Suffolk City Council’s abuse of real estate taxing authority

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Editor, the News-Herald:

Some time ago, Dick Armey said, &uot;Three groups spend other people’s money: children, thieves, politicians. All three need supervision.&uot;

Like many other Suffolk residents, my wife and I received our 2005 real estate appraisal last week, resulting in another 20 percent increase in our property taxes-same as last year, unless our City Council cuts the city’s real estate tax rate. We tried to appeal our reappraisal last year but that was an exercise in futility since the City Assessor’s Office only had to show that the new value was in line with recent sales prices for some area &uot;comparables&uot;.

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While the City Appraiser, by law, has to value all properties at an estimated 100 percent of current value, the City Council certainly doesn’t have to maintain the same high real estate mil rate!

However, the City Manager and the Council are acting like kids in a candy store because, at the current real estate tax rate and galloping property inflation, money is just falling into municipal coffers from trees-our trees! And as city property tax revenues continue increasing at double digit percentage rates, neither the City Manager nor Council feel any need to exercise any fiscal discipline.

Evidence of this attitude has been on display for some time now as Council members have gone along with just about expensive venture that the city manager has put in front of them while building his downtown kingdom.

But just how long can Suffolk’s City Council continue to treat the entire 430 square miles of Suffolk as a life support system for less than 25 square miles of Mr. Herbert’s downtown fantasy?

By continuing to go along with anything and everything the city manager puts in front of them, at least six out of the seven borough representatives have been consistently voting against the interests of their constituents.

Just what are we getting for our 20 percent annual increase in property taxes?

My home has no access to municipal water and no municipal sewer now-or on the horizon.

It also continues to be served by a volunteer fire department, and the city’s public school system is not fit to send our children to-so we haven’t.

Within a month, or youngest son will graduate from the only decent area high school, NSA, and will be on his way to UVA, as his brother went off to MIT three years ago.

Anyway, the only thing that my family receives for all our real estate tax money is once-per-week trash pickup!

Quiz time!

How many of you recall the &uot;rule of 72&uot; in finance?

When trying to figure out how long it will take for an investment -or property taxes-to double, you simply divide 72 by the rate of annual increase.

So, at 20 percent a year, I can tell you that my property taxes will double in just a fraction over 3 1/2 years.

Without a significant decrease in mil rate, we’ll probably pay real estate taxes of $3,000 this year.

The rule of 72 projects that my wife and I will be paying $6,000 a year in 2008, and $12,000 a year in 2012 and $24,000 a year by 2016!

Given that I’m already 55, this is not a pretty picture to be facing following retirement!

Oh, but you think the city council wouldn’t allow this to happen? Guess again!

Not only will they allow it to happen, the city council’s short-sighted current policies have all but guaranteed that the city of Suffolk will have to raise the real estate tax rate within the next three to four years because the council has already supported enough new housing developments and building permits to skyrocket this city’s population through the 100,000 level during that period. And, (stay with me here) what is so significant about exceeding a population of 100,000 and how will that prevent our city council from ever recovering from its current spend and tax spree?

The answer is the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act.

When Suffolk reaches 100,000 residents, the stormwater control provisions of the Chesapeake Bay Act kick in, mandating that any stormwater runoff that used to flow naturally into the Chesapeake Bay or any of its tributaries will now have to be captured, routed to collection centers and treated to meet water quality parameters before being allowed to reach the bay.

So, don’t kid yourselves, folks!

If you don’t live in the tiny part of Suffolk known as downtown, you are never going to see any of your real estate tax monies returned to you in any services that you or your family will appreciate.

That just isn’t going to happen.

Is there a solution?

Perhaps, but just one!

If city council doesn’t reject any city budget that does not include at least a 10 percent decrease in the real estate tax rate this year for Suffolk property owners, four of the seven sitting council members are up for reelection in 2006!

The only way that you and your family are ever going to see a change in this City Council’s appetite for your tax money is if all four-Mayor Ralph and Councilmen Joe Barlow, Charles Brown, and Calvin Jones, are all voted out of office.

And remember, the City Manager only needs one vote out of the four up for reelection to collect the four total votes he needs to pass his downtown budget.

Don’t be hoodwinked if you see two or even three councilmen up for reelection in 2005 voting against the 2005 budget in an attempt to seek some political cover!

But the damage has already been done as each sitting council member has already repeatedly committed more and more of your taxes to downtown ventures knowing that the only way to pay for them would be to keep the same rate of spending growth going.

So the bills created over the last couple of years were to be financed by the real estate tax revenue falling out of our trees. The council can either change direction significantly or the citizens of Suffolk need to remember why their taxes are so high when the 2006 elections come around.

But if you can’t, I’ll try to remind you.

&uot;An unlimited power to tax involves, necessarily, a power to destroy; because there is a limit beyond which no institution and no property can bear taxation.&uot; -John Marshall Supreme Court Justice, 1801 to 1835.

George H. Mears, ME, MBA