More for Metro

More for Metro

City to contribute millions more starting in 2006.

Metro will get additional local money to pay for much needed capital improvements.

The Alexandria City Council voted Tuesday night to increase the city’s contribution to Metro capital expenditures. Over the next six years, the city’s contribution will rise from $28 million to $42 million.

“This is really just a Band-aid,” said Mayor William D. Euille, a Metro Board member. “The system needs $1.5 billion just to keep up with the current needs. That includes the purchase of new rail cars and improvements throughout the system. We do not receive as much federal assistance as we have in the past so we must find a dedicated funding stream to pay for the system’s growing needs.”

That federal subsidy has steadily declined since the system was built. “When the 103-mile system was under construction, Metro received a lot of federal funding,” said assistant city manager for finance Mark Jinks. “The system is now finished and the maintenance costs are borne by the localities and the states. In Virginia’s case, that really means the local jurisdictions because the state hasn’t put in much money for some time.”

In Maryland, the state pays nearly 100 percent of the Metro contributions from the local jurisdictions. “In Virginia, we are going to need to look at ways to fund our local portions,” Jinks said.

WHERE WOULD localities get such a dedicated funding stream? “The Council of Governments is looking at different alternatives,” said vice mayor Redella S. “Del” Pepper. “Perhaps a gasoline tax or an increase in a regional sales tax — we are looking at different ways and understand that we can’t look for the money from real estate taxes. The gasoline tax and the sales tax could be a problem for us given that the General Assembly would have to approve such an increase and we know what has happened when that has been proposed in the past.” The city will not begin to increase its yearly contribution until FY2006. “By the time this is done, FY2005 will be almost over,” Jinks said. “Also, we told them that there was no way we could ramp up all at once.”

Therefore, in FY2006, there will be an increase in the yearly contribution of $1 million, increasing each year until the increase is at around $5 million a year in 2010. Metro had asked for a 20-year agreement and the city negotiated a six-year agreement. These agreements are not legally binding as funds are appropriated each year.

“They are morally binding,” Jinks said. “Also, I can only remember one minor instance in which the commitments to Metro were not honored,” he said.

Council approved the increase unanimously.

THE NORTHERN VIRGINIA Regional Commission will have fewer voting commissioners after a charter change is approved.

NVRC came one step closer to being allowed to decrease the number of voting commissioners when the Alexandria City Council approved the concept on Tuesday night. “We have 42 voting members and will have 44 next year with the addition of two more,” said Pepper, one of the commissioners. “It’s gotten so unwieldy that we can’t really accomplish anything.”

The membership committee of NVRC has proposed allowing only elected officials who represent localities on the Commission to vote. “We are looking for a way for the citizen representatives to participate and are still considering exactly how we are going to structure that,” Pepper said. “One proposal is to have sort of a shadow board made up of those people. The citizen members of the commission bring a great deal of expertise to the table and we certainly want to find a way for them to continue to contribute.”

Alexandria’s representation will decrease from three to two voting members. All of the other jurisdictions that are members of NVRC have approved the concept. Council did so unanimously.