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Bud Miller (user 61) - Comments by Date

Dear Mr. Mayor, Members of City Council,

As you may be aware, I, and many others, have opposed the imposition of a Piggyback Tax on Alexandria Commercial Properties for some time now. At this point, you have likely heard the debate numerous times. (It's unfair, taxes are bad for both small and large businesses in terrible economic times, live within your budget, don't use a new tax to further get into debt, etc.)

You may even recall the more than 200 Alexandrians who signed a petition against this same tax when it was previously proposed. Reference:

I'll suggest an additional thought for your discussions. Time and again, ever since this tax was first considered by City Council, you listened to the Community, you listened to the Chamber of Commerce, you even listened to small independent business owners like me and my wife and repeatedly rejected this unfair tax.

Nothing has changed. There is no compelling reason for you to change your past position on this issue. This tax is bad for Alexandria. It was bad three years ago, it remains a bad idea today.

Please do not turn your back on hard-working Alexandrians and our business community,

Bud Miller (61) | User | February 9, 2011 - 10:29 AM | Transportation Add-On Tax on Commercial Real Estate

Andrea makes some interesting points.

However, the money taken from our local small business by Donley's new tax isn't going to help with her well intentioned bike-ped infrastructure.

It's going to be a "down payment" for more car centered projects and large scale mass transportation projects that are well beyond Alexandria's budget. The Donley tax is just the down payment, more taxes will follow.

Rather than helping create an interesting, green, destination location and helping our community grow, the new tax will destroy Old Town/Del Ray small businesses and attempt to provide more efficient methods to shuttle commuters through our dead urban core.

Bud Miller (61) | User | January 18, 2011 - 9:42 PM | Transportation Add-On Tax on Commercial Real Estate

Kerry Donley has spent considerable time and effort over the past several months selling another tax increase he wants to impose on Alexandrians. His pitch for higher taxes to our already overtaxed citizens and businesses doesn’t appear to be selling very well. However, the time and effort he has devoted to his cause merit that everyone understands exactly what he is saying once the political hyperbole has been stripped away.
Based on Donley’s latest pitch, his argument to take more of your money can essentially be boiled down to the following points:

1. Other local governments have imposed these taxes so Alexandria should too.

This argument may remind readers of their parent’s old “If your friends jump off a bridge, would you jump too?” Just because Arlington politicians impose a new tax, doesn’t mean that the Citizens of Alexandria want their taxes raised in a similar fashion. Indeed, the nature of business owners in Arlington, which are frequently very large national and multinational corporations are very different from the unique, family owned, community supported small businesses in Alexandria. Of course, if this argument sways the other Members of City Council, who have voted against this tax in the past, it will only be logical that Alexandria adopts other local government policies, such as Loudon County’s controversial illegal immigrant policies or Arlington’s decrease in parking meter fees.

2. Donley wants to use these new taxes to float bonds and get “more bang from the buck” as other local governments have done.

Even the millions and millions of dollars Donley wants to take from the local economy isn’t enough to sate his thirst for more money. Indeed, the new taxes will merely be a down payment, as Donley wants to use them to borrow even more money and dig Alexandria even further into debt. Simply put, this is irresponsible and will likely add even more pressure in the future to both cut spending and raise even more taxes as Donley’s bills come due. Perhaps Donley has spent too much time working for big banks.

3. This is the only tool left in our toolbox.

No, it’s not. As Vice Mayor, Donley knows this is a false statement.

4. Imagine [insert your dream transportation project here]

Hopes and dreams are certainly nice, but what about the people who will lose their jobs or will have to pay higher prices due to Donley’s new taxes? How many more empty storefronts will this cause?

5. We must act NOW!

No, we don’t. Alexandria was here before cars were invented; it will be here long after Donley and his pet projects are forgotten. Indeed, the worst time to impose a drastic new tax is in bad economic times.

6. If we impose this tax on businesses, we’ll provide these same businesses with tax relief.

By definition, tax relief would entail lower taxes. It seems a bit disingenuous that a professional politician would promise a small bit of long overdue tax relief from an unfair tax at the price of imposing an entirely new and more burdensome tax. If a tax is unfair, it should be reformed because it is an unfair tax, not as a bribe.

Left out of Donley’s new tax sales pitch is that after City Council’s last tax increase, Alexandria actually has a BUDGET SURPLUS. It will be a sad, but predictable, spectacle to watch Donley and the rest of City Council exercise their magical powers and make these millions of dollars disappear overnight!

It is unfortunate that Donley, who has an extensive record in both business and the City of Alexandria, lacks the vision to develop reasonable solutions to our City’s growing challenges. His only solution to virtually every problem is to raise your taxes. He has done so year after year after year. If Donley succeeds in his push to get the other City Council Members aboard his tax train, it will only be a short time before he starts planning his next raid on your bank. The real question is how more Donley can you afford?

Bud Miller (61) | User | January 13, 2011 - 12:06 PM | Transportation Add-On Tax on Commercial Real Estate

Alexandrian Taxpayers are now being asked to accept a substantial tax increase on devalued properties for reduced services in the midst of the worst recession in 80 years. This is what our City Manager calls a “status Quo” budget.

Regardless of one’s Party or personal ideology, we simply can’t continue down this path. It simply won’t hold up much longer.

Our schools recently ranked LAST in the country in terms of bang for the buck. Taxpayers are now paying more than $18,000 a year for students to attend a $100 million+ high school.

The City’s debt service to pay for the past projects cost taxpayers $37.1 million this year alone. This debt service has grown by an astounding 322% over the last ten years. The City projects our debt service to rise to more than $68 million within nine years-- creating additional stresses on future budgets, regardless of the state of the economy.

While private industry has taken advantage of cheaper and more efficient technologies to streamline their bureaucracies, the number of full-time employees working for the city has grown by 9.8%. This must stop. There must be real reductions in City staff, and not the Smoke & Mirror games of simply eliminating empty positions.

Spending on the Planning and Zoning Department has grown by over 203% over the last ten years. With new development at a virtual standstill in these challenging times, the time to prune this overgrown weed is now well overdue. Replacing the top leadership of this bloated department allow the City to control costs and revitalize King Street which is now increasingly populated with empty store fronts and adult specialty stores.

The City has allocated approximately $3 million in assets towards a well meant, but poorly designed, program to assist as many as 12 “urban nomads” a year. Someday, ten City employees will be overseeing 12 troubled people. Think about that number. 10 highly paid City employees to oversee, at most, 12 people. Not exactly a model of efficiency.
To make matters worse, as of this date, this gold plated monument to waste has failed to provide our most needy citizens with a single meal, a single night’s shelter or even a blanket. This program should be eliminated and the building sold to private interests so it can generate additional tax revenue. The Community Services Board, which is in charge of this project, should also be audited, have all of its programs re-evaluated and its leadership replaced.

We must also avoid the professional politicians’ jaded trick of budget cutting where it will do the most visible damage in order to intimidate our citizens to support yet more tax increases. Budget cuts should focus on waste, inefficiency, and nonproductive bureaucratic exercises--not the street cop, EMTs or fire fighters who put themselves at risk to protect us.

In addition to the above, we have a few proposals for you to consider. These proposals will save substantial funds while having a minimal impact on City Services.:
1. Immediate Savings: $300,000 to $1.45 million per year.
a. Modest pay reductions for all City Employees earning more than $100,000 per year.
i. 1 percent = $290,000
ii. 3 percent = $870,000
iii. 5 percent = $1,451,000
Note: This would impact a total of 246 of the City’s highest paid employees, but the average City Employee, including the cops & firefighters on the street would not be touched.
2. $2 million
a. Reduce the Planning & Zoning Department staffing to 2000 levels.

City Council should also immediately let the well meaning volunteers of the Alexandria Street Car Coalition know it’s not going to happen. The City doesn’t have hundreds of millions of dollars for their projects.

Folks, if you think the current budget is a challenge, just wait until our debt service doubles, change course now, institute real budget cuts and right sizing of City staff while it can be done with minimal sacrifice.

The real question is: Does City Council have the Intestinal fortitude to make real changes now, or will they continue to hide their heads in the sand and ignore the obvious until it is too late.

A few cuts now will prevent major cuts in the future.

Time is running out...

Bud Miller (61) | User | April 21, 2010 - 9:11 AM | FY 2011 Budget Process

It is good to see that City Manager Jim Hartman is instituting a program of “collaborative realignment “. In private business, we would likely skip the fancy words and simply call such a program “common sense”. Given the stresses on the City Budget over the last few years, one can reasonably question why such operational inefficiencies weren’t addressed long ago. Regardless, it is an encouraging sign.
It would be cruel, damaging, and counterproductive to impose yet more tax increases on Alexandria homeowners and businesses as we struggle to climb out of the worst recession in recent memory. Obviously, making cuts in order to close gaps in the budget will cause a level of discomfort for the professional politicians that occupy our City government, but the Mayor and Alexandria City Council must learn to live within their means like any other American institution or individual.
Given the lack of imagination in the area of budget reductions expressed by our Mayor, I thought it would be appropriate to make a few suggestions as follows:
General Reform
1. Close City coffers to new programs. For example, the City shouldn’t even consider jumping into the financial morass (easily worth tens of millions of taxpayer dollars) associated with proposed street cars.
2. Transparency. Post all financial information, contracts, invoices, etc. on the City’s web site so we can see where our money is being spent. Of course, there should be some exceptions to this, such as payments associated with police investigations.
3. Zero Based Budgeting. Programs shouldn’t be funded just because they exist. Start from the ground up and justify costs on an annual basis. Weed out the bad and fertilize the good.
4. Litigation Board. Create a nonpartisan board of retired judges and lawyers to review all pending and future litigation involving the City. This volunteer board should be able to veto new and settle pending litigation. Each member should voluntarily agree to abstain from running for public office for five years beginning with the end of their service to the City.
5. Auditing Board. Create a nonpartisan board of auditors, business executives and individuals who have served in local governments outside of Alexandria to review operations and budgeting. These volunteers should also foreswear running for public office in Alexandria for five years at the end of their service.
6. Cease using the powers of the City as political weapons. It appears that the elected leadership doesn’t like business, especially if it deals with goods or services that some may consider “politically incorrect” such as fuel oil or high quality sporting weapons. After all, the elimination of one discreet, high end sporting goods store resulted in the unexpected opening of the first “adult” shop on King Street, with more to come.

Specific Programs

Here are a few items for immediate savings.

1. Terminate the “Safe Haven” Program. Though created with the best of intentions, this controversial, misguided, multi-million dollar program designed to provide luxury apartments in the heart of Old Town to a dozen homeless people is a gold plated monument to waste. As of this date, the poorly managed, over budget program has yet to service a single person.
2. Terminate the Sister City Program. Surely, Alexandria’s tourism industry benefits much more from its location at the step of our nation’s capital than association with a city an ocean away.
3. Terminate the iPod/key chain giveaway. Sure, it’s only $30,000, but how many meals could that buy for the truly needy had the city left those dollars in the hands of charitable private citizens?
4. Verify that all public school students are legal residents of Alexandria. Transfer non-residents to the appropriate school district, and fine the parents for the cost of the services provided by the City. Why should Alexandria taxpayers pay the tab for students sneaking in from other jurisdictions?
5. Terminate City participation in the NVTA. By any reasonable expectation, The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) has been an abject failure. Its finances were gutted as unconstitutional; its original “priority” projects met with ridicule from its closest allies as being politically motivated and ineffective; and even one of its staff members was arrested for allegedly defrauding the organization. There are better solutions for our transportation problems, beginning with cutting all support for this failure.
6. Planning and Zoning. Readers may recall that it was only a few months ago that Planning Director Faroll Hamer’s arbitrary, capricious, or simply unreasonable actions in a recent land use case were overturned by the BZA. Now taxpayers deserve an answer to this question: why have staffing and other costs increased when economic activity, such as building, has declined? Replace Faroll Hamer with a professional urban planner, down size the staff and keep personal political agendas out of this office.
7. Divest of land holdings and leave the Old Dominion Boat Club alone. Instead of attacking an Alexandria institution with an unwarranted land grab, the city should focus on reducing its property holdings and improving management at existing locations.
Obviously, with a bloated budget that has grown so quickly over the past few years, there is plenty of room for additional reductions and no need to raise taxes yet again. Hopefully, the Mayor and City Council will be up to the task to make these decisions and do their jobs. Goodness knows, the taxpayers have done more than their fair share.

Bud Miller (61) | User | November 17, 2009 - 10:21 AM | FY 2011 Budget Process