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Votes

Council Notebook

Thank You for Not Smoking

Smoking is still legal in Alexandria, but it’s increasingly discouraged.

This week, the City Council voted to authorize more than $2,000 for the second phase of a program to install signs encouraging people not to smoke. The first phase of the program was approved back in May, when council authorized signs discouraging smoking in all city playgrounds. Now signs are being prepared for 122 bus shelters and 86 city parks. About 25 people in bright yellow shirts attended Tuesday night’s meeting to provide a vivid reminder to the elected leaders of support for the program.

“The less smoking the better,” said Jim Kirkland, a retired Alexandria resident who was wearing one of the yellow shirts Tuesday night. “So I think the signs are a great idea.”

More than 100 signs will be placed in 86 city parks at a cost of $2,000. In addition to that, eight signs will be placed in playgrounds with second entrances at a cost of $144. According to a September 2011 survey of playground users, 91 percent of respondents said they like the signs, 5 percent said they had no opinion and only 4 percent said they don’t like the signs. Republican Councilman Frank Fannon found himself in the minority Tuesday night, casting the lone dissenting vote.

“It’s still legal to smoke in the parks,” said Fannon. “And so I have a concern that we were trying to regulate something that was legal.”

Valentine Cards

It’s that time of year again. Love is in the air, and property tax assessments are in the mail. This year, the valentine cards are a little earlier. And, according to a recent report of the real-property assessments, the love is a little stronger.

Since the last Valentine’s Day, Alexandria’s overall real-property tax base increased 3.53 percent or $1.15 billion from $32.63 billion in 2011 to $33.8 billion in 2012. The average assessed value for an existing residential property increased 1.15 percent from $453,210 to $458,422. No one has lost much love for the coal-fired power plant that will close this year, but the closure will reduce the effective increase to about 3.37 percent.

Wasteful Spending

The Alexandria City Council is wasting your money again, but this time it means you may end up paying less. This week, council members approved a new waste disposal and service agreement with Arlington County and Covanta through 2019 that is expected to lower annual solid waste bills. The rate is currently calculated at $84 per ton, and the new fee would be $42 per ton. Beginning in 2025, the fee would be $0.

“That avails dollars for some interesting environmental improvements to the plant,” said Rich Baier, director of the Department of Transportation and Environmental Services. “That would allow us do some interesting work with nitrous oxide or whatever environmental works the council would deem appropriate at that time.”

Back in 1984, Alexandria and Arlington entered into an agreement with the Alexandria Sanitation Authority and the Arlington Solid Waste Authority to create the Arlington/Alexandria Resource Recovery Corporation, which built a facility on Eisenhower Avenue. Since it opened, that facility has been operated by Covanta, one of the world’s largest waste-to-energy companies. A report issued this month shows that the environmental performance at the plant is 99 percent below the limit for lead, 95 percent below the limit for particulate matter and 91 percent below the limit for dioxin.”

“To achieve this kind of performance is pretty remarkable,” said Vice Mayor Kerry Donley. “At the same time, we’re producing electricity reducing our reliance on coal.”

The new agreement allows Alexandria and Arlington to deliver somewhere between 50,000 and 70,000 tons of trash annually. The two jurisdictions would no longer need to subsidize the deliver of other waste generated in Alexandria and Arlington to the plant.