Council discusses affordable housing tax

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An Alexandria City Council public hearing. (File Photo)
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By Missy Schrott | [email protected]

At Tuesday’s budget work session and legislative meeting, city council held a preliminary add/delete session and made a final vote on the combined sewer outfalls plan.

During the budget work session, council discussed steps forward in addressing the recurring community issues of public safety pay and affordable housing.

Council, in the discussion about affordable housing, went over the specifics of two proposals put forward by Vice Mayor Justin Wilson and Councilor Willie Bailey.

Bailey’s proposal would increase the meals tax from 4 to 5 percent and maintain the .6-cent real estate tax dedication.

Wilson’s proposal would increase the meals tax by the same percentage, but would reduce the real estate tax dedication.

In both proposals, the money generated would go toward the creation of a new capital improvement program project to fund affordable housing.

Wilson said there was consensus on the dais that funding for affordable housing should be in the CIP rather than the operating budget.

“In my view, the biggest advantage of the CIP concept here is that we’re not going to be in a situation where – as we were with [the Church of the] Resurrection — where we’re going to have folks coming to us in the middle of the budget process and try to free up money to fund a project. We will see it in the pipeline and be able to plan accordingly long term,” Wilson said.

Mayor Allison Silberberg, along with Councilors Del Pepper, John Chapman and Tim Lovain, supported Bailey’s proposal. Councilor Paul Smedberg supported Wilson’s proposal.

“I am concerned about having two sources of dedication, ultimately for one particular issue, when you’ve got school infrastructure and all other kinds of core needs that people could make clear arguments to say that they want dedicated funding as well,” Smedberg said.

Both Wilson and Bailey said implementing either proposal would be a success.

“Truthfully, I don’t really care how we get there. I just want us to be able to find more funding for workforce housing here in the city,” Bailey said. “If this happens, it’s great teamwork from here on the dais.”

Regarding public safety compensation, City Manager Mark Jinks said his office would research the best way to adjust city pay scales over the coming year.

“For pay design, it is all our pay scales – not just public safety – that all are rather lengthy,” Jinks said. “We’ll be looking at various options in regards to how long they should be, what our competitors do, how long our competitors’ employees take to get to the top of the pay scale.”

He said the process would require time for analysis since it is complicated, and adjusting the pay scale of certain city groups would inevitably impact other pay scales.

“There are numerous ways, other than just the number of steps in the system and numerous issues that need to be looked at, and we’ll be doing that over the coming year,” Jinks said.

The final budget work session is Monday and the budget will be adopted May 3.

During its legislative session, council voted unanimously to move forward with a plan to remediate the city’s combined sewer outfalls by 2025.

The plan was unanimously recommended by the Ad Hoc Combined Sewer System Plan Stakeholder Group, and received positive feedback during the public comment period, which closed recently, Deputy City Manager Emily Baker said.

Council also voted to transfer ownership of the city’s four combined sewer outfalls to Alexandria Renew Enterprises to expedite the process. Despite the transfer in ownership, there will continue to be collaboration and coordination between the city and Alex Renew throughout the duration of the project, Joanna Anderson, assistant city attorney, said.

Regarding Board of Architectural Review districts, council voted to take the first steps in exploring the consolidation of the Old and Historic Alexandria District and Parker-Gray District.

Silberberg said she was concerned about the history of the BARs and groups who had fought to keep them separate in the past.

“I think of these two BARs as distinct,” Silberberg said. “…What was missing for me was that context of how this came to be and what was involved and the strong feeling from the community there that was involved. … I’m still not comfortable with this.”

Despite Silberberg’s reservations, Smedberg made a motion to initiate a text amendment process to look at the zoning ordinance as it relates to joining the two BARs.

“This is simply to initiate a process, to look into it. It’s not predetermining anything, but it’s to get a more formal process going to look at it and get feedback,” Smedberg said.

Council voted 6-1, with Silberberg dissenting.

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