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Votes

Council Readies the Budget

Annual adds and deletes prepares for budget vote May 3.

The Alexandria City Council has completed the final list of additions and deletions to this year's budget after meeting Monday.

Each Council member produced a list of additions to the budget, representing pet projects that are near and dear to each member's heart. For each addition, Council members were responsible for cutting spending a commensurate amount.

The largest addition did not require such a deletion because it would be funded through bonds.

"A number of us are supporting floating bonds to pay for open space," said Councilman Ludwig Gaines. "Two members requested $10 million in bonds; I requested $15 million and Councilman Macdonald suggested $25 million. We would pay the debt service on these bonds with the dedicated funding stream for open space that comes from the one cent of real estate tax," said Gaines.

Councilman Paul Smedberg said, "We have decided that open space is important and we need to find a way to pay for it. This $10 million doesn't necessarily mean that we are earmarking it for one specific project. It would just give us some money to meet the priorities that our open space task force is setting," he said.

Mayor William D. Euille is joining with the four other Council members in supporting this initiative. "I am going to support this idea, probably at the $10 million level. I think it is appropriate," the mayor said.

ANOTHER ITEM that has widespread support is $300,000 in funding for a facility to house the offices of the Tenant and Workers Support Committee and a community center. "Essentially, the last Council all but promised this money to TWSC and they have been meeting in good faith with the staff and doing what they have been asked," said Gaines. "I am going to support this as a loan."

Smedberg had some reservations about this item, saying, "I am very supportive of many of the programs that TWSC supports," he said. "However, what about all of the other nonprofits that need new space? We don't have a process and I am concerned that this sets a dangerous precedent."

Euille said he was supporting the loan. "There will definitely be conditions and it will not be a grant," he said. "It will definitely be a loan."

Vice Mayor Redella S. "Del" Pepper supports the open space proposal and has some initiatives of her own. "I am asking for some money to bring the subsidies for the senior taxi program in line with the subsidies for persons with disabilities," she said. "Also, I want to see us provide funding for books at the Burke library. Their shelves were depleted and this money will help us get them the books they need a little quicker than we had planned," she said.

Gaines supported this initiative. "When Council closed the Burke Branch, all of the books were dispersed throughout the system," he said. "We need to get them back to an adequate level of books on their shelves."

A NUMBER OF Council members are supporting funding for a director of bike trails. "This would be a recreation department staff member and could ensure that our bike trails are kept in good shape and that we look carefully at connectivity," Gaines said.

Smedberg has asked for an additional $74,000 in funding for pedestrian safety measures. "This would give staff some additional money to make certain that we are doing all that we can to provide safe crosswalks and other safety measures for pedestrians," he said.

Euille has asked for $150,000 in support of a youth ride program. "This would allow our students to ride DASH buses and Metro free of charge, Monday through Friday, with a valid student ID," he said. "I proposed this last year but there just wasn't funding for it, so I withdrew the request."

Euille has also asked for an additional $10 thousand for replacing old trash cans around the city. "This has been a project of concern to me for some time," he said.

There appears to be consensus among the members to reduce the real estate tax rate by four cents. City Manager Philip Sunderland had proposed a three cent reduction.

"Arlington County has reduced their rate and we want to do the same," Euille said. The reduction would take the city's rate to .995 cents. This includes one penny for open space.

Most of the new initiatives are paid for out of contingent reserve. "We do have some extra money that the manager had set aside for public safety retirement," Euille said. "We don't need that total amount because we passed a new pension plan."

Final budget adoption is scheduled for next Monday, May 3.