A preliminary discussion of the City Council’s Add/Deletes from the budget led to a heated exchange between council members during their April 28 meeting.
The preliminary discussion primarily focused around additions to the budget, particularly a $180,000 rent relief item in the operating budget and $60,000 one-time capital funding payment to ALIVE!, an Alexandria non-profit that provides food and shelter to those living in poverty.
Councilwoman Del Pepper argued that the one-time funding request for ALIVE! would go towards expanding its food distribution services. Pepper said the need was made apparent last summer in a “Toward an End to Hunger in Alexandria” report from the Alexandria Childhood Obesity Action Network that referenced insufficient storage space in Alexandria for food items.
“This is about putting out money where our mouth is,” said Pepper, “no pun intended.”
Similarly, Vice Mayor Allison Silberberg argued that the rent relief would assist 31 Alexandrians who are elderly or disabled find affordable housing.
However, with a list of additions to the operating budget running $820,000 over the available funding, Councilmen Justin Wilson, Tim Lovain and Paul Smedberg, raised concerns that funding for these projects would be taken out of the Capital funding, particularly to finance last minute funding requests.
“We should not use cash capital as a piggy bank,” said Wilson. “If we’re going to raid cash capital to fund operating expenses, I have a long list of needs to address.”
“We have talked for months about investing in cash capital,” said Smedberg. “I am concerned about these last minute additions. It’s not right for these one-offs to put one non-profit above another, we didn’t discuss that as part of our budget .… This is not to say it’s a bad project, but the way we got here, I have concerns about that.”
Councilman John Chapman countered that this is the first year of a new add-delete budget process, one which requires three sponsors to each addition.
“This is a new process, not just for us, but for the community,” said Chapman before addressing the audience. “Raise your hands if you knew the deadline [for additions]?”
Four or five hands in the packed Council Chambers raised their hands. Chapman turned back to the council and argued that this wasn’t a case of a non-profit trying to hustle them into funding, but a case of miscommunication between the council and the community.
Smedberg countered that while the three sponsors was a new addition, the deadline had not changed. When Silberberg began to respond, Smedberg retorted
“If you knew about this … you should have brought this up in a work session,” said Smedberg. “This is not that hard.”
Mayor William Euille stepped in and reminded the council that the additions and deletions weren’t being debated, that this was a preliminary discussion before a special meeting on Monday, May 4. Euille said the City Council had unanimously agreed to five operating budget additions and deletions:
- Funding Alexandria City Public Schools
- Staffing for Fire Station 210
- Funding for the Law Library
- Operation funding to the Transportation Improvement Program
- Reduction of funding to the Patrick Henry Recreation Center
These additions and deletions still left the additions $620,000 over budget, and Euille said funding to those programs would continue to be discussed and finalized on Monday.