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County sees big response to small business grant program

More than 30 businesses have applied for Pasquotank County’s COVID-19 Small Business Grant Program, a number expected to grow before the July 10 deadline for applications.

The Pasquotank Board of Commissioners approved the program last month as a way to support small businesses affected financially by the coronavirus pandemic. The program is being funded with $250,000 of the $898,000 the county received in federal COVID-19 relief money.

Under the program’s rules, eligible small businesses could receive a grant of up to $2,500 to help make up some of the revenue they’ve lost during the pandemic, which is now entering its fourth month.

So far, 33 small businesses have applied for help through the program. Of the first 27 applications received late last week, 16 were from service-related businesses. Applicants included nail salons, barber shops, beauty shops, fitness establishments, a dog grooming business, transportation services, professional services and a tattoo studio.

Six of the first 27 applicants were from restaurants while the remaining five were retail establishments. Twenty-four of the first 27 applicants were from businesses located within Elizabeth City’s corporate limits.

“With a July 10 deadline that is still two weeks away, we have received more applications than I would have anticipated,” said County Manager Sparty Hammett. “We have also received a good mix of applications in terms of the type of businesses.”

To ensure businesses understand the program’s rules, Elizabeth City Downtown, Inc. Director Deborah Malenfant led an information/help session at the Flour Girls Bakery in downtown Elizabeth City on Friday. A second session is scheduled for today from 9 a.m. to noon, also at the Flour Girls.

Malenfant said several small businesses owners received help with their applications on Friday and she expects more businesses owners to seek help today.

“We are there to answer any questions about the grant on a one-on-one basis,” Malenfant said. “We helped people fill out the applications. Some folks brought their information with them and we went through it and helped them fill out their information packet together.’’

Christian Lockamy, director of the Elizabeth City-Pasquotank County Economic Development Commission, is leading the county’s COVID-19 relief program and joined in the effort Friday. June Gibbs, a retired school guidance counselor, and Caitlin Davis, adjunct professor of business at Elizabeth City State University and a small business owner, also helped with the process.

Malenfant said any business owner interested in applying for a grant can come to the information session anytime between 9 a.m. and noon today.

“They don’t have to be there the whole time,” Malenfant said. “They don’t have to be there right at 9 a.m. We have made it open so people can come and go as their schedule allows.’’

Malenfant and Lockamy are also visiting businesses to provide individual help with the application process.

“I have been going out there and working with folks on their applications to make sure we get the documentation nailed down,” Lockamy said. “We want them to have the best shot at getting some funding. I have even had some of them come here” to the EDC office.

Some of the requirements to receive a grant include being a for-profit business with a “brick-and-mortar” presence in the county; having at least one employee; and having gross revenues of less than $2 million a year.

A service, restaurant or retail business must also show a revenue loss of at least 20 percent because of COVID-19. They also must be a business in an industry outlined by COVID-19-related executive orders issued by Gov. Roy Cooper during the pandemic.

To be considered for a grant, businesses must submit specific documentation, including a statement showing their monthly revenue for the three-month period between March 1, 2019 and May 31, 2019, and the three-month period between March 1, 2020 and May 31, 2020.

If more than 100 county businesses apply for grants, a scoring-criteria has been established to determine which businesses receive the maximum allowable grant of $2,500. A business that saw a revenue loss of 71 percent to 100 percent, for example, would be scored higher than one that lost less revenue. And a business mandated to close by one of Cooper’s executive orders would score higher that one not forced to completely close.

The county hopes to start cutting checks from the program around July 24.

Detailed program guidelines for the COVID-19 Small Business Program and grant applications are currently available at www.pasquotankcountync.org/covid19grants.

Printed guidelines and applications are also available at the EDC office, at Hammett’s office, at the Pasquotank County Library, at the EDCI office and at local small business development offices. For more information, call the EDC at 338-0169 or ECDI at 338-4104.

'My favorite bank': Southern Bank holds 'soft opening'

Christina Rountree’s favorite bank opened its newest regional location on Monday.

Southern Bank, located at 1875 West City Drive in the City Center West business park in Elizabeth City, held a “soft opening” Monday morning.

“This is my favorite bank,” said Rountree, after finishing a transaction with customer service representative Ashley Burk.

Rountree said she and her husband Junie Rountree own and operate R.W. Sawyer Pressure Washing and Pro-Masters Painting. They’ve been doing business with Southern Bank for a few years now, she said.

The bank is located in the corner of the business park at Halstead Boulevard Extended and Forest Park Road. Bank officials said an official opening, one that includes a ceremonial ribbon cutting and members of the Elizabeth City Area Chamber of Commerce, will be held later, perhaps in the fall.

The Chamber is not holding ribbon-cutting ceremonies right now as a precaution against COVID-19.

Southern Bank is a community bank based in Mt. Olive, according to Mathew Scribner, senior vice president and city executive for Southern Bank and Trust.

The company has more than 60 locations in eastern North Carolina and in Virginia.

“In a town eager for a true community bank, Southern Bank is now able to service the community as a full-service bank, complete with drive-through and ATM, allowing 24-hour banking access,” Scribner said.

Southern Bank’s presence in Elizabeth City dates back to 2016, when the company first opened a loan servicing office on Ehringhaus Street.

Olson: Councilors must be paid raises — even if they don't want them

Elizabeth City’s elected officials will have to receive the $250-a-month pay raises they recently voted to award themselves — even if some of them opposed the raises and don’t want the extra money.

In addition, the city can’t appropriate all or any portion of the raise to a special cause or another entity chosen by the mayor or city councilors. If they want to donate any portion of the raise to an entity other than the local United Way, they’ll have to do it themselves.

That’s according to guidance the city received last week from the N.C. School of Government, City Manager Rich Olson said in his weekly memo to Mayor Bettie Parker and city councilors on Friday.

Olson said several councilors said after approval of the city’s nearly $70 million 2020-21 budget last week that they didn’t want to be paid the $250-a-month pay raise included in the budget.

Olson didn’t say which councilors advised him they didn’t want the raise, but four councilors — Jeannie Young, Billie Caudle, Kem Spence and Chris Ruffieux — voted against next year’s city budget because it includes the raises. The budget, which takes effect Wednesday, passed on a 5-4 vote after Parker broke a tie.

Parker, meanwhile, announced after the budget’s approval that she wanted to donate her entire raise — $3,000 annually — to local efforts to help the city’s homeless.

Also, Fourth Ward Councilor Johnnie Walton, one of the four councilors who voted for the pay hike, said he wanted to donate $1,000 of his raise to Elizabeth City State University.

Noting the councilors’ requests represented a “unique situation,” Olson said city officials reached out to the School of Government for guidance. According to the school’s Kara Millonzi, councilors can’t refuse their pay raises and any donation of the raise must be by them, not the city.

“Once the Board adopts the budget ordinance, the council members’ compensation is set for the year,” Millonzi said, according to Olson’s memo. “An individual council member may not forgo his/her compensation. Of course, he/she may donate it as you describe but he/she must continue to be paid the salary/other compensation.”

Based on Millonzi’s advice, Olson said all city councilors will receive the $250 pay increase in their next monthly check on July 10. If they want to donate any of the raise to the Albemarle Area United Way, the city can do that through payroll deduction, similarly to the way the city already handles donations by its employees.

“If they wish to donate to another organization such as ECSU or the homeless shelter coalition, they will be required to send their donations on their own,” Olson said.

Olson said John Leidy, of the Hornthal Riley Ellis and Maland law firm, provided city staff with a legal opinion mirroring the School of Government’s.

Region's COVID-19 cases surge past 600; Pasquotank tops 200 cases

The eight-county region’s number of lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases surged past 600 this weekend, as all counties reported additional cases after Friday and Pasquotank became the first to report more than 200 cases.

As of Monday, the number of those who’ve contracted the highly contagious coronavirus in Albemarle Regional Health Services’ eight-county health district was 643.

While only 86 of those cases — about 13 percent — were considered active on Monday, that’s still an increase from 53 active cases on Friday.

The number of COVID-19 deaths in the region remained at 33. Nearly half of those deaths — 15 — have been reported in Pasquotank.

Pasquotank’s case count, meanwhile, rose to 204, with 42 considered active as of Monday. Among other the other counties in ARHS district, only Camden with 14, had more than eight active cases. Camden has a total of 26 total COVID-19 cases.

A total of 524 area residents who’ve contracted COVID-19 — more than 80 percent of all cases — have recovered from it, according to ARHS.

The regional health department also released its weekly surveillance report on COVID-19 trends on Friday. According to that report, the eight-county region’s cases of COVID-19 appear to have grown by at least 100 every two weeks since April 23.

The report also shows that new daily cases of COVID-19 have grown by more than 15 only once in the past month and by more than 10 cases on three occasions.

In addition, the region’s number of active cases rose above 120 only once —during the period between late May and June 7, according to the report.

The report also continues to show Black residents contracting COVID-19 at a higher rate than whites in the region among patients whose race has been disclosed. More than 40 percent of those contracting the virus in the region are Black while more than 35 percent are white.

The race of more than 21 percent of those contracting COVID-19 was listed as “unknown,” according to the report, while another 2 percent were of mixed race. ARHS has said the unknown category includes persons who did not disclose their race and those whose race has not yet been recorded.

Those figures are different from state trends which show more whites than Blacks — 55 percent versus 24 percent — contracting COVID-19.

Forty-one percent of those contracting COVID-19 in the region have been between the ages 25-49, according to ARHS’ report. That compares to 45 percent of persons from that age group contracting the virus statewide.

More than 28 percent of the region’s cases have been persons age 65 and older. Only 12 percent of the state’s total cases — 63,484 as of Monday — were in that age group, however.

Persons age 50-64 comprised 24 percent of the region’s COVID-19 cases. Twenty percent of the state’s cases were in that age group as of Monday.

A majority of COVID-19 cases in both the region and the state are female — 55 percent and 51 percent, respectively. More men than women have died from COVID-19, however.

State data, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, show 53 percent of all COVID-19 deaths — 1,325 as of Monday — have been male.

ARHS hasn’t released figures on deaths. However, the DHHS website shows 22 of the 33 deaths in the region — more than 66 percent — have been male.

The region’s deaths from COVID-19 by age also mirror the state data. While 80 percent of all statewide deaths were persons 65 and older, 82 percent of the region’s deaths — 27 of 33 — were persons in that age group. The other six deaths in the region were between the ages of 50 and 64.

Data on COVID-19 deaths by race show 58 percent of those dying from the disease have been white, 33 percent have been black and 5 percent were classified as “other.”

Complete data for the region wasn’t available from the DHHS website. However, the percentages in Pasquotank were similar to those in the state. Sixty-two percent of those who’ve died in the county have been white and 38 percent have been Black.

In Bertie, three of the four persons who’ve died from COVID-19 were Black. The other was white.

In Perquimans, one Black person and one white person have died from the disease.

Data on deaths by race were not available for Hertford or Gates counties.