Add to City’s Indebtedness?
To the Editor:
Just as Mayor Euille and his council colleagues did not cause the great recession of 2008, they have not caused the regional recovery we are experiencing in Northern Virginia today. The recession did demonstrate how dependent city revenues are on ever-rising home values. Our home values (judging from my own tax assessment and homes sales in my neighborhood) did not take a big dive. They just ceased to rise for a time.
There was only one year when my home assessment decreased. Since then I’ve had a modest increase every year. That also shows that I, like most Alexandrians, paid more in residential real estate taxes every year but one. That we are experiencing better times today rests mostly on those increases in Alexandria and rest of the region. Everyone who follows the news knows the same thing is occurring in the rest of Northern Virginia and Montgomery County, Md.
During the great recession, the city cut back on lawn care in the parks, on library hours, on replacing city employees who left the city’s work force, just as examples of losses. We got through it by making sacrifices in services that support our quality of life. Other areas of the country fared much worst. Those areas do not have our geographic advantages. Our own city government estimates (in a document prepared as part of the recent budget process) that our Alexandria economy will grow six percent each year for the next several years due to "proximity" to Washington, D.C.
The same people, who want to tout the financial stewardship of Mayor Euille and his Council, are also likely to praise their program of ever more development, claiming that the choice to raise zoning limits wherever possible will keep us financially secure. Even in times past, that was a questionable assumption.
Now it is even more doubtful. The infrastructure costs for new development have skyrocketed. Mayor Euille and his Council members have endorsed a new way of financing these costs — tax increment financing. This financing will be used for the proposed Potomac Yard Metro if it is ever built and to finance elaborate roadway changes that are part of the Beauregard Corridor Plan.
Under the tax increment financing scheme, all real estate tax revenue generated by the new development will be reserved to pay for the new infrastructure. No revenue will go into the city’s general fund until the new infrastructure is paid for. In the case of the new Potomac Yard Metro, the cost is estimated at $275 million to be paid for with municipal bonds. The annual debt service will be about $20 million, exceeding the city’s guidelines for indebtedness. We have an excellent credit rating and can expect low interest rates. However, like any individual, the city needs to ask, "Just because we can get a loan, is it a good idea to do it?" This is one of the many questions that citizens need to ask the Mayor and his opponent, Andrew Macdonald, in the upcoming mayoral election.
Buffalo Soldiers License Plate
To the Editor:
The Northern Virginia Buffalo Soldier Motorcycle Club has been working persistently for some time to create a license plate to honor and commemorate the legacy of the 9th and 10th Calvary Buffalo Soldiers.
We have been working with the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles and Del. Mark Keam to help make this possible. Keam has introduced a bill to the Virginia General Assembly (House Bill 1040) for issuance of a Buffalo Soldier commemorative license plate.
The state requires that we acquire 450 prepaid applications at a cost of $10 per vehicle for regular plates or $20 for personalized plates. At present we have approximately 100 pre-paid applications ready to submit. However, in a few weeks, we must have all 450 prepaid applications or as close to 450 as possible. We need everyone’s help in making this possible.
For application packets and the proposed design as well as any questions, contact me at email@example.com or call 703-629-1174. You may also contact Joan Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone her at 703-586-8466.
Please do not contact the DMV as this plate has not yet been approved; all applications must be submitted as mentioned above.
Terrence L. Davis
Title IX No Longer Needed
To the Editor:
Title IX is an example of a solution that has outlived the problem it was designed to solve. When passed in 1972, not only were women being athletic frowned upon, but such women were without warrant unfairly stigmatized. The turn of a few generations has changed attitudes markedly. Today’s athletic man often expects a woman to whom he would be attracted to also be athletic, almost as an assurance of athletic children spawned of their union. Today’s generation of high schoolers and young adults almost universally would consider stigmatizing girls and young women because of athletic participation to be incomprehensible.
Title IX’s enforcement algorithm contains a per se quota of "numbers substantially proportionate to their respective enrollment." As the Supreme Court has ruled regarding college admissions, quotas are appropriate only to remedy the effects of past discrimination and cannot be permanent.
The burgeoning growth of collegiate club sports is a symptom of Title IX’s outmoded quota regime. Collegiate athletes should take the lead in demanding Title IX’s quota regime’s denouement.
Open for Public Involvement?
To the Editor:
I attended the first meeting of the Beauregard Rezoning Advisory Group on Monday, July 16. As Mayor Euille appointed David Baker chair of this group, the first thing Mr. Baker said was "I'm the guy who knows the least about the Beauregard Small Area Plan." So true and are we in trouble now since Mayor Euille appointed Dave Baker as chair. I can only say from my personal opinion but don't know this to be a fact, that Dave Baker will do whatever Mayor Euille tells him to do so that the BSAP comes in front of the Planning Commission and City Council before the November elections. Mr. Baker is in charge of operations at Goodwin House that is part of the BSAP and supports this major redevelopment. It is clear that the appointments to the Advisory Group were representative of the democratic machine that currently exists in Alexandria and for political reasons, and Dave Baker is part of that democratic political machine.
I met with Mayor Euille on June 26 to try and persuade him to change this group to a community group run by an independent facilitator who would be selected not only by some members of city staff but also some members in the BSAP neighborhood who would know how to find an independent/objective facilitator. Of course it was too late for Mayor Euille to even consider such a change. He and members of the council were not going to listen to citizens concerns who are not anti-development, but wanted more time to discuss the major issues with city staff before another advisory group had to be formed. Many of us, myself included, had emailed the mayor/council members about using a community group forum and also spoke to this alternative at the public hearing when Docket Item #32 was discussed. However, Mayor Euille and all members of the council ignored our request and voted to move the BSAP along as quickly as possible. I reminded Mayor Euille in our meeting and emails that he had stated several times at council meetings that he was not going to push the BSAP forward too quickly. Surprise, surprise.
With regard to the composition of the advisory group, there are five at-large members and during my meeting with Mayor Euille on June 26 he stated to me that all five at-large members live within the boundaries of the BSAP. Wrong. He did not tell me who these members were as this docket item was on council's agenda for their final meeting wherein Mayor Euille would announce the members of the group along with appointing Dave Baker as chair. Well Mr. Mayor, there is only one member of the group who lives within the BSAP boundaries, Hector Pineda, who is a renter at JBG apartments. The other four at-large members, Dave Baker, Carolyn Griglione, Don Buch and Dave Cavanaugh do not live within the boundaries of the BSAP. I did not submit my name for consideration as an at-large member even though I live within the boundaries. Dave Baker may speak to wanting a transparent and open group discussion, but I find this hard to believe. We will see how much Chair Baker allows for citizen input at the end of each meeting since city staff will be drafting the agendas and if these are agendas are anything like the city agendas for the BRAC-133 AG group, they will be stacked, not allowing for any time for citizen input. Stay tuned.
City Faces Serious Fiscal Challenges
To the Editor:
Alexandria just borrowed another $76 million at the low rate of 2.55 percent over 20 years that will be used to finance things like schools, parks, and transportation projects.
According to Mayor Bill Euille, the city’s latest AAA/Aaa credit rating proves once again that Alexandria is in great financial shape, and, by inference, that the city’s current development policies will continue to insure this good credit rating.
I don’t know about you, but after the financial collapse of 2008-2009, I don’t have a great deal of confidence in the ability of the big credit rating agencies like Standard and Poor’s and Moody’s to fully assess the economic health of any entity, including the City of Alexandria.
Having said that, I think it’s worth taking a closer look at Moody’s economic outlook for Alexandria in 2012, which was somewhat negative, to see what they did say about the city’s strengths and the fiscal challenges that lie ahead.
Alexandria’s large and wealthy tax base, and its proximity to Washington, D.C. are key reasons that the city can borrow money at very low rates today. Moody’s also notes that the city is conservatively managed, with adequate reserves. However, according to Moody’s the city’s future financial situation will be shaped by the following challenges:
- Growing school enrollment creating demand for additional facilities,
- An ambitious capital program and debt plans to support economic development initiatives,
- Significant liabilities for pension and other post employment benefits (OPEB),
- Cuts in federal spending.
These are important concerns. However, the credit agencies do not consider them serious enough at present to lower our credit rating below Aaa, they believe the City Council can always raise property taxes to service this debt if our economy deteriorates.
It is important to note that while our current debt load is considered manageable, it is rising very quickly. The city’s approach to this problem is simply to argue that we should develop more densely and finance that growth with future revenue, that is to say tax-increment financing. What we need more than simply more density is well-thought-out growth that will improve our quality of life and not drive up the cost of government at unsustainable rates — which I think is what is happening.
Take educational expenditures, which are a big portion of city’s budget. The City Council is not really addressing the potential negative impact on our credit rating (or budget) of increasing school enrollments that are the result of development at locations like Potomac Yards and Beauregard in the West End, for example. This is just one instance in which the city is not adequately planning for our future. We could add many more examples — the need for more parks is one — the failure to force the developer to pay the high cost of a metro station at Potomac Yards is yet another.
It is clear that the credit-worthiness of Alexandria today does not guarantee the financial health of the city in the future. In fact, I would argue that it gives us the false impression that the city is being managed better than it really is. It is for that reason, and many others, that I am running to be the next mayor of Alexandria.
Andrew Macdonald is running as an independent to be mayor of Alexandria