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Apparently, we like Mike. The Greensboro-High Point market was No. 2 behind Chicago in watching Jordan documentary

We like Mike. Or at least we like watching multipart documentaries about him.

The Greensboro-High Point TV market came in second (actually, tied for second with Raleigh-Durham) behind Chicago (of course) in viewership of ”The Last Dance,” ESPN’s 10-part documentary on Michael Jordan’s career with the Chicago Bulls. The last episode aired Sunday. And like Jordan, the popular series is breaking records — becoming the most-watched documentary ever on that network — and scoring impressive ratings.

So why do we like Mike? Maybe it’s because the coronavirus interrupted basketball here in Greensboro, knocking out both the ACC Tournament and NCAA tournament games at the coliseum. Maybe it’s because His Airness played high school basketball here in North Carolina in Wilmington. Maybe it’s because we’re bored out of our skulls from sheltering at home and we’ve already seen every episode of “Love is Blind.” Whatever it is, we rank among the top doing what we do best: watch TV.

Of course, this begs the question, where do we rank watching that other high-profile documentary, “Tiger King”?

Guilford County unveils sparse budget, but still looks to hold property tax-rate steady

GREENSBORO — Blunted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Guilford County’s proposed budget for next year includes only modest growth in spending and no increase in the property-tax rate.

In his annual budget message this week, County Manager Marty Lawing unveiled a $633 million spending plan, stripped of about $16 million in revenue and spending from original projections several months ago just before the pandemic struck.

“The fiscal impact on the current budget and the one proposed for FY 2020-21 is severe, particularly with respect to revenue,” Lawing said in his annual budget message, using the initials for “fiscal year.”

Lawing proposes making up for much of that lapse in revenues by tapping the county’s fund balance, its rainy day money.

“The amount of fund balance used to balance the budget increases by $8 million, mainly due to the significant decrease in sales tax revenues projected for next year,” he said.

Major reductions in spending would come from cutting motor vehicle replacements by $2.65 million, as well as taking $1 million each in deferrals from “major facilities maintenance” and capital investment.

The county would buy only five of the originally planned 47 replacement vehicles for the general fleet, law enforcement, animal services and emergency services, he said.

Still, county government can move ahead in the next fiscal year starting July 1 with several initiatives the Board of Commissioners has chosen for special attention, he said.

They include:

  • Completing the construction and opening of a new mental-health crisis center in Greensboro.
  • Redoubling efforts to reduce infant mortality rates among African American and other minority residents.
  • Improving security protections for Guilford’s technology and data systems.
  • Attracting and retaining “quality employees that provide quality work.”

In his annual budget proposal, Lawing told commissioners that Guilford’s revenue from the sales tax is being hit particularly hard by the pandemic, which forced many businesses to close for weeks or otherwise cut into their profits.

“This represents a $16 million decrease and is a significant driver in the decisions that shaped the recommended budget,” he said of the revenue shortfall.

The commissioners will review the proposal, make any changes they think necessary in the coming weeks and then formally adopt the final document as their road map for the next 12 months.

County officials expect to net about $389 million from property taxes in the next fiscal year, a 2% increase over the current year based on higher real-estate values.

But Lawing said the rate itself would remain unchanged at 73.5 cents per $100 of assessed value. That means the owner of a $100,000 house would owe $735 in taxes.

In keeping with normal spending patterns, education would take the biggest portion of county revenues in next year’s budget, accounting for more than $312 million. Much of that would go to Guilford County Schools and various charter schools, but the proposed budget also includes $17.6 million for GTCC.

The nearly $213 million recommended for Guilford County Schools represents, “no change over the previous year’s adopted budget due to the budgetary restraints from the economic impact of COVID-19,” Lawing said.

His written report does not address the school district’s recent request for an additional $76 million for staffing, equipment and other changes related to COVID-19 that district leaders said are needed to safely reopen schools for the 2020-21 school year.

In the human services area, Lawing’s proposal includes $56,000 to cover salary and other costs for an “infant mortality coordinator” to work with minority residents on a persistent problem that commissioners have singled out for greater attention.

The proposed budget also would earmark $657,000 for the new mental health center now under construction on Third Street, including operating expenses and salaries for six staff members.

The new facility is scheduled to open this fall.

In his report, Lawing noted that because county government specializes in essential services, it has continued many of its operations throughout the pandemic.

Many employees “have risen to the occasion and faced adversity head on,” Lawing said.

He added that he was thankful for a federal grant of $93.7 million that the county has received to help local governments with additional costs triggered by the pandemic.

But Lawing said COVID-19 has forced county officials to make significant changes to their plans for next year in a relatively short time span.

“Much has changed since the budget retreat held in February,” Lawing said, referring to the county Board of Commissioners’ initial meeting to discuss plans for the next fiscal year.

“At that time, we were anticipating another year with modest revenue growth in property tax and sales tax,” he said.

Greensboro artist emergency relief fund tops $70,000

GREENSBORO — Wesley L. Williams Jr. saw his income plummet with the coronavirus pandemic that closed entertainment venues and sent fans to shelter at home.

“I have had to endure cancellations after cancellations of my annual teaching and performing jobs,” said Williams, who leads his own professional dance company.

So Williams was grateful to receive $400 from the Greensboro Artist Emergency Relief Fund.

ArtsGreensboro started the fund on March 17 to help working visual and performing artists in the Greensboro area who have lost performances, fees, sales and other activities that generate income.

The fund is directed to working artists, not organizations or nonprofits. Donations are tax-deductible.

So far, 162 artists have received grants.

For Williams, the $400 has provided food for his family, and school supplies for his 5- and 8-year-old sons.

“Please know that the funding is really helping us through these tough times,” Williams said.

ArtsGreensboro and fund donors will be grateful to hear that.

ArtsGreensboro, the local arts council, raises money for and promotes the city’s lively arts scene.

The artist emergency relief fund is separate from the ArtsFund, an annual drive that ArtsGreensboro runs to provide grants to arts organizations and programs, teachers and artists.

Since the artist emergency relief fund started on March 17, 139 donors have contributed $72,068 as of Friday afternoon, according to the website.

Among them: an anonymous donor who sent a check for $25,000.

Laura Way, ArtsGreensboro’s president and chief executive officer, said she doesn’t know who sent it.

It came as a check from a Vanguard investment fund. An accompanying note said that it was intended to help ArtsGreensboro’s mission and relief efforts for artists.

“We were just flabbergasted,” Way said.

ArtsGreensboro started the fund’s goal at $5,000. That goal increased when the separate Greensboro Virus Relief Fund gave $10,500.

Then the organization Triad Musicians Matter gave $5,000.

Now ArtsGreensboro Development Director Catena Bergevin has raised the fund’s goal to $100,000.

A grants panel oversees it. The fund pays a percentage of an applicant’s weekly income from art-making, depending on the number of applicants that week.

Because their income losses continue, artists often receive more than one relief check. They range from $25 to $250 per week, Way said.

To date, ArtsGreensboro has distributed 660 checks totaling $44,835. Each week, it helps more than 100 artists.

Way hears how much artists appreciate it.

When she notifies them each Friday to expect a check, she receives replies such as: “This makes me feel so good about my community,” and “I’m glad I’m here in Greensboro where people care about us.”

Andrew Bowen is among those who have donated.

Bowen runs a photography business, specializing in dance, seniors and family.

Over the years, Bowen has photographed Greensboro Ballet promotional material as well as dancers in the local arts community.

“It would have been hard to look at myself as an artist and friend of the arts and not have done something,” he said.

While artists have missed sharing their work, fans have missed going out to enjoy it.

Before the stay-home orders, Ken Caneva typically went to hear local live music at least once a week.

It wasn’t just for the music, “but more particularly to dance and to interact with both friends and performers — and to get hugs!” Caneva said via email. “Those occasions were usually the high point of my human interactions for the week, and their loss is dearly felt.”

He calls his contributions to the artist emergency relief fund “a token — I hope at a meaningful level — of my appreciation for what they contribute to the life of the community.”

Sonia Archer-Capuzzo and her husband, Guy Capuzzo, both teach at UNCG. When they received their IRS stimulus checks, they donated the money to charities.

The artist emergency relief fund was the first recipient. They gave $700, plus the $16 and change that it cost to process their credit card, Archer-Capuzzo said.

“We know what a lot of musicians and artists are going through at this time,” she said via email. “These are hardworking people who spend their time not only creating art, but also networking, traveling, promoting, and generally contributing to our economy and societal well-being.”

“What we gave is a drop in the bucket of what our neighbors in the artistic community need to keep going for the coming months and possibly years as we deal with this pandemic,” she said. “But we hope it can make a difference.”

Artists such as Williams and musician Jonathan Timber, known as J. Timber, say that it does make a difference.

J. Timber earns his entire income from music. Before the pandemic hit, he performed up to six nights a week throughout the Triad.

“This is my job,” he said. “This is what I wake up to do every day, just like everyone else.”

This year started financially as his best yet. He rented a home on his own and bought new gear.

But since the pandemic arrived, he has performed only a few virtual shows on Instagram and Facebook.

Aside from those, checks from the artist emergency relief fund have been his only income, he said. He is now appealing the state’s denial of his unemployment claim.

“I am just thankful for everything that ArtsGreensboro has done for me,” he said.