Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Taxing Away Affordability

Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Taxing Away Affordability

As a city resident for over 30 years, our local taxes have risen every year without fail as city leaders have been chronically unable to distinguish between items that are "needed" rather than only "nice." Last year's double digit jump in our property taxes and the City Council's 2017 proposal, however, are truly alarming. If the proposed taxes (including fees) are passed, taxes on our home will have increased 22 percent in just two years. What's more, the city's budget documents suggest similar hikes are planned for the next couple of years. This is lunacy from councilors that repeatedly express concern about the loss of affordable housing. (They are apparently oblivious that apartment building owners are going to pass these added costs on to their renters.)

A not insignificant part of this year's proposed jump in taxes is the 30 percent increase in waste water fees and, what for now, is a $70 storm utility fee. The new storm utility fee is scheduled for double digit increases each year over the next decade — a six fold increase — to raise $390 million to build infrastructure to prevent waste water flowing into the Potomac. Because this is separate from our property taxes, these fees are not deductible from federal taxes. Why not include them in our property taxes like funding for all other capital expenditures?

We are facing these unsustainable increases in taxes because the City Council and School Board have consistently not been true stewards of the taxpayers' money. They are addicted to adding not only bells and whistles to virtually every project, but also going for grandiose projects while existing assets are not maintained. A new subway stop at Potomac Yards costing over a quarter of a billion dollars? Under the threat of imminent domain, the $5 million of greenmail paid to Old Dominion Boat Club to move from King Street? Why was Patrick Henry's rec center doubled in size when we are facing so many "unexpected" major expenses? Increasing subsidies to Bike Shares, a private company? Why is close to $1 million is being spent on Beverley Park when a few thousands of dollars could have spent on erosion control a decade ago? The list goes on and on.

The School Board has been equally profligate, while school buildings have been mismanaged. How is it that there are reports of mold and peeling paint in classrooms at a time when the School Board voted $1.4 million for T.C. Williams tennis court lights in 2015 and has spent approximately $10 million for artificial turf at Hammond Middle School and various elementary schools?

Meanwhile, a false narrative is being promoted that we have been neglecting our schools for years and we should "fully fund our schools." This slogan ignores the fact that we spend more per student than any of the neighboring jurisdictions with the exception of Arlington. With all this inadequate funding, why are we now going to provide universal pre-K? Rather than a lean but necessary budget, the School Board larded it up with items like $4.1 million on lights and a football field upgrade at T.C. Williams. What other unnecessary items are in their proposed capital budget which more than doubled from $274 million to $611 million? And how is it that the city has never lobbied Richmond for budget oversight of our schools?

Unless something changes and changes soon, I think many of us will come to the conclusion that Alexandria is becoming too expensive of a city to continue to live in.

Tom Slayton