City Manager Rashad Young proposed a $585.6 million budget Tuesday that avoids tax hikes while boosting public safety and education funding. But the spending plan cuts public services and could lay off employees en route to closing a $22 million shortfall.
From scaling back rodent abatement to closing the West End’s only public pool, Young’s proposal makes room for several new initiatives: a City Hall ethics program to stifle employee malfeasance, an Eisenhower Avenue fire station with 20 new recruits and equipment, and the creation of an emergency health czar to respond to major epidemics or mass-casualty events.
Perhaps the most significant part of the budget is a new department to manage and implement priority development projects like the waterfront plan. Young proposes shuffling employees from various city departments to comprise the new division.
“The biggest initiatives that you’ve put forward in this budget … I think are very important, and I think it’s doubly important that you are able to do it with existing resources,” said Vice Mayor Kerry Donley. “Our plans are great. We can have all the plans in the world, but if we’re not implementing those plans, we might as well use them to prop open the door to City Hall.”
At about $19 million more than last fiscal year, the budget maintains or increases spending for core services like education, public safety, infrastructure maintenance and transportation.
The school system will receive a $5.8 million boost — slightly more than Superintendent Morton Sherman’s request. The police, fire, sheriff and emergency communications department received $5.6 million more than last fiscal year.
Still, Alexandria’s needs and prior commitments outpace its revenue stream. The city council must make some tough decisions over the coming months, said Young, who presented his budget at the city council legislative session. A budget surplus and revised cost estimates for various projects will close the bulk of the gap, but officials will have to identify about $7 million in cuts to finish the job.
Young, who has only been on the job for about two months, was resolute but realistic.
“We’re working hard to sort of find what the core priority areas are of the city, but there are all kinds of other services that people want, that they like, that they expect, and how to get that balance just right so that you don’t decimate other service areas … is a challenge,” he said.
The spending plan would award eligible city employees a merit-based raise — or a one-time bonus for workers at the top of their pay scale — but their health care contributions would jump to 20 percent across the board. Young proposed the elimination of 27 full- and part-time positions, eight of which are occupied.
Various cuts already have been identified. The economic development funding to the Small Business Development Corp. and Alexandria Economic Development Partnership will drop by about $100,000, though the budget allows $100,000 more for the city’s tourism arm, a figure offset by tourists’ spending, Young said.
The proposal curbs graffiti removal and beautification efforts like tree pruning, unless it’s a safety issue, and streamlines a senior services taxi program in which the city currently plays the middleman. Under the new proposal, seniors would schedule pickups with the taxi service instead of city employees who coordinate with the company.
Though DASH would see a service reduction, particularly on the AT4 route, the bus company would receive a $1 million infusion from tax reserves.
Residential and commercial property tax rates remain static, but an improved market means many residents will pay more. Higher home values means the typical single-family household will see their tax bill increase by $118. Condo owners will pay about $20 less.
Young requested $1.1 billion over the next 10 years for capital projects. About $99 million would be spent next fiscal year on buying waterfront park space, building a new Jefferson-Houston and purchasing transit vehicles for Potomac Yard.
A controversial commercial add-on tax to fund transportation projects, killed last year by opposition from the business community, is not a part of Young’s proposal.
Council members will debate the spending plan line by line at public work sessions and hearings over the next several months to arrive at a final budget May 7.