The Alexandria City Council held an unusual Monday night meeting this week, combining last weeks legislative meeting and monthly public meeting, which had been canceled because of scheduling conflicts. Members managed to conduct the business of both meetings and take time to testify before the Virginia Air Quality Control Board as well.
The National Harbor Collaborative Working Group presented their recommendations and won approval to spend $1.3 million on improvements to prepare for the April 2008 opening of the Gaylord resort at National Harbor. This is $600,000 above the $700,000 budgeted by Council last year.
The guiding principles, as stated by the group, are to attract visitors from National Harbor to Alexandria; welcome them; orient them and disperse them. To this end, there will be a marketing campaign targeted to National Harbor visitors, which will include brochures, videos and strategically placed ads. The marketing campaign will cost $54,000, which is proposed to come from funds budgeted for the Marketing Committee, which was just re-organized.
I do have some concerns about this since we just appointed very qualified individuals to this group to make these types of decisions, said Councilman Paul Smedberg, who helped draft marketing goals and re-organize the group. We have taken nearly half of their funds before they have had their first meeting. I think we should let them decide how to spend their money.
The Collaborative proposed a number of infrastructure improvements such as new signage at the marina and along King Street; improvements to the marina where the new water taxi will dock to discharge passengers; faade improvements to various buildings, such as a new awning for the food court; improved lighting and the new trolley, which will carry visitors from the waterfront to the King Street Metro station.
Lighting improvements will cost $300,000 and requires the longest lead time, with a price tag of $300,000. If the Virginia Supreme Court approves the Northern Virginia Transportation Authoritys ability to bond for transportation funding, the $141,000 cost of the trolley will come out of those funds, freeing that money to be spent for other items in the package.
Finally, the Office of Historic Alexandria will take several steps to orient people to museums and exhibits. OHA Director Lance Malamo spoke of a phone number that visitors will be able to call to get an audio tour of places of interest. Also, we are proposing to place some of our mobile exhibits in the windows of vacant businesses along King Street to make them more interesting until they are occupied, Malamo said.
The Visitors Center will have longer hours and restaurants and other businesses will be encouraged to place materials there to attract customers. Some of these things will cost little or no money and are things we should have been doing all along, even without National Harbor, Malamo said.
Funds are available from Councils contingent reserve account. With the additional revenue that is now available, Council has just about $700,000 of undesignated funds in this account that can be used for this purpose, said Mark Jinks, Assistant City Manager for Finance and Administration.
Council will decide just where the money should come from for the National Harbor enhancements at its legislative meeting on Nov. 27.
A target by any other name
City Manager Jim Hartmann proposed establishing budget guidance instead of targets for the FY 2009 city budget. We told you at the retreat earlier this month that we need a 5.2-percent increase in funding to maintain city services at their current level and the schools told you that they need a nine percent increase in funding to do the same, said Bruce Johnson, director of the Office of Management and Budget. We are now proposing to hold any city increase to five percent and any increase in the school systems budget to 5.9 percent. These increases should include a minimum Market Rate Adjustment (COLA) of one percent for both city and school employees. This means a maximum increase in the budget of 5.3 percent over this year.”
Hartmann also proposed a maximum real estate tax rate increase of 2.8 cents or a maximum rate of 85.8 cents per $100 of assessed value. This would mean a maximum tax increase of three percent for residential property owners, Johnson said. Council will consider any differential commercial property tax rate, which is now allowed under the new NVTA package, separately. Council will appoint a task force to consider this matter and to make recommendations about whether there should be a differential commercial rate and by what amount the commercial tax rate should be increased.
Councilman Rob Krupicka proposed limiting spending growth to five percent and to basing this increase on funds available. This should not include any increase in the real estate tax rate, Krupicka said. Council should consider that separately.
Krupicka will work with Johnson and the budget staff to clarify this proposal in writing over the next few days. Council will adopt budget guidance at the Nov. 27 legislative meeting.