To the editor:
Councilmember Rick Williams' recent disquisition on the Fire Service Assessment (FSA) is deserving of comment. He states that the tax (even he realizes it is a tax and not a legal assessment) will raise $12 million dollars this year and $20 million dollars next year. Aside from giving credence to my predictions that it would continue to be increased, his statement gives rise to the question: Is City Council already colluding outside of the public's scrutiny to take more of our money? Mr. Williams further states that the FSA is not an additional source of revenue for the fire department. That, however, is exactly what it was intended to be - to provide more new revenue in addition to our ad valorem tax to cover 38 percent of the Fire Department's budget, ostensibly to be used for capital improvements even though City Ordinance 47-13 states that the funds may be used for any legal purpose; perhaps the wage increases that Councilmember Nesta has already suggested. Unfortunately, both "taxes" are sourced from you the property owner's pocket. Mr. Williams further writes that the FSA is not based on property value. This is simply not so. Your tier 2 payment is based solely on the value of the structure on your land. It is important to realize, however, that in most cases structure value is higher than the taxable value. By using structure value the City circumvents the Save Our Homes and Homestead protections. We also lose the ability to deduct the FSA cost from federal tax returns, as the City is calling it an assessment making it not deductible.
Lastly, unlike the assessed value, the structure value is not certified as to its correctness and the property appraiser's office has made it quite clear that it "will not be held liable as to the validity, correctness, accuracy, completeness and/or reliability of this information"
Mr. Williams appears to accept without any critical analysis what he is told by the City administration - a perilous practice. Remember when we were told the old police headquarters was a sick building, full of mold and should be torn down? Remember when we were told we needed to spend $110 million dollars for a new Public Safety Building for police and fire and the ensuing propaganda campaign to sell that proposal? Well, the Public Safety Building was built for less than a third of what the administration wanted and still far exceeds our needs and somehow the Fire Department got a separate location. What happened with the old headquarters building? Well, it was not torn down as was claimed to necessary, but was rehabbed and now houses an expanded City bureaucracy. The City is simply not a good steward of our money. They expanded North Del Prado Boulevard at a cost of over $41 million dollars per linear mile. This is perhaps one of the most expensive road projects in the State. This project has been consuming almost all of our gas tax receipts, which should be used to fund road construction and repairs throughout the City, and will continue to do so until the project's debt legacy is retired. The Del Prado project is the prime reason for our poor road conditions. Remember how the City administration championed spending millions of dollars and donating land for the swim center? Recall how the developers of that project were convicted of fraud and received jail terms. Remember the $13 million dollar purchase of vacant land scattered within and outside the City that we have no apparent use for? Coincidentally, that purchase cost us almost the same amount we are now paying for the FSA.
As a result of a recent long-awaited audit - two years overdue, we learned that the City administration gave legal approval to and entered into a contract that was so poorly (or cleverly?) drafted that it arguably permitted the contractor to overbill us approximately $8.5 million dollars on the North RO Plant. I could go on; however, the point is that the real problem is not lack of taxes, fees, and assessments, but intemperate spending.
The cure for this negligent behavior is not to continually raise taxes and assessments, but to demand good judgment and accountability when it is lacking. These are commodities that recent history suggests are in short supply and foster public distrust. Unfortunately, our unengaged electorate makes it easier to raise taxes - even those masquerading as assessments - than to effect economies in spending and improved management to provide needed taxpayer relief.
Finally, Mr. Williams states that Council must be very careful how they manage additional revenue, referring apparently not only to the FSA, but increased ad valorem taxes due to rising property values and the recently enacted 7 percent tax on our electric bill. Past performance does not make me very optimistic that careful spending will be the case.
I am disappointed in Mr. Williams. I supported his election laboring under the apparent misconception that he would exercise some degree of independent, critical thinking. So far, with his letter and the many 8-0 votes, I have seen little evidence of such valued thinking.