Alexandria's new City Manager James K. Hartmann told the Alexandria Rotary Club Tuesday, "I have really received a very warm welcome here — until I delivered the budget. Nobody seemed to like that."
As guest speaker at the club's regular luncheon meeting, Hartmann not only reviewed various aspects of the proposed new budget now being considered by City Council, but also gave his take on challenges facing Alexandria in the years ahead. "Demands are up and choices are going to be very hard to make," Hartmann told the audience assembled in the Radisson Hotel Old Town ballroom.
"I have been on the job just short of three months and I have been using this time to do a lot of listening and learning. The citizenry here is very tuned-in and loves email. I've also learned that people here actually watch the city government television station," he said.
Other Hartmann observations over the last 90 days included: "It's very easy to find a devil's advocate on any subject. The people here are very competitive. City government has an excellent staff. And, there is a formidable bureaucracy in place."
As for the fiscal blueprint, Hartmann said, "This year's budget will continue to be a work in progress" until it is finally adopted by council. He noted that his budget proposal, which called for a four cent reduction in the tax rate, was "put together with community needs in mind."
He stated, "As we go through discussions over the next six weeks we will be looking out for everyone. But, we need to be responsible (fiscally) to both the public and our mission. This budget is tied to the city's strategic plan. It also tries to convey a sense of direction while protecting those things we value."
IN INTRODUCING Hartmann to the Rotarians, Mayor William D. Euille said, "When we were going through the search process we had nine potential candidates. Jim Hartmann was the third to be interviewed. When that interview was finished the council was so impressed they wanted to stop the process then and make him an offer."
Hartmann came to Alexandria from Spartanburg, S.C. He has also held managerial positions in Colorado and Florida.
Addressing the dramatic rise in residential real estate assessments and taxes, Hartmann said, "We are looking for ways to diversify the revenue stream. Residential taxes are rising while non-residential are falling." This is because Alexandria is becoming more of a residential community, according to Hartmann.
Some of the budgetary demands encompassed within the manager's fiscal proposal include $4 million to DASH bus system to maintain that facility adequately; $5.3 million non-personnel costs such as the rising cost of fuel; $4.7 in debt service "most of which is attributable to the new T.C. Williams High School;" $3.2 million to enhance new initiatives such as hiring more police officers; and $4 million to offset the loss of money from the state and federal governments.
"City Council is now taking this under study. But, I would ask each of you to determine in your mind where would you cut city expenses?" Hartmann said.
WHEN IT CAME to future directions for the city, Hartmann said he had "spent a great deal of time analyzing the development environment" that has been and is going on throughout Alexandria. "My past experience in my previous communities have helped with this because they all bear a resemblance to Alexandria," he said.
On his hot topics list stretching into the future were:
• Future budget considerations and revenue streams
• Land development on the books and in the future, which he characterized as "very big" and something that "must be done right" citing such projects as Potomac Yards and Landmark Mall
• Traffic and drainage issues. He tied transportation/traffic consideration to land use planning and development
• Crime, safety and security. "Even though crime is down, not all types of crime are down. We have to be constantly vigilant," he said. To make his point he directed the audience's attention to Prince George's and Fairfax counties. Their crime problems border Alexandria, Hartmann said.
• Creating a more pedestrian-friendly environment by making the community more "walkable"
• Increased social services for aging "baby boomers"
• Dealing with educational demands
• Satisfying open space demands
EXPLAINING HIS management philosophy, Hartmann said, "My focus internally has been to push the decision-making process down to all levels of government." It should not just come out of the City Manager's office, according to Hartmann.
"I encourage all staff, and everyone, to continuously question the status quo. This enables us all to do our jobs better," he said.
In closing Hartmann said, "I plan to be here for the long haul. Please join the city as we continue to pursue the goal of making Alexandria a world-class city."
Club president Stuart Matthews praised Hartmann for his initiative saying, "We know why council was so eager to hire him. Welcome to Alexandria."
Prior to Hartmann's speech the club recognized Joshua Roche, a 17-year-old student from the United Kingdom who has spent the last two weeks in this area under the "Presidential Classroom" program. It is geared towards bringing students to the Washington area to study U.S. politics and government, according to Matthews.
"We [Alexandria Rotary] fund students to come here under this program and also send students to London to become versed in the Parliamentary system," Matthews said. Roche completes his stay here this week.
"I want to thank Rotary for this marvelous opportunity I have had here. It has been a great experience to learn how your government works," he said.
Prior to introducing Hartmann, Euille praised Roche for his insight and maturity. "I'm sure he is going to have a real future in politics. I'll be spending several hours with him this afternoon and maybe I can convince him to move here and enter politics," Euille said.