The toil ended at least for this year when City Council unanimously adopted a $542 million budget Monday night after 12 work sessions and months of allocation juggling, following the states February Supreme Court decision that repossessed approximately $20 million in expected transportation funding.
Tonight we will adopt a budget where every department within the city operations and citizens will share in both the challenges and opportunities, Mayor Bill Euille said. Tonight we adopt a budget which in my mind is one of the most difficult budgets in my 15 years on council that weve had to deal with.
The 2009 budget, passed amid regional and national economic tribulations, raised the property tax rate modestly, to 84.5 cents per $100 of assessed value, up from the current 83-cent rate. Personal property taxes remained the same.
The new homeowner rate is now the lowest among major Northern Virginia jurisdictions, council members said, and the average homeowners taxes will decline 0.2 percent.
The citys meal and hotel taxes also rose, but Council staved off increasing an additional commercial property tax advertised last month so that the city would have a distinct business retention and recruitment advantage during a time when businesses are feeling economic pressure, according to a city statement.
Weve had Arlington and Fairfax take advantage of the Commercial tax rate, Councilman Tim Lovain said. Were not touching it.
Parking meter fees escalated to a dollar throughout the city, potentially raising $680,000 for the general fund, according to a budget memo. The cost of emergency ambulance rides also increased.
Dining out will cost 1 percent more next year (in addition to sales tax) as will hotel stays. Expected to produce approximately $3.7 million, meals tax revenues could go toward tourism initiatives, while the hotel tax revenues will go toward the transportation funding gap left by the Supreme Courts decision.
I think there are things in this budget for people in the community to love and I think there are things in this budget for people in the community to hate, Councilman Rob Krupicka said. I hope that they are evenly balanced but Im not so sure, and it probably depends on who youre talking to.
Recruiting and retaining city workers was a concern this budget season. Protests by the Alexandria Government Employee Association have been repeatedly held at Market Square where city workers have asked for wage increases based on expensive living costs. The budget funded $3.2 million to give full-time municipal workers a one-time $500 boost and a 2 percent pay increase for employees at the top of the pay scale who no longer qualify for a step increase.
Still, officials expressed concern with taking care of their own, citing a compensatory study thats in the works for the 2010 budget when times will be tighter that will deal with the citys payment issues.
I think we did what we could in the context of this budget, Councilman Justin Wilson said. But there are certainly other things that we could do.
Mayor Euille said that while the city workers needs have not been adequately been, Council is committed to solving the pay issues starting with next years budget, already in progress.
Euille said that city staff began next years budget two weeks ago. It is expected to be a tighter budget, with less revenue to utilize.
While this year was tough, next year will likely be tougher, Krupicka said.
FY 2009 General Fund Budget($ in millions)
– Real Estate Tax Rate: Raised 1.5 cents to 84.5 cents per $100 assessed value.
Lowest rate among major Northern Va. jurisdictions
– $500 one-time compensation supplement for full-time city employees
Total cost: $3.2 million
– Meals Tax Rate: Raised from 3% to 4%
Estimated revenue: $3.7 million
– Transient Lodging Tax: Raised from 5.5% to 6.5%
Raised 1% as opposed to the 2% increase advertised by Council
– Parking meter fees: Raised to $1.00 per hour throughout city.
Estimated revenue: $680,000