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Council Eyes $$ By Raising Cigarette Tax

The price of a pack of cigarettes may go up if City Council's proposal gets approved.

The Alexandria City Council held its only legislative meeting of the month and talked about increasing the cigarette tax. The proposal is to increase the local tax from 30 cents a pack to 50 cents a pack.

"In this time of budget shortfalls, this is one of the few ways we have to raise local revenue," said Mayor Kerry J. Donley.

"I smoke about a pack a day and think it is reasonable to pay more for my bad habit," said Joe Horton, a city resident. "I guess if it gets too expensive, maybe I will try to quit. But then again, I haven't for the past 30 years, so maybe not."

Alexandria is one of the few local jurisdictions that has the authority to increase this tax without going to the General Assembly. Counties do not have this authority. The increase will result in about $1 million in additional revenue for the city.

Council will hold a public hearing on this matter on Saturday, Dec. 14, beginning at 9:30 a.m. Members of the public who wish to speak should call the Council Clerk's office at 703-8383-4500 or fill out a speaker's form in the back of Council chambers on the day of the hearing.

RICHARD BAIER, the city's director of Transportation and Environmental Services gave his monthly report on the repair of the King Street Overpass. "There are still some issues with drainage," he said. "The pipe that CSX has installed doesn't appear to be working. CSX has assured us that they will fix it and install a more extensive drainage system in the spring."

Councilman David G. Speck asked about public art on the overpass. "I hope that we move forward expeditiously on this matter and place this project in the hands of the Commission on Arts," he said. "They seem to manage these projects very well."

Baier explained some of the constraints. "CSX has suggested that we paint any mural on another medium that is at least two to three inches from the bridge abutment with air between," he said. "Also, we need to make sure that the background of any mural is light in color to take advantage of the new lighting that has been installed."

The Commission on the Arts will manage the process of designing and painting a mural under the overpass.

COUNCILWOMAN Claire Eberwein raised the issue of reconstituting the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority's board. In November, Council voted to decrease the Board from nine members to seven members and to reconstitute the entire Board before June 30, 2003. This would have involved asking for all current members to resign and reapply for their slots.

"I just think that we should find a better way to decrease the number of members on this board if that is what we wish to do," Eberwein said. "Also, we need to get the input of the ARHA Board on methods of reducing the membership. I am suggesting that we move forward with reappointing the two positions that are currently vacant and look for a more equitable way of getting from nine to seven," she said.

Councilwoman Joyce Woodson disagreed. "We are not likely to have a situation where there are two vacancies on this board any time in the near future," she said. "I think that this is the fairest way to reduce the membership from seven to nine. After all, we would not be appointing new members so there would be continuity, which seems to be one of the concerns. Clearly, though, I am only one of two people who sees the logic of this. I would hope that we would schedule this to be discussed at our next work session with the ARHA Board," she said.

The motion to fill the two vacancies in January and discuss reducing the membership with the ARHA Board passed. The vote was five to two with Vice Mayor Bill Cleveland and Woodson voting no.