What Are They Afraid Of?

On Tuesday November 3rd, No Light Rail volunteers made our presence known in Virginia Beach by gathering thousands of signatures from Virginia Beach voters to demand that another referendum on the subject of Light Rail be placed on the ballot.

In 2012 the ballot question read:

“Should the City Council adopt an ordinance approving the use of all reasonable efforts to support the financing and development of The Tide light rail into Virginia Beach?”

In 2016 our question will read:

“Should City Council of Virginia Beach spend local funds to extend Light Rail from Norfolk to Town Center in Virginia Beach?”

Not surprisingly, we met the opposition

At polling stations all over Virginia Beach, our volunteers were met with opponents to our ballot initiative who engaged in tactics that were at best, rude and at worst, belligerent. Many of them chanted the mantra “If you sign that petition, it will KILL Light Rail!” or, “You don’t need to sign that, we ALREADY voted on that two years ago!

By signing the petition, it only asks that our question be placed on the November 2016 ballot. Signing our petition does not necessarily guarantee that Light Rail will be scrapped.
It only seeks to place a clear, plain-language question before the voters of Virginia Beach to ask if our City Council should spend local taxpayer dollars, the same ones that fund our schools, police department, fire department and other city-services, to extend Light Rail into our city. While we are confident that we will have more than enough signatures to get our question placed on the ballot, no reasonable person can predict what the outcome of a ballot referendum will be a year into the future.

Although we are flattered that our opponents seem to believe that if Virginia Beach voters are given another opportunity to vote on Light Rail, the voters may well turn it down.

Taxes and Fees Increasing

While Virginia Beach can boast the “lowest property taxes in our region” one look at your water, sewer or waste disposal bill might leave you scratching your head, wondering where these lower taxes are? In fact, real estate taxes increased this year as well as new, more stringent requirements for our Senior Tax Relief program that caused property taxes to increase on many of our Senior Citizens. The city of Norfolk recently (in 2013) added to the tax burden of their homeowners, but in Virginia Beach, our most recent increases in property taxes were caused by the $20 million dollars required to “study” Light Rail.

Given the fact that Hampton Roads Transit’s estimate to extend Light Rail to Town Center is over 300 million dollars, even though the Commonwealth of Virginia has offered $155 million dollars to help fund the project, that still leaves Virginia Beach taxpayers on the hook for over 172 million dollars just to build a three-mile section of Light Rail.

And the Cost Goes On Forever

In the same story about the cost of bringing Light Rail to Virginia Beach, the Virginian Pilot also reported the following:
The city’s annual public transportation costs would double, to about $11 million, to pay for its share of operating the line and expanding bus service to connect with it. That’s in 2012 dollars, used for comparison with Norfolk, HRT President and CEO William Harrell said.

The facts are clear-if Light Rail comes to Virginia Beach, not only will taxpayers be saddled with the costs associated with repaying the money the city would have to borrow to build the project, but taxpayers will also be forced to pay an additional $5.5 million dollars each year in shared operating expenses with Norfolk as well as bus services associated with getting passengers to and from Light Rail stations.

“Light Rail Now” Just Doesn’t Get It

In the brochure our friends from Light Rail Now were passing out at the polls on November 3rd, they claim that expanding Light Rail will grow the business tax base.

What cannot tell you is when, if ever, those tax dollars will start arriving into the city’s coffers. Unless or until those new businesses open and start paying those new taxes, the increasing taxes required to fund Light Rail will fall on current taxpayers.

The same brochure also laments that “Today VB has only 800 single family lots left.” Even if these lots see the most expensive homes built upon them, the real estate taxes won’t go very far to cover the additional costs of Light Rail.

We certainly have more land available in the southern part of our city, but that would require City Council to breech the “green line” and extend development into areas reserved for agriculture. The problem is, many land owners in the southern part of our city have sold their development rights to the city so this land would be excluded from development.

With no guarantee that business development along the Light Rail line will generate projected revenues, the costs associated with Light Rail don’t go away-they will go to you!

While we might not know everything…

While it is true that we do not have a definite answer as to the final cost of extending Light Rail into Virginia Beach, we do know the following:

  1. Despite early optimism, Light Rail hasn’t been the great success our opponents had hoped it would be.
  2. Cost overruns on the Norfolk section of Light Rail were astronomical-and taxpayers were forced to pick up the tab.
  3. The HRT estimate of $327 million dollars has “cost contingencies” factored into that price, so it is obvious that not even HRT can say with any certainty that it will cost more or less than the original estimate.
  4. There is no guarantee that development along the Light Rail corridor will ever produce the tax revenue necessary to support maintaining tax rates at current levels.
  5. Light Rail will do nothing to ease traffic congestion anywhere in Hampton Roads.
  6. Light Rail has a limited operations schedule, restricting when you can go to the places it will take you.
  7. Light Rail shuts down in severe weather/flooding.
  8. Light Rail is paralyzed in major power outages.