You are the owner of this article.
top story

Astoria leaders call for minimum wage freeze amid pandemic

Scheduled to rise in July

  • 0

Astoria estimates a minimum wage increase from $11.25 to $12 an hour in July will cost the city an extra $62,000 in raises for the small army of part-time staff who run parks programs, along with a similar amount next year.

City leaders, facing dire budget forecasts amid the coronavirus pandemic and a difficult balancing act between providing child care and trying to reopen the heavily subsidized Astoria Aquatic Center, plan to push the state for a reprieve.

Jumping in

Part-time labor at the Astoria Aquatic Center costs the city more than $300,000 and would increase by more than $60,000 under a minimum wage increase in July.

Mayor Bruce Jones said Monday that while the minimum wage increases were passed with the best intentions in better economic times, he will reach out to the region’s state legislators and Gov. Kate Brown to ask they be canceled for the time being.

“We’re in the middle of the greatest economic crisis possibly since the Great Depression, and the last thing we need the state to do is to mandate that our local businesses and local government have to increase wages across the board in a time of declining revenues,” Jones said.

City Councilor Tom Brownson concurred with Jones, calling on Astoria to bring the issue up with the League of Oregon Cities. The city can’t absorb increased labor costs by raising prices like private businesses, he said.

“I hope that we can help the state go there, and I think that other cities would jump right in on this as well,” said Brownson, who represents Astoria on the League of Oregon Cities.

Schools and cities have been partnering to offer free emergency child care for essential workers during the pandemic. But as those services end in mid-June, the city will need to ramp up its child care offerings through the ‘Lil Sprouts Academy, City Manager Brett Estes said. While child care used to roughly break even, Estes said, it faces the same challenges as the aquatic center with increasing labor costs.

Councilors agreed that child care should be the city’s first priority. But they also wanted to see limited reopening of the aquatic center, the only one in the region aside from the Sunset Pool in Seaside.

The state recently approved Clatsop County to begin the first phase of reopening parts of the economy from virus restrictions. Aquatic centers would not reopen until a third phase, and even then at limited capacity.

The operation of the aquatic center, like many other public indoor pools across the country, is not designed to be profitable. About half of the operating costs are subsidized by money transfers from the general fund and lodging taxes, which have plummeted while hotels are closed to prevent the spread of the virus. The rest comes from user fees, which have disappeared amid the outbreak and will likely be limited when the pool reopens with reduced operating hours and capacity.

The city has furloughed more than 80 part-time employees, mostly in the parks department. Part-time labor costs at the pool alone are more than $300,000, said Jonah Dart-McLean, the interim parks director. The city will have to better understand the impact of lodging tax losses on cash flow before deciding when and to what degree it can reopen the pool, Estes said.

City Councilor Jessamyn West waxed hopeful that some support will come from the federal government in a fifth coronavirus relief bill after most of the previous municipal relief went to cities of more than 500,000.

The U.S. House recently passed the $3 trillion Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act, which would include more support for state and local governments. But the bill faces stiff opposition in the Republican-controlled Senate.

“I think that’s something that we’re all hoping for, is that direct relief at the federal level, so we don’t have to hopefully have conversations about not increasing minimum wage,” West said. “I know for myself, I’m hoping to see that relief come from up above, and not down below, so to speak.”

Edward Stratton is a reporter for The Astorian. Contact him at 971-704-1719 or estratton@dailyastorian.com.

Recommended for you

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.

Coronavirus Sections

Get breaking news!

Coronavirus FAQ

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Can I get COVID-19 from my pets or other animals?

There is no reason at this time to think that any animals, including pets, in the United States might be a source of infection with this new coronavirus that causes COVID-19. To date, CDC has not received any reports of pets or other animals becoming sick with COVID-19 in the United States.

Pets have other types of coronaviruses that can make them sick, like canine and feline coronaviruses. These other coronaviruses cannot infect people and are not related to the current COVID-19 outbreak.

However, since animals can spread other diseases to people, it’s always a good idea to practice healthy habits around pets and other animals, such as washing your hands and maintaining good hygiene.

Should I avoid contact with pets or other animals if I am sick with COVID-19?

You should restrict contact with pets and other animals while you are sick with COVID-19, just like you would around other people. Although there have not been reports of pets or other animals becoming sick with COVID-19, it is still recommended that people sick with COVID-19 limit contact with animals until more information is known about the new coronavirus. When possible, have another member of your household care for your animals while you are sick. If you are sick with COVID-19, avoid contact with your pet, including petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food. If you must care for your pet or be around animals while you are sick, wash your hands before and after you interact with pets.

What about imported animals or animal products?

CDC does not have any evidence to suggest that imported animals or animal products pose a risk for spreading COVID-19 in the United States.

What precautions should be taken for animals that have recently been imported from outside the United States?

At this time, there is no evidence that companion animals, including pets and service animals, can spread COVID-19. As with any animal introduced to a new environment, animals recently imported should be observed daily for signs of illness. If an animal becomes ill, the animal should be examined by a veterinarian. Call your local veterinary clinic before bringing the animal into the clinic and let them know that the animal was recently imported from another country.

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.

Topics

Breaking News

Local Sports

Local News