Council exceeds budget target


The Alexandria City Council is on a path to exceed its own budget target by $10.6 million and show an overall budget growth of 4.4 percent in FY 2008. This nearly doubles the $11.2 million increase that was proposed by the city manager.

Council met on Tuesday night to negotiate budget additions and deletions. Members were required to submit their personal lists last week. While no vote was taken, the group reached consensus on a number of large items. The big winner was the Alexandria City Public School System, which will receive $4.7 million more than City Manager James Hartmann proposed and the Alexandria Sheriffs Office, which will receive an additional $300,000.

Athletic fields also will get artificial turf sooner than anticipated because of an additional $850,000 from the FY 2007 surplus. The Department of Human Services will be able to remove all eligible children from the subsidized daycare waiting list with the additional $778,000 Council is proposing to provide. In addition, school and city employees will receive a 1.5-percent Cost of Living Adjustment where the city manager had proposed none.

The big losers were Alexandria homeowners who will see the real estate tax rate rise from 81.5 cents per $100 of assessed value to 83 cents per $100 of assessed value.

This was a very difficult process and we would not have been able to keep the real estate tax rate so low if we had not set budget targets, said Councilwoman Redella S. Del Pepper. We didnt meet that target but this is a learning process.

The budget target was a goal and while we did not meet it, we did the best we could and we also had some additional revenue for 2008 which we were not expecting. This allowed us to fund some daycare needs, give our employees a COLA and meet some other requests that were not included in the city managers recommendation. Next year we are going to have a conversation about whether COLAs should continue and we will set a budget target. This is an important part of our new budget process, said Mayor William Euille.

School system gets more aid
ACPS had requested $6.8 million above the budget target Council set in November. The school system will receive $4.7 million of that, requiring the School Board to cut $2.1 million from its Board-approved budget for next year. This includes $2.65 million in additional resources and a 1.5-percent COLA for all school employees.

It was very difficult to know exactly what the school system needed because of their very confusing budget, said Councilman Tim Lovain, who has three children at George Mason Elementary School. It was like throwing darts in the dark. I am very disappointed that the superintendent did not make more of an effort to meet the target that we set in November and would like to see the School Board go to a budget process that is similar to ours, one that manages for results. Also, we have offered our staffs help in working with the school system to prepare a budget that is much easier to understand and which provides much more detail that will help us make decisions next year.

The sheriffs office will receive an additional $240,000 to bring sheriffs deputies pay levels up to that of police officers.

The $850,000 to purchase artificial turf for an additional field in FY 2008 was a late addition. I had at least 80 emails about the need for artificial turf this week, Pepper said. Our fields are in deplorable condition and we need to do something quickly.

By the end of 2008, the fields at Minnie Howard, Fort Ward and T.C. Williams will have artificial turf. Now, one additional field can be added to that list.

Council will vote on these options and adopt an FY 2008 budget on Monday, May 7.