Alexandria is being encouraged to create a new special tax district in Old Town. It will raise $2.2 million in new taxes from businesses, then spend it on unknown things and will be managed by an unknown process by unknown people. The proposal has many flaws.
Once created, the BID will be managed by the vote of businesses and commercial property taxpayers in the district. But it has specific provisions that discriminate against owner-occupied businesses. So this leaves more power in the hands of the big commercial interests and discriminates against small businesses. The preliminary governance bylaws and its election rules won’t even be drafted until the tax increase option is passed.
The committee promoting the BID specifically wants it to tackle traffic, parking, garbage removal, public art, street signage, event management and marketing for Old Town. Every one of those functions has at least one taxpayer-supported or city-run entity already doing that. So supporting the BID means the city is mismanaged and incompetent. If that is true, who is being fired and which budgets are being cut? The properties to be hit with the new BID tax are already paying tens of millions in property taxes, not to mention the many millions of business license taxes. Support for the BID, then, is a statement that we need the firing of dozens of staff and the resignation of elected officials.
However, 43-60 percent of the BID tax district membership would be made up of office space businesses — lawyers, accountants, and consulting firms. These businesses will receive zero benefits from BID yet would be forced to shoulder about half the tax burden.
Who could benefit from the BID? Well it proposes money to subsidize valet and/or parking garage fees. Obviously this is a selling point for restaurants and the owners of parking facilities and services. It also proposes paying for six new staff positions to manage the BID.
With the extra $2.2 million to spend in Old Town, will the city shift its spending to other priorities since these are now covered? We don’t know. We can’t know until a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) is drafted and we won’t see that until after the tax is authorized. Since the city is already raising taxes and complaining about too many priorities, we know how this ends up.
These are just the opening problems that have not been addressed. There are many deeper issues if you wade into the details. But the ones that leap out at first glance are decisive in their own right.