To the Editor:
During the most recent election process Bob Wood and I predicted there would be a large real estate tax increase this year if the incumbents were reelected. Our prediction has unfortunately come true, as your council on March 15 unanimously elected to set the maximum real estate rate for FY 2017 at $1.073 per $100 of assessed value, which is a three cent increase above the current rate. Adding insult to injury is the fact that this year’s real estate tax base increased a little over $1 billion generating about $10.7 million of revenue through real estate taxes at the current rate. All told, the real estate tax increase of three cents added to the assessment increase, which equates to about another three cents, will result in about a six cent increase this year. Of course everyone remembers that the council is on record saying that they wanted to do the big tax raise this year, little to none in the next two years, so that the voters will then forget what they had done when the next election day rolls around.
The overall financial stability of Alexandria is not good. We have yet to solve our revenue and expenditure problem wherein we are currently spending more each year than we are taking in. We are currently $540 million in debt with a debt service in 2017 of $69 million. That total will jump another $7 million in 2019 when the debt service for the Potomac Yard Metro Station kicks in. That will result in an overall debt service in 2019 of $92 million we will be spending out of the general fund to service our debt which could be better spent on a number of other citywide priorities.
There are a large number of capital improvement projects that are going to require a great amount of funding over the next 10-plus years. Our sanitary sewer system currently violates the Chesapeake Bay Act and if not addressed in the short term could result in the city paying some very large fines. The conservative price tag to solve this problem is between $200-300 million. This program also adds to our annual debt service. Too many of our 56 miles of roads are desperately in need of repair. The current plan is to repair 5 miles of roads each year. With that schedule, I would hate live on a street that ends up getting assistance some 11 years from now.
The first large school project facing us is to rebuild the Patrick Henry School and Recreation center that will cost approximately $45-50 million. In addition, the infrastructure of our schools is extremely poor and is short some $78 million for school repairs in the next five years. The real crunch is that with the yearly increase in enrollments we will need five or six new schools in the next 10 years costing mega millions. In addition, another $23 million is programmed to design and build a new 50-meter pool addition to the Chinquapin Aquatics Center next to T.C. Williams High School.
The city never bothered to maintain its buildings. Thirty-six of our 123 city-owned buildings have received a failing grade (F) and over the next 10 years will require roughly $272 million to bring those structures back up to acceptable standards.
This City Council, most of whom have been in office for a long time, have failed to adequately address our financial woes over the years. All of our unfunded requirements are now compounding and could drive the city toward ever-increasing taxes. One only needs to look at whether the City Council-approved debt limits are in compliance with their own previously designated debt ratios. The Capital Improvement Program is definitely not in compliance for debt as a percentage of the total personal income ratio for the years 2018-2024. Additionally, for the time frame 2017-2026, the city is in compliance for debt service as a percentage of fair market real property values and debt service as a percentage of general government expenditures, however both exclude Potomac Yard Metrorail Station debt. The only counter may be that the council knows that it can tax us to death and we are already beginning to see the start of their ill-conceived strategy.
Townsend A. “Van” Van Fleet