PLATTE COUNTY – According to Platte County Clerk, Malcolm Ervin, the coronavirus has not changed a lot of things for him, and it’s been business as usual, saying that as a county the ability to adapt to the pandemic has been impressive.
“Physically, we’ve restricted a couple of things,” Ervin said, “just to limit the number of people that come into offices, but really we have not seen our business curtail any.”
The county is titling vehicles, getting plates and land records are still open for review although they are taking appointments for those, Ervin said.
“It’s an odd time of year, since it is an election year and it’s budget time in a year that has a lot of uncertainties when it comes to budgeting,” Ervin said. “We’ve already noticed a small dip in sales tax. We had our lowest collection in March that we’ve had in two years.”
According to the State of Wyoming, that is a trend that is going to continue. Gov. Mark Gordon has said counties should expect a significant reduction in sales tax and distribution from the state. With oil prices going negative and the bulk of the funding that comes from the State of Wyoming, the trickle down to communities, they may further understand the brutality of the governor’s word, “significant.”
“If they’re hurt, then we’re hurt,” Ervin commented. “It will be an odd year, and I think we will see revenues down. Platte County has always done a fantastic job of budgeting conservatively and this year will be no different. It’ll probably be one of the most conservative budgets composed, just because there is so much uncertainty.”
Ervin did say he hopes they are all wrong and the economy comes back booming and exceeding all expectations. He also cautioned being conservative means, to a degree, residents may have to be a little pessimistic as to the economy being as strong as it once was. He speaks to wisdom in hoping for the best but bracing for the worst. He also points out the economy will most likely rebound, but that it may not be on our timing.
“This fiscal year I need to be very careful in what I propose,” Ervin said.
Another item coming to light in the nation is the food processing plants that are having to put down animals because the workforce has dwindled to the point of not being able to handle the processing workload with skeleton crews. Some manufacturing plants are shutting down completely.
According to Jacob Bunge from the Wall Street Journal, commenting about the top U.S. pork producer, “Smithfield Foods Inc. said it would close two more pork-processing plants because of the coronavirus pandemic, reducing meat supplies for grocery stores and deepening challenges for farmers.”
“The nice thing about being in a rural state is that we are somewhat isolated,” Ervin said. “I think the state of Wyoming has been progressive when it comes to the meat market. Now you can buy locally. It still has to be from a certified slaughterhouse, but at least now we can buy from people in our surrounding area. There are a number of families in Platte County who are selling locally raised meat.”
Because of the opportunities to seek out and utilize local markets, Ervin says the national shut-down may actually benefit places like Platte County.
“We’ve got a strong ag industry,” he said. “We also have dedicated people who have the workforce, but they have just never had the market. And now, they have the market. I think you may see Platte County become positively impacted by this.”
Ervin confidently but cautiously mentions he believes there will be more of an isolated approach when it comes to shopping.
“I think what you’ll see are folks focusing more on shopping locally,” he said. “They would be keeping their dollars in Platte County. Simply because those are the people that support your local baseball teams, football teams, wrestling programs, and they employ your friends and family.”
He believes communities in Platte County will be tight knit and protective of the local businesses by continuing to support them with their family dollars. Another great point is that people do not want to go to more populated areas due to the concentration of the virus in those areas.
“I think in the very end, Platte County is well positioned to come out stronger,” he said. “There is a program called, The Wyoming Food Coalition: Wy Food Matters, and LeRoy Jons from the University of Wyoming Extension really heads this up. He’s been pushing for sourcing locally grown fruits and vegetables for a long time. I think you will see programs like that gain in popularity including the local meat markets and our local retailers.”
Platte County has supported local businesses such as shut-down restaurants and taverns by continuing to eat and drink at their establishments via the drive-thru service that has been offered, preserving the businesses so when the virus has run its course, the businesses can still be operational.
As far as “business as usual,” Ervin has some definite opinions about how the county has adapted and how it will go forward.
“I think it’s business like you see it today,” Ervin said. “I don’t know if we ever go back to usual or normal. The human race is incredible because it is incredibly adaptive. It does whatever it takes to survive and we’ve done a pretty good job. We are rural and it’s protected us against stuff like coronavirus. It will affect people we know, but I think that we pull together, we do what’s right to make sure that spread is slowed down. This county, they do pull together when it really matters."