by Joseph Coletti
Senior Fellow, Fiscal Studies, John Locke Foundation
The big gamble at the heat of Rocky Mount is it’s Event Center, on which the John Locke Foundation has considered an unwise burden for taxpayers and raised a number of questions on its financing through debt without a vote of the taxpayers, its initiation before lower property values were reflected in the tax rate (a process that increased the revenue-neutral tax rate from 60.5 cents to 64 cents and still overvalued a number of properties), its purpose (now primarily an indoor sports complex with an indoor ropes course), and its overly optimistic feasibility study and financial projections. Much of the 7-percent tax increase over two years is due to the Event Center, which is budgeted to earn $1.1 million this year against $2.0 million in expenses.
Another $2.8 million in one-time spending goes to other capital repairs, new vehicles, and preparing a new one-stop shop for businesses to navigate state government. A new IT department, new assistant city manager, new HR assistant director, and new community and business development staff take more than $1.2 million in annual obligations. The budget also provides funding for a new $500,000 annual grant for housing.
All together, there is more than $6 million in new spending in Rocky Mount’s budget for FY2018-19. Some of it is offset by other reductions, but the net effect is to transfer money from citizens to city government in a misguided bet that government can do more with it. We’ll take that bet and continue to argue on behalf of lower taxes and less regulation, but we expect it is the citizens who will lose.