The City Council had a lot on its plate this budget season: High gas prices, low compensation for city workers, a dwindling real estate market, a monster of a school budget and oh yeah, that empty seat at the table where $20 million of transportation funding from the state was supposed to sit. But they did it. Council passed a comprehensive and transparent budget and even an alternative budget that will, like Councilman Rob Krupicka indicated, make a lot of people pleased and a lot of people irate, depending on whom you ask.
Not every one will be satisfied, but given the hard financial times the city government deserves credit for its marginal tax increases after endless work sessions, legislative meetings and public hearings. It was a scramble, but Council and the Office of the City Manager, with the help of city staff were able to flesh out a successful budget relative to the dire economic straights in which the nation and the region wallow.
Simultaneously, Council deserves critique for ignoring its own Compensation Philosophy, failing to adjust general salaries based on the cost of living. To maintain quality services, the city must maintain quality workers. If workers are unhappy, what is their reason for staying? Heres hoping that the independent consulting firm hired to examine Alexandrias pay issues will help solve the workforces and the Councils compensation predicament next budget season.
In the meantime, there should be some satisfied residents this time around.
Council demonstrated a commitment to mom and pop shops in the city by opting not to adopt the add-on commercial property tax that likely would have sent some small businesses into panic mode. It also demonstrated alternative, holistic thinking by reasoning that the advantages of non-adoption could be business retention and recruitment in an otherwise expensive region, as surrounding jurisdictions commercial taxes rise.
Other worthy beneficiaries of the budget include those searching for affordable housing (isnt that every one these days?). Council extended the deadline until the end of this year and lowered the household income from $100,000 to $72,000, for those who qualify for the Affordable Homeownership Preservation Grant Program (AHOP).
There could have been more funds allocated to the public safety realm, specifically a Fire Department that is wheezing for manpower and funds. We understand its a easy to write and harder to do. The creation of three shift safety officer positions in the department and money put aside for contingent reserve is a healthy start.
As for increased taxes, who likes them? No one. But every place relates to its surroundings, and surrounding the entire country right now is a tight belt, squeezing and bruising the skin of municipalities everywhere. Tax hikes should be digested with this tautness in mind.