Council considers various budget cuts in preliminary add/delete session

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By Missy Schrott | [email protected]

Council held its preliminary add/delete session for the fiscal year 2020 budget on April 23. During discussion, councilors widely expressed a commitment to finding a delete for every addition in order to maintain the existing tax rate.

The discussion was based on additions councilors have suggested for City Manager Mark Jinks’ proposed $761.1 million budget.

“This is probably the most important part of the budget process here as we work to reconcile amendments that each member of council has made,” Mayor Justin Wilson said.

Based on the proposed additions, council will have to cut $243,000 to balance the budget. While the additions total about $838,000, the city’s revenue in the proposed budget will go up by about $595,000 from revenue re-estimates, a prisoner agreement from the U.S. District Court of D.C. and the residential refuse collection fee. The difference in the proposed expenditures and proposed revenue increase leaves council to find $243,000 in cuts.

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Wilson and Councilor Canek Aguirre proposed different variations of budget cuts during the meeting, but council ended the discussion without reaching a consensus. Despite failing to agree on a direction for the cuts, Wilson said he was hopeful that council was on track to make a decision at the final add/delete session on April 29.

Some of the most debated areas of the budget were funding for a C-PACE startup contingency, a Family Unit Due Process Universal Representation Access Program, lights in trees along King Street and an additional $100,000 for Alexandria City Public Schools.

Councilor Del Pepper proposed adding $125,000 to the budget to fund the startup costs of C-PACE, a Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy Program in Alexandria. The climate change initiative has been implemented in 32 states and is a recommendation in the city’s environmental action plan, according to Wilson.

Aguirre and Councilor Mo Seifeldein supported cutting all $125,000.

“It’s not an immediate need as [compared] to others that are listed here,” Seifeldein said. “I think the overall objective of the program is good, I don’t think it’s just ready for us yet.”

Wilson said the program was an important step for the city to take toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“I think this is a really good climate change initiative for us,” Wilson said. “If we are going to make any progress on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, it’s going to have to be in existing buildings. We are simply not going to move the needle enough with new construction … and this is the best thing we know how to do now to make progress on that.”

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Councilors also had mixed reactions about allocating an additional $100,000 for ACPS. Jinks’ budget proposal already recommends fully funding Superintendent Gregory Hutchings original request of $232.3 million.

Councilor John Chapman, who proposed the addition, said the funding would help bridge the gap for retaining ACPS’ custodial staff. In his budget proposal, Hutchings recommends eliminating the jobs of 30 custodians and replacing them with private contractors. ACPS would allegedly need $500,000 to sustain all of the positions.

“If we want to turn everything over in our system to contractors, that can of course be the will of some folks, but I don’t necessarily think that needs to be the case here,” Chapman said. “The scary thing to me is that this signals to where ACPS is going to go with support staff.”

Wilson countered that $100,000 will not solve all of ACPS’ needs, which according to a memo from the superintendent, total $1 million.

“To fix all of that would require $1 million, so $100,000 doesn’t fix any of that, it just fixes a tiny portion of it,” Wilson said. “I don’t think $100,000 goes very far. My view is that … while it’s certainly difficult, this is something that if they want to fix the custodian issue, they can fix it.”

Councilors also debated how much funding to set aside for the Family Unit Due Process Universal Representation Access Program, an inclusivity-based program that will reduce the negative impact of child and family separation policies, according to the proposal. In his add sheet, Seifeldein proposed $150,000.

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Throughout the session, Pepper advocated for her proposed $34,800 addition to keep the tree lights on King Street up for 11 months of the year. Currently, the lights stay up for five months.

“It’s very inexpensive … for us to have them for 11 months and that’s almost year-round,” Pepper said. “I would really appreciate the support for that.”

While the councilors spent a lot of time advocating for their various additions, Wilson repeatedly reminded them to exercise discipline and consider cuts as well. Both he and Aguirre proposed various cuts totaling $275,000 to balance the $243,000 in additions.

Wilson’s proposal involved cutting the $100,000 ACPS request, $25,000 from C-PACE, $50,000 from the Family Unit Due Process Universal Representation Access Program, $15,000 from the King Street lights, $25,000 from SNAP outreach and program expansion and $60,000 in an additional equity city staff member.

“That’s the kind of thinking we’re going to have to do here to get this done,” Wilson said.

Aguirre proposed a few variations of cuts, but his initial suggestion was to cut $125,000 from C-PACE, $100,000 from the $200,000 early childhood capacity expansion proposal and $50,000 from the Family Unit Due Process Universal Representation Access Program.

Councilors Amy Jackson and Elizabeth Bennett-Parker said they wanted to propose additional cut combinations before the final add/delete session on Monday.

“We have a couple scenarios that have been stated. I suspect we’ll have three more that show up over the next couple of days,” Wilson said. “I think folks understand the kind of more disciplined thinking that’s required to get to a zero number at the bottom line, and we’ll have to hash this out on Monday.”

The final add/delete session will take place in council chambers at 7 p.m. on April 29. Public comments will be accepted online until the final session. To submit a comment, visit www.research.net/r/AlexandriaVA-FY20AddDelete.

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