Our View: Something’s wrong here

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Our View: Something’s wrong here
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In his column last week, “No one pays a tax rate,” Bill Rossello pointed out that a level tax rate does not equate to a level tax bill. This is because the tax rate is applied to property values, which rose by more than 4% in Alexandria last year.

In his letter this week, Kenneth Wolfe instructs that Alexandria’s prop- erty tax rate has increased by 36% from $.815 at its low point in the FY2007 budget to $1.11 – and potentially $1.12 if City Council uses the maximum possible rate it approved last week.

In another letter this week, Jimm Roberts ties Alexandria’s overall high cost of living to a spike in housing costs that’s correlated with the city’s densification in recent years.

The news for Alexandria’s taxpayers is actually worse than any of these writers indicate. That 36% increase in the property tax rate is coupled with a 29% increase in assessed property value, which combined – wait for it – have led to a 76% increase in the average residential property tax bill in Alexandria between FY2007 and FY2024.

The math behind this is straightforward.

According to a city document dated April 24, 2006 titled “[Archived] City Council Adopts FY2007 Operating Budget with a 10-cent Cut in the Real Estate Tax Rate – Revision”: The average residential property in Alexandria was valued at $527,000. When the now quaint-sounding FY2007 tax rate of $.815 was applied, that resulted in an average tax bill of $4,295.05 in Alexandria.

While the City of Alexandria has published at least three documents showing different residential property assessment values so far this year, using the number $679,914 found in one of them results in an average residential property tax bill of $7,546.89 when the $1.11 rate is applied.

That’s an increase of $3,251.84 in the average tax bill – an increase of 76% – in 17 years.

Discerning readers have probably already noted that there’s seldom a tax increase of this magnitude without a corresponding spending hike of similar heft – and those readers would be correct. The city’s annual operating budget has increased by almost 79% in the past 17 years.

Again, for those who want to do the math, the city’s operating budget was $493,700,000 in FY2007 and is proposed at $881,132,896 in FY2024 – an increase of $387,432,896. Whew!

Readers might be wondering how the tax rate could have been so low in FY2007? It’s because City Council, worried about the tax burden on residents, lowered the rate by fully 10 cents from FY2006 to FY2007!

Here’s what then Mayor Bill Euille said about that budget:

“I believe Council acted responsibly in adopting this new budget. We listened to our residents and business owners, and carefully weighed the costs to continue the level of services provided to our community.”

There’s much to parse in the former mayor’s statement.

If that council acted responsibly in trying to manage residents’ tax burdens, what does that say about our current council? If that council listened to residents and business owners, what does that say about our current leadership’s listening skills? If the level of services to our community were able to be maintained at a much lower level of taxation, what does that say about our current spending levels and priorities?

Finally, when’s the last time an Alexandria elected official tried to keep the tax burden at a manageable level? Former Mayor Allison Silberberg certainly argued for a slower rate of tax increase. But our last elected officials to push repeatedly for actual cuts in spending were former Councilor Frank Fannon and former Vice Mayor Bill Cleveland, who left office in 2012 and 2003, respectively.

The bottom line is the bottom line: When the level of taxation rises more than twice as much as the value of what’s being taxed, something is terribly wrong.

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