Conservative Viewpoints

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Waynesboro citizens speak from the heart…but was anyone listening?

Posted by Stephen on May 1, 2007

Two issues came before Waynesboro City Council last night. The first was a resolution providing the Wayne Theatre with $300,000 of what Nancy Dowdy has described as “found money” that according to her “isn’t really tax payer money,” while also resolving to provide an additional $700,000 to the Wayne over the next ten years. It opens the door for future requests for operating funds and additional tax credits that will marry the city to this theatre for the inevitable future. It is, however, a non binding resolution that future councils can adjust or reverse.

The measure passed 3-2 to a resounding chorus of boos.

Tom Reynolds, Nancy Dowdy, and Lorie Smith continued their support for spending tax payer dollars on a private enterprise setting up what will become a permanent relationship between the city and the theatre. The mood was set and the crowd was ready to address the Reynolds, Dowdy, Smith voting bloc.

Tom Reynolds opened the public hearing on the real estate tax rate by stating that the Wayne Theatre would not be a topic addressed during the proceedings. Deep down he had to know he wasn’t going to be able to keep citizens from bringing the topic up, and he couldn’t.

It was standing room only in City Council Chambers and my neighbors did not come to sit idly by and watch events unfold before them; they came to participate. One by one they came to the podium to address taxes and the Wayne Theatre. One by one they told council that taxes needed to be cut and that the Wayne Theatre was an idea that belonged in the private sector.

Senior citizens reminded council of the ramifications of spending money on theatres while asking people to accept massive tax increases. They explained the reality of living on a fixed income. They described what would happen if they had to pay an additional five, six, or seven hundred dollars this year. They discussed how it would impact their ability to pay for prescription drugs, health insurance, and in some cases, their house payments.

They spoke of a reality that far too many members of council cannot relate to. While some of us know what it is like to stand in unemployment lines, struggle to put food on a table, put gas in a car, or make the rent payment, others that support higher taxes and theatres don’t face such challenging choices.

Some of those well intentioned people who spoke in favor of higher taxes and the theatre own motorcycles and homes, while others were wealthy developers who owned multiple properties in the community. What seemed to be lost on them was the simple fact that too many people in this community were lucky to have a roof over their heads at all. What they don’t get is that the tax cuts and fiscal conservative principles followed by the previous council were responsible for extraordinary economic growth which they seem willing to stifle with a massive tax increase.

Undeterred by the minority in the crowd, some 90% of the people clearly and passionately asked City Council to lower taxes substantially. Additionally, they informed council that they had used poor judgment in providing 1 million dollars in tax revenue to the Wayne Theatre over the next ten years.

Others spoke to the issue of responsible spending by the local government. They spoke of regular increases in taxes with little to show for it. How could this council spend $1 million dollars on a theatre, talk of needs in the city and raise taxes, and all with a straight face? Ultimately, it is because this city council has no idea what they are doing.

There is little respect for the concept of scarcity. It is clearly their feeling that taxes are simply a honey pot and when their hands get caught in the pot they’ll just break it and go get a larger one. They will keep feeding the bureaucratic beast and if they actually hit a wall on taxes they’ll simply borrow the money. After all, they are in the process of borrowing 7.7 million dollars to jump start different plans on the Capital Improvement Plan. The one million dollars they just committed to could have reduced that loan figure to 6.7 million dollars. One vote cost this city one million dollars.

Furthermore, the one million dollars spent tonight could have gone toward property tax relief for those that are incapable of meeting the high tax burden this city is looking to force upon its citizens. The one million dollars could have been placed in the Capital Reserve Fund for projects in the future. Call us crazy, but some people actually think the money could be returned to the rightful owner; the citizens. There are hosts of responsible ideas that make sense and that are sound uses of tax payer revenue. However, according to the Waynesboro citizens who spoke last night, spending it on a theatre isn’t one of them.

At the end of the proceedings members of council had their chance to speak. Frank Lucente thanked the people for coming and stated “I want you to know that I know who I work for, and I’m glad you came out tonight.” Lorie Smith, on the other hand, listed challenges that faced the city and spoke of how difficult the job was that city council had to contend with. Unfortunately, while discussing the many needs of the city she still had the audacity to defend spending the very money needed to pay for those needs, on a theatre. Some people just don’t get it.

It was a night that made me proud to be a citizen of Waynesboro. It was a night where people addressed their city leaders and spoke from the heart. Sadly, it seems highly unlikely that the majority on council was listening.

Stephen Winslow is the executive editor of Conservative Viewpoints.

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