My opponent in the Princess Anne District, City Councilmember Barbara Henley, helped create and voted for the agriculture reserve program, or ARP, in 1995. Many years later in 2013, as a sitting member of the Virginia Beach City Council, she and her family’s farm participated in the ARP’s benefits with very little worry about how that appeared. She will always support the ARP, even as others question its relevance in 2018. Remember, in 1995, most of us didn’t own a cell phone, we weren’t on the internet, and city officials were attempting to remake Virginia Beach into a golf mecca. Times have changed.
The ARP should probably go away for several reasons.
First, it’s a subsidy. Nearly one cent – 0.9 cents – of the real estate tax rate you pay is funneled into the ARP. That does not sound like much, does it? But the City Assessor’s report shows that agriculture comprises less than a third of a percent of all assessed values. This year, for example, agricultural properties will kick in about $1.76 million in taxes, but the ARP will be funded with nearly three times as much – $4.88 million.
Is it fair to ask homeowners in Windsor Woods, Princess Anne Plaza and Ashville Park who suffered flooding damage from Hurricane Matthew to subsidize the ARP, even as they have been told by city officials it will take 15 years to resolve their drainage problems?
Secondly, City Council has shown us the ARP is not sacred. The council has used the ARP as a slush fund to jumpstart other funds. For example, in May 2001, $5 million was transferred from the ARP to create another subsidy, the open space fund. For one example of how open space money has been used, nearly $2.4 million of these funds were used to preserve the green lawn in front of the Cavalier Hotel.
Also, in March 2006, $3.7 million in ARP funds were taken and transferred to the Base Realignment and Closure, or BRAC, fund, with the stipulation that the money be used to purchase land in the Interfacility Traffic Area.
The point here is that, whenever the City Council has needed money in the past, they have taken it from the ARP. If the ARP doesn’t really need the money that badly, then perhaps it is time to reprioritize and appropriate those funds elsewhere.
It’s difficult to follow all these special funds, programs and overlays pertaining to certain areas in our city – the ARP, the BRAC fund, the Transition Area and the Interfacility Traffic Area, or ITA. There are so many overlapping programs, funds and overlays that it breeds confusion, not transparency.
For example, ARP and BRAC funds have been used to purchase land in the Interfacility Traffic Area, but this area is targeted for new development through the ITA Master Plan.
I have no problem with expenditures from one fund simultaneously accomplishing the goals of another program, but the city’s cluster of entanglements in land purchases and development rights in this area is mind boggling. How can land purchased to reduce density or development also be targeted for development at the same time?
The ARP has been in place for 23 years. Is it not prudent, every year, to evaluate all spending priorities and adjust revenue streams accordingly? The BRAC program was funded with $15 million in both state and local funds every year for many years and was used to reduce development density in areas surrounding Naval Air Station Oceana. Having largely accomplished that purpose, BRAC funding has been reduced and is now less than $1 million annually.
How about we perform the same analysis for the ARP, particularly in light of increasing demands on our seriously underperforming citywide storm water drainage system?
The ARP should at least be reduced by two-thirds to no more than the amount of real estate taxes paid by agricultural properties that could benefit from it. The ARP benefits so few, we should reallocate those funds to some serious drainage projects which will benefit many thousands of Virginia Beach citizens.
– Tim Worst, Lago Mar
The author is a candidate for the Princess Anne District seat on the City Council.
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