Theresa Harris expects she’ll be working 13-hour days next week.
Harris, owner of the No Loose Ends salon on Weeksville Road, figures she’ll need to work that long every day just to accommodate her business’s regular clients, most of whom have been waiting two months to get their hair cut.
Like other hair salons and barbershops across the state, No Loose Ends has been closed since March 25. That’s the date Gov. Roy Cooper ordered them, along with nail salons, tattoo parlors, movie theaters, gyms and bowling alleys, to shut down as part of the state’s efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the highly contagious coronavirus.
Cooper allowed the reopening of hair and nail salons and tattoo parlors as well as the resumption of dine-in service at restaurants on Friday as part of Phase Two of his plan to ease the state’s COVID-19 restrictions. Movie theaters, bowling alleys and gyms will remain shuttered for now, however.
Clients and stylists alike are looking forward to the reopening, Harris said.
“Everyone is very excited to have their hair cut,” she said. “And we’re excited to get back to work. It’s been a long two months.”
While hair salons like No Loose Ends are allowed to reopen, returning customers will find their operations to have drastically changed.
For starters, all employees of personal care and grooming businesses — hair salons, barbershops, nail salons, tattoo parlors — are required to be masked while they’re in the business. Customers won’t be required to wear masks, but state officials are strongly recommending it.
Customers also will find their favorite hair salon or barbershop under occupancy limits. They’ll also find the seating arranged so that they’re at least six feet from other customers. There also will be at least six feet of spacing in lines at cash registers.
And then there are the cleaning rules. Salon workers are being required to perform frequent cleaning and disinfecting of so-called “high-touch” areas. They’ll also have to ensure that all equipment that comes into direct contact with customers — combs and clippers, for example — is disinfected between each customer. In addition all furniture, including chairs, capes and shampooing areas, have to be cleaned and disinfected between each customer.
While it’s not required, barbershops and hair salons are also being asked to set up — if they don’t already have one — appointment systems for services and to encourage customers to wait either in their vehicle or outside the shop before they’re served.
Given the occupancy restrictions and cleaning requirements, Harris, who plans to reopen No Loose Ends Saturday at 9 a.m., says her salon will be operating by appointment only.
Harris said No Loose Ends used to take walk-in customers, but won’t be able to now because of the need to limit the number of people in the salon and allow time to clean and sanitize work areas between clients.
“You have to clean behind everybody, and sanitize and wipe,” she said.
Only one client per stylist will be allowed in the shop and there will be two stylists working at a time. The shop has four stylists so they will be working on a rotating basis, Harris said.
Harris said with the precautions she’s taking, she believes it’s safe to reopen. There is a high level of trust between clients and stylists and they will take care of each other, she said.
Harris considers her clientele to be loyal customers.
“I’m thankful for them,” she said.
William McCaffity of Keystone Barber Shop on McMorrine Street said he will be opening his shop Tuesday at 8 a.m. He said he is eager to get back to work but wants to take the time to ensure everything is in order before he reopens.
Service will be by appointment only, he said. In addition, only two patrons will be allowed in the shop at a time — one in the chair and one waiting, he said.
“Everyone will be distancing,” McCaffity said. “Everybody is supposed to wear a mask. I will be wearing a mask.”
McCaffity said he is glad to get back to work and start making money again, and will do everything necessary to ensure the health and safety of his patrons.
Sammy Boyd, owner of Sammy’s Barber Shop on Colonial Avenue, said he’s opening he, too, is opening his shop Tuesday morning. He plans to allow only four patrons in the shop at a time.
“Everybody else will have to wait outside,” Boyd said.
Boyd said he’s eager to get back to work but reopening under the new rules will be a big adjustment for everyone.
“Everyone will need to have a lot of patience,” he said.
Jeff Horwitz, owner of Julius Star Tattoo on Weeksville Road, said he’s looking forward to reopening his shop, which he planned to do Saturday at 2 p.m.
“Very much so,” Horwitz said. “The guys are very much looking forward to getting back to work.”
He said customers have been calling to find out when they can come in and get a tattoo. When customers come in, they’ll also notice changes.
Julius Star will have two tattoo artists working at a time, but all work for now will be by appointment only, Horwitz said.
And to ensure the shop sticks to its occupancy restrictions, clients are being advised they can only bring one guest to their appointment. Julius Star is limiting the number of people in the shop at any one time to fewer than 10.
Horwitz acknowledged the requirements for reopening are detailed and can be confusing.
“It is confusing, and I had to dig and find the governor’s executive order,” he said.
And while the past two months have been difficult, Horowitz believes his business will thrive in the weeks and months ahead.
“I’m confident that while it wasn’t the best use of the past eight weeks, I’m confident that we’ll go back better than we ever were — 100 percent,” Horwitz said. “We’re definitely optimistic.”
Horwitz said the shop has been proactive, using the past couple of months to renovate and upgrade.
“Now that it’s game time we’re ready to roll,” he said.
Harris, whose shop received a loan through the federal Paycheck Protection Program, also thinks it won’t take too long for her business to get back up and running.
“I think we’ll be fine,” she said. “I think we’ll be OK.”
State Auditor Beth Wood said last week her office already has been asked by state lawmakers to audit the federal money the state has received for its response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“That is already an audit on my list of things to do,” Wood said.
Wood, who has been North Carolina’s state auditor since 2009, was speaking during a Zoom meeting hosted by the Currituck and Outer Banks Chambers of Commerce on Tuesday. Wood provided a 30-minute overview of how the N.C. Office of the State Auditor saves taxpayers money by sniffing out wasteful spending.
After her presentation, Wood fielded several questions from meeting participants.
When asked about her office’s most memorable investigations, Wood said one involved a community college that was granting its staff 11 more paid holidays than workers at other state agencies received.
In 2017, the state auditor’s office received a complaint that staff at Central Carolina Community College were given 11 more paid holidays than the standard 12 paid holidays state employees at other agencies are granted. That’s according to a report of the investigation.
Her office’s ensuing investigation revealed that the college had granted employees a total of 23 paid holidays in 2016-17, Wood said.
According to the report, the extra 11 paid holidays resulted in the college paying its employees more than $862,000 for days they did not work. The report also found that the approval of the extra holidays was the result of the State Board of Community Colleges’ lack of a specific policy stating the allowable number of paid holidays.
Wood said the investigation of CCCC, which has campuses in Chatham, Hartnett and Lee counties, revealed that a total of 32 of the state’s 58 community colleges had provided employees more than 12 paid holidays a year. According to the report, College of The Albemarle was not among those 32 colleges.
Responding to the state auditor’s findings in April 2018, the State Board approved a policy directing community colleges to grant employees a maximum of 12 paid holidays a year, according to a news release at the time.
Josh Bass, president of the Currituck Chamber of Commerce, asked Wood how often her office conducts investigations.
“It’s not frequent but it’s not unusual,” Wood said.
An audit team consists of about three to four people and her office can have up to 30 active audits at one time in a year, she said.
The state of North Carolina operates on a budget of about $46 billion a year, Wood said. About $13 billion of that comes from state income tax, another $8 billion from sales taxes, about $2 billion in gasoline taxes and about a $1 billion from corporate taxes. The remaining $22 billion is awarded in the form of federal grants for Medicaid, food stamps, clean air and highway infrastructure, student loans and other projects, Wood said.
Whether that funding is directly from the state or the federal government, it all comes from tax-paying residents, Wood said. That’s where her office comes in.
“It’s our job to audit how those tax dollars are being spent,” she said. “That is the job of the state auditor.”
Wood’s office oversees the spending of several state agencies, such as the departments of Transportation and of Public Instruction, plus all 17 of the University of North Carolina System institutions and the state’s 58 community colleges.
That oversight is done through different types of audits and investigations, she said.
Wood said her office has nearly 150 employees, of which 126 are auditors and about half of them are certified public accountants.
One question Wood said she’s often asked is, “Who audits the auditors?”
Her office is required by the federal government to undergo an independent peer review audit every three years, she said. However, she said she doesn’t think that audit is enough.
That’s why she also seeks independent reviews of an audit before releasing its findings, she said.
City Council has ordered cuts to next year’s city budget that may eliminate the need for a property tax increase.
Council voted to close the year-old health clinic for city employees and eliminate a comprehensive plan that would have charted the city’s future during a budget work session this week on the proposed $69 million spending plan.
The 4-2 vote also adds upgrades to all of the city’s security cameras and allows the purchase of two new cameras.
Councilors Billy Caudle, Jeannie Young, Chris Reffieux and Kem Spence voted in favor of the cuts and the additional security cameras upgrades.
Councilors Johnnie Walton and Michael Brooks voted against the cuts and the additional camera upgrades.
The cuts total around $115,000, which could be used to offset the 2-cent property tax rate increase City Manager Rich Olson has proposed. Olson proposed the rate hike to raise $228,000 needed to balance next year’s city budget.
“We are getting fairly close to not having a tax increase,” Olson told councilors after they voted to make the cuts.
Olson originally budgeted $80,000 for security cameras but that was increased to $190,000 with the city proposing to buy them through a three-year installment plan.
“That includes upgrading all the cameras in the system and increasing two new cameras in the system,” Olson said.
Closing the health clinic, which Olson said is being underutilized by city employees, will cut around $124,000 from the budget. Eliminating the comprehensive plan saves $100,000. Olson also identified other, smaller cuts in the budget’s general fund.
Council also freed up another $58,000 when it voted 4-2 Monday to eliminate $500-a-month pay raises for councilors and the mayor.
The same four councilors — Young, Caudle, Ruffieux and Spence — voted to remove the raises from the budget. Walton and Brooks voted against the motion.
Councilors Darius Horton and Gabriel Adkins both missed Monday’s budget work session. Both voted in March to include the pay raises in the 2020-21 budget.
“Now, let me add a little salt in the wound,” Olson said after the vote to eliminate the raises. “With the motion that was just (passed) there is an additional $58,131 that can be added to that (the amount needed to avoid a tax increase.) That takes us up to basically $210,000.”
The pay raise issue, however, is all but certain to arise again before the council’s June 30 deadline for approving next year’s city budget.
Brooks in fact told Olson not to count on the $58,000 saved by eliminating the pay raises for council and the mayor.
“Don’t count those chickens before they hatch,” Brooks said.
Spence earlier made a motion to keep the money for the employee clinic in the budget. However, the motion died after it didn’t receive a second.
Spence also sought to remove $50,000 from the budget slated for improvements at the Poole Street Park. He was only joined by Ruffieux in the 4-2 vote. Caudle, Young, Walton and Brooks voted to keep that money in the budget.
Elizabeth City-Pasquotank school officials have figured out a way to bring graduating seniors at both county high schools “together” for commencement ceremonies without putting anyone’s health at risk.
ECPPS officials announced “hybrid” graduation ceremony plans for both Pasquotank County High School and Northeastern High School on Friday that factor in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
According to those plans, graduating seniors will have an opportunity the first week of June to receive their cap and gown at their school in front of five family members and friends. The school will record a video of each diploma presentation. Those videos will then be compiled into one longer video that will be shown — complete with music and speeches — the evening of each school’s scheduled commencement.
In the case of Pasquotank High, the video of diploma presentations will be shown June 12. For Northeastern, the showing will be June 13.
Each school’s presentation will be slightly different.
Pasquotank plans to host a drive-up event on its campus. Students, with social distancing rules in effect, will be allowed to watch the presentation on a projection screen outside the school.
At Northeastern, the compilation video will be livestreamed the evening of June 13. Afterward, NHS students will be invited to drive through the parking lot for a celebratory parade. The event will conclude with the traditional turning of the tassels.
ECPPS Board of Education Chairman Denauvo Robinson said Friday that much care and consideration went into planning the two celebrations.
“Safety has always been, and will continue to be, at the forefront of all of the events planned for our families as we close out the 2019-2020 school year,” Robinson said.
Robinson also congratulated this year’s seniors on behalf of the school board.
“Job well done,” Robinson said.
Rhonda James-Davis, who heads human resources and student support services for ECPPS, said principals and their teams have worked closely with the district administration to plan both graduations and end-of-year events. ECPPS schools have been closed to in-class instruction since March 16, when Gov. Roy Cooper ordered them shuttered for two weeks in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Cooper later ordered schools closed for the remainder of the school year.
The graduation ceremonies planned for June 12 and 13 will provide an opportunity to celebrate students in the best and safest way possible, James-Davis said.
ECPPS Superintendent Catherine Edmonds said all graduation plans have been reviewed and approved by the local health department. She thanked everyone for their patience and understanding.
Pasquotank County High School Principal Juvanda Crutch, in a video prepared for the the school district’s website, depicted the challenge of planning for graduation this year — dramatically drawing red x-marks across the front of a series of draft plans before finally placing a green check-mark on the front of one dubbed, “Graduation Plan #10.”
Northeastern High School Principal Angela Cobb said the staff listened to students and planned events accordingly.
“Graduation is not going to be traditional this year,” Cobb said in a message to seniors. “It is going to be extra special — just like you.”
ECPPS planned to livestream a video at 7 p.m. Friday and the ECPPS Facebook page announcing the high school graduation plans. This week the district will post a schedule of graduation activities and all end-of-year events on the district’s website, www.ecpps.k12.nc.us.
In addition to graduation, Pasquotank High School will observe Senior Week June 1-5. On June 1 seniors are invited to submit videos of their decorated mask and cap.
For June 2, Pasquotank High seniors will submit “transformation” videos that show them in everyday attire and then in a prom outfit, Pasquotank High attire or other special outfit — transforming them “from everyday to wonderful.”
June 3 will be Black Out Day. Seniors will be invited to submit pictures of themselves wearing all black.
ECPPS middle and elementary schools will also be announcing their own end-of-year events this week.