By Melissa Quinn
Local property owners will see future tax bills balloon after city council unanimously approved a 4-cent hike Monday as part of the $624.8 million fiscal 2014 operating budget.
The increase moves the real estate tax rate to $1.038 per every $100 of assessed value, up from 99.8 cents last year. Though less than the 5.5-cent increase initially proposed by city officials, residents will pay, on average, an additional $314 each year.
The city’s final fiscal roadmap is $37 million more than last year’s, and city officials faced a $31 million deficit at the onset of budget season.
“The budget that we’ve approved tonight is a vote for Alexandria’s future,” said Mayor Bill Euille. “Our city still faces financial challenges, and this budget — including the 4-cent tax rate increase — reflects the need to not only maintain our present but build on our future.”
As part of the multimillion dollar operating budget — which also received unanimous approval — $185.6 million was allocated to Alexandria City Public Schools, a $6.1 million increase from last year.
Officials also allotted money to keep the Warwick Pool open for at least another year as well as maintain library operating hours. Both were on the chopping block in City Manager Rashad Young’s proposed budget.
And in a final add/delete session before the vote, City Councilor Del Pepper successfully pitched keeping the lights along King Street glowing for an additional three months each year.
Though Vice Mayor Allison Silberberg advocated for shifting extra dollars toward affordable housing, her colleagues opted to leave funding levels untouched.
“Budgets are a reflection on our values,” Silberberg said. “And it has been a very tough budget year.”
Focusing on capacity needs at Alexandria’s schools, upgrades to aquatics facilities — including a 50-meter pool at the Chinquapin Park Recreation Center — new equipment for first responders and transportation investments, council approved $1.32 billion for capital improvement projects over the next 10 years.
“This budget reflects a commitment on the part of this council in working with the community that we wanted to address those needs both in terms of schools, pools/aquatics and our significant infrastructure citywide as well as meeting our transit needs,” Euille said.
Still, the tax bump represents the largest hike approved by city council in decades. Last year, city councilors dipped into rainy day funds to avoid raising real estate taxes on Alexandria’s property owners.
“That’s why you have a two-party system,” said former City Councilor Frank Fannon, who lost his re-election bid in November. “You can see what happened this time without a fiscal advocate.”
Euille, though, touted Alexandria’s real estate tax rate as the second lowest in the region, with only Arlington ahead of the Port City.
“I honestly believe that this is a budget we can be proud of,” he said, “and one that reflects who we are as a city and where we want to go.”
The new fiscal roadmap will go into effect July 1.