Parks should charge more to non-city residents?

To the Editor,

The annual city budget process is in its final stages and our city commissioners will be voting on it right away. Here are two items all taxpayers need to consider … and let commissioners know your thoughts.

(A) Parks and Recreation (P&R) costs:

Our P&R department is expected to cost money to operate and that’s normal. It does however charge fees for membership and activities and those fees help offset expenses. Even so, the net expense to taxpayers for the P&R department is hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. By “net expense” I mean the total expenses minus the fee income that is collected. Each hundred thousand dollars equals one cent of property tax.

The P&R Director told me some time ago that 48 percent of the people paying fees are not city residents. Some are even from VA. We only charge 20 – 25 percent extra for outsiders. That clearly is not enough. Those people are not paying their fair share. That means city taxpayers make up the difference. The city charges 100 percent extra for outsiders to use our water system. If an outside property wants to use city sewer they must agree to be annexed and pay property tax. That may be a little much for P&R but a fee increase for outsiders is clearly in order, since they represent half of the P&R users but pay zero city taxes.

City taxpayers are simply paying part of the fees that should be paid by those not paying city taxes. We constantly hear about needing more parking at Reeves and common sense says outsiders are half the reason. Additional parking will be very expensive so why not ask them to pay fees that more correctly match their fair share?

(B) Personnel Costs:

Comments made by city officials at the planning session this past February said our employees are underpaid and need a 12 percent increase to catch up. That’s more than the past several years raises all put together.

I wanted more information so I went online and on the phone to the State Treasurer’s Office. The results suggest our salary expense is actually higher than most. So how can we be underpaying? Maybe there’s an explanation but the question stands out. The Treasurer’s office uses the per capita method for comparison so each town is measured the same way. Here’s how we look:

• Mount Airy per capita expense for salaries and wages = $553

• State average for populations of 2,500 to 10K = $379

• State average for populations of 10K to 50K = $362

• State average for populations of all size populations = $412

To double check I looked individually at 16 other towns that are in our size range and, like us, are not simply satellites of large cities. Our salary expense figure is well above those also.

Commissioners need to take a close look at this. Our Federal Government says there’s no inflation so seniors get no increase in social security. Average family income is down $7,000 from seven years ago. Thousands of jobs we once had are gone. City employees do a great job but they also enjoy great job security and good benefits. There have been raises in most years but 12 percent would be huge. Often a big number is asked for in order to negotiate, but even 6 percent for everyone would be much higher than normal.

Is Mount Airy so different from all others? Over the years this issue of our personnel costs has come up from time to time. The city response has been that some study in the past suggested our town’s “actual” population swells to equal a city of 100 – 150,000 each day. That study needs questioning. Many come into town daily but that much expansion is hard to imagine. That 150,000 would be almost like having Autumn Leaves every day. Moreover, all towns that are not satellites of large cities also have people coming in daily.

John Pritchard

Mount Airy

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