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Two speakers addressed the city’s proposed $19,852.046 budget for the upcoming fiscal year — one during the Roanoke Rapids council’s public comment period and another during the public hearing on the financial plan Tuesday night.

A third speaker, Justin Kerr, used the budget public hearing to thank the city for appropriating $15,000 for the Emry Park skateboard project.

Ephraim Brodsky comments

Brodsky was allotted five minutes during the scheduled public comment period to ask the council to not reduce the tax rate.

He also supplied rrspin.com with the full text of his comments, which is being published rather than his truncated address to the panel.

“I want to just remind all of you sitting here before me that your tax base is parents of school aged children. Not retirees, not people living on a fixed income, it’s parents of school aged children,” he said. “These are the people you want to attract to the city. We pay the majority of the sales taxes and payroll taxes that fund a retiree’s lifestyle, with no guarantee that those benefits will be available to us when we reach retirement age.”  

In addressing comments made by Mayor Emery Doughtie that he would like to see the city run like a business, Brodsky said he took that personally. “In business, the number one rule is that if you aren’t growing, you’re dying.  Roanoke Rapids is dying. This city council has not adopted a growth mindset and if you listen to (councilman) Wayne Smith, the focus of this council is not to build the city up to attract parents of school aged children, it is to serve as a champion for seniors and people living on fixed incomes. Once again council, I would like to remind all of you sitting here that your primary tax base is parents of school aged children.”

He told the council, “Please do not vote to reduce the tax rate (by) two cents. These two cents represent $20 annually for every $100,000 of assessed value.  My house was assessed at $220,000. This cut represents $44 a year for me. This is clearly a symbolic cut, but the symbolism is a slap in the face to anyone who cares about the survival of this city.”  

He said the city manager proposed such a low, underfunded budget because she is the only city employee that this council can fire. “ … As a single mother of school aged children she would prefer not to uproot her family for another job opportunity. Please stop asking the city manager to cut costs, to cut services.  Instead, ask the city manager to propose a budget that offers significant adjustments to capital and operational budgets; a budget that at least matches the cost-of-living adjustments that the county has been giving its employees; a budget that allows for at least one six-figure civic renewal project every year. Show the people that you care about their needs.  Invest in our city.  Invest in our future.”

Shredding the budget to pieces

Over the past 15 years, he said, “This city council has been shredding the budget to pieces, using theater debt as an excuse.  All city departments have consistently been asked to do more with less, to figure it out.  What has that done for the residents of Roanoke Rapids?”

In reading the minutes of every city budget meeting for the last 15 years, Brodsky said he noted that every year or two a need for more ballfields is mentioned. “But you know what?  We still haven’t built any new ballfields, and we could definitely use some. I read repeatedly about concerns over the tennis courts falling into disrepair, and guess what?  They’re still in disrepair.”  

He said he has read about staffing levels being reduced, and then restored. “But once again, that’s just not true. In 2008, the library had five full-time employees and five part-time employees.  As recently as 2017, the library had four full-time employees and five part-time employees. They currently have three full-time employees and two part-time employees with zero open positions. Where’s the growth?  What are we doing?”

Significant room for cuts

He presented the council with some ideas. 

“There is room for significant cuts as well as significant improvements in the latest budget. For cuts, a few come to mind right away. First, the cemetery, why does the city own it?  Sell it or just donate it to one of the many area churches. I don’t think any taxpayer enjoys having to pay for the cemetery, and as far as I know, dead people don’t pay taxes.” 

Then there is the community center. “Kirkwood Adams is falling apart, why does the city own it?  The city should sell it, one less thing to worry about maintaining or falling into disrepair. They don’t even have any full-time employees, so this would just be removing another headache from the woefully understaffed parks and rec department.”  

He then discussed the Canal Museum. “Why does the city own and maintain the Canal Museum?  My kids have been in school here for three years now and have never taken a field trip to the Canal Museum. The website has hours posted, but I have been there several times on a Saturday during open hours to find the doors locked.

“Historic Halifax is run by the state, not by the municipality of Halifax, we should give the Canal Museum to either the state or to a non-profit, this shouldn’t be the responsibility of city taxpayers. There you have it, in just a few sentences, I just saved the city half a million dollars off of the budget. Compounded over 10 years, that’s over $5 million.”


First of all, he suggested, match the county’s pay structure and set the city’s minimum wage at $15 for all employees — not just full-timers. “Next, let’s work on some proactive renovations and updates rather than working reactively.  Why wait for the HVAC system to break or the roof to collapse before appropriating funds?  Every city building needs to be renovated. Let’s start the renovations.”

Then, he said, “We need some parks restored and some new ballfields built. These are economic drivers that bring people to the city and promote movement among our youth. And if the city sells the cemetery, their groundskeepers can be repurposed to work on these projects.”

Last year, Brodsky said Halifax County gave all of its employees an 8 percent cost of living increase while Roanoke Rapids gave its employees a 5 percent increase. “This year, the county has proposed a 5 percent cost of living increase while the city is proposing a 3 percent increase.  I don’t understand how we are proposing a tax cut when we aren’t able to keep up with the increases in the county, when we aren’t able to keep up with the increases of social security recipients.” 

He asked the panel, “How can we expect to keep up with the county when they’re charging a higher rate than our municipality, and have been for decades? Halifax County lowered its rate from 76 cents to 70 cents following the revaluation. Meanwhile, Scotland Neck charges 78 and a half cents, Littleton charges 80 cents, Enfield charges over 92 cents, Weldon and Hobgood charge 72 cents, all in addition to the county taxes, and you know what?  The county isn’t charging any of those towns an additional $420,000 a year to use their 911 services.  

“None of those towns have the staffing levels that we have, none of those towns have the infrastructure to maintain that we do, yet two weeks ago this council approved a budget proposal that will see us charging 6 cents below what the county is charging —  a measly 64 cents.”  

Final thoughts

Brodsky said he recently spoke to Councilwoman Sandra Bryant who told him that he was the first person to ever ask her to raise taxes. “For the first 24 years of my adult life, I was a registered Republican. That’s because I love guns and I hate taxes.  But the taxes I hate aren’t local taxes because local taxes go to services that directly impact my life: Local police, fire fighters, roads, parks, libraries, recreation centers.  These are the services that I use on a day-to-day basis. I hate paying federal taxes, Social Security, Medicare. There is no guarantee that my generation will live to be old enough to collect Social Security or Medicare benefits.”  

He said, “Please council, do something for your tax base — the working public — for the children, for our future. Vote no on the proposed tax cut.”

He beseeched the council “not to consider the self-serving desires of a mayor who publicly calls for volunteers but still accepts a salary from the tax-paying public. I ask you to instead consider every single city employee forced to work a second and third job to make ends meet. What is the city council doing to help our kids?  What is the city council doing to help our future?  Enough is enough.”

He then said, “Council, do the right thing, tear that budget up and think of the people you want to attract to this city — the working parents of school-aged children. Think of the overworked and underpaid city employees who have been asked to do more with less for the entirety of Mayor Doughtie’s tenure.  

“Imagine a future where our best and brightest live and work right here in Roanoke Rapids, because currently, our greatest export is our people. People like Kevin Bryant, Erynn Stainback, Angela Antony — look her up. The ones who left and never came back.  Please vote no on the proposed tax reduction.  Save our city.  Build it back up. There’s no better time than the present.”

Mayra Murray-Diaz

A 17-year resident of the city, Murray-Diaz said she wanted to emphasize some of the goals parents in the community have and echo some of Brodsky’s comments.

“I think the budget sounds fantastic,” she said, “the skatepark, the increase in part-time salary. I think that’s moving in the right direction.”

She told the council, “This is the moment in time where decreasing tax rates might not be the smartest thing to do. We have deteriorating capital structures here in Roanoke Rapids. We have buildings that need to be demolished, we have walls that are falling down into streets, we have playgrounds that are unsafe, we have mulch that needs to be improved to the 9-inch rate that is safe for kids. There’s just so much we physically need to do that I don’t think it is an investment in kids, an investment in families to do a tax decrease at this moment in time.”

She said, “I do know politically it’s really hard to have citizens experience the increase in tax assessments without giving them a little bit of a break but like Mr. Brodsky said $20 a year for me is like $1.50 per month. I think we could use that money for really important things, investment in the kids and our families.”

Murray-Diaz said Roanoke Rapids is the only town she’s ever lived in where there’s no Saturday library hours. 

Families who want to use the pool often go to the country club if they have the means because of limited hours. “The list could go on and on. The playgrounds, some of the buildings, the pool house, where folks get changed, if you’ve ever been in there it’s pretty rough. I really don’t recommend you touch a single thing.”

She reiterated that this is a moment where “you can really invest more and demonstrate and invest in the kids and the community. A 1-cent decrease in the tax rate might be feasible politically and take the other 1 cent to invest in the kids and their families.”

Mayor’s comments

Addressing comments made on the need for demolishing unsafe buildings, Doughtie said, “Council has discussed that in detail but have not seen fit so far to put very much into it. It’s extremely expensive.”
He said at the council’s next meeting he would like to see an update on some of the nuisance problems in the city.

The mayor also addressed comments made about the community center and the cemetery.

“Lowe’s came in and gave us $2,000 worth of plants. They put in a lot of manpower into it as well as our city employees. We have been able to put some dollars into Kirkwood — a new roof and heating and conditioning system.”

Doughtie said the building was constructed around 1975. “Like you said there had not been really anything, nothing done to it in 50 years so it was definitely in need of repairs.”

However, the mayor said, “Kirkwood is one of the few properties that we have that kind of carries its own — that and the cemetery. The cemetery brings in enough revenue that it’s not really a real cost to the city.”