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Letter: More Debt, More Spending

To the Editor:

It seems that everywhere I look in Alexandria these days I see one massive development after the next. As someone recently pointed out, the city will not be satisfied until every building in the entire community reflects a floor area ratio (FAR) of 3. Of course the standard justification for all these developments is that an increased tax base is critical to the citizenry as it will keep our property taxes down. That assertion of course is laughable, as the council continues to raise our property taxes and user fees significantly while frittering away our money for questionable projects.

A number of the city’s projects have cost us “big bucks.” T.C. Williams High School cost us $114 million; the new Police Station cost us $80 million; the current redo of Jefferson-Houston elementary school is going to cost us at least $45 million and believe me it is a monstrosity to behold. Obviously cramming 800 kids into this new complex will make them a lot smarter. TC Williams and the Police Station together were programmed to come in $50 million less than what actually occurred. This is not novel in Alexandria as both the Beatley Library and the Charles Houston Recreation Center each cost us about $10 million dollars in overruns. Even the renovations to Firehouse 204 came in double its original projection of $2.3 million. There has never been a major development in Alexandria that has met its projected costs and schedule.

The other night at Agenda Alexandria our former Mayor Kerry Donley advocated very vociferously that massive development in Potomac Yard was absolutely essential to increasing the tax base in order to provide more revenues to keep up with the ever-increasing city expenditures. Whoa! The city has a half a billion dollar debt which requires about $60-plus million is debt service every year and now they want to take on another $200-500 million burden with a new metro stop in the yards. All three alternatives for the metro stop were addressed but at no time did the moderators even consider a “no build option” despite the fact that I submitted that question to the emcee on a written card as oral questions are never allowed in that forum. Needless to say my question was never addressed. By the way, we are currently building a Bus Rapid Transit System on Route 1 with undefined capital costs at this time and of course associated yearly operating costs. So what we will have are Metro Buses, Dash Buses and the new Bus Rapid Transit System essentially in place. So why do we need a metro stop? The bottom line is we don’t need to spend all those extra bucks on building a metro stop; it’s transit overkill at best and only benefits the developers, not you and I as citizens.

We are also facing major infrastructure repairs to our archaic combined sewer system in Old Town. This much-needed project could cost us between $200-400 million or more. We have no choice in this matter as we are under a Chesapeake Bay Act that mandates the city stop dumping raw sewerage into the Potomac by the year 2035. These are funds we absolutely have to come up with.

In addition, we have a council who threatened eminent domain on the Boat Club in order to seize their parking lot. To close the deal the city is willing to give away $7.5 million of our dollars ($5 million to the Boat Club and $2.5 million to the Open Space fund) in order to put an “ice rink” in the middle of the newly created Fitzgerald Square.

So wrapping all this up, we have a city: a half billion dollars in debt, with a $60-plus million in annual debt service fee; who over the years gave away about $70 million in development over runs; while still facing a sewer problem of $200-400 million proportions; still wanting to build a $200-500 metro stop in Potomac Yard; while giving away $7.5 million to build an ice rink at the foot of King Street. Additionally, we must not forget that our budget for the schools and city government salaries have gone through the roof in the last 15 years.

You just couldn’t make all this up. The bottom line in all this is that I live in utter fear that the city’s continual mismanagement of our funds will lead of significantly higher taxes and ultimately to bankruptcy.

Townsend A. “Van” Van Fleet, Alexandria