Overtaxed or Underinvested in Alexandria?

Overtaxed or Underinvested in Alexandria?

Mayor against City Council on tax rate increase.

“It’s incumbent upon us to consider these delays, even for a year.” — Mayor Allison Silberberg

“...you and all of us rightly bemoan [that approach] because it creates … the decades of underinvestment that we’re trying to catch up on.” — Vice Mayor Justin Wilson

Taxes were already going to go up 2.7 cents in the initial proposed budget, but throughout the add/delete process that number has been steadily rising. Add/deletes are the City Council members’ opportunity to propose changes to the budget. There have been virtually no deletes and very few revenue generating additions, but the new expenditures have built up. Now, the initial 2.7 cent increase has risen to 5.7 cents.

The initial 2.7 cent tax rate had mostly gone to cover an increased contribution to the Metro and to cover the rising costs of Alexandria City Public Schools.

According to Budget Director Morgan Routt, the two biggest changes made to the budget were $4.3 million for affordable housing and up to $15.6 million as contingency funding for eventual city and schools investment. Routt explained that the funding would be put in a contingency line for investments between FY 2018 and FY 2027. Routt explained that contingency reserves would require further City Council action to be utilized.

“[Contingency funds] are established if the council agrees to a project in concept but hesitates to fund,” said Routt.

The $4.3 million affordable housing investment would go into the city’s Housing Opportunities Fund. The addition, proposed by City Council member Willie Bailey, notes that the funding would allow housing projects to leverage an additional $40 million in funding from other sources.

Since the start of the add/delete season, Mayor Allison Silberberg has repeatedly pushed against the three cent increase proposed increase. At a work session before the April 25 City Council meeting, Silberberg said the city should postpone certain projects to find the funding for affordable housing rather than increase the tax rate further.

“One way to fund affordable housing is to raise taxes,” said Silberberg. “The other is to find things to pause on, like the city manager recommended pausing on the Chinquapin [Recreation Center].”

In City Manager Mark Jinks’ proposed budget, Jinks recommended a delay on the $4.5 million planned to build a new swimming pool at the Chinquapin Recreation Center.

“If we can pause things, even for a year, that would help with [affordable housing projects]. That’s really where my heart is at … It’s incumbent upon us to consider these delays, even for a year.”

Silberberg proposed three projects she said could be delayed: replacing the parking meters at Carlyle, improvements to a small dog park, and the replacement of two fields. Silberberg had proposed the idea before but it didn’t get the necessary cosponsors to be considered in the add/delete. In previous years, Silberberg noted that the City Council was able to make changes and delays from the dais. However, in a scene that has become common in City Council chambers, Vice Mayor Justin Wilson rejected Silberberg’s idea. Wilson accused Silberberg of pushing the overdue investments down the line, a mindset that left the city in its current situation.

“I respect the attempt to prioritize in a very difficult year,” said Wilson. “The challenge is … next year, at the high-growth scenario, there’s a $14.2 million budget gap. At the low-growth scenario, which potentially with challenges from Washington it could be closer to, is a $45.5 million gap. Your proposal was not to remove these capital projects, but push them to next year to save from raising the tax rate this year. Essentially you’ve proposed not increasing the tax rate this year to increase them next year.”

While Silberberg noted that the budget process was not flexible enough to incorporate feedback from the public and the dais, Wilson noted that the staff has not had time to fully examine the potential impacts of Silberberg’s proposed delays.

“We don’t know what the potential impact of that deferral is,” said Wilson. “Will these fields have to be retired because the turf is unable to wait another year? Are the parking meters not going to function at Carlyle and we lose a revenue source? You are right that previous councils have done what you’re trying to do, but I think you and all of us rightly bemoan [that approach] because it creates … the decades of underinvestment that we’re trying to catch up on.”

The rest of the council supported Wilson, rejecting Silberberg’s efforts to delay the additional investments. The final budget adoption is scheduled for a special City Council meeting on May 4.