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Votes

Last-Minute Budgeting As City Council Members Negotiate Final Budget Agreement

Elected officials consider everything from extending library hours to increasing salaries.

Residential property tax bills are at an all-time high.

Residential property tax bills are at an all-time high. Alexandria Office of Management and Budget

Potential Additions

  • $598,000 for two therapists and a technology specialist for the Community Services Board

  • $500,000 to expand career ladders and provide promotions to city employees

  • $400,000 to increase salaries for public-safety agencies

  • $172,000 to restore a child care fee subsidy

  • $125,000 to add school-based preschool class serving 16 4-year-olds

  • $532,000 for traffic calming measures discontinued in 2008

  • $65,000 to offset lost state funding for the teen clinic at T.C. Williams High School

  • $50,000 to restore library hours cut during the downturn

  • $96,000 to expand the holiday lights along King Street year-round

  • $83,000 to restore an advertising campaign of the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership

  • $70,000 to restore reservation services for the Senior Taxi program

  • $57,000 for a full-time family support worker as part of the Healthy Families Alexandria

  • $9,000 to fund a position to provide services though the city’s gang-intervention program

Hold your wallet. The Alexandria City Council is putting the final touches on the budget for fiscal year 2013, and the long list of priorities could mean more taxes.

At issue is City Manager Rashad Young’s $585.6 million budget proposal, unveiled on Valentine’s Day. The proposal represented a 3.3 percent increase from last year’s budget, pumping $18.7 million more into the annual operating fund. Now City Council members are considering a list of potential additions. Even without raising the tax rate, the average residential property taxpayer would already pay $52 more than last year.

As council members move toward their final budget adoption next week, the question of how much of a burden city taxpayers should bear will be at the center of the debate. That much was clear Monday night, as council members gathered to begin the final negotiations. One of the items under discussion is an additional half a million dollars that would create more pegs on the career ladder for city employees and allow additional promotional opportunities.

“I’m not comfortable increasing the tax rate across the city to accommodate pay raises,” said Councilwoman Alicia Hughes. “And I don’t consider that kicking the can down the road.”

Offering city employees a premium cost sharing program to help with their dental coverage would cost $600,000, and expanding the number of career ladders available to city employees would cost $500,000. Another item under discussion would spend $100,000 to implement a new employee award and recognition program.

“If we move forward with this, what we are saying to the taxpayers is that they are the lowest priority,” said Councilman Frank Fannon.

“I disagree,” responded Vice Mayor Kerry Donley. “I think what we are saying to the taxpayers is that they are the most important thing because we want them to have services.”

FROM LIBRARY HOURS to Meals on Wheels deliveries during the weekend, council members are still haggling over the finer points of fiscal year 2013. One issue that is certain to resonate to attract attention is a proposal from Councilman Rob Krupicka to increase salaries of City Council members. The lame-duck councilman said he was in an ideal position to make such a suggestion because he would not personally benefit, but members who expect to return next year were reluctant to sign on to the effort.

“When I made the suggestion, it fell like lead in the ocean,” said Krupicka, who announced in 2009 that he would not be seeking reelection in 2012. “None of us are doing this for the riches.”

One by one, the council members made their case for a pet project. Councilman Frank Fannon argued unsuccessfully for $38,000 so the city could assume financial responsibility for three parades. Councilwoman Alicia Hughes lost her effort to fund Sunday delivery of Meals on Wheels. And Councilwoman Del Pepper continued her longstanding campaign to increase the number of months trees on King Street have holiday lights.

“This isn’t funny,” said Smedberg when some members of the audience began laughing. “Lights are not economic development.”

“Oh, I think they are,” responded Pepper. “This shows that we are open for a good time.”

FROM FEE SUBSIDIES for child care to funding for a therapist for children with intellectual disabilities, many of the potential additions council members are considering address $2.5 million worth of cuts the city manager suggested to Human Services. When Young presented his first proposed budget as the new city manager in February, he acknowledged this was the most difficult part of the process.

“Those were hard decisions to make,” said Young at the time. “Human nature is that you really don’t want to make reductions there because you see the value of those kinds of programs, but to have a balanced budget you’ve got to create those trade-offs.”

Now that Alexandria City Public Schools has come under criticism in the wake of an auditor’s report detailing a “dysfunctional environment” at the school system’s budget office, some of the potential budget additions are aimed at addressing accounting problems at the administration’s headquarters on Beauregard Street. Fannon suggested reducing the transfer to the school system by $1.2 million. And Krupicka proposed $90,000 for a new full-time city employee who would do nothing but scrutinize the school system’s budget.

“We are not providing the level of oversight that we should be providing,” said Krupicka. “It’s a practical way for us to get our hands around their budget.”

In the end, final negotiations this weekend will shape the final contours of a deal. Whether or not council members are willing to raise the tax rate again to fund those priorities has yet to be determined.