The Mount Airy Commissioners adopted the city’s 2012-2013 budget earlier this week. Of note in that budget is the fact that water and sewer rates will remain the same and the tax rate of 56 cents per $100 of assessed value also stays unchanged.
Given the overall decline in property values with the recent county-wide revaluation, that is a tax cut for most property owners. According to Commissioner Steve Yokeley, that will amount to the equivalent of a 1.5-cent tax cut, if measured in pre-revaluation levels.
In 2011, the board listed as its main goal to cut the city’s tax rate by 10 cents, from a then-58 cents per $100 of assessed value. The commissioners cut the rate that year, to 56 cents, and if this year’s re-evaluation is included — and we believe that it is certainly reasonable to do so — then the board has cut the tax rate another 1.5 cents from the 2011 level.
However, it appears the commissioners may not be anxious to continue pursuing that goal. Earlier this year the board revised those goals, setting atop its list the idea to maintain present levels of city services. And this week, when Commissioner Shirley Brinkley suggested the board include a further tax reduction of 2 cents, she found little support from her colleagues.
Brinkley said her proposal would save the city taxpayers $200,000 and take another step toward fulfilling that goal from last year.
However, others on the board said there was nowhere left to cut. Jon Cawley said additional reductions would be akin to “invasive surgery” and said the relatively minor savings to homeowners might not be worth cutting city services; Dean Brown voiced concern additional cuts would mean firing police officers, firefighters, or sanitation workers; and Scott Graham suggested that moving the cost from the city to private agencies for activities those agencies sponsor — such as the Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce’s annual Autumn Leaves Festival — could be burdensome to those agencies.
And Yokeley pointed out that the present budget does, in fact, contain an overall budget decrease.
We do have to question what has changed in the past 16 months, when the board said it would cut tax rates by 10 cents, to today when the board says such cuts are not likely because too many services would have to be eliminated. Brinkley brought several ideas for relatively non-invasive cuts to the table, and local residents John Pritchard and Paul Eich did the same. And any cut, even if it’s just half a cent and saves the average homeowner a few dollars over the course of a year, is worth considering. It’s not so much about the amount of money to be left in taxpayers’ pockets, but the principle that it is their money, and not the city’s, which should be front and center in any budget discussion.
That’s not to imply the city commissioners haven’t done their due diligence when it comes to the city budget. The individuals serving on the board have been responsive to city residents; have done much to eliminate spending and bring the city government in line with its resources; and they seem to be dedicated to keeping their campaign promises.
And the effective 1.5-cent drop brought about the revaluation is no small thing. However, we hope as this board moves into the 2012-2013 year and eventually begins working on the 2013-2014 budget, it will remember there are reasonable ways to make additional reductions in the tax rate, and that no tax cut is too small to pursue.