Everyone in this city and country has known for a long time that the recession is or would become a hindrance to everyday life as we now know it, despite the Washington region being among the cushier places to ride it out. But that does not make it a comfortable situation; the city governments preliminary budget outlook is proof. Based on the citys dreary and stark projections, the question is not a matter of if or even when Alexandrians will feel a heightened sense of the recessions effects. It is how.
There is nothing lucky about facing a $43 million budget deficit that will influence services and likely raise taxes and fees for the citys approximately 140,000 residents. The city government will spend the next five-and-a-half months making decisions that will affect Alexandrians directly: some residents without medical insurance may find it more difficult to fill a prescription because of cuts in health care funding, while others may face higher property tax bills. Almost everything is on the table at this point in the process.
If there is a bright spot, however, it is that you, the taxpayers, have a voice in the matter. City Hall seeks and accepts comments and ideas from Alexandrians to help shape their citys budget-cutting and spending process. Whether it be writing letters to elected officials or local newspapers, posting comments on the citys website an open and transparent forum or speaking at government meetings that are opened to the public, there is something to be said for playing a direct role in decisions that will directly affect your quality of life in the city.
Are you for or against raising real estate taxes that will help close the budget gap and provide transportation funding, but may pressure your recession-strained bank account? Say something. How do you stand on public safety departments, like police, fire and emergency medical services, being decreased or stressed because of the extra workload required by the same amount of resources? Say something. A slew of options exist to close the gap. What are your priorities? City-subsidized health care services? Libraries? Substance abuse and mental illness safeguards? It is the city governments responsibility to work for you, and nobody knows better what is right for you than, well, you.
Cuts to the budget will be painful to the citys residents and painstakingly made by the officials they have elected, who have the job of realizing and acting upon their constituents best interests. Without civic engagement in the process, those interests will be unheard and therefore unrepresentative of what the population really wants to see happen in the coming years.
Some of the options being considered by City Hall are short-term trims. But most measures are being looked at with a long-term telescope projecting alterations in the daily quality of life for years to come; structural changes that will induce what has been repeatedly referred to as a new normal. Voice your opinion to City Hall and avoid the new normal making your life in Alexandria, to the greatest extent possible, the new abnormal.