Alexandria: Budget Winners … and Losers

Alexandria: Budget Winners … and Losers

Schools and fire station win, affordable housing and rec center lose.

The last work session for additions and deletions to the city budget saw Alexandria City Public Schools and Fire Station 210 take the lion’s share of the funding while a recreation center’s Sunday programming and an affordable housing program were left unfunded. The May 4 work session is the last step of the budget process before the City Council votes on the budget later this week.

The budget add/delete will add $1 million to the school budget. According to the Add/Delete Proposal form, submitted by Councilman Justin Wilson, the addition to the schools aims to narrow the remaining $3.2 million gap between the School Board’s Approved Operating Budget and the city manager’s proposed appropriation. The School Board’s budget add/delete process begins May 12, the deadline for add/delete proposals. The School Board meeting on May 28 is the adoption of the final FY 2016 Combined Funds and the FY 2016-2025 CIP budgets.

The City Council also added $1.3 million to fund Fire Station 210 with the objective of having the facility fully staffed by January of 2016.

Wilson, who proposed the budget addition, expressed uncertainty about attaching a $1.3 million price tag to the fire station while so many price variables could still affect the final price.

“We’re all committed to making this happen,” said Wilson, “but I don't think we can say for sure that it’s going to be $1.3 million. This is not an exact science and it behooves us to treat it as such.”

“If staff comes back with a cost and schedule, that will help transparency,” said Councilman John Chapman.

Ultimately, the City Council voted in favor of the funding and a staff report in June on how the funding should be allocated.

“It’s important that we make it clear that his funding is designated for Fire Station 210, even if it’s not allocated,” said Councilwoman Del Pepper. “All eyes are going to be on this. This is a neighborhood in uproar.”

The add/delete session also approved Pepper’s proposal for funding to Alive! to expand food distribution and storage facilities without any of the debate that had taken up much of the April 28 add/delete discussion.

The largest item of contention was the $15,000 cut from the William Ramsay Recreation Center. The cut would reduce the availability of the recreation center on Sundays, meaning anyone going to utilize the facility would have to sign up in advance and schedule a time slot. According to James Spangler, director of Recreation, Parks, and Cultural Activities, the average attendance to the facility on Sundays is 13 youth and 18 adults. There were five Sundays this past year with zero attendance, and peaked at 95 on one Sunday.

“This item is before you, not because we want to reduce hours, but at your request for cost reductions,” said Spangler.

According to Vice Mayor Allison Silberberg, the budget cut takes away something quintessential about childhood.

“Showing up at a recreation center without a plan is what it means to be a kid,” said Silberberg. “We talk about what we can do for the West End. This is something we could have done, and it’s a shame.”

Mayor William Euille said that the City Council and staff had looked through the budget, and any funding put forward for the other additions would be “robbing Peter to pay Paul.”

To fund the the Ramsay Recreation Center’s Sunday activities, Silberberg proposed accepting the proposed $10,000 cut from AlexTV, the government access channel. Euille fired back that Silberberg had recently expressed concerns that there wasn’t enough content on AlexTV, but the vice mayor responded what she’d meant by a lack of content is the blank screen displayed on the channel most of the time, and countered that it wouldn’t cost anything to broadcast meetings that had already been recorded.

“If [AlexTV] doesn’t need this $10,000,” said Pepper, “then what is it doing in the budget?”

“Don’t presume that staff is giving up this funding,” said Euille, “it’s being given as an option.”

“Then it might be worth it to know what we’re getting for that,” said Pepper.

Wilson proposed accepting the funding cut to AlexTV, but putting the funds in reserve for the Department of Recreation, Parks, and Cultural Affairs rather than applying them directly to the Ramsay Sunday hours. The $10,000 funding cut towards AlexTV was approved, with the $10,000 added to unspecified programming for the Department Recreation, Parks, and Cultural Affairs.

Silberberg expressed disappointment that the senior and disabled rent relief program that was proposed was not funded, but agreed that after looking through the funding options, there weren’t any solutions available.

The add/deletes will be voted on at a special City Council meeting on May 7 at 6:30 p.m. in City Council Chambers.