more in property taxes are expected to come in compared to the prior year, thanks to an increased demand for housing that has helped spike local real estate prices. In addition, the city is expected to receive half of $11 million allocated to it through the American Rescue Plan in May.


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BRIEFLY

A rendering of a proposed roundabout at the intersection of Palm Canyon Drive, Indian Canyon Drive, and Camino Parocela.

Roundabout plan: Approval for the next step in a plan to fix an irksome intersection in South Palm Springs is headed to the City Council this week. If approved, the city’s civil engineering firm can start final design work on a roundabout at what is currently a five-way intersection at Palm Canyon Drive, Indian Canyon Drive, and Camino Parocela. The roundabout, which has been on the drawing board for years, should be safer and easier to navigate, according to transportation experts. A final cost is not yet known, but was estimated at between $2 million and $2.5 million. City leaders are only being asked to release funding for the next phase of the project — final design and construction documents — now that the engineering firm has completed its analysis and final design concept. That funding, $236,000, was approved in January 2020.

Film fest supports shelter: An outdoor, socially distanced drive-in film festival benefiting the Palm Springs Animal Shelter will be held from 6:30–10 PM Saturday April 24 on the tarmac of the Palm Springs Air Museum, 754 N. Gene Autry Trail. The event is one of the largest fundraisers for the no-kill shelter.  To purchase tickets, visit this site. The theme for this year’s event is “Love at the Drive-In.” The event is described as a “short pet-themed film festival you can enjoy from the comfort of your own vehicle.” In addition to films, there will be a live auction from the drive-in stage as well as a virtual silent auction. A catered vegan meal will be available and every ticket holder will receive a commemorative bucket with popcorn, candy, and limited edition shelter items.

EVENTS

TODAY

  • Movie review: Just in time for The Oscar’s next weekend, movie librarian Scott Biegen will run down his top 10 list, show you where and how to watch the major contenders and what titles are at the Palm Springs Public Library on DVD and Blu-ray, during a presentation on Facebook and YouTube that starts at 2 PM.
  • Architecture: The Architectural Advisory Committee meets at 5:30 PM. Information on how to participate and tune in on Zoom is available here. A pair of cannabis business requests are among items on the agenda.

TUESDAY

  • Communications Committee: The Organized Neighborhoods of Palm Springs (ONE-PS) Communications Committee meets at 12 PM.
  • Airport budget: The Airport Commission holds its Budget and Finance Committee meeting at 3 PM. An agenda and call-in information can be found here.
  • Teen Event: Teen librarian Sean Corbin hosts “This is NOT Teen Talk” at 4 PM on Instagram Live.
  • Talk of the Town: ONE-PS holds it monthly Talk of the Town event at 5:30 PM. Information on the Zoom meeting can be found here. This month the public is invited to learn about the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians history and culture, as well as its economic impact on the community. Speaking will be Kate Anderson, director of public relations for the tribe.
  • Sustainability: The city’s Sustainability Commission meets at 5:30 PM. Information on how to participate and watch, as well as the agenda, can be found here.

WEDNESDAY

  • Book club: The library’s Afternoon Coffee Book Club (formerly the Morning Coffee Book Club), meets at 2 PM on Zoom. To receive meeting information and join the email list for the book club, you can email Scott Biegen in advance of the meeting at [email protected].
  • Airport noise: The Airport Commission Noise Committee meets at 4 PM. The meeting agenda and Zoom information can be found here.
  • Airport Commission: The city’s Airport Commission meets at 5:30 PM. The meeting agenda and Zoom information can be found here.

THURSDAY

  • Story time: “Read-To-Me Story Time” with children’s librarian Nancy Valdivia takes place at 10 AM this morning on YouTube and Facebook.

  • City Council: The regular meeting of the Palm Springs City Council starts at 5:30 PM. The agenda, staff reports, and participation information can be found here. Among items on the agenda:

    • A presentation by backers of a hotel development formerly known as The Andaz

    • Adoption of an ordinance regulating animal breeding in the city

    • Discussion of waving conditions to allow for issuing a state liquor license for a new restaurant at 333 South Palm Canyon Drive. The proposed restaurant would be in an area with an over-concentration of alcohol licenses and requires city action for the permit.

    • Discussion of renewal for the conditional use permit for Well In The Desert, which provides services to individuals experiencing homelessness. Issues surrounding that permit were reported earlier in The Post here.

    • Discussion of a revised city budget (see above)

    • Discussion of a roundabout proposed for the south end of town (see above)

ALL WEEK

  • Outdoor art: Desert X art installations are on display throughout the Coachella Valley, including several within the Palm Springs city limits. The free event runs through May 16. A map of the installations can be found here. Some require reservations to view.
  • Vaccines: Anyone 16 and older now qualifies for a vaccine in Riverside County. If you qualify, you can get one at the Palm Springs Convention Center, 277 North Avenida Caballeros, from 8 AM-5 PM today, and all week through Friday. Appointments can be reserved online at www.rivcoph.org/COVID-19-Vaccine. No luck at the convention center? Find a list of community providers such as pharmacies here.

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