It could be labelled with the heading of “Facebook Strikes Again.”
The social media service that has been linked to election tampering, fake news and terrorism recruitment also apparently is responsible for a rumor recently circulating about membership rates being increased at Reeves Community Center in Mount Airy.
Fueled by fears of charges being doubled for out-of-city users and the financial implications of this for the center as a whole, a throng of citizens attended a Thursday night meeting of the city council to oppose that move.
The thing is, there are no planned adjustments to the rate structure at the center.
“I have not proposed any changes,” City Manager Barbara Jones confirmed Friday at City Hall. Jones recently presented a proposed budget for the upcoming 2018-2019 fiscal year which lists parks and recreation and other fees to be charged by city departments for various services.
The costs for Reeves Community Center participation are unchanged from the present fiscal year. Jones also said she has not heard of any council members seeking increases.
So why all the fuss?
“It’s my understanding there were comments on Facebook,” the city manager added Friday in discussing the possible origins of the rate-hike rumor.
Facebook also had been mentioned at the council meeting Thursday night, when Nancy Dixon led a formal presentation regarding the fee issue.
Dixon is a longtime local recreation advocate, who formerly chaired the Mount Airy Parks and Recreation Commission and also has served on the board of a support organization, the Reeves Community Center Foundation.
She cited recent reports making their rounds on Facebook, specifically that Reeves Community Center user rates would be doubling for persons residing outside the city limits. They now pay charges that are 30 to 40 percent higher than those for in-town residents, according to Dixon, which takes into account that the latter is contributing to the center through their property taxes.
The fact there is no official effort under way to hike fees did not prevent Dixon from commenting on that possibility.
“That’s a big hike for folks,” she said of the 100-percent increase. “I don’t believe this should happen.”
Dixon said she was appearing at Thursday night’s meeting to drive home the point that such a move should not even be on the table.
“I didn’t want to put something on Facebook — I wanted to talk to you directly,” she told city officials.
Dixon said if such an increase were imposed, it would have a financial impact on Reeves Community Center as a whole. The center at the corner of Pine and South Renfro streets originated as a YMCA facility in 1951, with the city government assuming ownership of it on Dec. 31, 2004.
Around 38 percent of Reeves Community Center’s 3,179 members live outside the city, according to Dixon, who said they might be prompted to drop their memberships altogether in the event of a stiff rate hike.
“Could we survive without that?” Dixon said of the resulting revenue loss.
“Which child will not participate next year (in center programs) due to higher rates?”
For the most recent year, the city government allocated $442,353 for the center’s operations.
In addition to remarks by Dixon, others were offered by a steady procession of speakers during Thursday night’s meeting.
While no fee hikes appear on the horizon, they took advantage of the opportunity to comment on how the center is a vital community resource, particularly to the underprivileged, senior citizens and others.
“I would hate to see any of that go away because of money,” said Robby Timmons, one person who spoke.
There have been calls in recent years for user rates at Reeves Community Center to be raised for non-city residents, including by John Pritchard, a local citizen who monitors municipal budgetary matters and has criticized the rate structure multiple times.
However, increasing the fees has not been advocated by any commissioners or city staff members during public meetings.
A similar situation occurred last year before Mount Airy’s Autumn Leaves Festival in October.
It was suspected that social media postings fueled the erroneous notion that security would be lacking at the festival due to insufficient overtime pay for officers manning the event.
The apparent origin of that rumor was a discussion the spring before in which possible cuts to the city budget were suggested, including decreasing overtime pay by $100,000. At the time, it was pointed out that this would reduce the presence of police and other personnel for special events such as the Autumn Leaves Festival.
However, that reduction was never implemented.
Months later, the security concerns regarding the festival resurfaced on Facebook, right after a mass shooting in Las Vegas on Oct. 1.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.