Can taxpayers get some of that?

By Andy Winemiller -

It’s the day after election day here in Mount Airy, and some candidates are crying in their beer while others are elated to have received the nod of the people.

I know the feeling of what now? one gets after winning an election. I also know the emotional hangover that exists after you pour your time, money and heart into a campaign and end up on the losing end (I know this one really well).

I even know what it feels like to be in a dead tie the day after an election. Yes, I was tied in a primary race in 2007. I ended up winning by three votes — three weeks later.

While losing may hurt and winning is exciting, I’m excited just to see this election cycle over. It seems like this election was pretty divisive. It had a lot of people at each others throats, and quite frankly I was a little sick of hearing it from all sides.

Now those who have come out on top can get to work, and their most important job is being a liaison to the people who elected them.

They’ve spent all this time shaking babies and kissing hands, and now it’s time to begin fielding the phone calls of concerned constituents.

I’m not a constituent, and I have little personal stock in what happens in Mount Airy city government. However, I do have a concern. Rather than call, I thought I’d just use my weekly opinion piece as my means of relaying my concern.

I cover county government and the Dobson town commissioners, so I’m pretty in tune with what is going on in those two entities. However, it wasn’t until recently that I started paying attention to what was going on in this fair city.

Now I’m wondering why not a single candidate took issue with Mount Airy’s tax rate. Isn’t that what we do as politicians — promise to lower taxes? I know that’s what we do on my side of the aisle.

I’m a firm believer that every dime flowing through a public entity’s coffers is the money of its taxpayers. As a public official you should only take what is absolutely necessary from the people you represent.

Might a $12 million fund balance be a little excessive when property taxes sit at 48 cents per every $100 in property value? Don’t forget that if you live in the Mount Airy School district you are also paying that supplemental tax. Of course, there’s a county tax which is even more than the city’s.

When it’s all added up a Mount Airy resident is paying better than $1,000 on a property valued at $100,000.

According to figures provided by the Surry County Economic Development Partnership more than half of the households in the county are living off a gross income of less than $50,000 per year.

For a family of four living on that sort of income, $100 here or $200 there can make quite a difference.

For a city sitting on nearly $12 million in unrestricted savings, $100,000 here or $200,000 there is little to nothing in terms of expenses.

In fact, Mount Airy’s fund balance could nearly cover an entire fiscal year’s worth of expenditures. Perhaps commissioners will give residents a year off of paying taxes. I wouldn’t hold my breath though.

There are, of course, projects that need to be funded. Infrastructure is always a concern, and Mount Airy’s water and sewer systems are no different than cities across America — they need costly work.

However, I think it might be fitting to pass a few cents worth of savings along to the good residents of the city.

The local government commission sets the minimum fund balance a local government must maintain at eight percent of annual general fund expenditures.

Eight percent probably isn’t healthy. However, Mount Airy could maintain triple the minimum requirement and still return about $8 million to taxpayers via a tax decrease.

I find it disconcerting that throughout this entire campaign process I heard plans for using money, but I heard no plans for decreasing the tax burden on Mount Airy residents.

Mount Airy’s tax isn’t inordinately high. It’s lower than Elkin and higher than Dobson. However, taxes should always remain as low as is possible.

By Andy Winemiller

Andy is a staff writer for The News and can be reached at (336) 415-4698.

Andy is a staff writer for The News and can be reached at (336) 415-4698.

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