Reader: City needs to control spending

The City Board of Commissioners (Bde.) is in the process of approving our next budget ( 7/1/17 to 6/30/18). For those who pay attention it is an education in itself, but not one that instills confidence. The City Manager (CM) provided a proposed budget to the Bde. members a couple weeks ago for them to study. As usual, there’s likely some misleading and hard to find info, hidden costs, “special interest” projects, smoke and mirrors, and of course still more pay raises. This time it even calls for 5 cent tax hike. Unfortunately many citizens aren’t paying attention and know little about these things. Some of the commissioners could likely benefit from studying the proposed budget more before they must vote yea or nay. But that’s how government gets away with it; from Mayberry to DC.

There’s a budget session this Thursday (6/8) in the downstairs conference room at 9 a.m. That’s when the real discussions take place and it’s a public meeting. Last year had three budget sessions and from what I saw the city administration led the Bde. into approving a budget different from what the Bde. said they wanted. There was too much smoke and mirrors, misinformation, and good old mendacity (meaning not the “whole truth”) I hope we don’t see that happen again but that’s up to the Bde. Members to prevent it.

Some interesting items to think about:

Mkt. St. improvements were first mentioned a couple years go at a cost around $50K. Last year $170K was spent on water and sewer for it. Now there’s an estimate for another $375K to really “fancy up” the street. Even worse, that’s not likely to be enough to do what the group pushing it wants. Like so many things they say it will bring tourists and pay for itself. I look at the businesses on Mkt St and look at our average tourists and I don’t see much there to attract them. My guess is total cost could be $700K, counting what’s been spent already. Much of that could be hidden in other line items (mendacity).

City just spent $250K (and probably more) on the parking lot beside Winery. Lots of fancy paving, granite, plantings, and even a sculpture.

City is in midst of spending $500K + on a Reeves parking lot. They claim it’s for drainage but the original discussions were all about gaining parking spots (but not a lot will be gained). I guess drainage issues sounds better politically. More mendacity. The real parking problem is 48% of the “paying customers” at Reeves don’t live in town and don’t pay city tax. Reeves charges them barely more than city residents. If we charged the outsiders the same way we’ve always done for outside water users, my figures say Reeves could see $150K-$200K more revenue per year. It’s only fair to ask the outsiders to pay their part. Soon we’d be repaid for the parking lot that they themselves created a need for. What are we waiting for?

City gives money to certain non-profits each year. One gets almost $90K. That one is very successful, has no debt, and has its own “surplus” of about a Million $ (and still growing). Why do we keep doing that?

Earlier this year Commissioner Yokeley wanted to create a “10 year spending plan,” and he did so. The itemized print out runs 50+ pages. It looks to me to be replacing almost every piece of equipment the city owns, from dump trucks to staplers, two more new fire trucks plus a new fire substation. Then there’s replacing all furniture, flooring, appliances, office equipment, heat pumps, A/C units, all building roofs, repaving all city lots, etc., etc. Also we see another million $ for Reeves in the next two years alone, with a $300K indoor walking track, $150K elevator, $100K new windows, $125K A/C b-ball gym, etc. The total for his 10 year plan would be $32 Million. How would the city pay for all this? We’d have to borrow and borrow. He has pushed hard for Bde approval of this “vision” plan. This is not just “tax and spend,” I say it’s more like spend, borrow and then tax to pay the loans.

Greenways are nice and most towns have them. We already have 7 miles of them and that’s more than most any others even many times larger that MTA. Greenville 3.3 miles, Statesville 6, Apex 6, Gastonia 2.3, Chapel Hill 6, etc. Sure, we’re told grants cover a lot of the costs to build, but we have millions of our funds invested too, and the expenses never stop. Our mowing, flowers/shrubs budget appears to be about $800K per year and much of that is Greenways. We have enough and don’t need to keep building more.

Our current tax rate of 48 cents is still above state average of 44. Also we have a 10 cent city school tax so our real rate is 58 cents. Now the CM recommends another 5 cents, bringing our new total rate to 63 cents … almost 50% above state average. High taxes scare off any of the new industry we need so badly.

NC Treasurer Reports show MTA takes in lots more revenue per capita than state average, but it also spends lots more than average. A business person would quickly say we need better expense control… I’ve spoken at many Bde meetings about our figures vs. state averages but it gets no attention. We don’t need a tax hike because we already have more revenue than others; we just need to finally control our spending. That’s just common sense.

John Pritchard

Mount Airy

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