By Carla Branch
The Alexandria City Council's unanimous vote to adopt a $587.9 million fiscal year 2013 operating budget required a two-hour add/delete session prior to last night's public meeting and compromise by all members.
“This Council worked together to craft a budget that we could all support,” said Mayor Bill Euille. “Nobody got everything he or she wanted. There are a lot of worthy programs competing for limited funds and we did what we could. As the economy continues to improve, we hope we can do more in the years to come.”
Councilman Rob Krupicka, who is not running for re-election but is a candidate for the Virginia House of Delegates in the 45th District, voted for the over-all budget but cast a “no” vote for two of the subsidiary motions. He made a substitute motion to give the Alexandria City Public Schools $1.23 million more than the $179 million they ultimately received. That motion died for lack of a second. He also voted “no” on the transfer of just over $1 million from Fund Balance to avoid raising the real estate tax rate.
“I do not believe it is prudent to balance our budget by moving money from Fund Balance,” he said. “Since this is my last budget, I think it is important to send a message to future City Councils that continuing to deplete our Fund Balance account will jeopardize our double Triple-A bond rating and the financial health of the City.
“As to the school budget, the State gave them an additional $1.23 million for specific programs and I don't think it is right to balance the city side of the budget by taking away that amount of City funding,” Krupicka said.
Councilman Paul Smedberg disagareed. “In the end analysis, the schools received more money than the School Board requested. Council has been very supportive of the public school system and we will continue to work with the School Board to ensure the school system's success. We all have fiscal challenges and we can't do everything,” he said.
The School Board has $2.3 million set aside to pay for Virginia Retirement System increases. “We would recommend that the School Board use that money to help pay for the unfunded mandate the City and the schools got from the State,” said Vice Mayor Kerry Donley. “The City is going to pay for our share over a five-year period. We will work with the School Board to find a way to pay their share of this increase in employee salaries that is supposed to offset the 5% VRS increase over the next few years. Unfortunately, when the State imposed this increase on localities, the people in Richmond did not consider the increased cost of social security that must be paid for by the localities and the employees.”
Councilman Frank Fannon pointed out the many things that Council included in this budget to support ACPS. “We gave the school system an additional $800,000 to help pay for an artificial turf field at Jefferson-Houston. We are providing $44 million for a new elementary school there. We have been very supportive of the school system and will continue to to do so,” he said.
Salary Increases for City Employees
Council included an additional $900,000 in the FY2013 budget to address the salaries of City employees: $400,000 to address public safety salaries and $500,000 for other employees. “For five years, City employees have paid the price of our poor economy by not receiving salary increases,” said Councilwoman Del Pepper. “We are finally doing something about that – not enough, but something.”
Euille agreed. “At the beginning of this budget process, we made a commitment to try to avoid increasing the real estate tax rate and we have done that,” he said. “But we also made a commitment to look at salary increases for our hard-working employees. We have done that and hope to do more as the economy improves,” he said.
The new fiscal year begins on July 1.