Local Politics

More businesses can open, friends can gather when Wake order ends Thursday night

Posted April 29, 2020 2:42 p.m. EDT
Updated April 29, 2020 7:15 p.m. EDT

— More Wake County businesses will be allowed to open their doors on Friday after the county's stay-at-home order during the coronavirus pandemic expires.

Most of the county will shift to the statewide stay-at-home order, although Apex officials plan to issue their own rules.

"We put our order in place in late March to slow the spread of COVID-19 in Wake County, one day before the governor issued the statewide stay-at-home order," Greg Ford, chairman of the Wake County Board of Commissioners, said in a statement. "Our community was affected first by the virus, making it vital that we act more swiftly. But now that there is community spread and we are all fighting to slow the spread collectively, it’s appropriate to follow the state’s order, which provides some additional flexibility to our residents."

Under the county order, retail was very limited. Even under relaxed rules county officials put in place two weeks ago, retail sales were restricted to curbside pick-up or delivery.

The state order allows many retailers to operate, as long as they practice social distancing by limiting the number of customers inside, thoroughly clean surfaces and screen employees to make sure they're healthy.

Still, some types of businesses must remain closed until at least May 8 under the state order:

  • Gyms and health clubs
  • Hair salons, nail salons and barbershops
  • Tattoo parlors
  • Sweepstakes parlors and other gaming businesses
  • Movie theaters and music venues

Bars and restaurants also will continue to be limited to drive-thru, takeout or delivery orders.

The end of the county order also will allow for larger gatherings.

Wake County's order allowed only immediate family to get together, while the state order allows up to 10 people – up to 50 for a funeral – to gather in public.

Gov. Roy Cooper last week laid out a three-phase plan for lifting the restrictions, but he said the timetable for enacting it will depend on data trends that show the virus is waning.

Wake County has about 800 cases of coronavirus, including 16 people who have died.

Pandemic forces budget adjustments

Wake County now has a $13 million budget shortfall through the end of June because the stay-at-home restrictions have cut into sales tax revenue. It was off 40 percent in March alone.

"We have basically had to tear everything up and start over," County Manager David Ellis said. "Just the quickness of the economic change here in Wake County and nationwide has been a huge challenge."

Ellis has enacted a hiring freeze and 1.5 percent across-the-board budget cut to balance the 2019-20 books. But finances could be even more grim in the 2020-21 fiscal year, which starts in July.

A $48 million gap is projected for the coming year, as a struggling economy also could lead to lower property tax revenue, and Ellis has already asked each county department to carve out a 7 percent cut.

While some taxpayers worry about cuts to social services, others said they fear a potential tax increase on struggling families.

"People are going to take the hit for this for a long time," Germaine Fodor said.

"Any financial burden on them is not good," Doug Llewellyn said.

"I think tax increases need to be the last line of defense, not the first," Alex Mercer said.

But Ellis said no county property tax increase is planned for the coming budget.

"When you look at the economy, when you look at the unemployment rate, when you look at what's going on not only globally, nationally, but also locally, I don't believe this is the time to come forward with a tax increase," he said.

Federal pandemic relief money can't be used to cover budget deficits, he said, adding that it's too early to speculate about potential layoffs or service reductions. Both occurred during the recession a decade ago.

He did note that the Wake County Public School System is unlikely to receive an extra $30 million requested for the coming year.

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