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No Levy, No Range, No Problem?

By Greg L | 30 March 2007 | Manassas City | 28 Comments

The Manassas City Council declined to add a potentially troublesome levy on city taxpayers last evening, instead raising the overall tax rate slightly from 81.5 cents to 85.5 cents per hundred dollars of assessed value.  The levy was intended to raise revenue so that a firing range for the Manassas City Police Department could be built, since there isn’t an existing facility for their use, other ranges in the area are booked solid, and when the city can find range time elsewhere in Virginia it’s often far away, which incurs significant travel costs in addition to the time involved in having officers travel to an available range instead of being available for duty.  There are some hard choices here.

Complicating the matter is the mechanism for raising revenue.  If the overall tax rate is raised, more than half of the money would go to the school system under the current revenue sharing agreement, and while the schools can use every penny they can get, this circumstance doubles the size of any tax raise required.  Some either mis-used the term “levy” when they really didn’t mean to, or weren’t aware that it’s not legally possible for the city to avoid that diversion of funds by creating a special levy to fund the police, so for a while there was some discussion about adding an extra fee on resident’s tax bills.  In a rare case of journalistic professionalism, Manassas Journal-Messenger Kipp Hanley does a pretty decent job of digging into the story and explaining the legal issues involved.  The end result is that there’s currently no way to establish a new fee where all of the revenues are dedicated to closing this gap.

City Councilman Andy Harrover has discussed the idea of a public-private partnership to build and operate a firing range in Manassas, which is an interesting idea to explore for a number of reasons.  It probably would cost the city a lot less to help support a public range, and obtain blocks of time where the facility would be reserved for use by police officers for the certifications, firearms training, and general marksmanship practice, than it would be to try to build a facility using scare public funds while budgets are tight.  A commercial facility available for public use would provide a valuable and increasingly scare resource for area residents, especially when you consider that Shooter’s Paradise in Woodbridge went up in flames a few weeks ago.  If a strong business model could be built, it’s also possible that the facility would be larger, offer special training opportunities beyond the usual standing and firing at a paper target 10 yards downrange, and effectively leverage the needs and resources of the community at large along with those of the police department to provide more value for both.

It also would be fascinating to see Chief Skinner contemplate sharing a training facility with VCDL members, who would certainly comprise a significant proportion of the customers of any such facility.  I’ll bet a year down the road, Philip Van Cleave and Chief Skinner would be best buddies, and VCDL members would be competing in shooting matches with officers of the police department with the losers buying the pizza at Tony’s for the after-match get-together.  Perhaps such a possibility is why we’re not hearing anything more about this idea, though.

The Police Department is in a real bind here, and the city doesn’t have the money to solve the problem any time soon.  This would be a good time for an entrepreneur to step up and figure out a way for something like this to work, and demonstrate that private enterprise or public-private partnerships are pretty good at solving problems where there’s a defined capability somewhere in the vicinity of a demonstrated need.

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  1. Andy H said on 30 Mar 2007 at 10:27 am:
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    We did include ~$170,000 in design costs for the shooting range in this years budget. This money could be used for actual design costs or to participate in a partnership of some sort. What happens won’t be clear until later.

    The public safety fund idea isn’t completely dead but it is on the brink - at least for this year. As Greg points out, the revenue sharing agreement makes it hard to pay for some capital items and the City is facing some large expenditures in the future (The tower truck is nearing the end of it’s life and will cost more than a million bucks to replace). I expect we’ll see the public safety fund again but as a more fully-formed idea where the schools are involved in the negotiations.

  2. Maureen Wood said on 30 Mar 2007 at 10:35 am:
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    What about the 911 fee that is in place? Can’t that amount be increased and used?

  3. jerry r. said on 30 Mar 2007 at 10:48 am:
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    It would be a very clever idea to build a range for police and public use. The revenue from public use would more the cover the operating cost. The only suggestion I would have was that the police should only be allowed to commandeer the range for one weekday each week so the public would not have to occupy the range at weird hours.

  4. citizenofmanassas said on 30 Mar 2007 at 12:48 pm:
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    What a shock, our elected officials have given us another tax increase. After at least four years of all time revenue, where the City could have afforded to give us a real tax break, they reward us with this. Thanks.

  5. Andy H said on 30 Mar 2007 at 2:38 pm:
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    A rate increase but not a tax increase. 86 cents is the break even point for your average taxpayer. At 85.5, most people get some tax relief.

  6. citizenofmanassas said on 30 Mar 2007 at 5:43 pm:
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    My taxes have gone up every year since 2002, and will go up again this year. Oh, I forgot about the increase in the cost of utilities again this year. It seems it was just three years ago, we were put on a three year plan in order to spread the increase around and now they are going up again.

    What do we get in exchange for all the taxes we pay?

    A Police department that goes after law abiding citizens(The Tony’s seven), but will not touch illegals for fear of pissing off the hispanics. The training of the police leaves a lot to be desired.

    We have a school system on the brink of ruin.

    We have a lake that is over 800 acres that cannot be used by the Citizens who own the lake.

    We have a City council that caved into the ACLU, a group who supports man boy relationships, and whose former VA president just got busted for kiddie porn.

    Yup, we sure do get a lot for the our taxes.

  7. neighboring citizen said on 30 Mar 2007 at 6:39 pm:
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    Citizen of Manassas, I have a great idea, Why not move!!

  8. Big Dog said on 30 Mar 2007 at 8:21 pm:
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    Citizen of Manassas - A better idea - why don’t you
    run for office - you obviously have all the answers!
    Of course, that means you will have to resolve the
    issues - just not complain about them.

    By the way, of the dozen public work sessions - how
    many did you attend?

  9. anon said on 30 Mar 2007 at 10:01 pm:
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    “Citizen of Manassas, I have a great idea, Why not move!!”

    Yep, and when you do, just make sure to sell your house to a guy who will let 20 illegal aliens live in the basement.

    That appears to be what they want here.

  10. citizenofmanassas said on 30 Mar 2007 at 10:03 pm:
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    Big Dog,

    I attend many of the meetings the City Council hold, though not usually the work sessions, but the public hearings.

    I suppose you are fine with your taxes going up every year, and the cost of utilities as well? So sorry I had to bring up the fact we are not getting a lot for the taxes we pay. But, I suppose I should just keep my mouth shut, as to not disturb the tax and spenders we have and their supporters.

    Did you have a problem with Mr. Hughes proposing eleven new positions for the City last year? How high do you think the tax rate would have to be if all eleven positions were passed by the Council? Yet, one year later, when the City was going to take in about the same amount of money as last year, the Council has to raise taxes. That was according to the Messenger. To me that does not add up.

    Just allowing taxes to continue to rise without objection, is not a smart thing to do. Just look at the many States in the Northeast, and California. People living there are subjected to a high number of taxes, and rates. At this point, it is a lost game attempting to gain control of taxes in those areas.

    Is that what you want for the City? Is it smart to have an “oh well” attitude? Or, it is better to question what our elected officials are doing with our money? And, it does not matter if one runs for office or not, as a taxpayer and a voter, I have every right to make my voice heard.

    I’ll give one example where the City Council screwed up. The new performing Arts Center that will be built in the City. The Council agreed to help fund it, in hopes of what? Once that Center goes in, do you think the City will gain any economic benefit from it? Do you think people will eat in the City before driving out to the center? Yet, does the County assist the City in obtaining a public access point to Lake Manassas? Nope.

  11. citizenofmanassas said on 30 Mar 2007 at 10:04 pm:
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    We might just move.

  12. AWCheney said on 30 Mar 2007 at 11:50 pm:
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    Just give it another year COF, and there’ll be LOTS of foreclosed McMansions available throughout the area.

  13. Big Dog said on 31 Mar 2007 at 8:08 am:
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    Nobody questions the right of citizens to question
    their government and the decisions that it makes. It
    is simply my hope that individuals attempt to learn
    about an issue before they vent.
    You took a swipe at utility cost - OK, what would
    you change? Not treat the water? Ignore state
    mandated improvements of the damn? Not fund
    UOSA increases? Defund electrical equipment
    maintainence? What would YOU take out out of the
    Another swipe - Google “Manassas Performing
    Arts Center” - read the information and then let us
    know if it is a horrible mistake. In my opinion,
    it is an item that reasonable people can disagree
    on, but there was and is a strong case for Manassas
    to support this venture. The Freedom Center at GMU
    was questioned much the same way - and it has
    turned out to be a great plus for the community.
    Also note that the average Manassas resident
    lives far closer to the GMU campus than the average
    PW resident, AND required large private donations must
    be in place for construction to even begin.
    I know the council welcomes citizens to its
    meetings - and if you really want to “look under the
    hood”, work sessions are a good place to start.

  14. citizenofmanassas said on 31 Mar 2007 at 11:29 am:
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    Big dog,

    We have seen a steady increase in how much we pay for the utilities over the last few years. I would like to see a year go by without an increase. I suppose there is not a single penny wasted or that is not needed in the entire City budget? Any defender of big government will tell you that.

    The Freedom Center is far different from the Arts Center. The City does not have any such facility, yet we do have our own production company, yes small, and there are other options close by.

  15. Big Dog said on 31 Mar 2007 at 1:50 pm:
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    I would like the cost of gas to stop climbing and
    may write a caustic blog posting about the guy who
    manages the service station at the corner — think it
    would help? It is, of course, all his fault.
    Manassas utilities are operated as an “enterprise
    fund” - and, to stay solvent, must pass through cost increases
    that are often beyond their control. For example,
    when the UOSA (sewer plant) cost rise then the city
    billing has to go up- and Manassas is mandated by the Feds
    to use UOSA. Another need is the necessity
    of keeping pipes in good shape - rainwater seeping
    in cost the city the same as waste water - it is far
    more prudent to maintain the integrity of the system
    than pay overcharges to UOSA for excess use.
    Really think you should run - perhaps with
    some like others - and form a privy council.

  16. citizenofmanassas said on 31 Mar 2007 at 9:44 pm:
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    Boy, I guess I have touched a nerve. So sorry that you and like minded tax and spenders hate to be challenged. How often do we have brown water, or foul smelling water? But no matter, well just keep tossing money down the drain. Because there is no way to keep costs down.

    While we are at it, why don’t we give the school board a blank check.

    Or better yet, why don’t we just turn over all of our money to the Council, and let them decide how much we should get back. I have no doubt they could come up with a million new things to spend the money on. And, I have no doubt you would defend every single penny they spend.

  17. anon said on 31 Mar 2007 at 10:57 pm:
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    I never did understand why the City of Manassas is in the electric power generation and distribution business.

    Particularly since I think Novec does a better job of keeping the power on.

  18. Big Dog said on 1 Apr 2007 at 7:47 am:
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    Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but not their
    own set of facts - Manassas electrical service, on average,
    is cheaper and more reliable than NoVec - that is a fact.
    (Plus, without their own utilities, Manassas would not have
    Micron - they are the largest
    employer and tax payer in the city.)

  19. neighboring citizen said on 1 Apr 2007 at 9:42 am:
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    Anon, I think you really should check your facts before you make broad statements like NOVEC has better service than the City. The City has far fewer power outages per capita than NOVEC and since My brother works at NOVEC I know most NOVEC employees will tell you that the City power distribution system is run about as frugile as it can and is far better off than NOVEC’s system. I believe the City is in the business because it gives the City the opportunity to have control over such an important item.

    citizenofmanassas, you could always move to MP where they pay well over a $1.00 per $100 or real estate tax rate. The current proposed rate increase will actually give you a small tax decrease. Nothing is free and while admit there are things that could change, I think both Manassas and MP are both run pretty well, less and except MP’s shady council going after an honest business man (but that is for another post).

  20. citizenofmanassas said on 1 Apr 2007 at 10:05 am:
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    Before living in the City, we lived in the County and had novec, in six years we lost power once. In 5 years living in the City, we have lost power once. I’d say that is a pretty good record.

    One of the things I hate the most is when someone says well, “you could live in so and so, they pay much more…” That might be the case, but that does not mean we should just roll over and allow any rate as long as it is just below the cost of the other named place.

    I’m not saying just because you said it NC, but it was pointed out in the Journal Messenger article about the rate increase.

    By the way the Washington Post reported the budget as proposed by the Council is up 8.5% over last year’s budget. That budget was up if I recall correctly, 9.5% from the year before. 18% over two years…. To think some people don’t have a problem with that….

  21. anon said on 1 Apr 2007 at 11:50 am:
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    I lived in Manassas several years ago and for a 4 to 5 month period we lost power once a month, during the day, with clear weather.

    When I called the Manassas utilities department to find out why, they blamed it on squirrels in the substation.

    You know, that could explain maybe one or two outages in clear weather, but a string of 4 to 5 of them? I guess Manassas had a plague of suicidal squirrels.

    As far as Novec, this is what they say on their website:

    “NOVEC’s service reliability is the best in the region with a 99.989% average system reliability in 2005. This translates to an average outage time of just over one hour per customer per year.”

    That mirrors my experience. I can’t even remember when the last power outage we had was. My cable TV is far more likely to go out than my power.

    Oh, should I mention the graffiti on point of woods power transformer enclosures that Manassas utilities somehow ignored for 4-5 years? Yea, I know–”You should have called them about it”. Maybe I will, it’s probably still there.

  22. anon said on 1 Apr 2007 at 11:54 am:
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    And, by the way:

    A 2005 J.D. Power customer
    satisfaction survey compared
    our results to the 78 largest electric utilities in the United
    States and NOVEC finished second by a single point to Duke
    Energy in the southern region. Our score of 108 was well
    ahead of the industry average (99) and bested both Dominion
    Virginia Power (101) and PEPCO (100).

  23. Mr. Hall said on 11 Apr 2007 at 10:01 pm:
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    If Manassas had less poor people this would not even be an issue. How do we have less poor people is the real question?

  24. Mr. Hall said on 11 Apr 2007 at 10:08 pm:
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    Oops, I left out the selfish of the higher socio-economic strata (in addition to the poor). Manassas, unfortunately, has an extraordinary concentration of poor people, over-extended middle class types (into which we can lump most of the recent immigrants) and the selfish rich… united only in their complete hostility toward civic virtue and the common good. For what most of you guys pay for 3-5 packs of cigarettes per day, Manassas could be transformed into a suburban utopia

  25. Greg L said on 11 Apr 2007 at 10:35 pm:
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    Tudor Hall, what in the hell is your problem? What does your class warfare rhetoric have to do with ensuring our local police officers have adequate training facilities?

    You need help, my friend.

  26. Mr. Hall said on 12 Apr 2007 at 8:31 pm:
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    Greg L… You’re right. I got overheated. It’s just that when I read all of the high minded comments here, clearly coming from a tiny sliver of the the political spectrum (though, I’m guessing a rather broader spectrum economically), and then look practiacally at the amount of money that’s being fought over ($100,000 for the museum, $1,000,000 to hire police officers, $1,600,000 for a public safety firing range), one can hardly come to any other conclusion that the chest beaters are either poor or selfish. It just amazes me how the same group that frets over the decline of the United States, that has been cheer-leading for trillion dollar costs of the Iraq war, and which shakes its fist at the cheapening of our culture… is actually willing to invest so little in it. If any of your bloggers had been to China lately, or Ireland, or India… they would have such a profoundly different view of the World and understand that their utter focus on consumption and husbanding all wealth to their own pursuits is a recipe for disaster for the United States in every dimension. It might seem funny to globalize your hour hostility toward good local government to a broader discussion of our country’s place in the World… but the problem is that there are so many people like you across the country who are whistling past the graveyard. Our biggest global competitors are channeling vast resources toward intellectual, cultural and social improvement… and it is a demographic and economic certainty that the U.S. will enjaoy a smaller and smaller slice of the global pie. We only compete if we are demonstrably better qualitatively. You guys seem to fail to recognize that saving $100, $200 or $1,000 a year might give you a little extra cash to spend at Dollywood… but failing to invest those amounts in our community, in Manassas, accelerates the decline in your property values, the dumbing down of your children (as their education suffers, thereby diminishing their economic and social prospects), and weakens our civic society, culture, and ultimately our national security. You guys are just plain cheap. I mean, if you earn over $50,000 a year, why do you care so much that building a public safety firing range is going to cost you $50.00. And if you really care about community, about your families, and about our nation, how can you sqeal so loudly about what you’re paying for public schools, when, in reality, you pay such a small portion of the overall cost anyway. Tell me where I’m wrong here. You guys are the ultimate self-gratifying cry babies.

  27. Mr. Hall said on 12 Apr 2007 at 8:57 pm:
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    OK, I’m getting long-winded… but I just noticed the earlier posting by citizenofmanassas, which criticizes the investment in the George Mason Performing Arts Center just outside of Manassas…. my friend, you can’t see the forest for the trees. Assuming that your prime objective is low taxes… the best and most effective way to reduce your taxes is to attract quality commercial development that places a relatively small burden on public services relative to residential development. How do you do that in an advanced, knowledge-based economy? You do it through quality of life infrastructure and investment. We could fund the cost of our local schools completely if we had a Google, or a Microsoft or another capital-intensive employer within the city’s boundaries. What the employees of these companies want (people who are smart, wordly, educated, and wealthy) is public infrastructure that meets high international standards. If we had enough high quality commercial development in Manassas, possible only if we invest heavily in cultural resources, then ‘citizenofmanassas’, conceivably, could in the future pay only a tiny portion of what he now pays in taxes. Then, alas, all would be well with him, and he would have less cause to demand of the rest of us that we live equally bleak lives.

  28. Mr. Hall said on 3 May 2007 at 9:43 pm:
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    Let’s take up a collection for citizenofmanassas. I’ll pitch in $1,000 (seriously) if he’ll just stop bitching and whining about everything for a few months. Do you care about your community at all? And, if so, how do you demonstrate it? I hear that there are some counties in North Dakota with really cheap taxes… nirvanas, no doubt.

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