Monday, August 14, 2006

John Gray: Friend of the Taxpayer?

As a member of the Board of the Prince William Taxpayers' Alliance, I receive a number of mailings. Denny Daugherty checked his files, and sent this along this morning:
Washington Post
March 14, 2004
Author: Letters To The Editor

At the March 9 board meeting, Supervisor Corey A. Stewart of Occoquan stunningly asked the board to direct the county staff to prepare the 2005 budget with a real estate tax rate of $1.01 per $100 of assessed value instead of the $1.10 as presented. The $1.10 rate is a reduction from the $1.16 rate used in 2004.
While I have absolutely no problem with the premise of the question, the manner in which it was raised is beyond explanation.
During his campaign, Mr. Stewart pledged to the Taxpayers Alliance not to raise taxes beyond a set formula approximating 6 percent for 2005. Real estate tax revenues are projected to raise by 12.6 percent at the $1.10 rate. The Taxpayers Alliance formula would result in a 2005 tax rate of 99 cents. In short, the Taxpayers Alliance would require a drop from $1.16 to 99 cents, or about $56 million.
Bear in mind that the $56 million cut would be shared with the schools, meaning the county would have to cut spending by $24 million and the schools by $32 million. Obviously, the concern is where those huge cuts are to be made. The alliance states it is up to the county and the schools to identify those cuts, not the alliance. I disagree, but I can live with it.
I have nothing against spending cuts, and if we can identify them, fine. Let's cut. But I do not believe we have $56 million in excess spending in the budget.
Mr. Stewart obviously thinks we have at least $49 million because that's what he proposed to be cut. What galls me is that he did so without any input from his constituents or his Budget Committee, of which I was supposed to be a part. The proposed budget has been out exactly two weeks. His Budget Committee met once. He has never held a town meeting to discuss his constituents' questions. So where did the $1.01 rate come from?
Obviously Mr. Stewart's only concern was to honor his Taxpayers Alliance pledge. Don't his constituents have any say in their taxes?
Please don't tell me this is his fight for lower taxes. The $1.01 rate is arbitrary, capricious and without any merit or basis in fact or numbers. The rate was pulled out of the air and is fictitious.
He could have waited until county staff members gave their presentations of their individual department budgets and then asked them, "Where do you think we could possibly reduce spending in your department?" No, he just picked the $1.01 rate without any concern for his constituents.
And by publicly stating that as a supervisor it is not his responsibility to know the budget in detail, nor is it his responsibility to identify his proposed cuts (that's the staff's job), he has precluded his Budget Committee from doing its job.
Two weeks ago, at the county executive's presentation of the budget, Mr. Stewart was trying to illustrate that the 7-cent countywide fire levy is an additional tax.
It is. No question. So is the gypsy moth fee and the storm water management fee, but that wasn't Mr. Stewart's point. He was trying to show that because Fairfax doesn't have the 7-cent fire levy, our taxes are higher than Fairfax's.
What he didn't know was that Fairfax doesn't have a volunteer fire system, so the 7 cents we pay is really very fair, as it represents just "hard costs" of the volunteers. We don't pay them wages or benefits.
The permanent fire staff accounts for 8 cents of the $1.10 rate being proposed. So getting rid of the 7-cent levy would result in at least an 8-cent increase in the tax rate to cover the new staff necessary to replace the volunteers. Wow! That's tax reduction if I ever saw it!
There is a level of on-the-job training necessary to be a supervisor, but Mr. Stewart is quickly that showing his short 31/2-year residency in Prince William County, and his lack of any substantive community involvement in those years, have not remotely prepared him to be a upervisor.
He needs to consider resigning now, before he does more damage than he already has in these 10 weeks to the political career he really wants. Occoquan citizens not only deserve better; we demand it.
John S. Gray
Lake Ridge
But wait! Isn't this the same John Gray who sent out an announcement last week which was quoted by one blogger as claiming that:
The far-right agenda for real estate taxation has in fact and truth been to vote against the reduction in the tax rate for the last three years. If their votes had prevailed, your real estate tax rate would still be $ 1.36, not the current rate of .76 cents. Think about that for a minute!
It appears that the self-proclaimed Connaughtonite candidate for the Board needs to get his talking points straight. 'Course, it is utterly clear that Gray is Connaughtonite in one way: he'll apparently say whatever he thinks his audience wants to hear in order to get elected.

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