A phoenix rising from the ashes.
That’s the image Mayor Bill Euille seemed to be going for last Saturday when he delivered his annual State of the City address. The phoenix? The City of Alexandria. The ashes? The recession and its effects on the city.
Euille discussed the city’s past year, made his case for raising taxes and juxtaposed Alexandria’s history with its present challenges to paint a positive picture for residents.
“Alexandria is currently in its most serious budget crisis in recent memory,” he said, blaming falling real estate assessments and cuts from the state.
As with last year, when the address took place at the then-new Charles Houston Recreation Center, Euille used The Station at Potomac Yard, a new combination fire station-workforce housing-retail building, to showcase what the city hopes is the beginning of a vibrant neighborhood. It’s also a model for Alexandria’s touted urban renewal projects to be developed around public transit hubs like Metro stations.
But the mayor also used the platform to identify some realities the city faces as it attempts to close a $44 million budget deficit namely a possible nine-cent hike in residential real estate taxes.
“No one wants higher taxes, particularly during a recession,” Euille said. “However, it will likely be one of the means needed to help close this gap.”
Highlighting the city’s efforts to make up for an unfriendly business reputation and achieve heightened economic development, Euille pointed to the multi-agency permit center that offers “one-stop shopping” for same-day processing, plan review and issuance of required city permits and licenses and a plan to streamline and manage business tax payments.
Legislatively and programmatically, he highlighted expanding business special use permits and working with the Small Business Zoning program, the Alexandria Marketing Fund and other economic development agencies in the city.
The mayor touched on every realm of the city government from public safety and health and human services to the need for affordable housing but lately education has been at the forefront of Alexandria’s collective mind, given T.C. Williams’ recent distinction as a low-achieving school.
Euille kept with the theme of his speech, opting for buoyant rhetoric.
“Working together, and by turning a crisis into an opportunity, we can unite to ensure that every child succeeds and that our school system promotes community and cultural enhancements, expands mentoring initiatives, advocates for educational change to meet today’s needs and challenges and motivates students to achieve and to be empowered,” he said.
While comparing today’s youth with exploited child laborers in the early 20th century (as Euille did in his speech) is perhaps a stretch, the mayor gave a short history lesson to give residents hope.
In 1819, during an economic panic, Alexandria recovered a few years later because of increased exporting attributed to improved steam engine technology. In 1836, credit-tightening caused a six-year depression and the land market collapsed, “but Alexandria came back from that crisis, organizing The Orange and Alexandria Railroad in 1848, which helped transform the city into a major railroad hub.”
Enhance commerce and climb out of a recession? Develop neighborhoods around major transportation centers? Sounds familiar.