Citizens ask council to cut taxes

Dear Mayor and Council Members,
Through a maneuver of city government, it looks like you'll all have the opportunity to raise taxes while seeming to hold yourself above the decision with regard to the real estate tax issue.
It also seems from the layman's eyes that the true leader (or dictator) is Mr.Spore who is setting the tone for a higher city budget with his agenda in mind. Gee, I don't remember voting for him?
It also appears the Mayor, while wonderful individual, has been in office too long with relationships with "spenders" who have much more of her attention than do the voters/taxpayers. It would seem to me that the limitations placed on the President, Congressman and Senators should certainly apply to local government.
Think about these few things while you decide how to approach the tax rate reduction.
    Most taxes are incremental....percentage points above the prior year, as are salaries and bonuses for the individual taxpayers. This real estate tax boost based on the new tax assessments will wipe out any         pay raises the average employee with a family receives in a year.
    Retired couples who had the foresight to buy property 10-15 years ago in attractive neighborhoods such as Bay Colony, North End, Croatan, etc., have seen their assessments to up each year and this year up to and over 40% plus from last year. Most on fixed budgets, you are burdening them with an overwhelming cost of living increase after they have spent years faithfully supporting the infrastructure of Virginia Beach.
   We live in a resort town with distinct advantages over cities with no other income base than the real estate taxes. Al correctly points out that the commercial sector which directly benefits from our dollars spent on tourism development does the least to support the peoples of Virginia Beach. With one of the highest meal taxes in the nation, we, as with the residents of Alaska who receive benefits from oil and homeowners in regions with gambling, should receive concessions in our taxes as a direct result of the influx of tourist dollars.
We finally bought our dream home last year. We worked hard and saved to be able to afford the down payment and monthly payments. With a balanced family budget, we had everything planned out perfectly, even a 10-15% tax assessment increase. Our real estate tax assessment went up 42% over last year! When we read the paper and see the special interest projects being funded by these additional tax dollars, we feel deceived and robbed of our hard earned dollars. Come on, a walkover for $2,000,000 down at the Marine Science Museum, but a light there like the rest of the beach front. What are you all thinking?
We have never been politically motivated to become involved in any tax issues, but with this matter, we can assure you we are now.
We would like to think enough of you have the guts to do what's right for your citizens and reduce our tax rate to a  more reasonable number. Rather than blame an automatic function of the tax assessors office for our tax increase, do what we expect of our elected officials, balance it out and reduce our real estate tax rate.
Debbie & Patrick McLaughlin


Dear Mayor Oberndorf & Council Members,


I would like to express my views on the forthcoming real estate tax increase to be considered by  City Council.


The frustrations felt by citizens over past real estate increases and the rampant cumulative increases through 2004 have crossed the line of acceptability and tolerance.    In fact they are abusive to your constituents!


According to the latest census, there are approximately 157,000 households in this City that generate household income of some $8.5 billion dollars. The City Council and Administration rarely acknowledges the massive financial contributions made by these citizens who are the major vehicle for funding the annual City budget!


For example,  the residential community literally represents assessments of over 83 % of the real estate tax income to the City ++ in contrast to 17% by the commercial sector of which a stagnant 2% represents hotel real estate assessments and tax contributions on properties predominantly located in the resort area.  This disparity flies in the face of citizens who are not recipients of costly upgrades such as a new beach, boardwalk and a completely revitalized resort area.  For FY 2005, residential assessments represents 83.2 % of real estate tax contributions on property  valuations of $25.6 billion all borne by the residential community. The 157,000 Virginia Beach households generate an even higher percentage of household tax contributions. This includes the major portion  of retail spending, **meals tax, auto purchases, entertainment, utilities, food, state & federal taxes, and just about any spendable commodity.


Citizens continue to fund many special interests projects without approval or consent while the council spends a disproportionate amount of tax dollars for public/private partnerships that have very little to do with either public need or use.   Projects, such as the Town Center, 31st Street Park, and the New Pavilion could even be acceptable if a huge surplus existed and the massive needs of the infrastructure were satisfied!  They are not! Additionally, these projects continue to absorb a substantial proportion of City tax income, including excessive manpower, most of which is derived from these "157,000 households".  I am told that estimates for all these “non-essential” projects will ultimately exceed $1.2 billion dollars. How much of that is siphoned from the general fund? It would seem that all council members should ask for an exact reckoning on who is directly responsible for funding the existing projects as well as the annual budget.


The disproportionate City spending includes excessive funding for economic development and tourism while related public/private partnerships are dedicated to special interest groups who generate very little income to the City. Accordingly, they produce very little impact to the fictitious promise by City administrators of generating a 70/30 (residential to commercial) real estate tax ratio. In fact that disingenuous ratio has continued to dwindle during the past decade to an 83/17 ratio while the aging infrastructure, in need of inestimable revitalization for many hundreds of neighborhoods, is simply disregarded.  Without going into detail, I am sure your aware that infrastructure revitalization would far exceed a billion dollars.


Schools and teachers salaries are in great need of fiscal attention while vast sums of tax dollars continue to be directed to numerous non-essential projects. To allow 300 plus portables classrooms to remain standing for decades is unconscionable. The same holds true for the need to increase salaries and fringe benefits of those in vital services such as the City’s Fire and Police departments. To that end, imagine a City that has a disproportionate ratio 65/35 of part timers such as presently exists in the Recreation Department where a substantial amount of these employees receive small hourly wages and have no medical benefits. Try telling all of these City employees,  “This is a City for a Life Time”.


The City Council must show its citizens that it genuinely cares about priorities and the monumental impacts from tax burdens.  Insurance rates have gone up more than 20% as a result of Hurricane Isabel, cost of living increases are fractional in contrast to the annual increases on residential assessments.  These excessive tax increases are well out of proportion to cost of living and unquestionably are disproportionate to what special interest projects, such as the resort area both contribute and receive.  This substantial tax increases not only affects seniors, but also significantly impacts families with young children and families who face inordinate increased college costs as they juggle dwindling funds.


Finally, the Mayor recently delivered a State of the City speech asking constituents to be patient while the budget is being critiqued. To suggest this after citizens are bludgeoned with five years of out of control real estate tax increases speaks volumes about her cavalier priorities and regretfully reveals a shortcoming and inability to reach out to many thousands who have expressed great concern about these tax increases.


In closing, the City Administrator has lost his fiduciary compass to the degree that he is arrogantly pushing for inequitable tax increases in stark contrasts to citizens needs, genuine concerns, and obvious wishes. Those on Council who generally walk in lock step with the Administrator should view his proposals with great caution and skepticism. There are many areas where budgets could be cut.  For example, the Convention & Visitors Bureau has proposed a budget of $31 million. The same holds true of Economic development.  It is difficult to fathom that the new proposed budget literally has recommended that the Consumer Affairs Office  be eliminated!   The people who use that office are the very same people that are responsible for major financial contributions to the City including 83.2 % of the real estate tax income!


Any further real estate tax increases will promote inestimable cynicism toward City Council and further exacerbate an unprecedented morale problem among the constituents you honorably promised to serve.





Al Saferstein:  Resident of Virginia Beach