David A. Clary is not the type who gives up easily, and the other day his perseverance finally paid off, both figuratively and literally, when he received an apology and a check from the city of Alexandria.
In a letter to Clary, city manager Douglas Harman admitted the 31-year-old chief historian at the U.S. Forest Service had been correct all along during a three-year struggle with the city tax collector over the amount of personal property taxes he owed for 1974.
Not that the amount of money involved was large. In fact, the city's check was for only $87.87, but the issue had become one of principle with Clary and he had threatened to take the matter to court.
"Your patience and forthrightness in this matter have been exemplary, and I appreciate fully your attitude and sense of frustration," Harman wrote in the letter explaining that the mistake had been the result of a clerical error and admitting that the city had filed to provide him with adequate information about its personal tax laws.
"I proved you can fight city hall if you're willing to get down in the gutter with them," Clary said in a telephone interview.
But Clary, who had written Harman that he had resolved never again to live in the city or frequent its establishments, also said he was pleased the city had finally admitted its mistake.
City officials, who seemed embarassed by the entire affair, said the case was unusual in tha it involved the prorating of Clary's personal property tax after he had moved from the city to Omaha in the spring of 1973.
In fact, Harman said, the city's major problem in this area had been in trying to get new residents to pay the taxes they owe Alexandria.
Local governments prorate taxes so individuals do not have to pay two taxes for the same purpose when they move from one jurisdiction to the other. By prorating a tax, an individual pays each jurisdiction only for the amount of time he actually resided in each area during the year the move took place.
In December 1974, while living in Omaha, Clary paid Alexandria $63.68 in prorated personal property taxes on his car to cover the five months he had resided in the city that year. The check was cashed and the matter appeared closed until last fall when Clary moved back into the Washington area, settling into Springfield.
At that time Clary received a letter from Alexandria tax collector Gary Meigs informing him that his 1974 personal property taxes were delinquent and asking that he pay $115.95, an amount which included interest and penalty payments.
A seemingly endless series of letters between Clary and Meigs followed, and after a telephone conversation Meigs said that if Clary could produce his 1974 tax receipt," Clary said in the interview.
Upon receiving the receipt, Meigs credited Clary for the Omaha taxes and sent him a new bill for $87.87. But crediting taxes paid elsewhere is not the same as prorating them, and Clary refused to pay. On Sept. 14 Clary received another letter, this one informing him that the city had instituted legal procedures against him.
Clary finally paid but the check was accompanied by a strong letter to Harman in which he charged that what the city's finance office "was unable to gain through duplicity and swindling it has acquired by extortion."
In interviews both Harman and Howard J. Holton, the city's director of finance, said there was no formal appeals process for cases of this sort in Alexandria and said this was also the case in other area jurisdictions.
But Holton added that Alexandria citizens with similar problems could appeal directly to him and that if they were unhappy with his ruling they could take the case to the city attorney.
As for Clary's charges that the city had "extortion" to get his money, Harman replied: "I think his terminology exceeds anything merited by a clerical error."