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Imagine you’re a local city council member. State law says that your annual budget has to be finished by June 30. Six weeks ago, no problem. Home values were up, so property tax revenues were coming in. Restaurants and retailers were doing well, too, so your coffers were good there, as well. You were starting to consider new initiatives: hiring more cops or helping the homeless or building more parks. 

And then, just like that, it was gone: Bars and restaurants closed. Retailers shut down. Tens of thousands of people out of work. That sales tax money? Forget about it. Hiking the property tax? Probably not a good time to float that idea. 

As I mentioned yesterday, Raleigh’s parks bond will probably be put on hold.

Durham scrapped its plans, too, and is now crafting a “very cautious” and “painful” budget, Mayor Steve Schewel told me yesterday. 

Schewel’s problem: Uncertainty. They don’t know how much they’ll lose in sales tax revenue, how much they’ll get back from the state or the feds, or how long it will take for the city to recover. And there’s no guarantee that all of the restaurants and retailers that closed a few weeks back will reopen, especially if the small business loans don’t arrive soon.

Durham was also planning to raise all of the property taxes it needed to fund the affordable housing bond this year—the among came in below estimates—but that will likely be put off, too. 

→  SPEAKING OF UNCERTAINTY: The state’s unemployment office has been completely overwhelmed by the 300,000-some claims it’s gotten in the last couple of weeks. Complicating matters, while the payouts in the federal rescue bill are quite generous, North Carolina’s unemployment benefits are among the cheapest in the nation. So it’s not entirely clear who qualifies for what, and no one can get through to get their questions answered. 

A Durham bartender messaged: “Over the last two weeks I have spent hours and hours trying to have my UI claims processed correctly for after being denied due to website errors. Faxed, emails, phone calls, Facebook messages, etc still can’t get through. Late on rent starting today.” Three hours later: “Finally was put on hold with unemployment office phone system today. I have been on hold 5 hours today. This is the furthest I have gotten to address the issues with my application denial. No clue if I’ll actually get through today. The phone system usually just boots you off.”

→  MEANWHILE: There were 60 new coronavirus cases diagnosed in Wake, Durham, and Orange County yesterday.  

Click here to read the rest of today’s PRIMER.

The newsletter is sponsored this week by Ninth Street Bakery, which is serving coffee, pastries, and sandwiches for (contact-free) takeout or curbside pickup from 8:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m. on Monday through Saturday and 9:00 a.m.–3:00 p.m. on Sunday and offering free lunch or bread for any service workers who were laid off or are only partially employed as a result of the virus.

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