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Council Notebook, April 12, 2007

<b>Putting Two Cents In</b>

The old saying goes that only two things are certain in life: death and taxes. And although the grim reaper doesn’t announce his intentions ahead of time, the Alexandria City Council does. Elected leaders are required by the Code of Virginia to advertise a proposed tax rate well ahead of adopting it — a requirement that prevents last-minute surprises and gives taxpayers a chance to respond during a public hearing.

On Tuesday night, in accordance with the requirement, the City Council voted for a proposed tax rate of 83.5 cents for every $100 of assessed value. That’s two cents higher than the current rate of 81.5 cents. If adopted, the new rate would increase the average single-family homeowners tax bill by 1.1 percent and reduce the average condominium owner’s tax bill by 4 percent. The result of the two-cent addition would provide city leaders an extra $6.8 million for spending priorities such as a cost of living increase, known in City Hall parlance as a "COLA."

"I had hoped that we could keep the tax rate where it was, but it became clear over that it appears we won’t be able to maintain that rate and give our employees a COLA," said Councilman <b>Tim Lovain</b>. "But even with the two cents, the average residential homeowner will be getting a tax cut."

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<b>Laureate’s First Performance</b>

In her first official appearance as Alexandria’s new poet laureate, <b>Mary McElveen</b> appeared before City Council Tuesday to read a poem titled "City of Songs." The work mingled poetic devices with local landmarks, evoking the "perpetual rondo" of the Beltway and "slower song" of the Potomac River "speaking our souls into cell phones and singing into the empty air." McElveen concluded the poem by asking the audience to participate in the poetry of the future.

"We are tomorrow’s unwritten poems — homeless and building, tourist and truck driver, lawyer and artist," McElveen said, reciting the conclusion of her composition. "Alexandria is an unwritten poem. Pick up your pen. It’s our turn now."

The audience burst into applause, and then City Council members began wondering what to do with the new poem. Councilman <b>Ludwig Gaines</b>, who spearheaded the movement to create the new position, suggested that it be posted on the city’s Web site. Mayor <b>Bill Euille</b> suggested that it should be used as part of a public-relations campaign, displaying copies in public buildings and libraries. Councilman <b>Paul Smedberg</b> suggested that the city commission a calligrapher to create a copy for City Hall.

"It’ll be done," said City Manager <b>Jim Hartmann</b>. "That probably deserves a prominent place in the first-floor lobby."

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<b>Pepper’s Fast Tongue</b>

Councilwoman <b>Del Pepper</b> is the longest serving member of the City Council, serving from 1985 to the present. In many ways, she is the institutional memory of the council and the dean of its traditions. One of those traditions involves the reading of proclamations, which are riddled with "whereas" statements and formalized language. But they always end the same way — with a flurry of fast-talking formalities. Pepper is the master of this tradition, and she blazes through the end of her proclamations with a swiftness that often causes people to stare in amazement.

"In witness whereof," she began in a recent proclamation honoring Earth Day. "I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the city of Alexandria to be affixed this tenth day of April 2007."

After racing through the last sentence, she turned to Robby the Recycling Squirrel — portrayed by Recycling Coordinator <b>Stacy Herring</b> — and gloated.

"Bet you couldn’t do that," she said as the squirrel shrugged.