September is the end of summer, but the month also brings new beginnings. It’s the Jewish New Year, the start of school, the onset of some fiscal calendars and the launch of a new Alexandria City Council season.
As new terms begin, it’s also a time for laying out agendas and setting priorities. Various city councilors have put forth proposals regarding budgeting, the business environment and housing — and we have a couple of suggestions about parking. Below are our thoughts on each topic.
Budgeting: The city council will consider moving from a yearly budgeting cycle to a biennial budgeting process. The change apparently draws significant support among councilors. A multi-year budget would save time, as city council would only have to devote time to budget planning sessions as well as public hearings every other year.
On the other hand, as Vice Mayor Allison Silberberg correctly stated, the annual model has served the city well for decades, and perhaps the matter should be considered over a period of time before rushing to shake things up. It’s difficult knowing two years in advance what matters will need funding and what unexpected contingencies will arise.
At a minimum, we think if the budget becomes a biennial item, then the property tax rate also should be discussed every other year — with residents knowing they will not have a tax hike in the off year.
Business proposals: Mayor Bill Euille advocates expanding Alexandria’s broadband and fiber-optic Internet access. This is a forward-thinking idea and would benefit city residents as well as businesses. Still, as Silberberg points out, let’s reach this outcome by encouraging competition among private companies rather than by government spending.
We also laud Silberberg’s proposal to encourage entrepreneurship. She wants to create a roadmap that makes starting up a business clearer and less cumbersome in the Port City.
The city council should work closely with Bill Reagan, John Long and Val Hawkins, heads of the Alexandria Small Business Development Center, Alexandria Chamber of Commerce and Alexandria Economic Development Partnership, respectively, on these initiatives. Growing businesses locally will provide jobs and increase the tax base to better fund other initiatives.
Housing: We heartily endorse City Councilor John Chapman’s affordable housing proposal: The city should establish a right of first refusal law to buy commercial buildings that could serve as low-rent properties. Enabling nonprofits to more easily purchase such buildings could also accomplish the same objective — preserving and increasing Alexandria’s supply of affordable housing.
Parking: We have two parking suggestions that would address quality-of-life concerns of city residents. The most contentious issue to hit Alexandria in years has been the waterfront redevelopment plan. The opposing sides apparently view each other as either sold out to developers or antidevelopment.
We believe the issue is more nuanced than that.
Waterfront plan opponents, led by “The Iron Ladies” of Old Town, are actually most concerned about livability. The most glaring concern is what a hotel at the foot of Duke Street (not optimal) would mean for quality of life for people living within a few-blocks radius.
An easy and doable fix to the waterfront plan is designating all street parking within a few blocks of waterfront redevelopment as resident-only. We would like to see city council — which has taken a lot of flack for, in the eyes of many, ramming the waterfront redevelopment plan through despite neighbor protests — make this goodwill gesture.
Finally, it’s time for city council to revoke the law that allows the city to ticket and tow resident cars parked in the same space for three days. Alexandria residents pay a car tax, plus vehicle registration fees, on top of high property taxes. Not all of us are fortunate enough to have off-street parking, but all of us occasionally leave town for a week or more at a time. It is wildly offensive that our city government has given itself the power to tow our vehicles while we travel.
The above issues represent a formidable and worthy legislative agenda. We hope city residents voice their opinions as issues come up for debate. Rest assured the Times also will speak up throughout the session.