Editorial: Council spending spree hurts city residents

Editorial: Council spending spree hurts city residents
Alexandria City Hall. (file photo)

Get ready, Alexandrians, because your tax bills are about to go up — a lot. Proving that last year’s tax and spending restraint was just election-year politics, this year’s newly elected, all-Democratic city council passed a budget Monday night that increases spending by 6.3 percent.

The city council passed a bevy of tax increases, led by a 4-cent jump in the property tax rate. Councilors also hiked the residential utility tax cap to $3 per month as well as the hated car tax to a whopping $5 per $100 of assessed value.

Here’s what these tax increases mean to city residents in dollar terms: If you own a house with an assessed value of $750,000, your property tax bill increases to $7,785 per year. If you own a car worth $20,000, you will pay a $1,000 car tax bill each year.

Taken alone, these taxes are not enormous. But when added to the tax burden we all bear when we buy gasoline for that over-taxed car, taxes on everything we purchase, federal and state income taxes, taxes on any gains we make from investments or selling property, and so on, they weigh down workers, families and businesses.

Like most levies, the property and car taxes penalize hard work and success. This hike also diminishes the positive effect of rising property values in Alexandria, as residents are being hit by the double whammy of higher assessments and a steep increase in the tax rate.

Not surprisingly, council members after the vote were focused on the spending rather than tax side of the ledger and actually congratulated themselves for producing this budget. Mayor Bill Euille even said, “… This is a budget we can be proud of.”

The mayor is right that capital improvements to schools and recreation centers have been deferred during the long recession and slow economy of the past five years. It’s time Alexandria spent some money shoring up this infrastructure for the future.

If most of the spending hike were dedicated to school structures and other building projects, we would complain less. However, only $6.97 million of the $37 million increase in spending is for capital improvements.

We are apparently supposed to be heaving sighs of relief — and giving thanks — that cuts to library and swimming pool hours were restored as part of the spending hike. This smacks of the federal government’s implementation of the sequester, in which agencies were told to apply the modest spending cuts in the most painful way possible — hence, cancellation of White House tours and flight delays. The American public didn’t buy this political gambit, and Alexandrians shouldn’t either.

As we queue up to pay our much higher real estate and car taxes, we can take comfort in the fact that our hard-earned money will at least be spent lighting the trees on King Street for three more months a year. Former City Councilor Frank Fannon is right: This budget is what happens when there’s no fiscal advocate on council.