Recently, several members of the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners said they intend to leave funding to outside agencies at present levels in the 2012-2013 budget.
Among those non-governmental agencies receiving city funding are the Surry Arts Council, the Mount Airy Public Library and the Mount Airy Rescue Squad. This is the opposite of what commissioners said they intended to do a year ago when several members of the board said outside agencies would receive a 10-percent cut in city funding. After a firestorm of protest erupted, they backed off of that position and left level funding in place in the current year.
This latest goal of leaving funding at present levels goes along with the commissioners’ first priority, as they voiced earlier this year, to keep services at their present rate. That, too, was a change from a year ago, when the board said its first priority was to cut 10 cents off of the city’s tax rate. That board took the first steps toward this goal, slicing 2 cents off of the rate for the current budget year.
The changing priorities of their goals, and their changing decisions on funding levels, represents a constant balancing act local commissioners must attempt, working with agencies that need money, yet remaining aware that every dollar spent is a dollar out of someone’s pocket — oftentimes a dollar sorely needed by the local taxpayer having to pay that money to the city.
It is difficult for board members to know exactly where to draw that line. Last year when the board announced plans to cut funding to these local agencies, enough public opposition to that plan arose to force the commissioners to abandon the plan. It is not hard to believe that public reaction is still affecting their thought processes.
Perhaps putting a different light on the situation is City Manager Barbara Jones, who said her intention is to present the commissioners with a budget proposal that leaves funding to outside agencies at present levels “if at all possible.” When she presents her budget proposal to the board later this month, she has said her recommended level of funding for these organizations will be as close to present levels as she can make it, in the context of the total budget needs for the city and the ability to the city to pay for those needs.
We hope all involved will approach the process as Jones is, with the larger picture in mind. That larger picture includes necessary spending that must be done (funding for police, fire department and the like), along with the need to hold or even ease the tax burden on city residents, as well as what these non-governmental agencies are asking for.
That means the board must be willing to make hard decisions, whether it is to cut some funding to agencies, or delay what some believe to be promised tax relief. And for other parties — taxpayers and outside agencies asking for money, that might mean not getting what you want as well.