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We watched and listened Wednesday night as Roanoke Rapids City Council skirted and dodged the elephant in the room while the panel discussed ways to improve its revenue stream.

Unfortunately, the elephant in the room bears a big T on its chest which is the first letter in the word taxes.

The only mention of the elephant was from the city manager who said the tax rate in the proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year remains at 65 cents per $100. She was directed to craft a financial plan using the same tax rate.

And because of that directive, City Manager Kelly Traynham said in her budget message, “This proposed budget includes minimum department manning levels and no capital projects or equipment acquisitions.”

It does not include any cost-of-living/merit salary increases or employee bonuses.

For council to not even discuss the elephant goes against the grain of the city’s mission statement, which was adopted in 1990 and says, “The mission for the city of Roanoke Rapids is to provide planned, efficient, acceptable services for the citizens in a cost-effective manner and to encourage balanced growth to provide better employment and increased revenues.”

It’s an unfortunate decision but grant funds aren’t going to help raise service levels in the city because it’s never a given that a government entity will be awarded any kind of grant. If a grant  is awarded it may offer a temporary fix to a single problem but it won’t improve the overall outlook when there are frozen positions, potholes and other everyday problems which need addressing.

The city was lucky this year as it received an appropriation from state lawmakers to retire the deed of trust on the Roanoke Rapids Theatre. Even after that appropriation the city still has an obligation to meet on the venue.

That money was a godsend but a repeat of one that size is dependent on the whims of voters and the willingness of politicians to push partisan politics aside. It is not guaranteed.

Funds from the American Rescue Plan Act have helped but that is more than likely a once in a lifetime gift which was tied to the COVID-19 pandemic.

While council members discussed the potential positive impacts of the Premier Boulevard extension, which promises to possibly bring more commercial development, that still is not an immediate fix to an immediate problem.

Short of bringing industry to the city, the potential for further commercial development along that soon-to-open corridor still doesn’t address the issues department heads discussed early on in the budget process.   

When we elect politicians to these positions we do so because we have entrusted them to make the tough decisions. We don’t elect them to bolster and sustain their political careers.

And in Roanoke Rapids it is time to move beyond minimal levels of service.

We’ve watched and listened to these discussions for several years now and have come to the sad conclusion that unless you’re willing to make the tough decisions this city will always be offering the minimal level or continued level of services.

Keeping services at these minimal levels does nothing to improve them. 

Cutting services is contrary to the city’s mission statement and becomes a disservice to all involved — employees and ultimately the residents who have voted these people in — not to keep them in their jobs but to make decisions that will move the city forward — not to be continually stuck in neutral.

It is with much trepidation that we write and publish this commentary because, like that elephant in the room, we too will have a mark on our back.

But after hearing for several years now that we must do something to improve our revenue stream we are prone to shake our heads and want to scream, “The answer is right in front of you and you have the opportunity to chase that elephant out of the Lloyd Andrews City Meeting Hall!”

We often hear elected local government officials say a municipality should be run as a business. That rhetoric is fine and dandy when discussing cutting or freezing critical positions, not funding critical capital needs or not giving hard-working employees raises to help them keep up with the continuous high cost of living.

As we have all seen in the current economy, businesses are raising prices. We are considering a modest increase in ad rates but with the constant crime and taking care of other matters on the business end of things we just haven’t gotten around to doing it.

Unlike in businesses, however, the trend in government is to become silent when the elephant with a T on its chest lumbers into the room.

And while the answer is obvious to us, it eludes the elected officials because of political concerns and not doing what’s right to make this city the best it can be.

The obvious excuses are heard — we don’t have a water and sewer department or we don’t provide our own electric service while each year we hear the words minimal services.

It is better in our estimation to have a modest tax increase, say every other year or so, than to have to make a whopping increase after years of plundering the fund balance to keep hobbling along.

You just can’t keep dipping into your fund balance. 

It’s just not sound fiscal management and it is our belief that at some point elected officials are just going to have to acknowledge there is an elephant in the room, deal with it and keep it from crushing us — Editor