Much of the discussion about the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic has centered on not only the health concerns, but also economic concerns. Many local governments, including those in the Roanoke-Chowan area, now have to figure out how to deal with the financial strain caused by the precautions needed to slow the spread of the virus.
North Carolina State Treasurer Dale R. Folwell spoke to the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald about the impact he’s seen on local governments across the state as well as what resources are available to help them.
“My big concern as the Treasurer of North Carolina is not the medical virus, but the financial, economic virus it’s causing in these communities,” he explained.
“It’s having a tremendous negative impact,” he said of the move to shutdown businesses and keep people at home since March. “Citizens are negatively affected when they are locked down and can’t consume. When they can’t consume, there isn’t enough tax money for public education, public safety, public roads, and public works.”
Many local governments are dependent on revenue from gas tax, sales tax, occupancy tax, and more to keep being able to provide services for citizens. For some rural areas, the local government is the biggest employer in the county, meaning that governmental financial strain can affect its citizens in that way as well.
“People are facing health and money insecurity right now,” Folwell continued, noting that many just want to see the problems fixed.
There are some resources, however, available to help local governments. The Local Government Commission is always available to give financial advice to counties and towns, especially now when they may find themselves under more economic strain than usual because of the pandemic. Folwell said his office is also working with the statewide County Commissioners Association and the League of Municipalities for additional assistance to local governments.
Additionally, North Carolina has received money from the CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act) that has been allocated for counties across the state to use.
Of the four counties in the Roanoke-Chowan area, Hertford County received the highest amount of funds at $635,233. Northampton received $566,995 and Bertie’s total was $558,274. Gates County rounded out the group with $438,118.
But Folwell expressed some concerns about limitations on how the money is allowed to be spent, which could make the aid less useful than intended.
“This money has strings attached to it,” he said.
He explained, for example, that a county shouldn’t be forced to use the money to buy a new ambulance if they don’t need one. The funds could be put to better use depending on what each county needs.
“I’m going to keep working on loosening some of those strings so that these local governments can use the money to keep the same level of services,” Folwell concluded. “There’s been a lot of focus on the sick, but we shouldn’t punish the healthy.”