Here's What's in My Dirty Martini

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Party’s Over?

I live in Loudoun County, VA. It’s ranked one of the fastest growing and richest (whatever that means) counties in America. I like it here. It is close to DC (45 miles) and yet, far enough from the DC area to be a great place to live.

I also own a house here (well, the bank does for a bit longer). Like every other part of the country we are experiencing the effects of the housing slump. New building permits are down and my house has decreased in assessed value by almost $200,000 in the last 2-3 years.

Granted, the housing boom had the value of my house somewhat inflated but nonetheless that is a significant drop in value. I am not worried. I don’t have plans on moving anywhere in the next 5-10 years so I know that the market will cycle back up again.

Aside from the fact that I cannot make as much profit on my house were I to sell it right now, the County Government can’t make the amount of money off of it either, based on the declining value of the assessment. So, instead of saying that we (the County Government) will have to do with less and figure out where to cut expenses (government giveaways, that is), they just presented a proposed fiscal year 2009 budget that would require a 25.6-cent increase in the real estate tax (up to a bit over $1.26 per $100 of assessed value).

If the board of supervisors approves the budget as it is being recommended it would mean a 13.6 percent increase in the average homeowner's tax bill, an increase of approximately $640 (mine would be higher).

"The party's over," Chairman Scott K. York (I-At large) said. "The party that we've had over the last few years is probably over for a little while." Scott, there has been no party.

But the last election we had in November brought back a Democrat majority to our Board of Supervisors and guess what happens when you let Democrats have power – we get higher taxes and more government spending on things that aren’t necessary or a priority.

Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, 2008-2011
Front Row (l. to r.): Jim Burton, Vice-Chairman Susan Klimek Buckley, Chairman Scott K. York, Sally R. Kurtz;
Back Row (l. to r.): Kelly Burk, Stevens Miller, Eugene Delgaudio, Andrea McGimsey, Lori Waters

Just like in the 2006 elections, in our local elections last November I heard plenty of people say that they wanted to teach the Republicans on the Board a lesson and vote them out of office. These aren’t Democrat friends I am hearing say this, these are so-called Republicans. I guess they haven’t been paying attention to what that philosophy did to us in the state and federal elections in 2006. Perhaps they think that a Democrat controlled government can better decide where my money should be spent that I should.

But, they did it and now they are already complaining. And what happened?

As expected, the Board of Supervisors is proposing a $27 million increase in spending for general government programs and an $81 million increase in school spending. With a few other proposals we get $99.6 million increase in local tax funding which represents an overall 12 percent increase. They called the upcoming budget cycle a "balancing act between affordability and the public need".

I think they are right there. But what they need to do is manage the government the way they would manage their household finances (without the benefit of a credit card or a loan). Our taxes are their salary/income. Just like any family out there with those constraints (no credit cards, etc), they should have to budget and save to do thing they want to do. This will force them to do a much better job prioritizing and allocating where money is spent – just like we have to do at home.

But they don’t. They just say I need a raise (more taxes) and then try to figure out how to spend more so that they can ask for another raise. Even with the large increase in the tax rate, the County says that the proposed budget does reflect an amount of fiscal restraint. They don't define what that amount really is though.

In anticipation of the upcoming budget, county departments found $5 million in cost savings in their current budgets. You can’t tell me that there was only $5 million in cost savings to be found. They knew that assessments were going down. They have for the last three years. Knowing that, why did they keep adding to the expenses they have?

But we’re told that of the $31 million county departments identified in ‘new’ resource needs by county departments, only $4 million are included in proposed budget. I used to be in the government. I know how that game is played. You ask for 4 to 5 times what you really want knowing that you’ll be lucky to get 20% of your request, which is about what you really needed in the first place.

There is an $81 million increase in the school operating funds for fiscal year 2009. This represents a 5 percent increase per student, but school system leaders and members of the school board are still hoping they can get full funding of their proposed budget. Every election we have there is a school referendum for new schools and rehabbing old schools. Every single election!

But what does our County do? They (the Dems) want ‘slow growth’. We can’t grow too fast. And at the same time, they don’t do anything to bring in some industry to broaden the tax base. I am hoping that they are smarter than I am but it seems to me that we should be trying to attract a larger business tax base. I’m not for unfettered growth but we should be looking at what we want his county to look like in 25+ years and follow a plan to get us there.

But the Dems in charge now are going to do little more (at least this is the indication) than go down their ‘slow growth’ road, increasing services and raising our taxes to fund their fiscal irresponsibility.

Try doing that with your home finances – do what you can to prevent your income from increasing and then start spending more. The problem with that analogy is that at home we have credit cards and other ways to do this (however irresponsible those ways are). Even so, we can still get in trouble at home with few ways to get out of it.

The County just increases taxes. I wish I could just go to my boss and demand a pay raise that he couldn’t refuse.

There was some reality/sanity in the discussions, though. Some supervisors indicated they were not convinced that the school is still growing at the projected rate of 3,000 new students annually. Supervisor Jim Burton (I-At large) said he did not understand why the number continued to be high when the number of building permits given in the county has continued to decrease over the past few years. Good point, Jim!
"Appears to me now for many, many years, the number of school children was related to the number of building permits, and now it appears unrelated," he said. "I don't understand that and I would hope that we would get a good explanation for that."

We probably won’t, Jim. It’s not about fiscal responsibility. It’s about growing the services we provide and taxing anything that moves to pay for it.

Supervisor Eugene Delgaudio (R-Sterling) also said he would like to see an overview of the fiscal year 2008 budget and how the previous board arrived at its decision. He also asked if it was possible for the board to get a listing of how different tax rates could be achieved. "It would help board members and the public to have some of those options for a lower tax rate," he said."We have to recognize the tax rate, the ability to pay is a lot about the affordability, the ability to live in Loudoun County," York said. "We have to be well aware that things are serious. It's going to take some restraint on our part."

Sounds good, York. But you won’t do it. You will do everything to grow the government instead of minimizing it. We all want nice cities and safe environments to raise our families. But we also need to able to afford to live there too.

Perhaps the county entities should be forced to do business the way commercial companies do.

I would rather see the following: put a stop on all non-critical growth funding and identify every organization that receives tax money. For each of them I would develop a return on investment (ROI) metric that they must meet. If they don’t meet it then they lose money. If they continue to fail to meet the metric then they lose all funding. I don’t mean to make this simplistic but the discipline is sound, and sorely needed.

I think it’s time for the state to impose local tax caps. Many other states have these in place. Loudoun is beginning to border on New Jersey and New York property tax burdens at 1.21% In NJ (the highest in the nation the average around 1.5% of market value.) "

So again, to you that elected the new Board of Supervisors with their promise of fiscal responsibility, this is what you got.

The reality is that the party isn’t over, and with the way the new Democrat controlled Board of Supervisors wants to spend, I think their party is just about to begin.

Fudge Swirl Martini
1 part Chocolate Vodka
1 part White Chocolate Liqueur
1 part Vanilla Vodka
Shaked ingredients with ice until very cold. Strain into chilled martini glass rimmed with cocoa powder.

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