Mount Airy’s proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year — and the 5-cent increase in property taxes it includes — drew support from some city residents and criticism from others during a public hearing Thursday night.
The eight citizens who journeyed to a speaker’s podium during the session held before the city Board of Commissioners seemed to be divided into two camps regarding higher taxes and the issue at the core of the revenue picture for 2017-2018. It is a salary increase for the 170 workers on the city payroll averaging 5.89 percent.
“I don’t have a problem with you raising taxes five cents,” said Allen Burton, one person who spoke during the public hearing.
Burton said he supported pay increases for police — which has been a board priority more so than hikes for other city personnel due to the extra dangers they face and problems in filling police vacancies.
“But other city employees need a raise, too,” Burton added.
The proposed budget does include special consideration for the police department, including plans to raise the pay for starting officers from $29,000 to the $35,000 range. Some sworn members of the force will be eligible for increases of up to 19.6 percent.
However, Mike Hiatt, a retired local school administrator, suggested that other municipal personnel receive the same kind of treatment. A study released last year showed Mount Airy employees’ salaries would need to be increased by 11 percent to match their counterparts in similar-sized cities. City workers received a 3-percent hike for the present fiscal year.
“You can’t get people to work thirty years at the same rate of pay,” Hiatt said during the hearing.
“If five cents is what you need from me,”” he added of what it would take to accomplish the proposed raises, “fine.”
The extra nickel in taxation — rising from the present 48 cents per $100 of assessed valuation to 53 cents — would generate additional revenues of $543,000. In addition, $877,789 is proposed to be used from the city’s cash reserves to balance the general fund budget totaling $13,102,903.
Under the tax increase, the owner of a $130,000 home, the median price in Mount Airy, would pay $65 more for the next fiscal year beginning on July 1.
That struck a chord with another hearing speaker, Gene Clark, who said the financial impact will be greater for others.
“If you run a business,” Clark commented, “it’s going to cost you more than sixty-five dollars.”
Clark also cited figures showing that income levels have dropped in Surry County, and questioned hiking property taxes at this time “for people who’ve lost income.”
Citizen Paul Eich also criticized the proposed pay raises across the board, saying he’s heard other residents express support for tax hikes to allow higher law enforcement salaries, but not other city workers.
“I’m not willing to do that,” Eich added.
He said there’s a limit to what the city government should pay “people who aren’t going anywhere,” indicating that vacancies are not a problem in departments other than police.
Eich repeated a suggestion made several weeks ago by Commissioner Jon Cawley, that there should be a cut-off point in which higher-paid personnel would not receive raises.
The speaker also said other steps should be taken, such as increasing user rates at Reeves Community Center for out-of-town residents, and others to avoid a property-tax hike.
After processing all the comments Thursday night and further discussion among themselves, the commissioners will make a final decision on the budget later this month.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.