YOUR VIEWS | Taxes To Solve the Budget Gap? Cut It Out.

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To the editor:

It is good to see that City Manager Jim Hartmann is instituting a program of collaborative realignment. In private business, we would likely skip the fancy words and simply call such a program common sense. Given the stresses on the city budget over the last few years, one can reasonably question why such operational inefficiencies werent addressed long ago. Regardless, it is an encouraging sign.

It would be cruel, damaging and counterproductive to impose yet more tax increases on Alexandria homeowners and businesses as we struggle to climb out of the worst recession in recent memory. Obviously, making cuts in order to close gaps in the budget will cause a level of discomfort for the professional politicians that occupy our city government, but the mayor and Alexandria City Council must learn to live within their means like any other American institution or individual.
Given the lack of imagination in the area of budget reductions expressed by our mayor, I thought it would be appropriate to make a few suggestions as follows:

– General Reform. Close City coffers to new programs. For example, the city shouldnt even consider jumping into the financial morass (easily worth tens of millions of taxpayer dollars) associated with proposed street cars.

-Transparency. Post all financial information, contracts, invoices, etc. on the citys website so we can see where our money is being spent. Of course, there should be some exceptions to this, such as payments associated with police investigations. 

-Zero Based Budgeting. Programs shouldnt be funded just because they exist. Start from the ground up and justify costs on an annual basis. Weed out the bad and fertilize the good. 

-Litigation Board. Create a nonpartisan board of retired judges and lawyers to review all pending and future litigation involving the city. This volunteer board should be able to veto new and settle pending litigation. Each member should voluntarily agree to abstain from running for public office for five years beginning with the end of their service to the city.

-Auditing Board. Create a nonpartisan board of auditors, business executives and individuals who have served in local governments outside of Alexandria to review operations and budgeting. These volunteers should also foreswear running for public office in Alexandria for five years at the end of their service.

-Cease using the powers of the city as political weapons. It appears that the elected leadership doesnt like business, especially if it deals with goods or services that some may consider politically incorrect such as fuel oil or high-quality sporting weapons. After all, the elimination of one discreet, high-end sporting goods store resulted in the unexpected opening of the first adult shop on King Street, with more to come.

Here are a few specific items for immediate savings:

-Terminate the Safe Haven Program. Though created with the best of intentions, this controversial, misguided, multi-million dollar program designed to provide luxury apartments in the heart of Old Town to a dozen homeless people is a gold-plated monument to waste. As of this date, the poorly managed, over budget program has yet to service a single person. 

-Terminate the Sister City Program. Surely, Alexandrias tourism industry benefits much more from its location at the step of our nations capital than association with a city an ocean away. 

-Terminate the iPod/keychain giveaway. Sure, its only $30,000, but how many meals could that buy for the truly needy had the city left those dollars in the hands of charitable private citizens?

-Verify that all public school students are legal residents of Alexandria. Transfer non-residents to the appropriate school district and fine the parents for the cost of the services provided by the city. Why should Alexandria taxpayers pay the tab for students sneaking in from other jurisdictions?

-Terminate city participation in the NVTA. By any reasonable expectation, The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) has been an abject failure. Its finances were gutted as unconstitutional; its original priority projects were met with ridicule from its closest allies as being politically motivated and ineffective; and even one of its staff members was arrested for allegedly defrauding the organization. There are better solutions for our transportation problems, beginning with cutting all support for this failure.

-Planning and Zoning. Readers may recall that it was only a few months ago when Planning Director Faroll Hamers arbitrary, capricious or simply unreasonable actions in a recent land-use case were overturned by the Board of Zoning Appeals. Now taxpayers deserve an answer to this question: Why have staffing and other costs increased when economic activity, such as building, has declined?  Replace Faroll Hamer with a professional urban planner, downsize the staff and keep personal political agendas out of this office. 

-Divestment of land holdings and leave the Old Dominion Boat Club alone. Instead of attacking an Alexandria institution with an unwarranted land grab, the city should focus on reducing its property holdings and improving management at existing locations.

Obviously, with a bloated budget that has grown so quickly over the past few years, there is plenty of room for additional reductions and no need to raise taxes yet again. Hopefully, the mayor and City Council will be up to the task to make these decisions and do their jobs.  Goodness knows the taxpayers have done more than their fair share.

Bud Miller
Alexandria Taxpayers United

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