Big government, or at least the Mount Airy version, seems to be rearing its ugly head.
In addition to the laundry list of questionable moves made by the city’s board of commissioners in recent weeks (see Board shows dishonest flair in Spencer purchase, May 16, Mount Airy News), we have a blatant land grab by the city’s Mount Airy Downtown and Main Street programs through a proposed expansion of the Municipal Service District.
The district is an area downtown in which additional taxes are imposed on property owners — to the tune of 21 cents per $100 of assessed value (or a tax rate roughly 40 percent higher than that of their counterparts in the rest of Mount Airy).
The MSD is not a bad thing. By all accounts, the property owners within the existing boundaries have by-and-large supported the concept since its inception nearly 40 years ago. The additional tax money collected from property owners there is supposed to be put back into development projects that enhance the commercial district.
The problem is, Mount Airy Downtown wants to expand those boundaries, forcibly annexing businesses and residential property whose owners are dead set against the move and see no potential benefit.
‘This is a very key piece of land when you consider it is a gateway to the downtown district,” Mount Airy Downtown’s governing board president, Ted Ashby, said of the territory during a presentation before a Mount Airy Board of Commissioners public hearing Thursday night. “This area needs our help to utilize its full potential.”
Main Street Coordinator Lizzie Morrison had this to add: “Part of the reason we want to expand is to offer the same services to that area…There’s a lot of potential with the buildings and area we’re wanting to expand (to).”
And there it is. Ashby and Morrison might just as well have said, “These individuals don’t know any better. They aren’t capable of knowing what’s best for their property. We know how to tell these property owners how to utilize their property better than they do, and we want to reach into their pockets and steal their money to pay the cost of imposing our will on them.”
Admittedly, this may be overstating the case a little bit, but every single property owner in the proposed expanded district, at least all who spoke Thursday night, were vehemently against the move.
Unfortunately, we suspect the public hearing was simple window dressing, a formality the city is required to go through to fulfill state law, with no real intention of listening to those who spoke.
As we’ve seen in recent months, for whatever reason the commissioners have seemed more intent on imposing their will on the residents of Mount Airy, rather than listening and governing according to what the city residents seem to want.
Mount Airy Downtown, the Main Street program, and the city’s board of commissioners have been in bed together for quite some time on the establishment of the redevelopment commission, on the secret city plans to purchase the former Spencer Inc. building, and now on the expansion of the MSD.
Which begs the question, who really is running the show now? The commissioners or Mount Airy Downtown and a few, key influential business people managing that group?
It certainly isn’t the residents of the city — they seem to have been left out in the cold.