Our View: Revised budget demonstrates city manager’s strengths

Our View: Revised budget demonstrates city manager’s strengths

When City Manager Mark Jinks released his original fiscal year 2021 budget back in February, we, like many in the city, were appalled by the 6.8 percent increase in taxes that the average Alexandria homeowner was projected to owe – before counting in rising sewer and water fee rates.

The double-whammy of a two-cent increase in the tax rate coupled with significantly higher real estate assessments meant the average city residential tax bill was set to rise by $428. Even in the midst of a booming economy – remember those days? – that tax hike, which was three times the rate of inflation, seemed excessive.

Of course, the world has turned upside down in the intervening two months, as the novel coronavirus has resulted in a virtual shutdown of the U.S. economy, along with 248 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and four related deaths in Alexandria.

The situation called for a budgeting turnabout, and Jinks’ 2.0 effort reflects the difficult times that have befallen our city and our nation.

Several capital improvement projects that were slated to get underway in FY2021 have been pushed back, most significantly the $103.7 million rebuild of the T.C. Williams High School Minnie Howard campus project. One notable exception is the Douglas MacArthur Elementary School rebuild, which was farther along in the process and will continue on schedule.

While Alexandria’s budget reboot was a necessity driven by forces beyond anyone’s control, the resulting product is a reflection of Jinks’ skill as a budget crafter.

It’s worth noting that Jinks became city manager five years ago this week, after having spent the prior 16 years working first as Alexandria’s chief financial officer – our chief budget crafter – and then as a deputy city manager.

Developing Alexandria’s budgets remains Jinks’ strong suit. We have marveled in prior years at his ability to often present reasonable, balanced budgets without excessive tax increases. While FY2021 version 1.0 did not do that, this budget revision is a reflection of his skill.