How Much Would You Be Willing to Pay for Safer Streets?

Last month, GM proposed the creation of a Georgetown Citizens’ Improvement District. The basic idea is to take the Business Improvement District model and apply it to residents, not just businesses.

This would entail creating some sort of a special taxing district for Georgetown. The funds would be set aside to be spent by an elected board on projects and items strictly in Georgetown. The list of things that this money could be spent on is endless, but GM speculates that the consensus first candidate for funds would be an increase in reimbursable details from MPD.

A reimbursable detail is an MPD police officer who works overtime and is paid from a private source. Both CAG and the BID support reimbursable details in Georgetown already. However, the officers are primarily focused on the main corridors, not the back streets. A Citizens’ Improvement District could pay for more of a police presence in the residential parts of Georgetown.

Which brings GM to the question of the day: What would you be willing to pay in order to fund a Citizens’ Improvement District? For reference, the BID’s budget is over $3 million, but they only spend $150,000 on a reimbursable detail.

There are roughly 4,500 households in Georgetown, containing about 8,500 people. We could double the BID’s reimbursable detail budget with merely a $33 per household or a $17 per person surcharge. (GM thinks, for a variety of reasons, it would be more practical to levy the tax on real estate, not on income, so the per household number is a more apt figure).

If we bumped that surcharge up to $100 per home, the CID would have $450,000 to spread around to various projects around Georgetown including the reimbursable detail. We could match the BID’s overall budget with a $600 per household surtax, although even GM thinks that’s too much.

There are a variety of likely critiques to this proposal. The most salient, in GM’s opinion, is the idea that any dollar spent by Georgetowners on Georgetowners would be offset by the District government simply short-changing us. Any authorizing legislation would have to address this head on. In the case of the reimbursable detail, we’d have to get measurable guarantees from the Second District that they wouldn’t pull back non-overtime officers (for what it’s worth, the BID and CAG have been happy with the reimbursable detail so far). This concern is less strong for other potential candidates. For instance, GM would support giving some money to Hyde-Addison’s PTA. The PTA budget at schools like Janney and Murch dwarf Hyde’s, yet they don’t get short-changed from the District government.

Another critique is that these objectives could be met with fundraising, not taxing. In fact, they already are met in some ways by fundraising through CAG. But this creates a free-rider problem. We all benefit from an increased police presence, shouldn’t everyone kick in?

So what do you think? Would you support a program like this, and how much?

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11 Comments

Filed under Citizens Improvement District

11 responses to “How Much Would You Be Willing to Pay for Safer Streets?

  1. Charlie Eason

    I’m not wild about the idea of taxing myself to buy a core service the government is expected to provide in the first place.

    The notion of using MPD “reimbursable detail” officers offers a good example of why this is a bad idea. Why pay overtime rates as opposed to just hiring/reassigning more officers? It is an expensive way to get adequate policing.

    And what about the “smell test?” Can you imagine what folks in other parts of the City would say? I imagine them saying something about those elitist snobs in Georgetown buying police protection while those in poorer parts of town go without. They would probably (and rightfully) argue that taxes be raised city-wide so their police protection could equal that which Georgetown brought. Then we would be paying three times for our policing: current taxes, the self-assessed CID tax, and any city-wide “equalizer tax.”

    If the community believes we are getting inadequate policing, then we need to take our case to the Mayor and Council to make sure that MPD is adequately funded.

  2. asuka

    Why must the additional security come in the form of the MPD? Improvement districts across the country that face similar needs often employ private security with great success. Los Angeles’s downtown area uses such a force, and it has proven very effective in helping to revitalize that area. For regions like Georgetown that already have a relatively low rate of crime, there’s little need for the full capabilities of a police force to address the problem; rather, what is needed is greater deterrence and vigilance. To use the MPD to achieve those ends is an inefficient use of city resources and not cost effective. West Georgetown already employs private security; such a service should be expanded to cover the entire neighborhood.

  3. I’m from another part of the city and this looks bad. It feeds into the idea that G’town receives favors from the city and the rest of us are going to have to pay up just to get the city services we’re supposed to get. Also your crime levels (for the types of crime that gets people scared- murder-assault- break ins) don’t rise to the point of where you need more police protection than other parts of the city.

  4. asuka

    @ Mari, to be fair, the great majority of tax revenue generated in the city (besides fed money) comes from neighborhoods like Georgetown. The rest of the city would hardly “have to pay up just to get the city services” they use, as in most cases they aren’t actually paying for them to begin with – they’re most likely subsidized by Wards 2 and 3. That being said, of course the optics on this proposal are bad, and its why it won’t happen.

    As for Georgetown receiving “favors”, please provide examples. I’m certain Georgetown has one of the highest inverted tax-to-service-use ratios in the entire city. Its not unfair to allow Georgetown residents to pay above the taxes they already (disproportionately) pay just to get some basic security. As “Charlie Eason” pointed out, if there’s anything unfair going on, its that Georgetown residents feel like they need to.

  5. Ken Archer

    Georgetowners who feel we need a greater police presence in our hood are asking for the impossible – the density and age of Georgetown and the super-low crime rate of a suburb. If you want to live in a dense neighborhood, an historic neighborhood, you want to live in a city. Cities have people, and people sometimes hurt each other – but such are the shared joys and burdens of city-living.

    I have a 17-month old son. I obviously don’t want crime affecting my family. But the crime rate in Georgetown is low, really low when the “you-were-askin-for-it” crimes by students walking alone with headphones at 3am are filtered out. If anything, I would rather my taxes be spent on cops and youth programs in parts of the city that need the investment more than Georgetown does. The benefits of such investments would be shared by the whole city.

  6. asuka

    @Ken Archer

    Did you ignore the actual post and just start responding to the comments? The proposal does not siphon MPD resources at the expense of other parts of the city, nor does it use DC tax dollars to pay for it. It simply proffers Georgetown residents create a pool of funds that would allow them to hire otherwise off-duty MPD officers to work overtime in Georgetown (officers who are grateful for the opportunity to earn great money for a relatively easy duty). If you’re so concerned with the youth of our city, do what I do and volunteer some of your time. Neither of those two actions are mutually exclusive.

    Finally, no one “asks” to be a victim of crime. To suggest that the many victims (most of whom were not “walking alone with headphones at 3am”, but rather asleep in their homes) of the serial sexual predator who continues to stalk Georgetown were “askin” for it is disgusting. Its attitudes like yours that contributes to the problem.

  7. Ken Archer

    @asuka

    I share your goals, just not the means to get there. It’s my opinion that the idea of a “special taxing district for Georgetown” is more appropriate for a suburb than for a neighborhood of a city.

    I agree with most of GM’s proposals, but I don’t happen to agree with this one. Neither does ANC Commissioner Birch, who objected to CAG’s reimbursable detail on the same grounds – that Georgetowners should not buy security from the city when so many other neighborhoods need it way more than we do.

    Instead, we should lobby, as Jack Evans does, for DC to hire more cops and pay more overtime to cops, and to invest more in youth services. And we should happily pay our city taxes for such services that ultimately benefit the whole city, including Georgetown.

  8. asuka

    And your justification for denying the citizens of Georgetown the right to use their money in any legal manner they wish is what? You — like so many other misguided (and probably recently-transplanted) suburban refugees — seem to think that crime is hip, and that your urban cultural experience is somehow lacking in its absence. I wonder how cool you’d think it was if it were a member of your family who was sexually assaulted or pistol-whipped.

    This plan would have no negative impact to the rest of the city – the officers hired would otherwise be at home, not on the job in some other ward. Its unfortunate that crime occurs in other parts of the city, but I fail to see the logic in using that fact to deny the residents of Georgetown the right to do what they can to make their own neighborhood safer. Birch, like you, is wrong, and at least a majority of the readers of this blog disagree with both of you.

  9. GM

    asuka – I know Ken, and I can assure you that he doesn’t fit the transplant suburban refugee stereotype you’re projecting. I think his point is that we have so low levels of crime in Georgetown that adding street patrols wouldn’t actually lower it any more. I think it’s a fair argument to make, even if I think we could actually achieve results increasing patrols.

    I focused on reimbursable details because I suspected they would be a popular choice. I really do think there are other worthwhile projects we could spend the money too. We could make improvements to Volta Park for instance. Yes, you could argue that if improvements are necessary the city should pay for it. But often it just doesn’t work that way, and if we really want to make the park better, we just have to do it ourselves. This is a way to do that.

  10. East Georgetowner

    I’m with Charlie Eason — we pay an absurdly disproportionate share of city taxes to begin with and receive what can be described, at best, as mediocre city services in return. Rather than shouldering an additional tax for the receipt of basic services, we should hold government accountable and demand that we get quality service for our tax dollars — and that includes an appropriate level of police presence in the neighborhood. In short, let’s make the DC goverment do its job properly, not accede to mediocrity and ask to pay more taxes to get the services goverment ought to be providing in the first place, to us and frankly to all DC residents.

  11. asuka

    I just don’t see the “fairness” in that argument. Crime is lower in Georgetown than in other parts of the city, so Georgetown shouldn’t be allowed to do what it can (without negatively impacting the rest of the community in any way) to make its streets safer? That’s not reason, its guilt masquerading as reason.

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