To the editor:
The proposed 12.5-cent transportation add-on tax on commercial properties is being sold by city staff as way to raise money for needed transportation improvements in Alexandria. But more and more people are asking: Can we afford it?
In addition to the burden to small business owners who may be miles from the transportation fixes being proposed, proponents may have a hidden agenda that could wind up costing Alexandrias homeowners as much or more than the business community.
That agenda was revealed when City Manager Jim Hartmann issued a budget memo entitled Revised Transportation Add-On Tax Multi-Year Project Plan.
Among the plans described is one for project construction beginning prior to major redevelopment in the Beauregard Street corridor.
No decision has yet been made by any public body, however, that major redevelopment along Beauregard is appropriate. Property owners in the corridor have more than 3 million square feet of currently unused development rights from a 1995 agreement that would not require major redevelopment. Many West End residents have expressed their opposition to authorizing additional increases in density along Beauregard Street until the full impact of the BRAC building is understood.
City staff, however, seem to be using the add-on tax as a wedge to drive up development densities regardless of citizen opinions. The effect would be increased traffic problems, not a solution to them. The staff memo estimates the cost of the transit improvements would exceed $39 million. It assumes that developers would be willing to kick in at least $20 million. Indeed, a heroic assumption.
The rest of the money would come from city funding. Since Alexandria is about tapped out on its borrowing capability if it is to retain its strong bond rating, paying for the remainder of the Beauregard transit tab almost certainly would fall in large part on residents. In effect, the potential use of the add-on tax would be to benefit developers at the expense of protecting local neighborhoods.
For that reason more and more people are questioning the wisdom of the tax. The city council must show that this tax does not make a bad situation even worse.