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March 31, 2005

If the Arlington County Board Can't Control Their Urge to Spend, then "Cap" Property Taxes!

Arlington homeowners saw their real estate assessments increase by 24% in January 2005. That comes on top of large double-digit increases over the past several years. One Virginia General Assembly delegate, Jeffrey M. Frederick (R), was slated to announce a plan today to cap property taxes statewide. According to today's Washington Times, Delegate Frederick's plan provides that "property-tax assessments could not increase more than 1 percent plus inflation each year, and that the tax rate could not grow more than 1 percent annually." The newspaper added that "This is the latest in a series of property-tax savings plans outlined during the election year." After watching the small turnout at this evening's tax hearings before the Arlington County Board, one wonders whether a tax revolt will ever be ignited in Arlington County. If you missed speaking to the Board this evening, you can still call the Board office or write to them (see directions in the box to the right).

March 30, 2005

Tell the Arlington County Board What to do with Tax Rates!

Thursday evening, March 31, beginning at 7:00 PM in County Board Room 307 is the opportunity for Arlington taxpayers to tell the County Board what we think about the County Board's high taxes and out-of-control spending. The usual crowd showed up for the Board's budget expenditures hearing on Tuesday evening. It may be difficult for the frugal to watch the entire three+ hours, but it's worth spending a little time watching a rerun on channel 74. If you have not previously spoken to the Board, you may want to take a minute to read the procedures for the County Board tax night hearing. If you are not able to speak tomorrow evening, it is important that you contact the Board office at (703) 228-3130 or write a letter or e-mail them (follow the link to the right). Board members may be hard of hearing, but they are not deaf.

March 28, 2005

Arlington County Board Takes Your Money; Now Your Property Rights?

On Saturday, May 7, the County Board will be voting on whether to adopt more stringent zoning "lot coverage" rules. This week's Arlington Sun-Gazette to be dated March 31 will have a front-page story that notes, "In six weeks, county government officials plan to debate and perhaps enact the most sweeping and controversial changes to residential zoning in Arlington since the 1950's. But, as yet, they have not asked the county's property assessor how the proposal would affect the value of thousands of single-family (homes) in the county." It appears the Board has no intention of doing so. The paper reported that the Board chairman "said there was no need to confer with the assessor" and quoted him as saying, "The impact will be minimal." Famous last words? Let's hope not!

March 27, 2005

State Does Shoddy Job of Tracking Those on Economic Development Dole

Several times each month, the press machine in the office of Virginia Governor Mark Warner (D) announces another package of cash incentives and tax breaks enticing companies to locate in Virginia. For example, Russell County and Mecklenburg County were featured in two such deals. In the first of a five-day series, however, today's Newport News Daily Press reports that "Virginia loses millions of dollars in many of its most hyped economic development deals when companies fail to live up to job and investment promises and either go bankrupt or refuse to repay subsidies. The newspaper's investigation "found that shoddy record-keeping by the state prevents the public and lawmakers from finding out the number of deals that fail . . . Almost half the deals went bad in 1999, one of only three years for which records exist." The paper adds that "The public doesn't know about many of the tax breaks. It is illegal to reveal the tax breaks that individual companies receive." You have to wonder if the politicians and bureaucrats would be as lax if it was their own money? The state agency involved in this giveaway of taxpayer money is the Virginia Economic Development Partnership.

March 25, 2005

County Board Agrees to "Bail Out" of Non-Profit

Both Arlington weekly newspapers -- the Arlington Connection and the Arlington Sun-Gazette -- carried stories this week of the financial difficulties at Culpepper Garden -- an independent and assisted living facility on Perhing Drive, and the decision by the Arlington County Board to bailout the assisted living part to keep it from going into bankrupcy. According to the Connection, the "proposed budget for the coming fiscal year includes a $700,000 item to support the assisted living wing" of the facility. The paper added that "(t)he money will also be used to reorganize the assisted livng operations after a study conducted by a consulting firm determined the project was losing money. During a drive to raise money, the report also found that Culpepper Gardens lost $138,000 in two years." The Sun-Gazette reported one member of the Culpepper Garden board acknowledging "they had 'grossly underestimated' costs and that the group had 'good intentions but not good fiscal judgment.'" The Sun-Gazette also reported that this year's County Board chairman had served on the board of the Arlington Retirement Housing Corporation from 1999 to 2004, the assisted living wing at Culpepper Garden.

March 24, 2005

To Cut Tax Rate More Than 5 Cents, Board Needs to Hear from You!

The weekly Arlington Sun-Gazette dated today includes a story that notes the Arlington County Board chairman "hints at cut in real estate tax rate" of more than the 5 cent cut proposed by the County Manager. The page 8 story begins, "A wink here, a nudge there, and the clues begin to fall into place" that the County Board will go beyond the Manager's proposed cut of 5 cents. A cut of at least 6 cents now seems on-course since the Manager in his annual "mid-year review," provides Board members notes that each additional $0.01 cut in the rate would reduce FY 2005 revenues by $2.1 million.

To reduce the cut in the real estate tax rate, however, requires Arlington taxpayers to tell the County Board at next Thursday's tax rate hearings that the rate must be cut in a meaningful way -- meaning beyond a mere cut of 10 cents. If you are not able to attend the March 31 hearing, call, write, or e-mail the Board. They need to hear you loud and clear!

March 23, 2005

Ready to Talk Back to County Board about Taxes?

Next week, Arlington taxpayers will have an opportunity to tell the five members of the spendthrift Arlington County Board what they think about Board members tax-and-spend policies. Remember -- just because assessments on your property go up 24% does not mean your taxes have to go up by that same percentage. In fact, Board members would not even be having these meetings if they didn't plan to increase your taxes. Plan now to speak at 7:00 pm on one of these two dates:

Tuesday, March 29 -- budget/expenditure hearings
Thursday, March 31 -- tax rate hearings

You can sign-up online through the Board's advance sign-up procedures. Or you can sign-up at either hearing. They will be held in the regular Board meeting room (#307) at Courthouse Plaza. If you are not able to speak in person, write (see box to the right) or call the Board office (703-228-3130).

Find out more about how the Board plans to spend your hard-earned tax dollars by reviewing the Fiscal Year 2006 Proposed Budget online.

Tell the Board that real estate property taxes should not go up more than the inflation rate. Don't be shy. Tell them to cut, cut, and cut some more.

March 21, 2005

Aiding and Abetting Poor Budgeting

An article in today's Potomac News provides an update on the status of Prince William County's proposed budget, but also provides a stark example of how elected county supervisors abet the plundering of taxpayers. The county's administrator proposed a 14.6 cent cut in the real estate tax rate to offset a 23% increase in the average assessed value of a single-family residence. While supervisor Corey Stewart (R) correctly complains the large increase "in home assessments was masking an unnecessary 12.6 (percent) rise in proposed spending," the chairman of the PW board of supervisors, Sean Connaughton (R), is urgeing citizens to be specific "because that is where it is the most useful to (the board) in going back and making our adjustments." Most citizens do not know budget details to the degree the county's elected officials should. The elected officials should know which programs are working and which are not. For the chairman of the board to be urging citizens to be asking for specific cuts seems like a lack of budget leadership on his part. If he can't find places to cut in a budget that is increasing by 12.6%, one wonders what he is doing running for statewide office. Rather, he is aiding and abetting the growth of government.

March 15, 2005

They Want a Pay Raise of How Much?

Today's New York Times reports that a study to be released today by Teachers College at Columbia University finds "American colleges and universities do such a poor job of training the nation's future teachers and school administrators that 9 of every 10 principals consider the graduates unprepared for what awaits them in the classroom," and "lacked academic rigor and were outdated." Depite the implications of this study, this week's Arlington Sun-Gazette reports the 8.1% pay raise recommended in the budget release two weeks ago the the Superintendent seems to be pleasing no one. ACTA's president Tim Wise is quoted by the paper saying, "If they were going to use all the money they've set aside to reward the most productive teachers, that might be a very beneficial use of taxpayer money . . . But across-the-board raises reward the deadbeat teachers just as much as the outstanding ones." Could it be the 8.1% pay raise for teachers is nothing more than a scheme to sop up all the excess funds generated by the revenue sharing agreement?

March 13, 2005

How Many Ways Can the Government Find to Tax You?

If you answered "Infinite" to the above question, you may be correct. Last week, USA Today reported that one Florida legislator "is flush with good ideas." The paper reported that Florida Senator Al Lawson (D) from Tallahassee "is proposing a 2-cent-per-roll tax on toilet paper," and would be used "to pay for wastewater treatment and help small towns and counties upgrade their sewer systems. It also reported the senator has "been enduring plenty of jokes -- bathroom humor, you might say." It's a shame that politicians don't work as hard to control government spending as they do thinking up silly ideas with which they can steal more of our hard-earned money.

March 12, 2005

County Board Accepts Answer on Overspending

ACTA's president used the Board's public comment period this morning to ask what county management is doing to avoid overspending by the various departments. Holding up the Fiscal Year 2004 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR), which contains the audited financial statement, Wise asked the Board why six county departments and the Sheriff's office exceeded their approved budgets for the last fiscal year? He pointed out these numbers are on page 44 of the CAFR (Exhibit 5, page 1 of 2), and include the Board's own office, the Manager's office, the personnel function, the County Attorney's office, the Treasurer's office, the Electoral Board, and the Sheriff's office. The overspending totalled just over $1 million, and the Sheriff's and Manager's overspending made up nearly all of that total. The Manager said he thought the Sheriff's overspending resulted from the cost of medical care for jail inmates being higher than planned. However, he said there were more departments that underspent their budgets. While that's true, all those underspenders did not warrant special mention by the auditors in Note 2 on page 60 of the CAFR. Look here for the entire FY2004 CAFR, as well as the FY2001, 2002, and 2003 CAFR's. More importantly, in writing Note 2, the auditors said mainagement assured them that better internal controls would be implemented so that departments would not overspend their budgets. So much for words, though, since the previous year's CAFR contained the same assurances.

March 09, 2005

Henrico County Voters Reject Meals Tax

Voters in Henrico County rejected a 4% meals tax yesterday although the margin was just 151 votes, reported today's Richmond Times-Dispatch. Voters easily approved a $349.3 million bond package, however. County officials were hoping that the $20 million they expected to raise from the meals tax would enable them to lower the real estate tax rate. The important point in this for Arlington taxpayers is that Henrico County citizens were afforded the opportunity to vote on whether to adopt the meals tax. Arlington citizens, on the other hand, were deprived of the opportunity to vote on the meals tax because of the games played by Arlington's political elite. Congratulations to the Henrico Taxpayers Union for the role they played in defeating this meals tax. And, if you haven't told the Arlington County Board what you think about an effective real estate tax rate increase of 10.5% this year, please tell them soon.

March 07, 2005

Arlington County Board to Advertise 10.5% "Effective Tax Rate Increase"

The Arlington County Board will likely vote on Saturday, March 12, to advertise a real estate tax rate with an "effective tax rate increase" of 10.5%, based upon the "Board Report" for agenda item 34 on Saturday's agenda (requires Adobe Reader; ref. attachment V). This increase assumes a cut of 5 cents in the real estate tax rate although the Board can cut the rate more than the Manager's proposed 5 cents. Since the assessed value of overall real property, excluding new construction, increased 16.6% (residential and commercial), the county would have to lower the real estate tax rate to 82.2 cents per $100 of assessed value to produce the same amount of real estate tax revenue as last year. The "Board Report" for agenda item 34 contains three attachments which contain useful information of how Arlington's overall tax base is divided between residential and commercial property as well as a historical record of tax rates and average assessments. Regular readers of Growls may recall that we previously growled about the Manager's proposed budget, noting the 5 cent tax rate cut would still result in a 17.5% increase in the average tax bill for residential property owners; the 10.5% increase refers to the overall tax base (residential and commercial). To use the words of talk radio host Sean Hannity, "now more than ever" it's important for every Arlington homeowner to tell the County Board to lower the real estate tax rate in a meaningful way, and that means cutting it by more than a measly 5 cents.

March 06, 2005

Arlington Has It Wrong on the Revenue Sharing Agreement

A column in today's Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star concludes the "constructive disagreement" between school boards and the localities' governing bodies is a good thing for school budgets. The political elite in Arlington, on the other hand, have developed an arrangement in which the Arlington schools get a percentage, currently 48.1% of all tax revenue. The arrangement, called the revenue sharing agreement, was developed several years ago primarily as a way of controlling the ever increasing share of county revenue that was going to the schools. An advantage of this arrangement is that any resulting discord in developing the schools budget was dramatically minimized. The columnist for the Free Lance-Star admits there is discord between the two governing bodies, but says that with one body pushing to provide "what the schools need while the other struggles to provide what it can afford" the process "works when both groups put real needs above petty disagreements and politics." In Arlington, we see the schools developing a budget that will spend at twice the rate of inflation, which in our view is clear evidence the schools budget is out of control. Consequently, it's time for the County Board to put a fork in the revenue sharing agreement, which one local pundit has called the "split-the-loot deal."

March 04, 2005

Arlington Schools Seem Destined to Remain High-Cost Producer

Yesterday, the Superintendent presented his proposed budget for FY2006 that will be effective on July 1, and once again, the other school districts in the Washington area will be hard-pressed to exceed Arlington's cost-per-pupil. According to the Superintendent's proposed budget (page 49), the cost-per-pupil will increase by 7.4% going from $15,298 per student to $16,429 per student if the School Board accepts the proposed budget. As we 'growled several times last month, the Arlington schools already lead the Washington region in that regard. We haven't taken apart the budget, yet, but there are some curious numbers, or in the the Superintendent's words, "momentum builders," e.g., the press release on the budget says the proposed budget is only 1.4% over the current budget, but the budget proposes increasing teachers pay by 8.1%. We understand the Schools' needs, but it appears the Superintendent does not understand that the taxpayers of Arlington are becoming tapped-out.

March 02, 2005

Arlington's Budget Still Means 'Outrageous' Increase in Taxes

When The Washington Post asked ACTA's president last month for his reaction to the Arlington County Manager's proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2006, he remarked, "It's outrageous," and then added that even after the Manager's proposed 5 cent cut in the real estate tax rate, "That still leaves a 17 percent increase for every hardworking homeowner in Arlington." As the Post's reporter noted a rate reduced by the 5 cents will put the average annual tax bill at $4,160, an increase of $619. On top of that, the Manager also proposes increases in a number of fee increases that will directly affect homeowners. You can see the list on page 3, section B, of the budget, but they include increases in the water/sewer rate and the garbage (make that the solid waste) rate.

If you agree with ACTA's president, you need to contact the Arlington County Board, and tell them how deeply they need to cut the real estate tax rate! And, be sure to tell them how their increased taxation will affect you. Tell them ACTA sent you!

March 01, 2005

Confusion about Tax Cuts and Tax Increases at The Washington Post

Over the years, we've often thought it was because of their desire for bigger government that The Washington Post almost always favored higher taxes. That is until we read the headline and lead paragraph of their story this morning about Fairfax County's proposed Fiscal Year 2006 budget. After reading the headline and the first paragraph, it seems clear the paper is confused about cutting taxes and increasing taxes. Here was the headline and sub-headline: "Fairfax Proposes Property Tax Cut: 10-Cent Rate Decrease Would Help Counter 23% Jump in Assessment." Then they said in the first paragraph, "Fairfax County homeowners would see a 10-cent cut in their property tax rate but still pay $500 more on average in real estate taxes under a spending plan proposed yesterday by (the) County Executive." Perhaps their opposition to our anti-tax positions result from their confusion of what actually constitutes a tax cut. No wonder the blogosphere has to fact-check main stream media.