As vote nears, business community demands equal taxation

As vote nears, business community demands equal taxation

City officials have laid out their plans for dollars generated by a new, hotly debated commercial tax, but local businesses opposing the proposal arent backing down. 
If the 12.5-cent tax on commercial properties is approved by the city council, transportation director Rich Baier expects to see the revenue spent on dedicated lanes for mass transit, replicating the Old Town trolley in either Del Ray or Carlyle and an enlarged DASH fleet in the next four years.
The tax would collect about $12 million for transportation needs, according to budget memos. 
Staff prioritized the projects based on what they heard from the community after holding more than 20 public forums, Baier said. Due to state law, the money raised by the tax is limited to capital projects and not maintenance or repair work, he said. 
While many in the business community agree the city needs transportation upgrades, they dont want to be alone in paying for it. The city must strike a balance between commercial and residential taxes, said Mike Anderson, owner of Mango Mikes and Alexandria Chamber of Commerce chairman.
We think it should come out the general fund and, in lieu of that, make sure its an equitable deal between residents and businesses. About half our members are residents of the city, so theyre already in the fight to begin with, Anderson said. Do these projects, but make sure we spread the pain between residents and businesses alike. Right now, with the 12.5 cents theyre trying to raise it 100 percent from the business community.
Officials say a possible break in business license fees will help dilute the tax, but would only affect about 45 percent of the citys businesses.
Business leaders again aired their concerns to council members during a public hearing on Saturday. Chamber President Tina Leone questioned the tactic of singling out businesses for the burden while comparing the transportation projects with city schools.
Not everyone has a child in public school, but everyone shares the costs, she said.
While Anderson and Leone represent one of the loudest voices against the proposal, few if any local businesses seem to support the levy. The boutiques, small shops and stores of Old Town and Del Ray are plastered with signs decrying the measure. 
Michelle Ward, owner of King Streets Principle Gallery, doesnt have the familiar flyer hanging out front, but that doesnt mean she likes the idea of an extra tax any more than Anderson. Shell end up paying the 12.5-cent tax after its passed down from her landlord.
Im afraid the danger is small boutique shops wont be able to carry the burden pass on by their landlord, she said. This will significantly damage the dynamic of Old Town. Maybe not immediately, but in the near future.
Hardly any speakers at the public hearing favored the tax, and those who did were not business owners.
For Dak Hardwick, Cameron Station Civic Association president, the question isnt so much about whether businesses or residents should shoulder the costs of transportation improvements, but whether Alexandria is serious about tackling its growing transit problem. 
Until the city can reach a compromise on how much to raise and what to spend it on, theyll stay dependent on outside money for projects often with strings attached, he warned.
The more that we rely on outside sources to pay for our transportation projects, the more likely it is were going to have less control over those projects, Hardwick said. This is about choosing what we want for our community.
The council will pass a final tax rate May 2.