Investing in Our Infrastructure
Excerpt from Justin's April Newsletter
The most important decision the City Council makes each year is the adoption of the annual operating budget and capital improvement program. The operating budget generally funds the ongoing costs of government (primarily personnel), while the capital budget funds one-time expenditures that provide the community with an asset (new schools, new roads, new playing fields, transit buses, etc).
In late February, the City Manager presented his proposed Fiscal Year 2017 budgets to the City Council and our budget process is now underway.
The proposed general fund operating budget is $671.6 million, an increase of 3.46% from Fiscal Year 2016. With revenue growth in the low single digits, the City Manager included a proposed increase of one cent in the real estate tax rate.
At the proposed rate of $1.053 and including the impact of assessment increases, the average single family homeowner will pay an additional $238 during 2016. The average condominium homeowner will pay an additional $60.
Alexandria currently has the second lowest real estate tax rate of major Northern Virginia jurisdictions, and given the current budget proposals of our neighbors, that is unlikely to change.
The budget process is now underway in earnest. The City staff have been working to answer questions from individual members of the Council regarding the proposed budget. This year, the staff is responding in the traditional budget memo format, as well as trying a new "questions and answers" format for answering the same questions.
The Council held its first Public Hearing on March 14th. We took four hours of testimony from residents around our City. A day later, we made the first critical decision of the budget process.
State law requires that early in the budget process, we "advertise" the highest real estate tax rate that we might adopt. When we adopt the budget on May 5th, we can go lower than the "advertised" rate, but we cannot go above it.
On March 15th, the Council unanimously voted to advertise a real estate tax rate of $1.073, a three cent increase. If Council were to adopt the full three cent increase, the average residential homeowner would pay $275 more than they did in 2015 ($119 due to increase in assessments and $156 due to the increase in the rate).
Last month, I wrote about the significant deficiencies in a variety of municipal facilities. Just getting these facilities up to a passable condition could cost over $100 million over the next decade.
I also wrote about our road paving plan. Due to years of underinvestment, our roads are in dismal condition and we have tripled our road maintenance budget to play catch-up around the City.
In January, I wrote about the daunting infrastructure needs that face the Alexandria City Public Schools. Years of underinvestment and robust student growth over the past decade have left us with little choice but a rapid investment in new capacity.
A year ago, I wrote about the scarcity of funding for new transportation infrastructure and how increased needs to sustain the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) were crowding out local investments for transportation.
Collectively, we have a basic infrastructure crisis. Deferring this work increases costs on future taxpayers, and chokes off investment.
It is time to address our infrastructure and I am hopeful that the City Council will use this opportunity to do so.