Thursday, April 18, 2024

114 West Elm Street
Graham, NC 27253
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Burlington’s city council: Let’s use up all the money, then ask the taxpayers to give us some more – with a property tax hike to boot


Frankly, we’re surprised at the restraint Burlington residents have shown, thus far, to the suggestion at last week’s city council meeting of putting a bond referendum with $63.5 million in proposed spending, with a corresponding 13 percent hike in property taxes, on the November ballot.

By now, we wouldn’t have been surprised to find tar and feathers being stockpiled to prepare for running some city officials out of town on a rail – like in the days of yesteryear.

What is especially infuriating to voters – or certainly should be – is the consistent raids that the city council has made on the current year’s budget.

All manner of allegedly “urgent” expenditures have been added, piece by piece, over the past 12 months (and the preceding one, as well) – astroturf for some of the soccer fields at Springwood Park ($3.6 million), a fancy new entertainment venue (at a cost of $2.6 million) at Burlington’s baseball stadium, another expansion at the Paramount Theater (although that $11 million expense is now being re-routed into the bond referendum), plus a slew of pickleball courts (17, as we recall, with a nifty price tag of millions of dollars).

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Yes, even frivolously allocating millions on pickleball was an ostensibly urgent need, according to city staff and the council that fell for it.

So now city officials say they’re running out of money.

Surprise, surprise, as Gomer Pyle used to say.

But, not to worry, city officials who’ve squandered the money have an idea: let’s ask the people to vote us money to do the things they really want done in the first place, like sidewalk maintenance ($1.5 million) and filling potholes across the city ($15 million).

So, let’s give them the essentials, that they all want, together with some more frivolous expenditures – a whopping new indoor recreation center for which there is no groundswell of interest ($25 million) plus the aforementioned expansion at the Paramount Theater ($11 million) – and weave together an expensive bond referendum.

Oh, and just by the way, the taxpayer price tag for all these items (both the frivolous and essential) will be a whopping additional 6.5 cents (or about 13.4 percent) on the city’s tax rate of 48.36 cents.

And taxpayers, if not city officials, will remember that the existing property tax rate is already higher than the “revenue neutral” rate would have been after last year’s revaluation.

As we say, we’re surprised the taxpayers in Burlington aren’t out with the tar and feathers.

We’re also disappointed that the city council members sat idly by, much like bobble-headed figurines, seemingly amendable to every potential expenditure that the bureaucrats brought forward last week.

Burlington voters have often been relatively compliant, almost always approving previous bond referendums put before them – although we believe it may be about a decade or more since the last one was floated.

However, we can’t remember a referendum with this level of funding, this degree of higher taxes, and this extent of extraneous, unnecessary spending.

At a minimum, the city council may want to refine, and reduce, the proposal – and, as in successful ones of the past, put multiple questions on the ballot.

Otherwise, voters will be faced with a “take it, or leave it” choice; if it’s $63.5 million, with a big tax increase, we’re guessing they’ll vote ‘no.’

And understandably so.

Council considers $63.5 million bond referendum:

AND – In case you need a refresher on where all the money went, here are a few stories over the past 18 months:

Pickleball/tennis courts:

$3.6 million for astroturf for three soccer fields:

Paramount Theater expansion escalates (now +$11 million):

Earlier estimate of $7 million:

Entertainment venue at Burlington ballpark ($2.6 million):

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