City Manager Philip Sunderland has proposed a $433 million budget for Alexandria for FY2005. It includes a three-cent reduction in the real estate tax rate.
Sunderland presented the budget to City Council at Tuesday night’s legislative meeting. “The proposed FY2005 operating budget and FY2005-2010 Capital Improvement Program maintains today’s level of services and programs, but more importantly, lays the ground work for a financially sustainable future that works toward the vision and goals being established by City Council,” Sunderland said.
In making his presentation, he highlighted programs in each theme, or goal area. The first of these is “Facilitating unique livable neighborhoods and vibrant urban villages through quality land use planning and transportation improvements.”
In this area, Sunderland is proposing $3 million for beginning the widening of Eisenhower Avenue between Mill Road and Holland Lane; $22.8 million for a new DASH maintenance facility; $1.1 million to maintain current DASH, WMATA and other transit operations; $1.3 million for new DASH buses; $125,000 for improving DASH bus service; $900,000 for pedestrian improvements in the Arlandria area and $850,000 for planning and transportation studies.
“We are going to enhance the AT7 DASH route because it serves our commercial corridors,” Sunderland said. “Also, we need new DASH buses. This money will allow us to purchase around four.
“We are hiring four new staff for the Planning department and are going to commit substantial resources to working on transportation and planning for the Landmark area,” Sunderland said.
THE SECOND GOAL or theme area is “Achieving Excellence in public education.” Sunderland is proposing to fund the school system’s requested budget at 99.3 percent.
“We feel that the city is tightening its belts and the schools should do the same,” Sunderland said. “Therefore, we have decreased their request by $960,000.”
Sunderland is proposing to fully fund the school system’s CIP request. There will be $80.5 million for T. C. Williams High School; just over $12 million for renovating Minnie Howard; around three quarters of a million dollars for renovating and expanding Maury Elementary School and funds for building a new gymnasium at Polk Elementary School.
The third theme area on which Sunderland focused was “Ensuring the affordability of living in Alexandria for households of all incomes.” This area is where Sunderland proposed reducing the real estate tax rate.
“By reducing the rate an additional three cents, we will be at $1.005,” Sunderland said. “Our real tax rate will be 99.5 cents and we will continue to add a penny that will go into our open space trust fund. This makes us next to Arlington County, which has the lowest real estate tax rate at 97.5 cents per $100.”
Sunderland is also proposing to provide further assistance for eligible lower income homeowners through a home ownership protection program. Homeowners whose homes are assessed at $362,000 or less will be given a $250 tax credit through this program. The budget also provides an additional $300,000 in tax relief for the disabled and elderly through an indexed tax exemption.
“Caring for at risk youth and families,” was next. Here, the budget provides $1.1 million for Community Services Act services for at-risk youth; $280,000 for assistance to seniors through companion aides and senior taxi service; $708,000 for renovations to the Flora Krause Casey health clinic and the women’s shelter; $112,000 to establish a Safe Haven Facility for hard-to-reach homeless and $105,000 for the Community Partnership, Youth and Children’s Funds providing partnership grants to nonprofits.
“I hope that we are continuing to allow our seniors to take taxis out of the city through this,” said Vice Mayor Redella S. “Del” Peper.
SUNDERLAND assured her that this program will continue. “The Casey Clinic needs significant renovations and we obviously need to expand our utilities and staff at the new health department facility,” Sunderland said.
“As to the Safe Haven program, we have agreed to fund it at $112,000 only. The Community Services Board will obtain the remainder of the funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and from Medicaid reimbursement. Our share will never increase.”
“Greening Alexandria through a healthy urban living environment and exciting leisure opportunities” will be accomplished in many ways. The budget provides $190,000 to fund maintenance of public trees and urban forestry planning, city gateways and landscaped city medians; $16 million for acquisition of open space; $500,00 for energy conservation efforts in city facilities; $237,00 to expand operations at recreation centers; $23.6 million to expand Chinquapin Recreation Center in FY2008 and make improvements to Charles Houston and Patrick Henry Recreation Centers; $197,000 in recurring costs and $480,000 in one time costs for expansion of residential curbside recycling through contracting out this program.
The budget also calls for $55,000 for establishment of a commercial recycling program and additional staff to oversee recycling and solid waste planning; an increase in the residential refuse collection fee from $185 to $205 per year to keep this activity self-supporting; $4.5 million for improvements to city athletic fields, ball courts, playgrounds and field drainage systems and $100,000 for a feasibility study for a city all sports facility.
“We have recently learned that the recycling facility where we take our city pickups is moving to Fairfax County,” Sunderland said. “This would mean that we have to purchase three or four additional recycling trucks. We have done a study and determined that we can save about $200,00 a year by contracting out this activity. Let me make it clear, though, that no one is going to lose his or her job. About half of these jobs are currently vacant and we are moving the other staff into appropriate jobs.
“This will improve our recycling abilities. Residents can now recycle all types of paper and cardboard in addition to the glass and metal that is now picked up,” he said.
Mayor William D. Euille asked for further explanation of this item. “This is a complete surprise to us,” Euille said. “I would like a thorough explanation in a memorandum.”
"ENHANCING PUBLIC SAFETY and the administration of justice,” was another theme. Sunderland is proposing $303,00 for a new office of emergency management; $212,000 for the addition of advanced life support trained personnel to emergency service units; $51.1 million for improvements to the existing public safety center and construction in FY2008 of a new police department facility; $100,00 for a study of the potential need and location for a new fire station and $245,00 for upgrades to police and fire information technology systems.
“One of the problems with federal grants that provide computer equipment is that we have to keep upgrading them,” Sunderland said. “Also, we want to be sure that we equip our fire engines with state-of-the-art equipment and communications. We are looking at building a new public safety center and must study the need for an additional fire station.”
The seventh goal is “Maintaining the city’s public infrastructure.” The budget allocates $22 million for continuation of substantial reconstruction, rehabilitation and extension of storm and sanitary sewers; $1.6 million for improved stream/channel maintenance and city marina dredging and $500,000 for a study of lower King Street flood mitigation.
“We all know more about sewers than we need to know,” Sunderland said. “Additionally we want to do a thorough study of what kind of flood mitigation we need to do on lower King Street.”
Councilwoman Joyce Woodson expressed some concern about this last item. “I just want to make sure that we don’t do something that we have already done and that will have citizens screaming,” Woodson said. “Like building a flood wall, for example.”
Sunderland assured her that this was simply a study. “We have discussed the matter before but have never conducted a thorough study,” he said.
FINALLY, THE budget is dedicated to “Promoting economic development and tourism and ensuring a financially sustainable future. To this end, Sunderland is proposing $243,000 for the Alexandria Convention and Visitors Association to increase communications and marketing; $30,000 for expert assistance in designing a new citywide signage system to move visitors and residents more easily to points of interest and activity; a 50 percent increase in city support for the Small Business Development Center, providing assistance to Alexandria’s small businesses, potential city support in the possible replacement of the city’s holiday parking program; $125,000 for increased marketing and other activities designed to bring business to Alexandria during the holiday season and $25,000 for the second annual festival of the arts.
“We are going to continue the city’s support for the fall arts festival,” Sunderland said. “Also, we are expanding our support for ACVA so that they can promote the city.
“We have been approached by several businesses who believe that we might want to do something instead of providing free parking in Old Town during the holidays. We have some money set aside and are going to look at this.”
Council will work through the entire budget beginning next week. Budget adoption is scheduled for early May.