By Caroline Rice
Though the first half of April shows that Homewood is down 40% in revenues, the city has not needed to discuss layoffs or cuts in city services because of the coronavirus, the mayor said.
Mayor Scott McBrayer said that, while many of the smaller businesses in Homewood have been closed temporarily, he believes the bigger box stores and grocery stores should keep the city’s revenue afloat. With many businesses opening their doors again, the city should remain strong, he said.
“Our city remains blessed, to say the least,” said McBrayer.
McBrayer asked Homewood’s department heads to reevaluate before spending budgeted money and to make conservative spending choices.
“My message when the budget was passed was that we should not go out and spend just because it had been previously approved,” McBrayer said.
Dr. Ellen Eaton, assistant professor in the UAB Division of Infectious Diseases, said that Homewood saw a good flattening of the curve, meaning the city didn’t have as much of a spike in cases as it could have had without preventative measures. Eaton said she thinks closing schools early played a large part in this positive result.
“We were a champion early on and now have a lower fatality rate than we anticipated,” Eaton said.
Though small businesses and restaurants are reopening, Eaton warned against being any less cautious about the virus than in late March.
Eaton doesn’t know when health officials will make recommendations about reopening schools, but she said staff should anticipate having to wear a mask when they do reopen, and staff at higher risk from the disease may be teaching through online services to avoid direct contact with children.
Trey Whitt, an accountant in Homewood, said many businesses are getting back to business as usual, and he is helping clients figure out how to do that from an accounting standpoint as well as a health standpoint.
Whitt said there were two rounds of loan funding for business owners, and money has been exhausted for both.
Whitt said he also has worked to help local businesses lay off or furlough employees. Now some businesses are facing the problem that some workers don’t want to go off of unemployment to begin working part-time because unemployment temporarily is paying them more than part-time work would. However, if an employee refuses employment, benefits will be cut off.
The Homewood Chamber of Commerce continues to work to support businesses, though that work is being done from homes. It has pivoted to offering webinars and virtual happy hours. The chamber’s website has blog posts on COVID-19 and resources to help the community as well as to communicate grant opportunities as they become available.