Lobbyist may not be bad idea

Recently, Mount Airy’s Board of Commissioners approved a contract with Bryan Holloway, to act as a lobbyist on behalf of the city at the General Assembly in Raleigh.

The resolution commissioners approved calls for Holloway, a former state legislator, to assist the city “with acquiring funds to help with various projects.”

It’s hard to say if this is a good idea, mainly because it’s not clear what the commissioners’ intent is.

The cost is just $12,000 a year, and while the expenditure of every dollar that belongs to taxpayers should be made with great consideration, the truth is $12,000 is a tiny, tiny fraction of the city’s annual budget. Before the city starting throwing money at the ill-fated Barter Theatre project, Mount Airy had a year-end surplus of nearly $12 million, so spending 12 grand won’t hurt city coffers in any measurable way.

It wouldn’t take much in terms of Holloway “finding” state money for Mount Airy projects to financially justify the expense. With a state budget of more than $23 billion, there’s plenty there for a lobbyist to pore over in finding potential funding for the city.

Holloway, who represented Stokes County and parts of Rockingham County in the state House of Representatives for ten years before leaving in 2015 to become a full-time lobbyist, was among the top four budget writers under former Speaker Thom Tillis. He certainly should have relevant contacts, particularly as a Republican with a GOP-controlled General Assembly. He also would seem to have an insider’s working knowledge of the state budget and funding sources.

It’s a one-year contract, so if he’s not successful in garnering at least $12,000 in state funding the city wouldn’t have otherwise gotten, then the city can cut ties with him and there’s really no harm to Mount Airy.

In that regard, it seems to be a good, solid decision by the city commissioners to find more financial help for Mount Airy.

The one caveat to that is if his marching orders are specifically to find more money for the aforementioned Barter Theatre plan. That proposal, of course, has the city spending millions of dollars to build a new facility for the Abingdon, Virginia based organization at the former site of the Spencer’s textile mill, along with several million dollars in infrastructure upgrades.

On top of that, the city, in the original agreement that was eventually shot down by the state Local Government Commission, would have been obligated to provide hundreds of thousands of dollars — at least — in operating revenue support to the proposed theater complex.

To be clear, most any sort of new development would require city expenditure on infrastructure, and some expense for the developing the site — similar to building a shell building — would most likely be in order.

But the idea of spending millions of dollars on an entertainment venue that would then need yearly operating support from the city that could measure into the hundreds of thousands of dollars annually — all with only a small pool of new jobs created — is what makes this a bad deal for Mount Airy.

If the city has contracted with Holloway to pursue help in getting the Barter deal up and running, then this is an awful decision, and further evidence that the majority of the commissioners are out of touch with their constituents and out of touch with financial reality.