After two months of City Council work sessions and public hearings, the council voted to approve the budget with little of the debate that had defined previous meetings. At a Special Budget Hearing on May 7, the Alexandria City Council voted to approve the City Manager’s proposed budget with the council’s additions and deletions. The Fiscal Year 2016 Budget was set at $649.2 million and the Capital Improvement Program for FY 2016-2025 (including Schools CIP) was set at $1.6 billion. While each of the City Council members expressed gratitude to the staff for their work on the budget, some on the council expressed personal misgivings about the way the budget process was conducted and expressed concerns for the future.
“There are still process issues,” said Councilman Paul Smedberg, referencing last minute additions to the Add/Delete process. “We still need to make sure we are debating the proper things in the proper context … Just don’t throw something on the table at the last minute, because that’s not fair.”
Councilman Justin Wilson praised the city’s investments in the police and public infrastructure, but said that in future budgets, the city will need to have more conversations with the community and Alexandria Public Schools (APS) regarding building more Public-Private Partnerships. Councilman John Chapman agreed, saying the council and APS need to begin having more conversations with third-party partners.
The original operating budget included a $6 million increase to schools, which was increased to $7 million during the City Council additions.
“[City Council and APS] should be working as teammates,” said Councilman Tim Lovain, “not adversaries.”
One addition, $250,000 in capital funding to Maury Elementary School for the renovation of the playground, was met with resounding approval from parents and students present in the audience. Parents of the school’s students have repeatedly attended City Council sessions with signs and buttons asking other local citizens to express support. This time, with funds now doubling what the community had been able to raise independently, the signs were reconfigured to express support for the council’s decision.
“[Children and parents] have been involved in this since the beginning when it looked like ‘Mission: Impossible’,” said Councilwoman Del Pepper. “This is the community fighting for something.”
Vice Mayor Allison Silberberg expressed disappointment that funding to keep Ramsay Recreation Center publicly accessible on Sundays and her proposed addition of an affordable housing relief program were not approved during the add/delete process, but said these issues will continue to be brought up and will likely carry over into next year’s budget process.
“It’s not going to get any better, said Mayor William Euille. “At least not in the next two budget cycles.”