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Insiders: What’s Ahead for Alexandria

<i>City leaders like to talk about the "Alexandria Way," which can mean different things to different people. Most of the time, it means that issues are debated extensively and exhaustively before a decision is made. Essentially, everybody gets to have their say even if they don’t prevail. Considering the issues currently facing the city, that means insiders can expect a lot of discussion about the following:</i>

<li><b>November Election:</b> When voters head to the polls in November, the congressional race will be at the top of the ballot. Ten-term incumbent U.S. Rep. Jim Moran (D-8) will be facing Republican Patrick Murray and Independent Green Ron Fisher. Three proposed constitutional amendments will also be on the ballot. Question One asks voters if they would like to see localities have more of a say in who is eligible for property-tax relief. Question Two asks voters if they want to require the General Assembly to provide a real-property tax exemption for the principal residence of disabled veterans. Question Three asks if voters want to increase the size of Virginia’s "rainy-day fund" from 10 to 15 percent of the commonwealth’s annual tax income and sales tax revenues.</li>

<li><b>Hold Your Wallet:</b> Back in May, a divided City Council approved a budget on a five-to-two vote that increased the average residential property tax bill by $125 from $4,255 to $4,380. Budget officials say revenues remain sluggish, so next year’s budget debate is likely to prompt a similar debate between those who would like to cut spending and those who would like to maintain existing services.</li>

<li><b>Great Wall of Mirant:</b> Residents in North Old Town will notice a new feature on the landscape later this year —a 30-foot windscreen to protect neighbors from breathing fugitive dust. Next year, Atlanta-based Mirant plans to install new "baghouse" technology that will suck particulates out of the air similar to the way a vacuum cleaner works. Both improvements are part of a $34 million settlement reached between Mirant and city officials back in 2008.</li>

<li><b>Hybrid Trolleys:</b> Say goodbye to the Maryland license plates that have become an infamous presence on the King Street Trolley. Next year, the city will receive four new hybrid trolleys. The rubber-tire vehicles come courtesy of President Barack Obama’s $2.4 million stimulus package.</li>

<li><b>DOD Invasion:</b> Anyone near the intersection of Seminary Road and the Shirley Memorial Highway recently has noticed a mammoth building now under construction there by the Department of Defense. Known in typically opaque Washington parlance, the building is called the Washington Headquarters Service — a structure that will warehouse more than 6,000 employees. Because construction of an offramp leading from the Interstate to the building is at least six years away, that means West End residents will have to put up with years of traffic jams and snarled traffic as commuters exit on Seminary and turn left on Beauregard Street.</li>

<li><b>Appeal Railroaded:</b> Since city officials launched a campaign against railroad giant Norfolk Southern two years ago, taxpayers have shelled out half a million dollars in legal bills. City Council members have yet to decide whether or not they want to continue the fight, although the recent loss in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals was a crushing blow to the legal fight. For West End residents, the good news is that an end to legal hostilities will allow them to enter discussion with nearby residents about their concerns over noise at the hazardous materials facility.</li>

<li><b>BID War:</b> The ongoing chatter about a new Business Improvement District in Alexandria has supporters and detractors. Do business owners want to pay an add-on fee to the commercial property tax to be collected by the city and distributed to a board of directors? Anti-tax groups are ready for a fight. </li>

<li><b>Federal Headcount:</b> Those clipboard-wielding Census workers may have come and gone, but their work will live on for years ahead. Federal dollars are often tied to Census figures. And when political boundaries are redrawn in Richmond next year, state leaders will be using Census data to justify the gerrymandering.</li>

<li><b>Plan for Beauregard:</b> Like the street that bears his name, Confederate Gen. Pierre Beauregard was difficult to manage. The hothead rebel couldn’t get along with Confederate President Jefferson Davis, and now his eponymous small area plan here in Alexandria could spark a few skirmishes in the city’s western theater.</li>

<li><b>Civil War Stories:</b> Planning will conclude for the sesquicentennial of an armed conflict that some insist calling the War of Northern Aggression. Many Alexandria landmarks are locations that will highlight people and events from the bloody 1860s. How should the city commemorate the war?</li>