By Missy Schrott | [email protected]
City Manager Mark Jinks’ Fiscal Year 2020 proposed budget involves no real estate tax rate increase, no major service reductions and full funding for the school superintendent’s request.
Jinks formally presented the proposed operating budget of $761.1 million, a 1.7 percent increase over last year, to members of city council at a special meeting on Feb. 19.
While putting together the budget, Jinks said he had directed city departments to submit budget reductions to offset the estimated budget gap and to ensure that the proposed budget maintained city services, as well as funding for schools and transportation.
The proposed budget fully funds Superintendent Gregory Hutchings’ request of $232.3 million in operating funds for Alexandria City Public Schools, a 3.8 percent increase over last year.
Jinks said Hutchings had originally thought schools would need much more funding, close to roughly an 8 percent increase over last year, but that they had done a “thorough scrubbing” of their needs to keep the request down.
“I am proposing a direct transfer to ACPS of 30.5 percent of the general fund budget, or $232.3 million,” Jinks said in a statement. “This represents 100 percent of Superintendent Hutchings’ request and is possible because he and his team crafted a responsible budget.”
The proposed budget also invests $1.62 billion over 10 years in Alexandria’s Capital Improvement Program. The proposed CIP is down 26.2 percent from the approved FY19 to FY28 CIP, primarily because the combined sewer outfall remediation project has transferred to AlexRenew’s purview and budget. Jinks’ CIP proposal represents continued investment in city and school infrastructure and facilities, according to the proposed budget document.
For the second straight year, Jinks’ proposal maintains the real estate tax at $1.13 per $100 of assessed value. Based on average increases in assessments, however, the average homeowner’s tax bill will rise by 1.9 percent, or $118 per year.
Jinks’ proposal does not include hikes in any other tax rates or in the stormwater or sewer fees. However, there is a proposed increase in the annual fee for residents who receive city recycling services, from $373 to $406, in response to market conditions.
Jinks said his budget plan seeks to continue Alexandria’s progress as a “smart, green and equitable city.”
Proposals linked to the “smart city” pillar include funding a new customer service system called Alex311, which would replace the Call.Click.Connect system. Jinks also proposed expanding online payments for taxes and fees and implementing a new system for development and code permit applications.
Another technological advance includes adding new tools for delinquent payment collection. One major change will be eliminating the vehicle windshield decals that indicate payment of personal property taxes and deploying license plate reader technology instead.
On the “green city” front, Jinks proposed funding for major improvements to the city’s municipal vehicle fleet and for the purchase of only hybrid and electric vehicles. He also proposed setting aside $3.5 million for new clean diesel DASH buses and funding to power city facilities with 100 percent alternative power, including wind, biomass and solar energy.
Regarding “equity,” Jinks proposed establishing a new racial and social equity officer in the city manager’s office.
Jinks called his budget “exceedingly fiscally prudent.”
“More than ever, communities must make difficult choices about how to allocate limited resources,” he said in a statement. “Faced with slow economic growth in the region, Alexandria is no exception. Because we have worked thoughtfully together to express our values and prioritize our investments, we have been able to maintain core services while pursuing progressive goals.”
In response to the presentation, city council members expressed few, if any, questions and concerns about the proposed budget. However, Jinks’ presentation was just the beginning of a three-month-long budget adoption process.
“I am thankful to our city manager and city staff for their hard work in preparing a budget that was responsive to council’s guidance,” Mayor Justin Wilson said in a statement. “I am especially appreciative that the manager prioritized our growing schools in this budget. Now the council’s hard work begins as we work to balance our community’s priorities in a constrained revenue environment.”
In the coming months, council will hold 10 work sessions to review the proposed budget. There will be a public budget presentation at Charles Houston Recreation Center on Feb. 28. Council is scheduled to adopt a final budget on May. 1.