It was all about the money. For more than three hours Monday, City Council members listened to citizens opinions and concerns about the FY08 budget that the council will act on in May.
Across the board, there were three topics of concern: the need for a cost-of-living adjustment for city and school employees, the need for additional funding for subsidized child care, and pleas for the council to fully fund the School Boards budget.
City Manager James Hartmann did not include a COLA for employees in his proposed budget and did not increase funding for subsidized child care. He has also proposed cutting the School Boards proposed budget by $6.8 million.
We have heard your concerns, and all of us plan to give city and school employees some type of COLA, said Mayor Bill Euille before the public hearing began. It wont be more than 3 percent or less than 1 percent, but we want to do something.
As to more money for subsidized child care, Euille said, We understand that the change in federal guidelines has caused a problem and we are looking at ways to deal with at least some of that.
The school budget is another thing, however. For many years, this and previous councils have fully funded the public school systems budget requests. We are in conversations with the School Board and hope to reach a compromise that will make everybody happy, Euille said.
The city manager has obviously carefully constructed this budget, and I am concerned that, if it is deconstructed, the careful planning and consideration that went into it will be lost, said Richard Moose, one of 75 citizens who spoke at the public hearing.
Bud Miller spoke on behalf of Taxpayers United. Many cities would love to be in Alexandrias financial position. Our city budget has grown from $360 million to $560 million now. There is, however, a taxpayer crisis. When I bought my modest two-bedroom home, I was paying around $3,200 a year in real estate taxes. Now, I am paying over $7,000 a year. My home hasnt grown any rooms in that time. I am pleased to see that the city manager has shown restraint in his proposed budget and urge City Council to think about the taxpayers when they adopt a budget, he said.
The School Board submitted a budget that is $6.8 million more than the city manager recommended. According to Francis Chase, president of the Education Association of Alexandria, This is my third term as president of EAA, and, when I took this job, I never thought that I would have to come to City Council every year to ask for full funding of our budget. When I tell friends about this, they are surprised because it is your job to fund the schools, he said.
Mimi Carter, president of the Mt. Vernon Community School PTA, weighed in, saying, I dont want to respect process, she said. I dont want to respect budget targets. I want to respect the children of this city and give them the resources they need to be productive adults.
According to Glen Hopkins, president of Hopkins House, which houses a day care center, Because of the change in federal policy and because the state has not seen fit to provide more funding for subsidized child care, we are going to have 300 children on a waiting list. These are children of working parents who might have to quit their jobs if they cannot find affordable quality child care, he said. We need $1.1 million to meet the needs of these families, but any portion of this will help.
The Alexandria Chamber of Commerce spoke on a variety of topics. Rick Dorman, chairman of the Chamber Board of Directors, said, The budget is the financial expression of what we plan to do to make our vision happen for all the citizens of Alexandria. The Chamber compliments the city manager on the new activity-based budget process. We appreciate that you built this budget the way we do in our businesses from the ground up. We also wish to compliment the city manager for developing a budget within the guidelines established by the mayor and City Council.
As for employee benefits, Todd Ruopp told the council, Employee pay is one of the largest components of our budget. This years city budget includes no cost-of-living increase for city employees. I know you realize that employees in the business sector are not guaranteed any raise at all. But, from listening to our city employees, we have come to understand that municipal employees depend on an inflation factor as part of their annual salary advancement.