Thursday, March 22, 2007

Promises Kept

Today's so-called "mainstream" media brought good news: the Prince William County Board of County Supervisors has advertised an initial budget proposal which would impose a property tax rate of 78.7 cents per $100 of assessed value.

The proposed tax rate --- which would actually reduce the average homeowner's bill by about $20 --- comes after years of declining rates which were more than offset by increasing assessments, resulting in actual tax-bill increases of 60-70% in terms of real dollars.

Of course, the usual suspects spent their time in the Board meeting complaining that only taxpayers should bear any burden in responding to the slowing real estate market. According to the Potomac News report by Keith Walker, Supervisors Maureen Caddigan (R-Dumfries), Hilda Barg (D-Woodbridge), and John Jenkins (D-Neabsco), advocated advertising a higher rate to, in the words of reporter Keith Walker, "give the Board some flexibility in the budgeting process," i.e., to be able to buy votes of small, strident, and vocal groups seeking to soak the taxpayers. State law prohibits the Board from increasing the rate from that advertised, though they have the flexibility to reduce it. Apparently, the only flexibility that the likes of Jenkins et al. are interested in is the kind of flexibility that allows them to spend more of the taxpayers' money. It is a flexibility that has been denied to County taxpayers in recent years, in the face of ever-increasing property tax bills.

Walker noted that "About 15 people spoke Tuesday in favor of raising the tax rate for fiscal 2008," and that "No one spoke against raising the tax rate." As to the latter, well, of course not; those who might oppose raising the tax rate were all working to pay taxes, while tax consumers had the free time to attend and speak at the Board meeting.

One of the more interesting, untold elements of this story is the fact that this is a triumph for the Prince William Taxpayers Alliance and advocates for budgetary restraint unknown during the Chairmanship of Sean Connaughton. The PWTA has long advocated a budget which limits spending increases --- note that it allows for tax increases, contrary to the whinings and misrepresentations of apologists for the likes of Connaughton --- limited to a function of population growth and inflation.

It is likewise a triumph for Board Chairman Corey Stewart, much maligned in the pseudo-Conservative blogosphere. This fact was recognized by the WaPo article on the subject, albeit backhandedly, which likewise belied the notion --- popular among so-called "moderate" blogosphere commentators --- that the message that the tax-limitation message is a political loser for Republicans. It specifically noted that the charge to limit taxes has been led by the newer members of the Board, i.e., those who have actually had to connect with voters, and have not been able to run on the power of their incumbency. Even Marty Nohe (R-Coles), much maligned by yours truly, voted with Stewart.

Corey Stewart deserves great credit for these efforts. Most importantly, he has succeeded in changing the terms of the debate.

Prince William taxpayers are the real winners here. It is long past the time when the Board should consider those who are paying the bills.

1 comment:

mom said...

Since you have been banned from BVBL, for your reading pleasure, heres what I posted in response to another comment:

mom said on 22 Mar 2007 at 12:22 pm:

“The BOCS is going to have to ackowledge that the growth their zoning and development policy allowed has a cost.”

True, however, the School Board also had a role in those approvals. Last night, Milt Johns largely blamed the budget crisis on the BOCS and their approval of rezonings that have resulted in ever rising enrollment numbers. He has conveniently forgotten that he spoke in favor of several of those in order to gain school sites as proffers in order to offset the inadequate (non-existant) planning by the School Board and the school system’s Planning Office. He conveniently negelected to mention negotiations between the schools and developers of such an extent that by the time the new middle school site was approved as part of a proffer package, blueprints and grading plans had already been completed and the bulldozers readied for clearing.

“Now the school board is coming back to the county having failed in it’s task to identify savings and is demanding more money”

They didn’t fail in the task, they never undertook it. Much as the County Executive has engaged in a sham budget reduction (cutting programs that are argueably core functions with populist support understanding that the BOCS will ultimately be forced to fund them) thus placing the onus for fiscal responsibilty on the BOCS, the School Board has largely cut programs with the intent of tapping into public outcry to force the hand of the BOCS. If Chairman Stewart has any stones (understanding that the budget does not have to be passed until the last day of June), he will suggest that the Superintendant trim the multiple layers of administrative fat at both the school and Superintendant levels as well as the exorbidant technology expenditures and then reprogram those monies into raises for the teaching staff. It really galls me when the long line of plaintive teachers troop into public hearings and blame those nasty supervisors for substandard wages when in truth it the Superintendant and School Board’s profligate spending on other priorities that has resulted in their wage scale.

While Stewart is at it, he might also consider shredding the current budget and returning the confetti to the County Executive with instructions to try again and this time provide a more detailed, line item budget that will enable both the BOCS and the public to determine what alternative cuts might be made. The current budget submission is nothing more than Machiavellian subterfuge designed to preserve the fiefdoms and pet projects of county staff. Last time I checked, it was the BOCS entrusted with policy and fiscal oversight, not the County Exec., it is well past time for the BOCS to deliver a smackdown and demand fiscal responsibility.