The May 20 edition of the Messenger has a snapshot of facts and figures surrounding the proposed Mount Airy city budget for 2009-2010, all culled from the more expansive budget message you can read here provided by City Manager Don Brookshire. Documents this big can be critiqued in whole bunch of ways, but the central theme of this one seems to be “spare some pain now, bite the bullet later.” Unless the city plans to significantly cut back its scope of services (which is always an option) the budget essentially puts future city councils in the hole for all the supplies, capital purchases and pay raises left out this time around. But it does provide a bit of much needed tax relief and spares water users any more rate hikes. Given the current trajectory of the  economy, is this the right approach to take?


Late last month Oklahoma did something totally unexpected in what is arguably the most conservative state in the country. Its legislature and governor proclaimed “Do You Realize” by The Flaming Lips as Oklahoma’s official rock song.

That the state would officially do something so whimsical is outstanding, and brings to mind the idea that perhaps North Carolina’s leaders should consider a brief break from downers such as the budget shortfall.

Wouldn’t it be great to replace the sleep-inducing official state song, “The Old North State,” (opening lyrics: “Carolina! Carolina! Heaven’s blessings attend her!”), with something a tad more contemporary?

But before we do, consider what some states other than Oklahoma have done, or tried to do.

In 1980 New Jersey attempted to honor its native son, Bruce Springsteen, and in particular his anthem, Born to Run.” A resolution in the legislature would have officially named the song the “unofficial theme of our state’s youth.” Uh, say what?

The resolution got sidetracked, however, when one state senator pointed out that the song’s lyrics included the line, “It’s a death trap, it’s a suicide rap,” and that the protagonists’ goal was to get out of New Jersey.

Five years later the Washington state legislature took up the issue of “Louie, Louie” by The Kingsmen, recorded in a Seattle garage, replacing “Washington, My Home” as the state song.

Despite considerable publicity and support, the effort ran out of steam, though Seattle has had “Louie, Louie Day” officially proclaimed.

One effort that had plenty of steam was that same year in Ohio.

Perhaps inspired by their Washington compatriots, the Ohio legislature approved “Hang On, Sloopy” by The McCoys as the official state rock song.

The McCoys were from Dayton and Sloopy was written about Dorothy Sloop, a singer from Steubenville.

So, back to North Carolina. What would be an appropriate, modern song for us?

Locally there could be considerable support for the theme song from The Andy Griffith Show or for Donna Fargo’s “Happiest Girl in the Whole U.S.A.”

Beach music fans probably would be thrilled with The Embers’ “Carolina Girls,” and hip-hop enthusiasts would be sure to back Greenville’s Petey Pablo and his “Raise Up (North Carolina).”

But perhaps the most alluring somewhat recent tune is James Taylor’s “Carolina In My Mind.” Taylor was raised in Carrboro — his father was the med school dean at UNC-Chapel Hill — and in the late ’60s and ’70s no one was hotter on the folk rock circuit.

Although “Carolina In My Mind” never rose higher than number 67 on the national charts, there’s no doubt it holds special meaning for many Tarheels.

What do you think? We’re going to post this on our blog, which you can access at surrymessenger.com, so you can support one of these, or propose your own new North Carolina state song. Log in now and let’s get this movement going.

The latest unemployment figures were a relief locally …. almost. Maintaining the same 13.3 percent unemployment rate is hardly something for Surry to cheer about, but after so many months of steady increases, it’s nice to see the number reach a peak.

For a little more perspective on these numbers, check out this excellent animated graphic in Slate tracking job loss/gain over the last couple of years. You can pick any of the last 26 months and see how Surry’s job totals compared to a year prior, plus it provides cues on how the rest of the country was fairing. Quick take: Surry’s job losses started well before the rest of the country hit the skids, but it wasn’t the only part of the nation hurting as far back as 2007.

I posted last month about the phone survey regarding a Fibrowatt plant in Surry. Here’s the full transcript of questions and results for Surry and Yadkin respondents. Judge for yourself if you feel the questions are biased against the project.

In the meantime, the Charlotte Observer has now written a piece on the issue (first time in years I can recall that paper covering something in Surry) and it also ran in the Raleigh News & Observer. Both papers wrote their own editorials on Fibrowatt, with Charlotte taking making a straightforward appeal for caution while the N&O is a bit harder hitting about warning flags needing to go up.

What does it take for the Mount Airy City Council to use a Civil War analogy regarding central government overstepping its bounds? The possibility of the state ABC Commission taking over operations of the local liquor store. This bill actually has a number of municipalities in a tizzy (though I doubt many have commissioners joke at a public meeting “let (the state) know that in the past when something like this happened there were shots fired at Fort Sumter”), as the legislation authorizes the state to merge or close local ABC commissions if they’re stores aren’t making a healthy profit.

Based on the most recent ABC finance records, Mount Airy’s store made a 11 percent profit in 2008, better than most other ABC commissions including those in Elkin and Dobson. But a bigger concern than a shuttered store among commissioners is that the revenues the store generates won’t remain in the community. Each ABC board has a lot of leeway on where to distribute the profits, and the ones in Surry set aside large chunks for local government and/or community organizations. The state could have other ideas on how to spend that money.

The back and forth debate on a proposed Fibrowatt power plant in Surry County is way too complex to summarize in this space, although you can read some of the ongoing arguments here, here or here.

But no matter the reason, a majority of local residents are in opposition to the $140 million project, according to Yadkin Riverkeeper, an advocacy group for protecting the area’s river basin. The organization commissioned a telephone survey by non partisan Public Policy Polling, the results of which show overwhelming views against Fibrowatt or industrial development in general for the area. These findings would dispute county commissioners’ long cited claims that the majority of residents are in favor of the project.

When assessing any survey, however, it’s critical to look at the specific wording of the questions asked, especially with a complex topic like this. County commissioners say they’ve recieved complaints from those surveyed that the questions were skewed against Fibrowatt. I wasn’t surveyed myself, but I requested from Yadkin Riverkeeper a copy of the questions. I’ll report back if they’re sent over.

State legislators sponsor a handful of bill each session and put their names down as co-sponsors for dozens more, few of which ever come up for a vote.

The latest bill filed by Rep. Darrell McCormick probably will fall into that “never see the light of day” category, but it’s intriguing if only for the precedent it would set just by making it through committee. McCormick, a Republican who represents eastern Surry County and all of Yadkin County, has proposed legislation allowing a recall of county commissioners in Yadkin between now and the end of 2010. Triggering such a recall election would require as many signatures as the votes received by the commissioner in the last election. I don’t follow Yadkin politics closely anymore, but I imagine this issue is fueling sentiment to pick off some commissioners with unpopular views.

If the bill somehow gets through the General Assembly, imagine how many other counties might ask for this same option. That alone probably sinks its chances, meaning voters will need long memories when commissioners come up for re-elections. Most unpopular decisions fade from view by the time the next election cycle comes round.

What other bills have our local legislators filed as primary sponsors this session? Rep. Sarah Stevens has called for Motorcycle Awareness Month, a sharper crackdown on public school bullying, and allowing teens aged 15-18 to receive volunteer firefighting and rescue squad training. Sen. Don East has called for reducing the corporate income tax rate,  giving each school board to authority to set its own school start date, and funds for a Forsyth Technical Community College campus in Stokes County. McCormick is among those behind the bill to change the name of the lottery and also wants to create a committee studying grandparents’ visitation rights.

All of these bills are worth more study on their impact if they make it out of committee. That’s a big if. There are long odds against any bill making it to a floor vote, espeically those filed by freshmen legislators in the minority party.