AS IF the District government were not having enough trouble with its budget, the city council is now choking off potential revenue. The council is refusing to approve the sale of small properties the city owns that are worth a total of $15 million. This stand by the council comes after it approved, as part of this year's city budget, $9.3 million in profits from the sale of the properties. The remaining $5.7 million coming from the sale would go toward next year's budget, which has also been approved by the council. Its sudden interest in blocking the sale now indicates that it either did not understand the budgets it voted on earlier or did not read them.
The council's opposition to the sale has promoted Mayro Barry to give it an ultimatum. He says that, without approval of sale of the property, the city government will have to raise taxes. The mayor's aides propose a one-year increase in a city tax, such as the sales tax. That will mean another leap in the tax burden on city residents, who are already the most heavily taxed people in the area. Any tax increase that is a result of the city council's refusal to get the money from other available sources -- sources that are already in a approved budget -- becomes a special burden.
The sale of properties is a key not only to this fiscal year's budget but also to resolving the city's long-term deficit. yit has been suggested that the city sell some of the larger properties it owns to help itself out of debt immediately and to avoid going to the bond market. The council's adverse action on selling these small parcels, for what is a relatively small amount of money, bodes ill for future attempts to sell property that could bring in sizable amounts of money.
So far, the council's stand is based on the idea that the city could force developers bidding for the land to build affordable housing on it or get some other provisions attached to any sale. But the property is not being sold for social purposes; the city needs money fast. Also, the National Capital Planning Commission has objected that some buildings involved are landmarks. That problem could be overcome by selling those few properties with the provision that the buildings not be destryoed. Instead of manufacturing any more hurdles, the council should move swiftly to sell the properties and raise the money it needs.