Council tackles budget shortfall, project funds

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The real estate market is not expected to improve this year, leaving Alexandria to face another tight budget for fiscal year 2009. The real crunch, however, is the capital budget.

Over the next two years, the city has $85 million in unfunded capital projects planned. Last week City Council members began thinking about how to deal with this shortfall.

The Capital Improvement Program is a six-year plan for capital projects, including city and school projects. These projects are funded for one year but planned for five additional years. The costs for projects in the out years are estimates based on the best available data at the time of adoption. The current CIP is approved through 2013. Because of the unfunded projects in 2009, the entire CIP must be substantially reworked during this years budget preparations.

We can basically raise more money, defer projects or simply cancel some of them, said City Budget Director Bruce Johnson. Council members will need to make those decisions and consider all of the trade-offs for each option.

The projects
The largest single project that is planned is a new police facility with a price tag of $48.4 million. The police are now scattered over the Eisenhower Valley in leased space as they have outgrown the Public Safety Center, and the Office of the Sheriff needed more space there.

This is certainly one of our top priorities because of the amount of money we are spending on leasing space, said Councilman Paul Smedberg.

Other new city projects will cost $54.2 million over the next few years. We have already begun construction on a new Charles Houston Recreation Center but might need to discuss plans for expansion and renovation at John Adams and Patrick Henry [elementary schools], Smedberg said.

Councilman Rob Krupicka suggested involving the boards and commissions that are directly affected by these projects. There are a number of parks and recreation facilities that are planned. We really should get some input from the Parks and Recreation Commission, he said.

One of those facilities is a proposed All-City Sports Facility where Hensley Field is now located in the Eisenhower Valley.

If the Capital Development Foundation doesnt raise significant private funds for this, it might have to be canceled, Smedberg said. Even if we do get some private money, spending city dollars on a nice to have in this budget climate might not be the thing to do.

The city had projected spending as much as $5 million on the facility, with the Capital Development Foundation raising the remainder. The facility is proposed to be used to bring semi-professional sports to Alexandria and for hosting regional high school athletic competition. Community activists have expressed concern about the facility since its inception and, to date, no private money has been raised.

The schools
The public school system is proposing two expansion projects in 2009 and 2010, one at Minnie Howard and the other at James K. Polk. The Minnie Howard project is estimated to cost $13 million and the Polk project, $6.4 million.

I have a copy of the guidelines on prioritizing capital projects that the city is going to use and am going to recommend that the School Board use those same standards, said School Board member Scott Newsham, chairman of the school systems facilities committee.

Infrastructure
In 2009 and 2010, the school system is planning to spend about $21 million on infrastructure improvements, mostly replacing heating and air conditioning systems, bringing the schools up to code with new fire suppression systems and bringing the schools into compliance with The Americans with Disabilities Act.

Our schools are safe, Newsham said. The new sprinkler systems need to be installed to meet the citys new code requirements. Many of our buildings were built before they were enacted, and we are replacing them when we are doing other renovations in the buildings.

The city is replacing old sewers and, in some cases, building new ones. Also, significant roadwork and other street improvements are planned for the next five years. Required infrastructure improvements are estimated to cost the city approximately $15.5 million in 2009 and 2010.

Prioritizing
[RTF bookmark start: }DDE_LINK2City Manager Jim Hartmann has asked city department heads to prioritize capital projects in their areas.

We have asked them to put each project into tier 1, tier 2 or tier 3, Johnson said. Tier 1 projects should include those projects that are the most important or that are required. Tier 2 projects are important but could be deferred, and tier 3 projects should be the least important.

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