Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Eliminate Wasteful Programs

Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Eliminate Wasteful Programs

The Alexandria City Council’s guidance to the city manager to not raise the property tax rate next year (FY 2019) is absolutely ludicrous. (Can you ever remember when taxes were increased during an election year?) This sleight of hand is why we are paying such a large increase this year (5.7 cents per hundred dollars of assessed property value). This is courtesy of our vice mayor, who aspires to be the next mayor. However, there is a budget dilemma, since revenues only increase by one percent, which equates to $9.2 million. Unfortunately this will not address the 5 percent increase in expenditures of $35.7 million. This equates to a shortfall of $27 million needed to balance the books.

What should be taking place is that the City Council should advise the city manager to work within the budget. The city should find $27 million in “real” offsets or program reductions so as to balance the budget, rather than to continually place the onus on the tax paying citizens. You can depend on it that a good part of the $27 million shortfall will result in higher property taxes next year.

A City Council member (who has served 33 years) stated that a no tax (increase) year would be “so austere that nobody would like it.” That is code for “watch out, we are going to raise your taxes,” rather than to practice good fiscal management such as eliminating pet programs that only benefit a few such as bikeshare. Unfortunately, this tax-and-spend City Council has (over a great many years) never met a developer they didn’t love. This is also the same august body who is responsible for a half billion dollar plus debt spilling over to a projected $82 million a year in debt service. Except for the current mayor and Councilman Willie Bailey, the rest of the council has been in office for a considerably long time thereby essentially owning a great percentage of that debt, in addition to a total lack of any fiscal responsibility.

A great deal of the overall funding problem appears to be centered within our schools, for which $26.6 million more has been requested over last year. School enrollments have continued to increase each year, and a new elementary school is needed in the west end of town. When I ran for City Council in 2000, I stated that a building moratorium was needed until the current infrastructure was up to date. However, although many years have gone by, the City Council continues to double down on density, and we are now feeling its debilitating effects. In the last 27 years, Alexandria has added 23,000 new residents, resulting in a density factor of 9,900 residents per square mile, which is the highest of any community in Virginia.

The city continues building at a feverish pace, and new residents continue to arrive. However, the school problem is just one indicator of this lack of planning. In addition to more schools, more police and fire personnel are needed, along with other support personnel and accompanying facilities and infrastructure. Moreover, the city is not building sustainable communities, they are just building dwellings (e.g. Potomac Yard). Where there was once great walkability, our increased traffic, less parking and many other issues are making our community a nightmare. So please, City Council, grow a backbone when addressing this FY2019 budget, and eliminate wasteful programs and unproductive staff.

Townsend A. “Van” Van Fleet