As North Carolina responds to the COVID-19 crisis, locally-elected officials understand that our businesses need help to remain viable. Small businesses are the lifeblood of cities and towns across the state.

Municipalities and their residents depend on these businesses, and the businesses in turn depend on the services of cities and towns.

The Paycheck Protection Program and other business relief provided by Congress helps ensure that an economic downturn will be less painful and that we will see recovery sooner.

It’s not enough, though.

Local governments need help too. As retail activity has fallen, so have sales taxes that cities and towns depend on to fund crucial services like police and fire protection, street maintenance and sanitation. Water and sewer systems are seeing much higher rates of non-payment as residents who have been laid off or furloughed struggle to pay bills. With hotels experiencing 70 and 80 vacancy rates, occupancy taxes used to promote tourism have seen dramatic declines.

And we don’t know what kinds of state cuts could be coming to crucial street maintenance or law enforcement programs.

Already, I am hearing from fellow mayors about the possibility of local cuts to services, delays in building projects and even layoffs of first responders.

As much as we worry about our municipal employees, this is about more than just potential layoffs. Local governments and their financial health are crucial to economic recovery.


That is not just the opinion of locally elected officials. It is the opinion of economists who study these issues. Study after study looking at the aftermath of the 2008 Great Recession showed how struggling state and local governments, required to balance their budgets, slowed a national recovery because of their budget cuts.

Cities and towns are builders of infrastructure. Private construction contractors and their employees depend on these investments. Home builders and commercial builders require added water and sewer capacity to push forward with their investments. Retailers need these investments to make their businesses accessible and attractive to customers.

Right now, Congress is considering a new round of COVID-19 relief that would address the revenue shortfalls facing state and local governments. They also are discussing a loosening of restrictions that prevented previous relief dollars from addressing these growing local revenue shortfalls. The state General Assembly, meanwhile, has reserved $150 million of that previous of federal relief for local governments in the event that the restrictions from Washington are loosened.

In letters and in conversations, mayors and other locally elected officials have let our U.S. House members and Sens. Thom Tillis and Richard Burr know what is at stake. We’ve addressed the same concerns to Gov. Roy Cooper, state Senate leader Phil Berger and state House Speaker Tim Moore.

Ultimately, North Carolinians will emerge from the COVID-19 crisis. In some ways, we will emerge stronger. To ensure that we move forward in the best way possible, cities and towns must emerge as the strong economic engines that they were prior to the pandemic.

We need the help of our state and federal partners to make that a reality.

Gloristine Brown is the mayor of the Town of Bethel and chair of the N.C. Mayors Association

Contact Bobby Burns at baburns@reflector.com and 329.9572.