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Mayor Predicts Tax Rate Reduction

A bright future encased in challenges.

Alexandria's real estate tax rate "will decrease six to eight cents" Mayor William D. Euille predicted in his "State of the City" address Feb. 25. That will be done when City Council meets to vote on the 2005/2006 budget May 2, he said.

Overall the city's real estate tax assessments rose an average of 21.2 percent based on this year's notices to property owners. With the rate based on 100 percent of assessed valuation that meant that for every $100 of assessed value increase a residential property owner's taxes would increase 21.2 cents.

The existing rate is 99.5 cents per $100 valuation. In 2003 the rate was $1.03 per $100 valuation.

Addressing a packed ballroom audience at the Alexandria Holiday Inn Hotel and Suites, 625 First St., Euille said, "The state of Alexandria is excellent." But, "Despite our many accomplishments this past year, we dare not rest on our laurels."

Opening his address to the crowd of business leaders, both for profit and non-profit organizations, city officials, and citizens, Euille said, "Alexandria's citizens are always ready to serve. That partnership with our citizens is the heart of our democracy."

PRIOR TO HIS SPEECH, Charles Collum, 2005 chair, Alexandria Chamber of Commerce, under who's aegis the "State of the City Breakfast" is held, and chairman of the board, Burke and Herbert Bank and Trust Company, thanked Euille and City Council for extending the outdoor dining experiment initiated last fall. But he also warned, "We (the chamber) plan to offer our observations on the new city budget."

In his introduction of Euille, Peter Converse, president and CEO, Virginia Commerce Bank, presenting sponsor of the event, described the mayor as "citizen extraordinaire and a legendary philanthropist."

As has become his custom since becoming mayor, Euille kicked off his speech by declaring, "I love this city and I love this job. Alexandria is a great place to raise children and a great place to call home."

Prior to launching into the accomplishments of the past year, Euille introduced new city manager James Hartmann. "We are fortunate to have someone with Jim's expertise and experience. But, he has big shoes to fill. Phil Sunderland was our city manager for five years and city attorney for 14 years prior to that," Euille said.

"We must move Alexandria into a future that puts us on the national scene as one of America's most diverse cities and most livable cities, a place that values education, that celebrates arts and culture, that values the worth of every citizen," he said.

AMONG THE "GOOD NEWS items" economic factors stated by Euille were:

* Alexandria enjoys a double-triple A bond rating by leading credit rating agencies. "Alexandria remains one of only 44 cities and towns and 33 counties in the United States" with that rating.

* Alexandria's unemployment rate for the fourth quarter of 2004 was 1.8 percent, down from 2.5 percent 12 months previously.

* The city's office vacancy rate is 9.27 percent compared with 10.5 percent a year ago and in comparison to Northern Virginia overall at 13.37 percent.

* Alexandria real estate values are "a sound indicator of our overall economic strength ... The news is good and not so good, depending on which side of the 'for sale' sign you are on," he said.

* An important part of Alexandria's economy is tourism and "fiscal year 2004 was the best year for tourism spending by overnight visitors in Alexandria hotels in four years," Euille said.

COUPLED WITH the city's economic escalation, "The safety and security of Alexandria is a top priority," he said. To emphasize this he cited:

* Serious crime dropped 16 percent, which was defined as larcenies and auto thefts. This brought that category of crime to its lowest point in 35 years, according to Euille. There was no mention of crimes to the person such as robbery, assault, rape and murder.

* Alexandria's fire and emergency medical services response time were 4.11 minutes and 4.10 minutes respectively. He also cited the role of the city's new fireboat and crew in being first on the scene of the January medevac helicopter crash into the Potomac River.

* "The City's emergency preparedness continues to be a top priority. Last year City Council established the Citizen

Corps Council to increase involvement of residents and businesses in emergency preparedness," Euille said.

On the subject of development within the city, Euille referenced Potomac Yards, Landmark Mall, the creation of the West End Business Association, the development of the final two sections of Cameron Station, and the transition of the former "Berg" to Chatham Square.

"Economic development and quality of life go hand-in-hand. Every part of the city is different, but every part of the city deserves the opportunity to thrive. To facilitate these redevelopment efforts, we will continue to make our city government more business friendly," Euille said.

He also emphasized that making Alexandria a "Caring Community" means making the creation of affordable housing a top priority. "Affordable housing is important in ensuring that we have an economically diverse city," he said.

As examples to this commitment, Euille cited the following efforts:

* Creation of the private, non-profit Alexandria Affordable Housing Development Corporation dedicated to the development and preservation of city affordable housing.

* Council's recent approval of the Beasley Square Project for low-income senior citizens.

* The inclusion of 52 public housing units in Chatham Square and 48 other public housing units at three scattered sites to replace the previous Samuel Madden Homes (Downtown) units demolished by the revitalization project.

* The possibility of developing a city-sponsored assisted living facility in Alexandria under the aegis of the Assisted Living Work Group.

* City assistance to first-time home buyers "who either live or work in the City." Approximately $2.3 million has been spent "to assist 69 homebuyer households." This includes teachers and other public employee households.

Euille then announced, "The city is launching today a two-month fund-raising effort to assist the victims of the tsunami in Sir Lanka." It will assist "Shelter for Life," a non-profit housing organization.

"People create vitality. People create jobs. People buy homes. People help one another," Euille said.

THROUGHOUT HIS PRESENTATION Euille expounded upon a number of city endeavors and priorities including public education, social services, transit needs and concerns, improvements to the Alexandria Health Department, and the continuing saga of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project.

The city's priorities for the next five years were identified in a seven-goal strategic plan adopted by council last fall with a vision reaching to 2015. "This plan will be council's road map to fulfill its vision," he said. A copy of the plan was presented to each attendee.

"Some of the most valuable time I have spent as mayor has been my visits to our schools. We have great gifts in this city: the smile of a child inspired by the promise of college, the visionary courage of our teachers adopting new techniques, and the commitment of our community to support our public schools," he said.

"As a caring community, Alexandria is dedicated to providing human and social services to residents of all ages and medical and mental health care for uninsured and underinsured residents. One of the keys to a healthy economy is a healthy community," Euille said.

In referencing the Mirant power plant situation as that pertains to "a healthy community," Euille pointed out that council had "adopted an ordinance to reclassify the power plant as a nonconforming use, revoking the special use permit under which the plant operates." He also noted Mirant's law suit challenging that decision.

"I have made it clear we are prepared to vigorously defend the city's position in this case," Euille said.

In closing Euille noted, "We can't lose sight of the fact that for every disagreement we may have, we have 10 things we agree on as a community — sharing values and direction of the City. We have so much more in common than everything that divides us ...."

Quoting the late Robert F. Kennedy, Euille said, "What we need in the U.S. is not hatred; what we need in the U.S. is not violence or lawlessness; but love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country ..."

Following his address, Euille fielded a series of questions from the audience ranging from the possibility of a new sports facility to small business development efforts. As a recent participant in the "Reality Check Visioning Program" undertaken for local leaders throughout the metropolitan area, Euille stressed the need for regional interaction.

"We need to take advantage of all the development going on in the region. It's very important we work with the region to manage future growth. So goes the region. So goes Alexandria," he said.