To the Editor,
Twice last week our paper had articles about how well the city was doing. I’m glad we are in good shape and have good department heads, but there are a couple of items in those articles that beg for further clarification.
First item is from newspaper article of 11/22: “City budget healthy despite big ticket items”. So how could over a Million dollars in extra spending not really affect city finances? The answer is simple but was not mentioned. Our city tax rate of 56 cents remains well above state average of 43 cents.
City officials like to say our tax is higher because we are different from any other town. They cite tourism, daily influx of people for work and shopping, and traffic on hiway 52. But that doesn’t hold up because many towns have those same activities. A look at the 20+ towns in our size range shows they average the same 43 cents tax rate as the whole state, yet we remain much higher. Two years ago the city board established a top goal of decreasing our tax rate by 2 cents per year for the next five years. But that 2 cent reduction was approved only for the first year. Sadly, the board reversed itself after that one reduction.
Our city has strong cash reserves and that is very important for emergencies, but our reserves now equal 88% of an entire year’s expenses. That is more than enough. If the city were running short each year you can bet we’d see a tax hike. But the city is essentially “running a profit” and actually taking in more from taxpayers than is needed to operate. An obvious danger of too high a tax and too much in reserves is that it may encourage more spending instead of better stewardship. Already this current year, like last year, has seen non-budgeted approvals in excess of another Million dollars and the year is not half over.
Governor elect McCrory says the best way to attract business to our state is to lower our taxes that are out of line with surrounding states. I say the same for Mount Airy. Our high tax rates (and our high water rates) are not at all attractive to new businesses coming to our town.
Now the second issue; this from newspaper article of 11/24: “Curbside recycling deemed success”. The first article about the city budget said start up costs for recycling was $270K; this recycling article says $395K. Both figures are incorrect. The real start up costs were $430K according to recent information from the city manager. The main difference seems to be the first year’s salary of the additional employee, which is now lumped in with total personnel and not included in start up cost as it was in all the projections. This is misleading because it understates the initial recycling cost. There have been similar articles over past months but no two articles showed the same cost figure, and all of those shown were less than the actual cost. Past articles have also placed start up costs at less than projections. That is also misleading.
The recycling article went on to say the yearly ongoing costs to operate the service will be only $66K. The truth is the city does not track the recycle costs as a separate item. Therefore the figure in the article would have to be a “guestimate”. This figure looks unnaturally low when compared to our trash service expense which is about $600K per year. The recycle service runs the same residential routes but runs every other week rather than weekly. Since that is roughly 50% of the stops and routes as the trash service (and requires a special truck plus the new employee), how can it be done for only 11% of the costs? This question was raised several times in the debates prior to adding the new service and remains a mystery.
The recycling service was pushed hard by a small but well organized group and two of our commissioners were clearly in that camp from the beginning. The other three commissioners felt it was not a good time to add an extra expensive service. The measure was only passed by the last minute flip of one the three opposing commissioners. It is natural for those who pushed for it to cast it in the best light, but whatever facts and figures are reported to the public should be complete and valid ones.