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Letter to the Editor: Recommending Some Cuts

To the Editor:

Regarding the article in this week’s Alexandria Gazette, “Loaded With Debt” (April 25, 2013) this will be City Manager Young’s first budget since he became Alexandria city manager in 2012. First and foremost is the question of why Alexandria has a $60 million deficit and a proposed budget for 2014 in the amount of $626.6 million with a population of 142,000 residents. Here are some of my questions/suggestions I believe are important for Mayor Euille and council members to ask before they approve the budget for 2014.

  1. Cigarette tax: Mr. Young proposes to increase this tax rate from $.80 p/pack to $.90 p/pack. Mr. Young’s argument for this 10 cent increase states in the legislative text is that there would be an increase from $2.6 million in 2013 to $2.9 million for 2014. Now, since the city and our elected officials along with members of the health commission are attempting to discourage smoking, it would seem to me that smokers in Alexandria will not continue to buy cigarettes in Alexandria, there has been a decrease in smokers thus reducing the proposed tax revenue. I would also propose that it is time that there be a tax on beer and wine in order to make this a fair, level playing field. Hopefully, the lobbyists from the beer/wine industry will not attempt to “threaten” our elected officials that they would withhold money for their re-elections.

  2. Alexandria Economic Development Corporation: In the past several years, the council and Alexandria taxpayers have been funding this group with a great deal of money: 2012, $1.6 million; 2013, $1.4 million. The purpose of AEDP is to increase business and/or bring in new businesses to Alexandria. For the 2014 proposed budget, Mr. Young is proposing $1.4 million. Last year, former Vice Mayor Donley stated that AEDP needed to show a return on the city’s investment. Not much has happened since then. Since we already have the Chamber of Commerce and other business groups along with developers and small business owners who are already in business and/or starting up their own business, there is no reason for AEDP to continue. It is time to disband AEDP and delete the proposed $1.4 million from the budget.

  3. Alexandria Police Budget: It is time for the mayor and council to start thinking outside of the box and take the $2-3-plus million the city receives from parking tickets and put some of that money into the police budget rather than the general fund in order for our police officers who protect all Alexandria citizens on a daily basis receive a higher salary. Further, now that Alexandria has three cameras to catch drivers who run red lights, the city gets close to $90,000. That money could be included in the police budget, thus reducing the amount of monies our police department continually requests.

  4. Housing Loans: Almost 2 years ago the city bailed out RPJ, a non-profit housing group that was going into bankruptcy to the tune of $14 million and another non-profit was set up – AHDC. To date, AHDC has not paid back any money to the city for this “loan” which is from Alexandria taxpayers. It is time to ask AHDC to begin paying back their loan.

  5. Regarding city departments and staff: I understand that City Manager Young requests that all department administrators to submit budget deletions from various city departments. However, I do not see where Mr. Young has asked for any reductions in his office wherein there are now seven managers along with a chief of staff that Mr. Young hired after he began working in Alexandria. It is now time for Mr. Young to look at what city manager positions can be eliminated along with other senior city staff members who are working for the city and making over $100,000.

  6. ACPS: Since the budget for our school system is one-third of our annual budget. I feel that Mr. Young has proposed too much money for ACPS and it is too difficult to project for the next several years whether or not there will be an increase in student population. As it becomes increasingly expensive to live in Alexandria, many families who are low-middle income may find they can no longer afford to live here and will move to other areas of Virginia and/or out of the state. Also, administrative staff for ACPS are paid quite well by Alexandria taxpayers and although our elected officials have no control over their salaries, this takes up a “chunk” of money for ACPS along with continuing to rent office space from Duke Realty at a cost of about $1 million per year. What power the mayor/council do have is to reduce ACPS spending.

  7. Metro at Potomac Yard: The current projected costs for this project is a long way to becoming a reality and federal transportation monies are drying up. For the city to ask taxpayers to increase their property taxes and other fees/taxes for a metro station that may not come to fruition must be revisited and re-examined. New ideas from new staff may make this metro station possible, but I have serious doubts this will be accomplished in the future.

The BIFAC committee (budget & fiscal advisory group) appointed by the mayor/council have continually reported to council over the past many years that the city needs to start looking at how much debt the city is incurring along with raising the “red flags” regarding city spending. Unfortunately, Mayor Euille and council politely listen to their reports, but continue to disregard their warnings about debt service and bonding issues. Since this is City Manager Young’s first budget, it appears that he too along with his staff, who have been working in the city manager’s office for years are also not listening to the risks now involved with Alexandria’s need to continue to spend, spend, spend. It is time for Mayor Euille and members of council to stop their spending and decrease Mr. Young’s budget. This will be difficult, but Alexandria taxpayers can no longer afford to have a budget of $626.6 million for 2014 without eliminating senior positions, stop funding duplicate social service programs, and begin to accept the reality that indeed we are facing very difficult economic times. This is your fiduciary responsibility when you took the oath of office.

Annabelle Fisher

Alexandria