Our View: Sticker shock

Our View: Sticker shock
James Parajon.

The first budget proposed by new City Manager James Parajon for fiscal year 2023 includes a staggering 7.7% increase in spending, a shocking amount even with inflation at historic highs nationally.

For comparison, the nationwide Consumer Price Index rose 7% from December 2020 to December 2021, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, fueled by a 50% increase in the price of gasoline. Other CPI categories that rose at least 24% year-over-year were in related areas: used vehicles, energy and utility (piped) natural gas.

By contrast, nationwide spending on education, the single item that by far receives the most funding in Alexandria’s budget, rose only 2% nationwide in the past year. These numbers suggest that the key forces that led to a 7% overall inflation rate in 2021 are not the primary drivers of Alexandria’s spending surge.

The city manager’s proposed budget does include a wage increase of 6% for fire and emergency response personnel, 5% for police officers and sheriff’s deputies and 4% for other city employees that are on top of regular step increases. This constitutes real progress, though it remains to be seen if it will be enough to bring pay for Alexandria’s police officers, in particular, into line with regional averages.

Language in the budget announcement also states that a one- or two-cent hike in the real estate tax rate per $100 of assessed value might be necessary “to fund additional initiatives,” which are not identified.

Given that this budget is being funded by soaring real estate assessments in Alexandria, which will add a whopping $445 to the average homeowner’s property tax bill this year, we hope the tax burden is not further increased.

Encouraging COVID-19 news

The trajectory of COVID-19 cases in Alexandria, as elsewhere, moved rapidly upward just after last Thanksgiving, fueled mostly by the new Omicron variant. The very good news is that this trajectory has changed from a line pointing almost straight up to a bell curve, meaning cases have plummeted as quickly since mid-January as they skyrocketed in December and early January.

More encouraging news is that 75% of city residents ages 5 and older are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, though this number does not include information on booster shots. Alexandria’s full vaccination rate exceeds that of Virginia as a whole: Statewide, 71% of residents are fully vaccinated, according to the Virginia Department of Health.

The flip side of these positive numbers is that 25% of city residents and 29% of Virginia residents age 5 and up are not fully vaccinated.

Reaching these last holdouts has proven difficult in both Alexandria and Virginia as a whole. That’s why we were encouraged to see that new Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R-VA) has launched a vaccination education effort focused specifically on unvaccinated communities as part of his COVID-19 action plan. The overall plan includes public service announcements, at least 120 vaccine events across the Commonwealth and the deployment of mobile vaccine units.

Omicron has made it abundantly clear that being vaccinated will protect the vast majority of people from serious cases of COVID-19, though not against mild cases. As we said last year in our Times PSA campaign, “Give it a shot.” And in 2022, for good measure if you haven’t already, “Give it a boost!”