UPDATED: Budget unveiled, max business tax proposed

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UPDATED: Budget unveiled, max business tax proposed
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Alexandrias operating fund will grow almost $22 million next year after three straight budget seasons of shortfalls and belt-tightening, signaling a steady but earnest financial standing, officials announced Tuesday.

Outgoing City Manager Jim Hartmann did not recommend any tax or fee hikes when proposing his $553.4 million spending plan to the city council, but advised enacting the maximum commercial add-on tax allowed by the state, which would fund strictly transportation projects. New business licensure fee breaks would offset the transportation tax for about 45 percent of the citys businesses most of them small, he said.

Transportation issues loom so large for us that we need to figure out how to adequately fund them in the future, Hartmann said, adding that lower business license costs should help keep the citys critical small business sector out of the red.

The budget is a work in progress. Nothing will be final until May after several discussions and public hearings inform the process.

Officials said they expect the add-on tax to play a contentious role until then. The levy on commercial properties would charge 12.5 cents per $100 of their assessed value and would raise $189 million over 10 years, according to Bruce Johnson, budget director. 

We just need to be very considerate of landlords and businesses as we ask them to foot the bill [for transportation projects], Councilman Frank Fannon cautioned.

THAT DOESNT MEAN THINGS ARE ROSY

Revenue from real estate taxes are up because of higher appraisals and past tax hikes, aiding the citys sturdy fiscal standing.

That doesnt mean that things are rosy, Mayor Euille said. As a matter of fact we can all conclude there are still many challenges that we all have to deal with.

Reinstating pre-recession public service levels is not in the picture for next fiscal year, at least in the budgets nascent stage, officials said. Rather, the city government, which has shed 180 full-time positions since 2008, will likely dedicate a $17 million surplus to capital projects aimed at economic development and transportation infrastructure like the Potomac Yard Metro station, Johnson said.

The public schools have needs, too. Classroom space is fast depleting and enrollment projections necessitate new schools, according to Alexandria City Public Schools officials. The citys proposed budget allocates about $158 million for ACPS improvements, paling into comparison the systems request for $372 million which is far in excess of what we have capacity for in our existing CIP plan, Hartmann said.

As the top beneficiary of the citys budget, ACPS will receive about $175 million for their general fund about $7 million more than last fiscal year, according to the proposed budget document.

RAISES AND PAYMENTS FOR CITY EMPLOYEES 

The city manager recommended merit-based and step pay increases for city workers but for the fourth year in a row voided across the board cost of living raises. 

Hartmann also asked employees to contribute an additional 3 percent to health insurance premiums now at 16 percent total and to their retirement pensions.

I think based on things that are occurring throughout this nation that these requests are fair and manageable, Hartmann said.

President of the Black Firefighters Union and Alexandria Fire Department Capt. John Moorehead disagrees. A step increase and more retirement contributions amounts to a zero sum game, he said, vowing to fight the line item.

I think we pay enough for retirement, especially when were the ones on the front lines, he said. We havent been greedy. Were not asking for something we havent earned.

City council members will meet with staff to begin budget deliberations Wednesday night at City Hall.

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