By Melissa Quinn
Property owners may want to start thinking about tightening their belts with city officials weighing hiking real estate tax rates by 5.5 cents.
City Manager Rashad Young unveiled the proposed $626.6 million fiscal 2014 operating budget Tuesday night. His plan — including the tax increases — allocates $3.2 million less than expected to Alexandria City Public Schools, increases parking rates, extends parking meter hours and squashes the proposed trolley service to Del Ray in an effort to curb the city’s $31 million deficit.
While the officials refrained from raising real estate taxes last year, city council asked for the 3-cent hike — on top of the 2.5 cent increase Young proposed — to offset cash capital investments. In addition to higher property taxes, the preliminary budget increases the motor vehicle property tax by 25 cents. The move will raise $2 million for DASH and Metro operating increases.
However, Del Ray residents must let go of hopes of seeing a service similar to the King Street trolley make its way up and down Mount Vernon Avenue. After receiving no bids from contractors to operate the free transit line, officials ultimately decided to nix the trolley, a move that saves $700,000.
As for parking, motorists can expect to see fees in city-owned garages increase by between 20 and 25 percent. The budget also calls for stretching metered hours — the period of time motorists must pay for street side parking — from 7 to 9 p.m.
The changes to parking are projected to raise $1.3 million and include the implementation of automated parking at three facilities on Cameron, St. Asaph and Henry streets, as well as Thompson’s Alley.
Though Young handed ACPS officials more money than they requested last year, he was less generous this go around. The $3.2 million decrease, Young said, was based on enrollment projections and meetings held with city and ACPS staff. Even as officials scramble to address overcrowding and decaying infrastructure, funds allocated for capital improvement also face the chopping block.
Young’s budget only fully funds a new structure for Patrick Henry Elementary School, neglecting funding for modular classrooms at Charles Barrett, George Mason, James Polk, Douglas MacArthur and Matthew Maury schools. Instead, he hopes school officials can shift savings from the Patrick Henry project to address other overcrowding problems.
Despite receiving less than anticipated, ACPS’ operating budget increased 3.3 percent, or $6 million, from the $179.5 million the district received in FY13.
Overall, the proposed financial roadmap represents a 6.6 increase over the $587.9 million FY13 operating budget. Residents will have several opportunities to comment or raise concerns before the final budget is adopted May 6.