By Carla Branch
Alexandria City Manager Mark Jinks proposed a fiscal year 2017 General Fund Operating Budget of $671.6 million, which is an increase of 3.5% and a ten-year Capital Improvement Program budget of $1.6 billion. To fund the Operating Budget, Jinks proposed a one-cent increase in the real estate tax rate, which will provide $4 million in additional revenue.
“My proposals are consistent with the City Council’s budget guidance, are balanced as required by state law and do not rely on the use of one-time fund balances,” Jinks said. “My proposals maintain core services and existing facilities and infrastructure while identifying savings in some areas, cutting back in others, and allocating new resources to specific community priorities. The resulting budget seeks to meet the municipal and public school needs of a growing and dynamic community within fiscal constraints.
“This was once again a very challenging budget to prepare as has been the case for the past six or seven years. $9 million of the $22 million increase in our Operating Budget will go to the Alexandria City Public Schools system, which is expecting a four-percent growth in student enrollment next year that will cost $5 million. This $9 million represents 44% of our increase,” Jinks said.
Jinks’ proposed real estate tax rate increase will bring Alexandria’s tax rate to $1.053 per $100 of assessed value. “This increase represents a $50 average increase for every Alexandria homeowner,” Jinks said. “Because assessments are up, the average homeowner will see an increase of $171 next year.”
Those who pay their real estate taxes late will get a bit of a break next year. “Right now, we charge a late fee of 10% whether you are a day late or several months late,” Jinks said. “I am proposing that those who are late paying their real estate taxes by 15 days or less pay only 5%. Chances are, if you don’t pay your real estate taxes for a week or so after they are due, you simply forgot. If you don’t pay them for a month or so, you clearly didn’t intend to pay them.”
Residential refuse collection fees will increase from $337 to $353 per year. There will also be an increase of 15 cents per year in the sanitary sewer line maintenance fee. This is an average household increase of $8.15 per year.
Jinks proposed an increase in compensation for firefighters, which will cost around $900,000. This does not include the Years of Seniority Adjustment that many firefighters had hoped to receive.
“Our average firefighter’s salary is $95,000 while the average firefighter’s salary in Fairfax County is $122,000,” Jinks said. [Those salaries are for fire captains, not basic firefighters.] “I am proposing a 2.5% increase for firefighters and a 5% increase for fire officers. This will bring our firefighters to the middle of the salary range of our competitor jurisdictions in Northern Virginia and Maryland.”
There will be no change in uniformed police, fire and sheriff deputy positions. “We have a police staffing study underway and that will guide what we do in our next budget,” Jinks said.
Other City staff will receive merit increases as they are eligible. “We have not included any Market Rate Adjustment or Cost of Living Adjustment for our employees,” Jinks said.
Jinks has eliminated 26 City positions with most being transferred to open positions. “It looks like we will not see any Reductions In Force lay-offs,” Jinks said.
Alexandria passed a Living Wage Ordinance nearly 15 years ago. Because of the recession, Alexandria’s Living Wage was frozen at $13.13 per hour in 2008. Jinks proposed increasing the Living Wage in FY2017 by $1 to $14.14 per hour.
“This applies to our lowest paid City employees and to some City contractors such as janitors,” Jinks said.
Jinks proposed putting $500,000 into the Housing Trust Fund for affordable housing. “Council asked that we use some of the tax dollars that the National Science Foundation is paying prior to their tax abatement into the Housing Trust Fund and this is the first year that NSF has paid any substantial taxes,” Jinks said.
Some recreation centers will have reduced hours. “We have done an analysis and have discovered that some of our recreation centers are busy when there are scheduled programs but that some are not seeing many drop-ins,” Jinks said. “Some of those centers will only be open when there are scheduled activities.
“We have also consolidated our two senior centers and will transport seniors from the one center, which is undersubscribed to the other senior center, which has a larger number of participants. This will allow us to decrease the custodial staff in some of our recreation centers,” Jinks said.
Jinks has proposed an operating budget transfer to ACPS of $206.6 million, which is a 3.9% increase over current funding. It is nearly $1 million less than the operating budget proposed by Superintendent Alvin Crawley. The School Board has yet to pass an operating budget. They will vote on their budget on Thursday, March 3, and will submit that request to City Council.
“I am proposing that we set aside $3 million to fund two new initiatives that are in the Superintendent’s budget,” Jinks said. “Part of that money would go to lease space for a pre-school facility and part of it would go to lease elementary school swing space, which could be used as ACPS facilities are rebuilt or renovated. These funds will be held in reserve until those proposals are further discussed.”
Jinks proposed a CIP budget for FY2017 of $103 million. “$36 million of this is for ACPS and that is $8.3 million less than the School Board requested,” Jinks said. “That $8.3 million is to lease and build out a new pre-school facility in the West End. Before I propose funding such a facility, I believe it needs far more community conversation. We just began meeting with a consultant and stakeholders to study how best to deliver these services last week and it is going to take some time to conclude those conversations and come up with a recommendation on how to proceed.”
The CIP includes $6.4 million to renovate the Health Department building on King Street. “This building got a grade of F when we analyzed our facilities and we need to do something about it,” Jinks said. “We have about three quarters of a million dollars in the budget to deal with urgent needs at City Hall and we will address other needs as we can provide funding.”
Jinks provided an alternative list of items that could be funded should Council choose to increase the real estate tax rate by two cents instead of one cent. “Many of my counterparts in the region have done something similar,” Jinks said. “I proposed an increase of one cent to fund my base budget but there are certainly other priorities that could have been included if we had more money.”
Jinks will host a public budget presentation at Beatley Library (5005 Duke St.) on Thurs. Feb. 25, from 7 to 9 p.m. The meeting will also be streamed live online. Jinks will answer questions from in-person attendees and online viewers following his presentation.
City Council will hold a number of budget work sessions to discuss various aspects of Jinks’ proposal over the next two months. Final budget adoption is scheduled for early May.