The proposed Downtown Event Center should be a concern to every citizen in the City of Rocky Mount, Nash and Edgecombe Counties. Now is the time for each citizen to review the study and the proposal delivered by the AECOM consultants. It appears our Rocky Mount Elected Officials have the project loaded on a train that is ready to leave the station. We simply say, WAIT, Do Not Get in a Hurry and do what is right. Educate the citizens of Rocky Mount and the Twin Counties on the project. Do an extensive public hearing process, and allow the public to be fully engaged. In the end, it must be the citizens of Rocky Mount, based upon the financial model, that make this decision, not the wishes of nine people. We all must remember that managers and elected officials come and they go, but it is the citizens that must bear the joys of their good decisions and the curse of their bad decisions.
Most people like the idea of an Event Center BUT is it realistic at this time?
Our group’s quick review of this study evoked many thoughts and concerns that need to be addressed. The proposed location in downtown Rocky Mount on the Edgecombe side, away from I-95, raises many questions.
The projected annual deficit of $3.3 million dollars should readily open our eyes when added to the other venues already a burden on the city’s budget. Over the last six years, the city has experienced other losses. Examples of these other losses are the Children’s Museum $2.26 million; Imperial Center/Booker T. Theater $8.3 million; Art Center $2.17 million; and the Sports Complex $7.25 million. Based on this trend and the study projections, should this project come to fruition, the city would be responsible for covering $40 million in losses over the next 6 years.
The number of events proposed in the study seems unattainable. The study’s projection of 127 events annually with an average attendance of 2,000 is unrealistic and would far exceed similar centers throughout the country.
The new revenue sources, proposed in the study, that would help alleviate the debt seem to be a stretch at best, and we fear most of them would not be approved.
- Revenue from an increase in occupancy tax can only be spent in the county in which it is collected and would need approval from the General Assembly in Raleigh. There are very few hotels currently in Edgecombe County to generate the necessary revenue.
- The proposed .25% increase in sales tax, for Edgecombe County, has already been approved and obligated for construction of a building on Edgecombe Community College’s Rocky Mount campus. When Nash County tried to get the voters to approve a .25% increase, currently allowed by our General Assembly, it failed by a very large margin, despite being devoted to school construction and supported by all Nash County Commissioners. Based on this result, we feel there would be no chance for an Event Center to receive this revenue stream even if the commissioners would call for a vote.
- The proposed food and beverage tax would need approval from the General Assembly and is rarely supported by the restaurant association and would most likely not be supported by our local restaurant owners or citizens. This one would be a long shot at best.
- The proposed change in the way sales tax is distributed would have an adverse effect on 9 out of 10 cities/towns in Nash County and 7 out of 9 cities/towns in Edgecombe County. This would most likely not be approved by either county.
- The next revaluation for ad valorem tax (property tax) will begin in three years and based on sales ratios the City of Rocky Mount will most likely see a substantial reduction in its total assessed value leading to a drop in property tax collections. This item should be a real concern for all citizens of Rocky Mount as this and the utility rates are the only sources of revenue controlled locally. Traditionally, government’s first reaction is to raise tax rates when assessed values decline in an effort to collect the same amount of revenue (money). Many homeowners are barely hanging on to their homes and any property tax increase could push them over the edge. We certainly do not need to discuss raising utility rates in our city.
We all know our town has a very long and deep heritage related to the banking industry. We still have numerous, knowledgeable and experienced bankers in the Rocky Mount area. At the appropriate time, our group would help the city find one of these professionals to review the finance model for the proposed Event Center by doing a Commercial Banking Viability Study at The Community Council’s expense.
We support our forward thinking officials and trust this process will be conducted publically with all the facts on the table. Please slow down, make sure the market/feasibility study is realistic and determine how we pay for it with feasible revenue streams to make it sustainable. Then we can all get on board when the train leaves the station.