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Letter to the Editor: Who’s Looking Out For Taxpayers?

To the Editor:

Its budget time again in Alexandria and based on [City Manager] Mr. Young's proposed budget items, once again he continues to leave Alexandria loaded with debt while continuing to raise his salary and those of his staff, cutting 33 positions and just "moving the deck chairs" around as it relates to staff reductions, but no eliminations along with a much higher real estate tax initially proposed due to high debt limit and City Council's inability to say "no" to anything. As such, here are some of my questions/suggestions for Mayor Euille and all members of the council to consider and/or ask Mr. Young before adopting this budget.

  • Step increases for Mr. Young and his staff. Mr. Young is requesting a 6.6 percent increase in pay for himself and a 3.5 percent increase for his staff. (See chart below.) That would bring his salary up to $260,000-plus. It must be noted that primary care physicians who have been practicing for 20-30 years only earn $230,000, have much more education and work long hours which cannot compare to Mr. Young's proposed salary increase for himself. Since his arrival in Alexandria, our elected officials continually state we have to pay "good money" in order to get good managers. One can only blink their eyes in amazement. No one in the City Manager's office should receive a raise and its time for him to start eliminating positions that are no longer needed. The City Manager’s Office is now looking like central office for Alexandria City Public Schools.

  • AHDC - This is another housing group that was given a $14 million loan for start up costs in 2011. Have they paid any of this loan back? If not, why not? If so, how much has been paid back?

  • AEDP - Once again the city/alexandria taxpayers continue to fund this group with large sums of money, yet the Alexandria Economic Development Corp. has still not proven they are bringing businesses into Alexandria. Granted the National Science Foundation is coming to town, but this was a group effort and not soley done by AEDP. With the huge tax breaks given to the National Science Group, there is a major loss in commercial property tax along with the city receiving no real estate taxes from BRAC-133. AEDP needs to find outside business partners and/or grants in order for them to operate independent of taxpayer dollars.

  • Parking tickets: In 2013 the city collected $3,696.673 and Mr. Young's 2014 budget assumes the city will receive $3.9 million. All of this money goes into the general fund, rather then going to the police budget. Isn't it time for our elected officials to start thinking outside of the box and put these funds towards the police budget? Further, the city is planning to add more red light cameras in other parts of Alexandria. The city already has three of these cameras and they are certainly a financial boom for Alexandria. Citizens can now appeal their parking tickets in court and many of our circuit court judges are concerned about the increase in their time having to sit during this appeal process. Wouldn't it be a better fit if the city could find some retired judges who won't need that much money, if any, and they could act as Administrative Law Judges and be seated to hear parking ticket appeals? This would then allow the circuit court judges to spend time doing what they do.

  • Women's Commission: This commission has been moved into the office of Human Services and its director has been on the payroll for years with a salary of over $100,000. It is now time for this position to be eliminated and not have its director moved into another position.

  • CIP projects. Mr. Young is only proposing an increase in CIP projects for a year. However, this is not acceptable since most CIP projects need to be considered for at least 10 years and planning department has presented a document showing CIP projects for the next 10 years. Time to question why Mr. Young is only looking for a one year CIP and how much it will cost to view CIP projects for 5-10 years.

  • Parks & Rec: Mr. Young is proposing to eliminate about 20-plus positions in this department. Mayor and members of council need to ask Mr. Young how many staff from this department will be needed to cover the 12-14 events the city will be sponsoring and the cost savings involved. Closing some rec centers might be appropriate in order to save some money, but eliminating staff needed for events certainly doesn't seem reasonable. Will there be enough staff from Parks & Rec to cover these events?

  • ACPS: Once again, ACPS is asking for more money then the city is planning to allocate. The school budget requests are always the highest budget item each and every year. It is time to say "no" to ACPS until they can get their financial house in order. ACPS new superintendent needs to show that he is eliminating staff in central office along with clear data that school enrollment is and will be increasing. I understand that the only thing mayor/council can do regarding ACPS is funding. However, ACPS must show its data and the need for more money. This school district is small compared to Arlington and other districts with similar population numbers and its budget request should be reduced.

What is certainly clear from his budget is that Mr. Young is making sure to protect himself and his staff with major salary increases that are completely out of line wherein they have not proven they deserve a raise yet worth the six figure salaries they now receive.

These are tough financial times, but one would never know that in Alexandria wherein Mr. Young's budget focuses only on salary increases for himself and his staff, eliminating 33 jobs that are done by low-middle level employees and not looking to eliminate programs/staff but rather moving staff around to other jobs.

Do our elected officials have the courage to act like true stewards for Alexandria as it relates to finances? They took an oath of office related to their fiduciary responsibilities. Will our elected leaders stop "bleeding" taxpayers for more tax dollars until they get their house in order? Are there any members of the council and city manager's office who have ever run a business wherein they not only need to make a profit, but look at how much money is being spent and not getting a return for these expenditures?

So many questions, yet are we going to see another proposed budget adopted wherein our elected officials have no sense of how to manage money, have experience in running their own business and have lost the fact that this is not the private sector but public service wherein senior staff, city manager and his staff see how much money they can make working for the City of Alexandria.

Annabelle Fisher

Alexandria