Thursday, January 17, 2013
Editorial: The mayor's cliffhanger
What really worries Roanoke's mayor is the fate of the city's culture.
From the RoundTable blog
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Roanoke Mayor David Bowers surprised many people last week when he announced that not today, or tomorrow even, but soon, the city will face its own "fiscal cliff."
No, he didn't mean the political paralysis, gridlock, deficit-spending, unemployment-raising, cliff-diving kind of calamity permeating all things Washington. Rather, he's terribly concerned that if nothing changes, city schools will run short of money, and Roanoke's many arts and cultural institutions will stumble into bankruptcy.
He believes council needs to break their fall with a taxpayer safety net.
Though Bowers is anxious to don a white hat, it's too soon to call in the Lone Ranger. Besides, the cavalry is already mounting an effort to help the arts.
First, a word about school funding. Thanks to Roanoke taxpayers who already ate for education while the two-year, extra 2-cent meals tax was in effect, the schools are weathering the recession's hangover.
Taxpayers may be willing again to loosen the belt, but only if the state continues to shirk its fair share and the recovery stagnates. None of this is new or worth raising alarm.
More pressing then, for the mayor, is the state of the arts. Bowers is correct that some are struggling, most notably the Taubman Museum of Art and Mill Mountain Zoo. And there is no end to entities, large and small, whispering their troubles to the mayor. He heard an earful over the holiday, prompting him to hurtle toward his "fiscal cliff" prediction.
But just because something within the city is faltering does not mean the mayor should rush to the rescue. A more thoughtful approach than throwing tax dollars every which direction is required. Nor should city taxpayers solely be pressed to save every museum, theater, gallery and zoo.
Roanoke already supports arts programs and provides grants for capital projects. The Roanoke Arts Commission is attempting to determine how best the city could help sustain arts and culture by looking at others' best practices. An endowment, a United Way-type program or some other approach joining private and public funds could develop.
Also, it's too soon to tell the impact from a recent raise in the hotel tax dedicated to attracting more conventions and tourists. The influx of visitors certainly will help entities that cater to them.
Challenges and opportunities await, not exactly the paving materials leading to an abyss.