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May 22, 2005


Dear Taxpayers:

In government talk, a “cut” is an increase that isn’t as big as expected. A budget cut is a budget that’s bigger than it was the previous year, but not as big as had been originally proposed. Tax bills are higher after a tax cut than they were before.

DC politicians swear that this year they gave homeowners property tax cuts that are real, not illusory, and some people even believe that they will get lower property tax bills. Ann Loikow, below, doesn’t buy the story. Do you? Should you? When you get your next property assessment, and the tax bill based on it, do you think that you will be thanking the mayor and city councilmembers, or looking for candidates to run against them?

Gary Imhoff


The Budget and the District’s Tax Structure
Ann Loikow,

[Open letter to Councilmembers] I am very sorry that you did not understand that there is an urgent need to reduce the rapid rate of increase in taxes on District residents, particularly that due to the real estate bubble that has caused extraordinary increases in assessments and thus in property taxes. I’m not sure why you don’t understand that most homeowners’ incomes have not increased as rapidly as assessments and that, in fact, many homeowners have had little if any increase in income during this period of rapid increase in assessments. Secondly, an increased assessment only represents an unrealized potential gain in value. Unless an homeowner sells his or her home (and good luck finding another affordable one to replace it), the homeowner has no increased income to pay the escalating property taxes. If you truly care about affordable housing — and are not just giving it lip service — condoning this shift of our tax base onto the property tax from taxes directly related to ability to pay, such as the income tax, only ultimately decreases affordable housing. These escalating property taxes either force people to sell their homes and leave the city or encourages them to turn their homes into rooming houses by getting renters to help share the tax burden, which leads to destabilizing our neighborhoods. Taxation of residential real property is not an unlimited cash cow.

Thirdly, there seems to be an assumption that most residents could afford to buy their current homes at the inflated values at which they are now assessed. The only people for whom that is true are those who have recently bought their homes at those rates. The longer people have lived in their home, the more likely it is that they would be priced out of their neighborhood if they had to buy into it today. Thus, the city’s most stable neighborhoods are likely to be filled with people for whom this rapid increase in property taxes is threatening to become an unsustainable burden. I hope your intent is not to encourage destabilization of our city by forcing more homeowners to leave. Your recent action on the budget, which enacts minor property tax relief only if revenue from property taxes exceeds the revenue forecast by the Office of the Chief Financial Officer, is not relief. You are implicitly saying that homeowners’ property tax burden must further increase before you will do anything to limit its additional increase. No matter how you try to spin it, you are approving further property tax increases.

I strongly urge the Council to examine the District’s entire tax structure. Every week I read in the DC Register that you have granted this or that group tax exemption or tax benefits, and yet it does not seem that anyone is looking at the overall picture and costs to residents who are left making up the slack in revenue. We can’t even blame the federal government for this. Our tax structure is becoming increasingly regressive and places the burden on a smaller and smaller group, which makes the city increasingly less hospitable and affordable to middle income as well as moderate and low income people. (I should note that the assessment process, which is being challenged in court, tends to overvalue small homes and undervalue large ones.) We need to readjust our tax structure and shift more of the burden back to those taxes that are directly related to ability to pay, such as the income tax. That way, at least, we would be taxing real income, not potential “gains” that may never be realized, and taxpayers would be assured that they actually will have some income from which to pay the taxes due. I urge the Council to begin this task quickly.


Maybe It’s the Computer
Ed Dixon, Georgetown Reservoir,

A little more than a week ago, the DC Government claimed that giving Senators homestead deductions was a computer error. Perhaps that’s the same reason that the Maryland landlords for McDonalds and Channel 9 on Wisconsin are paying less than many homeowners in the area. But if it is a computer error, it’s not the only one. According to the Chief Financial Officer’s Real Estate Assessment Database ( several prominent properties are paying much less on their land assessments than the local yokels. I checked right across the street from McDonalds to see what the folks at American University were being assessed for their 4200 Wisconsin Avenue land. Currently, $135 per square foot, but going up to $174 next year if they don’t win an appeal. So some nonresidential types are paying what the homeowners are. However, Giant’s parent company, Stop and Shop in Massachusetts, owns a few parcels down in the Cleveland Park end of Wisconsin. Stop and Shop is paying taxes on assessments between $35 and $60 per square foot that they use to make money. Also, on the Connecticut Avenue side of Cleveland Park, the old Jamal’s Stop ‘n’ Shop, now owned by a company in Rockville, is assessed at $100 per square foot. And think what they charge for parking. Last, but not least, that inadequate excuse for a tower owned by American Tower is getting away with the land being assessed at $70 per square foot. Is it any wonder American Tower saw the green before its eyes? However, there is no reason to get hot and bothered about all this because as the DC Office of Tax and Revenue said there is something wrong with the computers.


Inspector General Appointment
Dorothy Brizill,

After leaving the Inspector General’s position open for eighteen months, Mayor Williams last week named an appointee, Charles J. Willoughby ( to replace Charles Maddox.

Willoughby currently serves as Assistant Inspector General and Counsel for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Office of the Inspector General. He will be appointed to fill out Charles Maddox’s unexpired term, until January 2008, instead of the usual six-year term. In his remarks at the mayor’s weekly press briefing, where he was introduced, Willoughby repeatedly stated that he would focus on the economy and efficiency of the delivery of city services. But when WRC-TV reporter Tom Sherwood reminded him that the primary mission of the IG’s office was to focus on waste, fraud, and mismanagement in the District government, he agreed that he would do that, too.


Safety Checks
Linda Roe,

I was just stopped for a “safety check” on 6th Street, NE (near New York Avenue). The young female officer (MPD) allowed several SUV’s to pass and stopped me. She informed me that she was doing a “safety check and needed to see my license and registration.” I began to present my license when I remembered hearing about these random stops. I asked the officer what she was going to do with the information from my license and registration. She informed me that she was required to document (log) the information. I asked where and why. She step back and sighed. I said I was uncomfortable giving my personal information to the officer to log into a system I knew nothing about. She explained that if I had a problem with this, “you need to contact the Chief.” This officer did not do a safety check, i.e., to see if my daughters and I were using our seat belts (which we were). She simply let me go. On the way home, I became upset. Why are officers being used for this invasion of privacy and downright violation of civil rights? When there are five to fifteen youths (males and females) on the street corner near my home selling drugs, playing loud music, and leaving their garbage on my lawn, and I call the police, they do nothing but run them off for awhile. Then they return and continue their business. Something is really wrong here.


Big Deal
Ed T. Barron,

Recent court decisions will allow folks in some states the right to purchase wines from out of state suppliers by mail. Virginia has that allowance right now. For DC, though, you can only order, by mail or Internet, one (count ‘em) bottle of wine per month. And, no, you can’t wait until the end of the year and order a case. That shows you what a hammerlock the liquor industry in DC has on the DC consumers.

Yes, there are some very good discount liquor stores in DC with a very good selections. But there are also many wines not carried by these places. DC vinophiles will have to continue to order their cases from out of state wineries and have them delivered to friends in Virginia.


Neighborly Blogs
Patrick Thibodeau,

If you want to get a sense of how people experience this city, then read some of their blogs. There are three good neighborhood blogs in particular,,, and

Every neighborhood should have blogs like these; these blogs are wonderful vehicles for connecting to neighborhoods. They accomplish on a very local level what you do citywide with


How We’re Doing
Alma Gates,

Thanks for asking [themail, May 18]. Palisades residents aren’t fairing well. We have been hit with a double-whammy! There is a DDOT proposal to deconstruct Whitehurst Freeway and a draft environmental impact statement has been released by the Washington Aqueduct that proposes to build a huge dewatering facility behind Sibley Hospital and to truck out the residuals via neighborhood streets, five days a week for at least the next eleven years. Interesting you mentioned WASA, because the costs for the Dalecarlia impact will be passed on to consumers through a rate increase. Now that’s real justice -- we get to pick up the costs and live with the impact!

The Mayor has proclaimed May 21 “Palisades Day.” You better come while you can still get here.


Whitman Walker’s Financial Troubles
Wayne Turner,

Given the disturbing news of the Whitman Walker Clinic’s serious financial crisis, it’s encouraging to hear DC officials vowing to preserve the continuity of essential health services for people living with HIV and AIDS.

Perhaps Ward One Councilmember Jim Graham, the former executive director of Whitman Walker, will take it upon himself to return the designer Stickley office furniture, which, according to the City Paper in 1999, was given to Graham by Whitman Walker’s board of directors after his consulting contract was deemed unethical. It’s my understanding that Mr. Graham also took with him an original Robert Mapplethorpe from the Clinic, which may indeed be more valuable than the Stickley.

On the open market, surely these items would help alleviate Whitman Walker Clinic’s current financial woes.


Smoke Free DC
Angela Bradbery,

Last week, DC councilmembers introduced a third comprehensive smoke free work places measure. This bill would require all workplaces in DC to be smoke free, which is similar to the other two bills that are in play. What is different? This time, Councilmember David Catania (At Large), who has historically been very hostile to the idea of smoke free work place legislation, cosponsored the measure, for which we praise him. And this time, the bill was referred to the Committee on Health, which Catania chairs, instead of the committee chaired by Carol Schwartz, who likely would never let it see the light of day.

Also last week, Carol Schwartz reintroduced her very bad tax incentives bill, which would give restaurants and bars a 25 percent tax break for not poisoning their employees with secondhand smoke. They could permit smoking if they installed ventilation systems and paid a higher business license fee. This is not helpful because: 1) it would not protect all workers and patrons from secondhand smoke; 2) ventilation systems take the smell of smoke out of the air, but not the toxins; 3) it would be an administrative nightmare for the city to administer; and 4) business owners could change their smoke-free status at any time. When Schwartz introduced something similar in 2003, a majority of councilmembers signed on. This time, no councilmember joined her.

Passing a smoke free measure, however, still requires the support of several councilmembers, one of them being Jim Graham (Ward 1), who is undecided about the issue. If you care about making all workplaces safe, please do two things: 1) go to and download the Ward 1 petition. Sign it and fax or mail it back to us. Circulate it among friends and fax those forms back. The form is designed to be signed by Ward 1 residents, but if you are a frequent patron of Ward 1 establishments (but not a resident) please indicate that and sign it anyway. 2) Mark your calendars for 7 p.m., June 9. That is the date of a Ward 1 forum at the Lincoln Theater (1215 U Street, NW), which will help Jim Graham decide how to vote on this. It is crucial that supporters of smoke free work places come out for it. 3) Go to and write a letter to David Catania, thanking him for cosponsoring smokefree legislation and urging him not to compromise on this issue. If you would like more information, feel free to check out or call me at 669-6517.


Two Consequences of the Shortage of Bus Drivers
Bryce A. Suderow,

As I pointed out in an earlier posting, Metrobus is short of drivers. The other day I ran across one of the results of this shortage. I was riding the N22 bus. My driver had worked one shift already. He wanted some overtime so he worked a second shift driving the N22. He had started at 4:30 a.m., worked eight hours driving his regular run, and now was working his second shift driving a route that needed a driver. This is quite common, he assured me. There’s always a lot of drivers absent due to comp time, sickness, or just plain malingering.

Metro must be paying an enormous amount of money in salaries if overtime is as common as this driver said. And there must be a lot of tired bus drivers driving busses. Neither of these things is good.

Today a driver told me that Metro has put a hiring freeze on all jobs except the position of bus driving. Thus, a lot of people apply for the bus driver job, work a few months, and then transfer to, let’s say, driving trains. So the shortage of drivers persists.


Bike Racks on Buses
Don Lief,

Portland [Oregon] is strongly biker-friendly, so I asked a friend for some details. All regular buses have racks in front; passengers tell drivers before their stop that they will be removing their bikes at the next stop. He wrote: “General bikes on Trimet information at The system works very well. It’s easy to get your bike(s) in and out. I’ve never heard of damage to a bike using this system. Other large cities, Seattle for one example, use the same system. Note, MAX uses ceiling hooks inside the cars. I don’t know how many can be accommodated per car.”

MAX refers to our light rail system, which allows bikes to be brought onto the cars. Overall, the discussion in themail seems awfully parochial since the solutions are so easy and well-known.



Summer Job for Student
Melissa Williamson,

I am writing to seek assistance in locating summer employment for a sixteen-year-old DC public high school student. This student has asked my assistance in helping him to secure employment. If you know of any job opportunities for the summer, please E-mail me at We have already submitted an application for the summer youth employment program; however, as you are aware, there are only ten thousand jobs.



Digital Camcorder and Camera
Jamie “Bork” Loughner,

Digital camcorder(s) and still camera(s) are desperately needed by the DC-based antipoverty activist group Mayday DC ( We need them to help us to bring awareness to important human rights issues in DC neighborhoods. Help us in the struggle for safety, housing. and dignity for the poor and homeless of DC. We will provide more details about our efforts to interested persons. If anyone is willing to give a camcorder or camera or sell one at a reduced rate, please contact.



Dru Sefton,

Looking for an electrician for an estimate on what could be a fairly tricky job. I’d like to install a ceiling fan in a bedroom that currently doesn’t have an overhead fixture. I’m in an older building (built in the 1920’s) in the Adams Morgan/Mount Pleasant neighborhood. Any good, reasonable electricians out there?


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