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3-Cent Tax Drop Among Final Budget Items

Schools Fully Funded; Skateboard Park Is A Go

The Alexandria City Council unanimously passed a $373 million budget for FY2003 on May 6.

With projected revenues just over $363 million, Council will take $9 million from reserves to balance next year's budget.

"It is a budget that includes a three cent reduction in the real estate tax rate, fully funds our public schools, increases expenditures for public safety and does not cut those important services that provide a safety net for our most vulnerable citizens," said Councilman William D. Euille, who made the motion to approve the budget. "After 9-11, we all thought that the city would have hard times ahead. But with prudent spending reductions and a good marketing strategy on the part of our Convention and Visitors Association, revenues have rebounded and the tourists are coming back sooner and in greater numbers than we had projected."

Mayor Kerry J. Donley agreed. "Our real estate assessments rose far more than we had projected so it is right that we should pass on some of that good fortune to our citizens in the form of a reduction in the tax rate," Donley said. "This is a budget that we can all be proud of."

THE REAL ESTATE tax rate is reduced from $1.11 per $100 of assessed value to $1.08 per $100 of assessed value. This will cost approximately $2.5 million in lost revenue next year.

The city will use $740,000 of the $1.5 million that City Manager Philip G. Sunderland set aside to cover losses in state revenue due to the economy.

There were only two additions to the six-year Capitol Improvement Program: $200,000 to build a skateboard park at Luckett's Field and $1.25 million that was originally designated to be spent on renovating Market Square next year with the same amount that was to be spent on renovating the Duncan Branch of the Alexandria Library, designated to be spent in FY2004. Renovations to the library will happen first.

"I want to congratulate the city manager, the budget staff and my colleagues on this budget," said Vice Mayor Bill Cleveland. "For the first time, I got almost everything I asked for: the Duncan Library will be built sooner; our citizens have some tax relief and our budget is still responsible. At the last meeting when Councilman Speck gave me a compliment I almost wanted to get on the table and give him a hug and a kiss but I didn't. This has been a good process and I think includes what the citizens have told us they want."

Councilman David Speck responded to Cleveland's remarks about kissing him. "While I would hope it is an air kiss and air hug ... whatever turns him on," Speck said.

COUNCILWOMAN Joyce Woodson was also happy with the results. "All of you young people who are here tonight and who are living in the city know that, at least this Council, cares about what you want," she said. "Last year, we set aside some funds to study a teen center and this year we gave you your skateboard park and some funding for a public arts program."

Councilwoman Redella S. "Del" Pepper was pleased as well. "I am certainly glad that we could give our citizens some tax relief and still have a responsible budget," she said. "I am also pleased that we have some money set aside to look at expanding our taxi subsidies for our seniors. I'm only sorry that you didn't get your trash cans, Mr. Baier. Maybe next year."

Some members of Council had requested $50,000 to replace the city's aging and, some say, unsightly street trash cans. This did not make the final budget.

FY2003 begins on July 1.

Other Items Funded

<bt>*$120,000 for Dash About;

* $80,000 to increase the number of children receiving subsidized childcare;

* $15,000 for an irrigation system for King Street Gardens;

* $25,000 for a public arts program;

* $30,000 cost of living allowance for workers in the Campagna Center's after school program;

* $50,000 in contingent reserve to fund closed captioning for City Council meetings;

* $33,000 in contingent reserve to expand funding for the senior citizen taxi subsidy program; and

* $50,000 for the Planning Department to purchase professional services.