Spending Control Needed

I noted Alexandria Mayor William D. Euille's comments in The Post [Letters to the Editor, Extra, Aug. 26] concerning property tax relief in the city.

The Alexandria City Council enacted the Affordable Homeownership Preservation Program he referenced in his letter. However, it provides only a small rebate to a very small percentage of Alexandria homeowners. It is just the tip of the iceberg of a larger program that needs to be enacted at the statewide level in order to help all Virginia homeowners.

The citizens of Alexandria were shocked again this year when their new property tax assessments arrived. The overall 2004 real property values increased an average of 18.4 percent. Unfortunately the law stipulates that all property has to be assessed at its fair market value. In addition, assessments cannot be capped or altered without legislation enacted by the Virginia General Assembly. One bill that has been in the hopper for the last couple of years would cap assessment rates at either 5 percent or the rate of population growth percentage plus the rate of inflation, whichever is higher. This bill would cap the assessments while still allowing sufficient funds to be provided to ensure local services are maintained and not degraded. So far this bill has not been enacted and the prospects of it passing this year are slim.

California enacted Proposition 13 in 1978. It was an instant success as it both reduced property taxes and imposed a great deal of discipline on both state and local spending. However, it did not place limits on other forms of taxation, and in the 11 years from 1990 to 2001, spending nearly doubled. If you are going to have low taxes, you have to restrain the spending, otherwise you are doomed to fail. Howard Jarvis led the fight to enact Proposition 13. What we need in Alexandria is for all four of our state delegates and the mayor to lead a similar charge in Richmond.

The city manager's fiscal-year 2005 budget proposed a 4-cent reduction, resulting in a tax rate of $.995 per each $100 of assessed value. Four cents is an absolute insult to the intelligence of the Alexandria taxpayers. My tax rate went up 28.11 percent, or an increase of $2,600, this year. In order for me to get back to last year's tax level, it would require a tax rate reduction of 19 cents. So what did the city do with the $35 million windfall from these assessments? The preponderance of those funds were committed to a number of the council's pet programs.

We just keep adding these assessment increases to each year's budget without the benefit of a thorough independent audit, which would in turn pinpoint unneeded overhead and inefficient business practices similar to what the Wilder Commission found at the state level. Only after an audit of all the city services and the schools has been conducted will we be able to bring our spending under control.

Townsend A. "Van" Van Fleet