Yankton is sailing into the summer season on a terrific financial wave after posting another big month of revenue in May. The latest report not only topped last May — which, of course, was early in the COVID-19 pandemic — but even surpassed the revenue collected in May 2019.
And once again, city officials are greeting this very good news with cautious optimism — or, is it optimistic caution? — citing the unknowns that are tied to the pandemic and new variants that could be headed our way.
“The cautionary thing is — are we through with COVID yet?” Yankton Finance Officer Al Viereck told the Press & Dakotan. “There’s so much that’s uncertain yet. We certainly are feeling the effects of opening up around here, but will we run into a re-occurrence and start to slow down again? That’s our only concern.”
Unfortunately, that may not be entirely accurate.
The area’s agricultural economy has struggled in recent years as livestock and commodity prices have fallen. Now, producers are facing the expectations of a hot, dry summer — which has certainly started off that way — and the deepening of a drought that actually began about a year ago. That cycle is escalating: Yankton has officially received 1.18 inches of rain in June, a month when we typically average about 4 inches of precipitation. That does not bode well for farmers, and that may have serious implications down the line for city revenue.
Bear in mind, Yankton’s revenue picture the past 15 months has been rather unusual, given the extraordinary circumstances. Despite the pandemic, the city saw some solid revenue months in 2020 — including its first-ever million-dollar month last July — before slowing down in the fall. That strong run through last spring and summer indicated some solid economic opportunity amid the pandemic.
This year, Yankton’s revenue reports have been glowing, and not simply when compared to last year. Recovery funds and pent-up demand have the local economic engines revving, just as the summer season is kicking in. That’s a promising combination.
But the impact of the weather on the ag economy remains a real wild card, and it is not trending well. That’s why an abundance of caution — which has always been a staple of city (and county) budgetary thinking — is essential right now. If the farm economy is hit hard by the drought, it will impact all of us.