Its expensive to run the City of Alexandria. Cleanup from the recent snowstorm alone cost at least $664,000 and the number is growing, but it was a necessary expense that helped maintain the citys quality of life. Streets were plowed, emergencies were reconciled and the citys social safety net responded to those in need like the elderly and homeless. In short, the government performed one of its functions admirably with the help of residents and other organizations, but more specifically with taxpayer money.
Unfortunately, this unexpected snow cleanup expense comes on the heels of an already significant city budget deficit of approximately $43 million, plus a national recession that has taken its toll on individuals and government alike. Newly completed real estate assessments indicate a decline worse than last year, which means revenues for city coffers from this source will drop unless City Council increases the tax rate. The result is an almost perfect storm of budget pressures on Alexandria.
The city government will delve deeper into the budget process in the coming months and in the spring will decide how to spend our tax money. Unlike the uncontrollable nature of a snowstorm, the budget process is much more predictable. There are plenty of opportunities built into the process for input should residents decide to voice their opinions and priorities.
Some city services have already been cut as cost-saving measures and others have been reorganized, requiring the same amount of manpower to do more. Elected officials and government staff members have made no secret that the gap will have to be closed, likely with a mixture of more cuts, revenue-raising fees or taxes and measures to increase efficiency that could strain the citys workforce.
The specifics of these measures can and should be decided with the input of taxpayers, because they are spending the money and they will be directly affected. Luckily, the citys budget process is open to the public, whether it is observing work sessions among City Council members and staff, commenting on the citys online forum (http://alexandriava.gov/budget), attending public hearings or simply writing a letter to elected officials.
We encourage readers to observe and engage in the budget process. Elected officials make the decisions, but it is their constituents who influence them. The evolution of the budget will come from juggling the citys priorities with its economic realities. But the more residents make their voices heard, the more those priorities will be reflected in the budget and in the citys quality of life. By volleying issues and creating discourse, stakeholders (i.e. every single taxpayer) can weather this perfect storm, perhaps not painlessly, but at least collaboratively.