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November 12, 2014 Published in City Hall, Top Stories

Alexandria City Council FY2016 Budget Guidance Includes Possible Tax Increase

By Carla Branch

The Alexandria City Council’s fiscal year 2016 budget guidance to City Manager Rashad Young allows Young to propose a budget that includes tax increases to meet the needs of the City.

Last night’s 6-1 Council vote came after a lengthy and contentious discussion among members. “We are already facing a $16 million budget deficit next year before we add any programs or look at giving our staff any salary or cost of living increase,” said Councilwoman Del Pepper. “We need to give the manager the flexibility to propose a budget that includes a tax rate increase if he feels he needs to do that to get to a budget that includes taking care of our staff. We don’t want to continue to lose good people because we aren’t keeping up with neighboring jurisdictions as far as employee compensation.”

Council Members Tim Lovain, Paul Smedberg and Justin Wilson wanted to instruct Young to propose a budget with no tax rate increases. “We should be asking the Manager to propose a budget that is a stretch,” Lovain said. “If we believe we need to raise the tax rate, we should justify that to our residents.

“We are asking Alexandrians to take on more and more of a burden. Property assessments are going up so without any tax rate increase, people are going to be paying more. It is our responsible as elected officials to determine whether to raise taxes and to justify that decision to those who elected us,” Lovain said.

Last year’s budget guidance included no tax rate increase. “Last year the manager brought us a budget with no tax increase and we decided to increase the tax rate to pay for services. ‘We still have that option this year,” Smedberg said.

Wilson said that, “if we tell the Manager he can include a tax rate increase in his budget, he will. I would guarantee that. Basically, what we are saying is that we expect to raise taxes even before we begin budget deliberations.”

Council’s budget guidance also instructs Young to propose a transfer to the Alexandria City Public Schools that is equal to this year’s transfer except that he should consider student enrollment, efficiencies that can be gained from collaboration and adjustments in State and federal funding. Council also instructed Young to consider suggestions for business reforms. 

New Add/Delete Process

The FY2016 budget process will include a new way of proposing additions and deletions. “Every member will still be able to propose additions and deletions to the budget,” Smedberg said. “The difference will be that each proposed add/delete will be submitted to staff on a form that will give a detailed explanation of the addition and/or deletion. There will be no large spread sheet with all of our add/deletes.

“To move the proposed add/delete to the second phase in the process, the Council member who is proposing the add/delete must get two Council members to co-sponsor the proposal. Only after three Council members agree that they want to consider the add/delete will staff perform an analysis of the five-year impact of the proposal.

“This new way of doing add/deletes will force us to talk to each other earlier in the process and really look at our priorities. It will also save staff time because they will not have to analyze proposals that have no chance of being implemented,” Smedberg said.

Vice Mayor Allison Silberberg opposed the new process. “I just think it will limit public input,” she said. “What if one of us wants to propose an addition or deletion late in the process because some group has made a good case for that addition? I just don’t want to limit public input or debate.”

Mayor Bill Euille disagreed that the new process will limit debate. “We have scheduled three public hearings and it is our responsibility to reach out to various groups to get their input,” he said. “This is a new way of doing things but I think it improves the process.”

Councilman John Chapman agreed. “This process forces us to think strategically,” he said. “I have had concerns about the way we have made budget decisions based on making additions or deletions at the end of the process. This new process will make us look at our priorities and share those priorities with the public.”

Silberberg voted against the new process, which passed, 6-1. She also voted against the budget guidance because it included the new add/delete process.

The Process

The FY2016 operating budget and FY2016-25 Capital Improvement Program process will remain largely the same as last year’s process. The City Manager will present his proposed budget to Council one week later than last year, On March 3. Council will adopt the final budget in early May.

Currently, the Alexandria City School Board is scheduled to adopt the FY2016 operating budget on March 12. Council’s budget process resolution, which passed unanimously last night, includes a request that the School Board pass and submit their budget request to Council prior to the Manager’s submission of his proposed budget. This guidance has been given to the Board for the past three years but the Board has ignored the request.

“Before 2009, we managed to prepare and pass a budget before the City Manager submitted his request to Council at the end of February,” said Board Member Patricia Hennig. “I see no reason why we can’t go back to the process that worked for years before the previous superintendent came. It is in our best interest to have our request to Council so that it can be included in the Manager’s proposed budget.”

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