Council Notebook

Council Notebook

A Taxing Ad

Want to know how much city officials are going to charge you for the privilege of living in Alexandria? Check the advertisements.

This week, City Council members approved a legal ad setting the maximum residential property tax rate at $1.038 for every $100 of assessed value. That would increase the average property tax bill from $458,023 to $4,885, an increase of $314. Before taking a vote, council members wanted to stress that the advertised tax rate was the maximum, and that they could also end up approving something lower.

“It’s a tough decision,” said Mayor Bill Euille. “But it sets the framework for our decisions during the budget process.”

Indirect Storm

Last week’s “snowquester” may have turned into what many are calling a “noquester,” but that doesn’t mean that it didn’t create its own low-pressure system at City Hall. Although the city government remained open, the school system shut down for the day. Snowplows were mobilized. Salt trucks were dispatched. In the end, the storm-that-never-was will cost the city about $22,000.

And that’s just the direct cost to taxpayers. As Councilwoman Allison Silberberg pointed out, closing the school system also has an indirect cost in a city where 56 percent of students qualifies for free or reduced-price lunches. That’s about 7,000 children.

“For a lot of kids, that means they did not receive a free or reduced-price lunch,” observed Siberberg during a Tuesday night council meeting. “Some will have food at home, but many will not.”

Being Framed

Who’s on City Council?

It’s a simple question, and one that should be easy to answer. But it’s also one that is causing a little heartache at City Hall.

For many years, mug shots of elected officials have graced the hallway between council chambers and the council workroom. One night last week featured two simultaneous and well-attended meetings, one with council members about the GenOn site and another with Planning Commission members to determine the fate of the waterfront plan. When one of the attendees asked Councilman Paul Smedberg about the collection of current members, he was shocked to find it missing.

“It’s been two-and-a-half months,” complained Smedberg.

Special assistant to the city manager Jerome Fletcher assured elected officials that framed collection of headshots was on the way, and that it would be installed soon.

“Paul’s still trying to learn the faces,” cracked Councilman Justin Wilson.

Mixed Economic Picture

The city’s most recent economic figures outline a mixed picture for Alexandria. Although the unemployment rate dipped from 4.6 percent to 4.2 percent in the last year, that doesn’t mean that that the city has fewer unemployed people. As City Manager Rashad Young explained in the March financial report, the declining rate is largely attributable to a larger pool of workers.

“The city’s economy is in a stronger position now than it was a year ago,” wrote City Manager Rashad Young in his monthly financial report. “However, based on Virginia Employment Commission data, it appears that less than half the past year’s growth in the employed population can be attributed to the decline in the unemployed population while slightly more than half reflects growth in the labor force.”

In the last year, the city’s unemployment rate decreased 10.7 percent. But, in that same time, the city’s employed population increased 12 percent.

“There is still room for concern,” Young explained, “especially when the potential negative economic effects of the upcoming federal budget cuts are taken into consideration.”