Tough Budget Decisions Loom
On Saturday, October 17, Alexandria opened The Station at Potomac Yard. The Station at Potomac Yard contains the citys first new fire station in 30 years. The project uniquely combines residential housing and mix-use retail in a growing area of Alexandria. The successful project is a shining example of what the Alexandria community can accomplish, even during challenging economic times.
Immediately following the opening of The Station at Potomac Yard, I was greeted by packed City Council chambers as the Council held a public hearing focusing on budget priorities for fiscal year (FY) 2011. Thirty-five people took time from their busy Saturday to express their views on the direction the city should take as we begin our work on the next budget. Unfortunately, our economic outlook has not improved from last year. We will again face many extremely difficult decisions as we continue to navigate the economic impact of the recession on Alexandria.
Our work has just begun, but many realities are certain. According to the citys Budget Office, our expected FY 2011 shortfall will be between $32 and $51 million. We can also expect the citys real estate revenue to take a big hit. The Department of Real Estate Assessments is projecting an approximate 8 percent decline in total real property assessments and commercial property assessments are projected to drop around 13 percent.
The result of this bad news is unfortunate, but obvious. City services and programs will have to be reduced and some fees and tax rates may have to increase. The next budget could possibly be the most difficult we have ever faced, and with revenues not expected to improve for years, the community can expect that service reductions may not be restored for years.
As evidenced by your comments at the public hearing, we will have many difficult choices to make. In July, City Manager James Hartmann asked city departments to start creating a list of possible reductions. On Saturday, November 7, City Council also met with city agencies and representatives from the Alexandria City Public Schools who outlined options for us to consider. And, over the next several months, city leaders will take several steps to ensure the Alexandria community has the opportunity to provide its input on critical budget decisions.
City Council will next provide its budget guidance for the citys FY 2011 budget to the city manager on November 24. On February 9, 2010, the city manager will then provide his budget to Council and the FY 2011 budget will be approved on May 3.
Now is the time for City Council to evaluate our options and make tough decisions and we want your input. In March 2010, there will a public hearing on the budget, as well as a public hearing on the tax rate in April. As always, you may email the City Council directly at alexandriava.gov/council with your suggestions.
In addition to the public hearings, we have several new ways you can communicate with city leaders. You can comment directly on budget information electronically on the citys webpage (alexandriava.gov), or on the citys Facebook page (alexandriavagov/facebook). City staff will monitor both sites and your comments will be provided to City Council.
City Council and the city staff are currently providing budget information via the citys website as we make these difficult decisions. This important and transparent information will enable you to clearly consider along with us what impact service reductions and fee and tax increases will have on the community.
Our goal is to continue to provide the highest quality services to Alexandria residents and to always provide essential services to our most vulnerable community members. As we navigate the difficult challenges ahead, I am committed to keeping you informed. I look forward to working with you as we deal with these fiscal realities and know that together we can responsibly make the right decisions.
Bill Euille is the mayor of Alexandria.