Among the back-and-forth discussions Thursday night at the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners meetings, where the proposed expansion of the Municipal Services District was being debated, emerged some scary sentiments, some that ought to have city property owners and taxpayers worried.
We’ll address those in more detail in Sunday’s edition of The Mount Airy News. For now, some of the statements made Thursday night, a few aimed at The Mount Airy News because of our opposition to the expansion, others that squarely put the cross hairs on any city resident who voiced opposition to the expansion, should be addressed.
The Municipal Services District, of course, is an area downtown, primarily along a section of Main Street, in which property owners are required to pay a higher tax rate than others in the city. For the most part those in the district are there of their own choosing, and believe being part of the district has benefited them in ways that far outweigh the additional taxes, which are about 40 percent higher than the rest of the city.
At times Thursday night the board meeting sounded more like a lovefest for the MSD, with those supporting the expansion extolling its virtues and promising untold benefits for all who might be taken in, even against their will.
The problem is, despite repeated requests, the current MSD board will not, or cannot, show definitive, positive plans for the expansion, all we get are nebulous statements about some facade grant eligibility and the potential for property values inside the MSD to increase over time.
Thursday night’s meeting even included a PowerPoint presentation which highlighted scenes from Mount Airy, digitally altered to show all of the Main Street structures boarded up and falling into disrepair, like some century-old Western ghost town. The message, we suppose, was that without the MSD Mount Airy would be nothing — no Autumn Leaves Festival, no Mayberry Days, no Fiddle Crawl, no tourists — nothing but rotting buildings.
We don’t think these tactics are particularly effective, particularly since the MSD governing board, Mount Airy Downtown Inc, still hasn’t voiced any sort of plan for the proposed expansion area.
What we do believe is that the MSD has been a wonderfully effective tool in spurring downtown economic growth, in partnering with arts, tourism, and business interest to make Main Street a vital, thriving business community that is the envy of many around the state.
We believe the MSD has served a role, and continues to serve a role, that is important not just to those along Main Street, but to the larger community, both in Mount Airy and outside its borders.
We have not disputed the valued of effectiveness or the MSD, or the dedication of those who work hard and long hours, on a volunteer basis, for the MSD.
What we have been opposed to, and will remain opposed to, is the idea of forced annexation, of taking in properties against the owners’ will, with the vague promise that it’ll “be good for you.” We have been and continue to be opposed to the closed-door, and we believe clearly illegal, meetings the city commission, along with MSD officials, have been holding for months regarding the expansion.
And we find issue with the sentiment expressed Thursday night by some MSD officials, in essence saying anyone who opposed MSD membership isn’t a good citizen of Mount Airy, or isn’t doing his or her fair share to help the city grow, that everyone should feel “obligated” to fork over extra tax dollars to the district.
In the end, we think the city commissioners finally took the right path, voting to expand the MSD boundaries to include property owners who supported becoming members of the district, while excluding those who did not want to be part of the district.
Jon Cawley, Dean Brown and Shirley Brinkley are the three commissioners who voted against the forced annexation of those who asked to not be part of the extended taxing district, and we commend them for considering the individuals they represent in arriving at their fair and reasonable decision.
Cawley in particular was outspoken Thursday night, questioning his fellow commissioners, pinning them down on what, exactly, they believe regarding individual property owner rights and expressing his disdain for the idea that the MSD, the city, or any other governmental agency might attempt to quash those rights for some supposed greater good.
He also expressed a desire to keep those discussions in the open, realizing that so many closed sessions in recent months have given rise to much of the growing distrust directed at the board.
Cawley appears to understand our criticism of recent board actions. We are not opposed to the MSD or the expansion of its boundaries, we are not necessarily opposed to the city’s purchase of the Spencer’s property (although we wonder how much due diligence was done regarding cost of upkeep and repair and any potential environmental problems which might come with the property), and while we remain opposed to the creation of a redevelopment commission we understand there is room for reasonable people to disagree.
What we are adamantly opposed to, and we believe the overwhelming majority of city residents find most objectionable, is a board that is not responsive to and fair to the average, individual resident of the city, and a board that carries on in secret what ought to be open and transparent discussions and actions.