The Blog Squad

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

You Be the Judge

Mayor L. Douglas Wilder and City Council traded volleys this afternoon over tax relief for the elderly and disabled.

In his press release, received at our magazine shortly after 5 p.m., the mayor suggests that Council is short-changing the city's elderly and disabled residents who need help with tax bills.

The mayor's unadorned release:

Mayor Urges Council to Seek ‘Common Ground’

Seeking to provide continued real estate tax relief for the elderly and disabled,
Mayor L. Douglas Wilder today called upon the City Council to work with him to provide sufficient funding for the program.

“The Council’s current plan for the expansion of the tax relief program, combined with ever-rising real estate assessments, is leading to a shortfall in providing the assistance so seriously needed by our senior and disabled citizens,” said the Mayor.

”I am calling upon Council to seek ‘common ground’ with the Administration to minimize the impact of a program shortfall, which will be explained in the City’s letter to homeowners to be mailed out later this month,” the Mayor said.

“I am hopeful that Council will act in that fashion.”

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About an hour later, the Council's publicity officer issued two successive and relatively similar press releases on Councilwoman Kathy Graziano's behalf. Again, the raw statement:

Statements from Councilwoman Cathy [sic] Graziano regarding Tax Relief for the Elderly/Disabled

The City of Richmond has a real estate tax relief program in place that can really help the elderly and disabled on fixed incomes who have difficulty paying city real estate taxes.

The program applies to homeowners over the age of 65, or who are permanently disabled, and who have an income of less that $50,000 and assets of less than $200,000, and can provide 100 percent relief from taxes in some circumstances.

Last year council budgeted $1,980,000 for the program. Bluntly stated, that wasn’t enough. We were informed in January that the program was facing a shortfall of about $1,000,000. If that shortfall is not met, our poorest and least able homeowners will be facing property tax bills they were not expecting.

There is, by law, only one mechanism for closing the gap. In our system of government, only the mayor may propose an appropriations amendment during the course of the year. I have met with Mayor Wilder, his staff and Chief Financial Officer Harry Black, and to this point, they have either refused, or have not moved forward with such an amendment.

We have the money. There was more than $3,000,000 left over from the 2006 fiscal year which was not encumbered. We were told by the Administration that the ill-considered audits of the School Board and the Assessor’s Office would cost approximately $500,000. There was $290,000 committed for valet parking for bar and restaurant owners in Shockoe Slip.

Council is moving to close the loophole for next year, by adding almost $2,000,000 to the mayor’s proposed budget for tax relief. But for this year, homeowners will be receiving an unexpected tax bill later this summer, while we all wait for the mayor to act.

Contact: For more information, please call Cathy [sic] Graziano, 4th District Councilwoman, at 804.640.9594

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—Jack Cooksey


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