After 12 work sessions and public hearings and the longest period of deliberation ever, the Alexandria City Council passed a $519.5 million operating budget for FY 2008 and a six-year Capital Improvement Program of $388.8 million. Council also adopted a real estate tax rate of 83.0 cents per $100 of assessed value for next year.
City Council worked very hard this year to thoroughly understand and evaluate the proposed budgets of the City Manager and the School Board in every respect, said Mayor Bill Euille. We believe our final adopted budget meets our current strategic needs and does so in a fiscally responsible manner. This budget represents a reasonable balance between the needs of the city and the citys ability to pay for those needs.
The budget represents a 4.4 percent increase over the FY 2007 budget or $21.8 million. The citys budget will grow by 3.3 percent over FY 2007 or by $11.5 million while the city budget transfer from general funds to the public school system will increase by 6.87 percent or by $10.3 million.
Because of a reduction in other funds, the school systems budget, overall, will increase by 3.9 percent. The city will have an operating budget of $359.3 million while the school system will receive $160.2 million from the General Fund. For the city, this represents a 1.7 percent increase over the target that council set in November and, for the school system, a three percent increase over that same target.
This has been the most open and transparent budget process I have ever gone through, said City Manager Jim Hartmann. We brought council a budget that met the budget target they set and then council went to work and made trade-offs that they felt would best meet the needs of the city. Thats the way its supposed to work.
On the tax rate increase, Councilman Tim Lovain said, We had certainly hoped not to have to raise the real estate tax rate but had to make that very hard decision to fund essential needs. That still means that 80 percent of the homeowners in the city will see no increase or an increase that is below the inflation rate.
Few new initiatives
One of the changes was a 1.5 percent Cost of Living Adjustment for both city and school employees. Last year our employees received a 3 percent COLA. To give them absolutely nothing this year would have been unfair, said Councilwoman Redella S. Del Pepper. That COLA will cost $4.9 million.
There are very few new initiatives in the adopted budget. Some of them were in Hartmanns proposed budget. They include: $1 million increase in the citys subsidy for Metrobus and Metrorail; $120,000 in additional funding for Emergency Medical Services staffing to ensure that Advanced Life Support level of care is always available; $1 million for Child Welfare programs that were cut by the federal government; $200,000 to improve pedestrian and other pavement markings throughout the city; $111,000 for a 5 percent increase for grants to social service nonprofit organizations; $135,000 to replace some lost state funding for early childhood programs and $47,000 for an emergency conservation manager to monitor, analyze, and coordinate citywide energy conservation measures.
Council members added others such as $877,000 for eliminating the waiting list for child daycare fee subsidies; $305,000 for the Alexandria Sheriffs Office; $124,000 for environmental studies; $780,000 for reinstituting red light cameras and $80,000 for surveying 100-year-old buildings.
City Council also set aside additional money for other projects from prior year surpluses. This includes $400,000 more than originally designated for National Harbor-related initiatives; $850,000 to put artificial turf on an additional playing field; $500,000 for possible increases in mandated foster care and special education costs and $300,000 for street lights and new garbage cans.
This budget meets the needs of city residents but is still fiscally responsible, said Councilman Paul Smedberg. I wish we had come closer to meeting our budget target but as we get more information from our ongoing audits of city departments, I believe we will find more savings and more efficient ways of doing business.