Tuesday, April 28, 2009

[Slow] Burn After Reading

If there is one document you need to read before the election, read this.

It's the April issue of the Crier, the Old Town Civic Association newsletter, and if you browse down to page 4 you'll discover an analysis of the City of Alexandria budget from 1997 to 2008 conducted by one of the association's leaders, an economist by trade.

Some of the highlights:

1. "The City is in a significant wage trap caused by wages and compensation increasing in excess of the CPI for many years." A figure that was alluded to in the East End debate last week — which frankly whizzed over most people's heads — shows that although inflation in the Washington metropolitan area rose 37% from 1997 to 2008, MRA, COLA and merit raises for City staff combined to grow at a staggering 69% rate.

2. The fastest growing area of the budget since 2005 — which marked the arrival of new City Manager Jim Hartmann — is in the Housing Department, with the second highest growth in the Planning & Zoning Department.

3. Mega-development coupled with the expansion in real estate values and the consequent rise in property tax assessments collections in recent years have made it possible for the City to take in stride the rising costs of staff and ballooning expenditures, but this spending is now unsustainable given the recession.

Sounds like Council is on a treadmill that is moving faster and faster. Since our leaders can't seem to properly cut the budget, the only way out appears to be increasing taxes, which they did on Monday night. The average Alexandria homeowner's tax bill will rise $76. Already at least one Council member has warned that there could be a 10 cent hike in the residential property tax rate next year, bringing us over $1.00 per $100 assessed value.

On a related note, the Washington Post praised Sharon Bulova, a Democrat and the new chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, for recently brokering a balanced county budget deal that left most homeowners paying the same or less property tax than the previous year. And one of the means of doing so was not to continue expanding the county's affordable housing program. Fairfax leaders cut the program in half while maintaining the units the county already has. This was a brave action given the fact that affordable housing seems to be a Democratic pillar of faith.

What do YOU think about this?