Funding sought for key programs

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The Alexandria City Council tackled several issues at Saturdays public hearing: the FY 2009 budget; approval of the expansion of and the creation of day-care centers; what to do about Glebe Park; the approval of new athletic playing fields; and changes to the way the city markets itself.

The budget
More than 20 speakers came to ask Council members to please fund their particular programs as the legislators begin deliberations on next years budget.

We are facing no more than single-digit increases in our real estate assessments and almost certain decreases in State funding, said City Budget Director Bruce Johnson. We are also facing a significant number of capital projects over the next two years and we have not identified funding sources for all of them. Council is going to have some very difficult decisions to make as we move forward.

The chairman of the citizen Budget and Fiscal Affairs Advisory Committee urged Council to set realistic budget targets and to live within the approved borrowing limits. Representatives from the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce agreed with that and encouraged development of the citys waterfront as a means of new economic development.

While these groups were encouraging spending limits, others expressed the need for additional funding from the city to ensure continuation of heir various programs. Barbara Mason is the executive director of Child and Family Network Centers, which operates preschools for low-income Alexandrians throughout the city.

Without more city support, we cannot sustain a $2-million-a-year budget, Mason said. Currently, we rely on fund-raising for 80 percent of our funding and Council provides only 20 percent. That cannot continue. We need you all to provide more in the neighborhood of 50 percent of our funding for us to continue operating at our current levels.

Representatives from Offender Aid and Restoration, which operates educational and job preparedness programs within the Alexandria Detention Center, asked for an additional $75,000 next year. Without this additional funding, we cannot meet the demands of those who are leaving incarceration, a representative said.

We know that there are many needs and we will keep this input in mind as we move forward, said Mayor Bill Euille. However, it is important for everyone to remember that we are facing very hard choices and wont be able to give everyone everything they want.

Day-care centers
The operator of a child-care center at 1500 King St. was given permission to expand that program and to open an additional center at 1447 Duke St., a half-block away.

There is a real need for child-care programs in Alexandria, both for low-income residents and those who can afford to pay, said Councilman Tim Lovain. I am pleased to see that new programs are going to open.

The other child-care facility is a home facility that will be operated in a home owned by the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority.

ARHA has given permission to expand this facility, and that is why we are recommending approval, said Rich Josephson, deputy director of the citys Planning and Zoning Department.

Glebe Park
For more than a year, ARHA has been planning the redevelopment of its Glebe Park property on West Glebe and Old Dominion, in the Arlandria neighborhood of the city. The Virginia Development and Housing Authority rejected ARHAs application for low-income housing tax credits to fund the project last spring, creating an entirely different process.

Although this plan before us is a compromise and doesnt make any of the members of the stakeholders group we appointed totally happy, it is the best we can do considering the limitations of this site and the funding available, Euille said.

Council chose to defer the matter until the Oct. 23 legislative meeting to consider the issue of whether a workforce housing unit can be set aside for either an on-site manager or a residential police officer, and to look at options for encroachment of parking into the Resource Protection Area on the West Glebe site adjacent to Four Mile Run.

We really need to do everything we can to use previous materials on this site, such as green pavers, said Councilman Rob Krupicka. There are new materials in structured soils that will support parking and turn-arounds, and we need to examine everything that is available.

ARHA has requested encroachment into the RPA for parking and for an access road for firetrucks. Parking already encroaches into the RPA and under the new plan, there will be an additional 1,000 square feet of green space than there is today.

ARHA has also requested a decrease in the required amount of parking for the three sites, proposing one space per unit and six visitor spaces on the West Glebe site and adequate parking on the Old Dominion East site, which will contain eight market-rate units.

Financing remains an issue. Council must decide whether to loan ARHA $5.6 million to pay off the current mortgage on the property or the plan is not feasible. I would like us to vote on all aspects of this plan at the same time, including the financing, Euille said, and we will do that on the 23rd.

Marketing plan
For several months, Councilman Paul Smedberg has met with the citys current Marketing Committee to discuss changes to how the marketing fund is spent. Council approved the creation of a Marketing Coordinating Council that will look at how the set-aside marketing funds will be spent.

We have come up with a comprehensive approach to designing a marketing plan for City events and City destinations that will allow us to spend our money much more effectively, Smedberg said.

Council agreed, and the vote to approve the item was unanimous.

New athletic fields
Council finally approved development plans for two full-size rectangular athletic playing fields and one diamond field on Witter Street. The property was purchased and the fields will be built with funds from the citys settlement with the federal government related to construction of the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge.

There will be two rectangular fields and a field for playing softball, said Roger Blakeley, the citys deputy director for parks with the Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Activities. There will be 141 parking spaces and appropriate bathroom facilities.

The fields are expected to be available for use by 2010, although the chair of the Parks and Recreation Commission would like them to be completed earlier.

I would be ecstatic if they could be ready for use in the spring of 2009, but we have to have them by the fall of that year because of everything else that is planned or that has happened to other fields throughout the city, said Judy Noritake. We are desperately in need of playing fields and this process, which must go through the states approval channels, is just too long.

The fields will replace those that had been approved for construction on the Urban Deck over Washington Street.

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