Today is the start of the new fiscal year for government agencies throughout the state, and while the budget process for Mount Airy was relatively painless, there are some lingering questions and issues the city should address.
This past fiscal year, as city department heads always project, the city was slated to spend somewhere in the neighborhood of $2.2 million of its year-end fund balance, or surplus, simply to balance the budget that concluded yesterday. The present budget, the one that begins today, also calls for using money from that fund — roughly $2.4 million.
The city had a little more than $12 million in that fund as of June 30, 2015, which means it should be below $10 million with the conclusion of this most recent fiscal year, and would be below $8 million at this time next year.
As we’ve written before, that’s not really going to happen. The city forecasts pulling from the fund balance every year, and most years either maintains or increases that balance.
According to City Manager Barbara Jones, the year that concluded yesterday will be a little different in that the city has dipped into that surplus — she said a couple of weeks ago the city had already spent $200,000 or so of it, so it appears the city has finally, truthfully reached the point where its revenue is lower than its expenses, though nowhere near the millions of dollars projected by city staff.
We won’t really know exactly how much the city spent until the fiscal year audit is done several months from now, but we hope, at that point, the city commissioners will take a look at the real figures from the past few years in setting financial goals and the budget next year.
Part of the new city budget is the recently announced opening of a new position, a city marketing director.
According to Jones, this person will communicate with the media, prepare marketing brochures and coordinate city events, as well as working on grant applications.
We have to question creating a position such as this one on several fronts.
We have been under the assumption that the city’s involvement in the Surry Economic Development Partnership was the city’s business and industrial marketing, and the Surry County Tourism Development Authority was the primary means Mount Airy officials used to attract visitors to the city.
In addition, the city has its own tourism authority that works with the larger Surry tourism agency, and Mount Airy has a community development coordinator who already markets the city apart from the economic development partnership.
Is this new position going to put the city in a competitive situation with the development partnership, undercutting it by marketing the city separate from the larger EDP work? Is this position going to go off in a different direction than the tourism groups already in existence?
If so, then perhaps the city should withdraw from those agencies and redirect the money it spends there to paying this person’s salary. If the city has no plans to withdraw from those agencies, then it would seem this position is redundant, needlessly spending taxpayer money.
As for being a media liaison of any sort, our experience has been that every time a local governing agency adds a “media specialist” or a position to “communicate” with the media, the opposite happens, with the free flow of information to the public further impeded by a new level of bureaucracy.
The one area of expertise that could justify the post would be Jones’ mention of utilizing this person for grant applications. If a new hire were successful in bringing in new grant money, funds that the city might not have otherwise gotten, then it might be a good investment in the city. But, we still question the other duties mentioned for this post and adding the expense of a new position.