- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 3, 2008

Alexandria city officials who have refused to consider cost-cutting moves to restrict services to illegal aliens now are considering a tax increase to fund transportation projects.

Under the transportation deal hashed out last year between Gov. Tim Kaine and the Republican-controlled General Assembly, Northern Virginia localities were authorized to raise money for roads by increasing the commercial real-estate tax 25 cents per $100 of assessed property value.

The Alexandria City Council on Dec. 15 passed legislation to distinguish commercial property from residential property for tax purposes, allowing city officials to take advantage of the new authority.

City officials estimate they could generate about $900,000 for every additional penny that is tacked on to the commercial real-estate tax.

Mayor William D. Euille, a Democrat, said the additional money could be used for projects such as the proposed trolley system connecting the Potomac River waterfront to the King Street Metro station.

But first, he said, a committee will study the possible effect a tax increase would have on small businesses. Then the council will decide how much, if any, it wants to raise the tax.

“We’ve gotten a couple of e-mails from small businesses,” said Vice Mayor Redella S. “Del” Pepper, a Democrat. “These are slow times as it is, and many of them are struggling. … I think we are going to factor everything in and see what works for Alexandria.”

David M. Martin, owner of Goldworks, a retail store, and president of the Old Town Business and Professional Association, said he is concerned any increase could hurt the local business climate.

“It could not be very good for small business,” he said. “We are all paying maximum of what we can pay right now.”

Arlington and Fairfax counties already have approved similar tax increases.

The council’s move toward a commercial tax increase comes a few months after members adopted a resolution prohibiting officials from checking the legal status of anyone who uses public services, except as required by state and federal law.

A memorandum on the resolution said services provided by the city to all Alexandria residents where “verification of legal presence may not be required” include rental, fuel and burial assistance.

Mr. Euille dismissed a question about the fairness of raising taxes on businesses while declining to identify whether taxpayer money is being spent providing services to illegal aliens.

“That is foolish. That’s totally foolish,” he said.

Loudoun and Prince William counties indicated they have no intention of increasing the commercial real-estate tax.

Both counties last summer passed measures to ensure local services go to legal residents.

While the cost savings are hard to pinpoint, “taxpayers want to know the money they are paying is used wisely and not going to support illegal aliens,” said Corey A. Stewart, chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors.

“I completely sympathize with that,” said Mr. Stewart, a Republican. “The difference in Prince William is, we are doing everything we can do to cut off services and deport them.”

Prince William in October voted to allow police to inquire about the legal-residency status of those detained on suspicion of breaking a law, and said county services such as housing assistance, drug rehabilitation for jail inmates and senior programs will be denied to illegal aliens. The denial of services is expected to reap considerable savings.

“We estimate the cost [savings] to be $3.3 million annually,” said Liz Bahrns, Prince William County’s communications director.

“This includes $1.8 million for police, $1 million for the adult detention center, and one-half million dollars for social services. These are essentially staffing costs,” she said.

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