Alexandria City Council FY 2015 Budget Work Session (Live Blog)

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City Council

The fun starts at 6:30 PM in the Council Chambers. See you there! Meeting started late due to a change in utility taxes and fees that Council can’t impose (see below).

SUMMARY: The BIG Issues – Engine 204 is safe, parking meter hours will not be extended until 9:00 PM, only two (2) Fire Marshal positions will be cut, more money was put back into senior tax and rent relief. Residents and businesses will pay $.005 more in property taxes and businesses will pay 10% more for electric utility fees to help balance the budget.

UPDATED 11:18 PM: Fixed grammar errors and corrected tax rate increase (H/T Nelsie).
UPDATED (4/29): Updated above photo with one I took last night.

9:16 PM
Meeting ends.

9:14 PM
Councilwoman Pepper thanks staff as does Vice Mayor Silberberg. Will this meeting ever end?

9:07 PM
Mayor Euille notes that there are two (2) sites in Potomac Yards set aside for a school and addresses the Gazette story on ‘selling City Hall’. He takes some time to clarify his remarks but, notes that it is an open discussion as it was mentioned that renovating and updating City Hall may cost $50M. Discussion continues. Councilman Lovain notes that Patrick Henry is a capacity issue. CIP discussion was in regards to funding six-year CIP which will happen Thursday night (5/1).

9:05 PM
Councilman Smedberg weighs in on the Patrick Henry discussion and notes that current building could be renovated instead of a brand new school, Cora Kelly needs to be looked at in 2018 and that Jefferson Houston will be half full next school year.

9:04 PM
Must ask members on capacity building in terms of CIP.

9:02 PM
I don’t think Councilman Wilson realizes some of us haven’t eaten yet.

8:55 PM
Mayor Euille gives Councilman Wilson some time to discuss CIP. Does his discussion include Alexandria’s REALLY expensive human waste problem? Says City looking at $1B in CIP spending over next ten (10) years. Next, discusses significant gap in funding for Patrick Henry CIP project. Mayor Euille says ACPS has some flexibility on this contract, they have money for consultants and that there is consensus and commitment among the members to build a new Patrick Henry.

8:50 PM
Mayor Euille recaps what has taken place. Says no changes can happen after tonight. Staff recaps what has taken place tonight. Businesses will pay more for electricity. Engine 204 saved, parking meter hours will not be extended, and one Fire Marshal position restored. Residents and businesses will pay $.005 (1/2 cent increase) cents more in personal property taxes.

8:48 PM
Budget is balanced. Members looking at ways of restoring DCHS funding by $75K instead of $50K. Mayor Euille is good consensus builder.

8:41 PM
Mayor asks what a 10% raise in commercial electricity fee would do for the budget. It is now $32k out of balance.

8:39 PM
Members debate restoring DCHS funding. Mayor Euille says members need consensus. Members lacking consensus on several items (and here I thought this might end up being a quick meeting).

8:37 PM
Vice Mayor Silberberg weighs in on where members can make up the $212k shortfall.

8:33 PM
Councilman Chapman asks Council to look at line item 123 and 124. These are Recreation events and other services. RPCA Director weighs in.

8:30 PM
Council debates restoring one (1) Fire Marshal position. Councilman Lovain is against this and argues for Council to save money by eliminating the position once again. Vice Mayor Silberberg argues strongly in favor of restoring the position.

8:29 PM
First round over. Budget out of balance by $212K. Mayor Euille summarizes where we are.

8:27PM
Council takes up line item 116 – storm water maintenance.

8:24 PM
Councilman Lovain questions support among members for line items 105 and 106 which is part of the Office of Historic Alexandria (OHA). These are not highlighted tonight. Discussion ensues. OHA Director weighs in on this cut.

8:22 PM
Councilman Smedberg speaks! and weighs in on the P & Z position.

8:21 PM
Wondering if Councilman Wilson’s nickname among staff during budget season is ‘The Memo Guy’.

8:18 PM
Moving P & Z staff review position to full-time from seasonal. City Manager Rashad Young argues in favor of this. Mayor Euille says 4 members support keeping status quo.

8:12 PM
Councilman Chapman queries staff on what the impact of the reduction would be. Staff responds. Staff notes some of the projects listed in the IT budget can be scalable. City of Alexandria CIO weighs in on the line item. Councilman Lovain says they can go through this line by line.

8:07 PM
Reducing IT program enhancements. City Manager urges members to restore fully. Discussion ensues. Councilman Lovain supports the $150K reduction. Looks like several other members do as we’ll.

8:05 PM
Councilman Wilson queries staff on Marketing Fund. Wants members to be aware that City is facing a $15M shortfall for FY 2016 right now.

8:01 PM
Restoration of the Marketing Fund. Reduced by $85K. Council looks to restoring $50K of the $85K. Mayor Euille says 3 support restoring the $50K.

7:59 PM
Councilman Chapman responds to the City Manager’s comments. Says employees should pay some of the cost of development and training.

7:56 PM
City Manager Rashad Young notes employee retention and professional development is equally important in public safety as is paying the public safety employees comparably to other jurisdictions. Says Planning and Zoning training is for very technical work.

7:53 PM
Vice Mayor Silberberg notes that another area she and Councilman Chapman wanted fellow members to look at was Planning and Zoning training and travel funding. Discussion ensues.

7:50 PM
Councilman Wilson says members have to be very careful on cutting good Government and that members do not cut ‘what they are lobbied about’. Vice Mayor Silberberg weighs in and agrees that conference funding should be cut and that professional development funds should be kept at 2014 level.

7:47 PM
Councilman Wilson questions the need to cut professional development funds . Councilman Chapman says money is already there. Mayor Euille is for professional development funds. Mayor Euille says he’d like to fund everything but, Council has to make choices. Doesn’t seem like he is for cutting development fund but is for cutting conferences funding.

7:41 PM
Mayor Euille gives Councilman Chapman the okay to discuss what other areas of the budget can be reduced to restore full $100k of this funding. Councilman chapman wants fellow members to look at employee training and conferences. Says culture has to change. Mayor Euille and members query staff.

7:39 PM
Councilman Lovain weighs in on this restoration. Says he can live with compromise. Councilman Chapman is for FULL restoration of this funding and explains why. Urges fellow members to make extra effort to save this funding.

7:35 PM
Mayors Euille endorses restoration of $1.2M in funding to the public schools request. This is a compromise.

7:33 PM
Councilman Lovain makes remarks on this topic. Interested in capping program. Uses the word ‘progressive’ again. Staff says will look at this program during 5-year plan.

7:31 PM
Councilman Wilson comments on this topic. Says he is uncomfortable with touching the benefits of current retirees. Endorses the full $264K? Yes. Discusses with staff possible changes on future retirees.

7:28 PM
Councilman Chapman and Councilman Smedberg are pretty quiet tonight.

7:26 PM
Mayor Euille comments on this topic and notes that Council can pick a number anywhere between $0 to. $264K. Councilwoman Pepper endorses the full restoration of the $264K.

7:21 PM
Mayor Euille questions staff on restoring the full $260K plus to this program. Vice Mayor Silberberg comments on why she is for the full restoration of the $264K. Uses story of retired APD officer she met recently. Staff notes that NO retiree will lose benefits but, simply cost is shifted to Medicare Advantage for those over 65.

7:18 PM
Retiree health insurance. Restores the health insurance payment. Council deliberates on this topic. Council looking to push retirees over 65 into Medicare Advantage. This will save retirees money as well as the City. HR staff addresses the Council on this. Councilman Wilson questions staff on this topic.

7:16 PM
Council debates looking at doing a 10% increase in commercial electric rate fees. A BIG hit for business owners. And you wonder why property taxes are split 73/27 residential to commercial. This 10% Increase lowers the deficit to $47K.

7:14 PM
Mayor Euille endorses the compromise #2. Vice Mayor Silberberg says she will endorse the compromise. Councilman Chapman says he is in favor of the compromise.

7:12 PM
Councilman Lovain weighs in on Council helping seniors ‘age in place’ and endorses same option as Ms. Pepper. Says this change will help program become more ‘progressive’.

7:08 PM
Councilwoman Pepper addresses the program. She was very passionate on this subject at last work session (check live blog of this session). Says she would like home values excluded and discusses the reasons for this program. Excluding home value loses the budget $430K.

7:04 PM
Vice Mayor Silberberg queries staff on the change in policy from the restoration of the $1.3M. Discussion ensues on how to come up with the money to restore both tax relief and rent relief fully.

7:01 PM
Staff plugs in $.005 (1/2 cent) tax rate increase. FY 2015 budget is at a variance of $205K. Meeting moves on to Senior Real Estate Tax relief. Council restored $1.3M to this with $150K set aside for senior rent relief. This $1.3M is based on a particular asset value that Council will choose on Thursday, May 1. Senior real estate tax relief is one of the highlighted items for the evening.

6:58 PM
With this proposed increase in utility tax rates, as proposed, Alexandria WILL have the second highest utility tax rates in the region.

6:54 PM
Councilman Justin Wilson asks a process question and questions staff on what the City did last year on raising utility tax rates. MY NOTE: by Council raising fees on utility tax rates, they are raising your taxes on these services over and above your personal property tax rate.

6:50 PM
Tonight’s worksheet shows $.004 cent increase in property tax rate this year. City Manager Rashad Young addresses members on this afternoon’s development over utility tax rates. City Manager Young addresses differences in the budget over this afternoon’s development and what actions Council can take.

6:48 PM
Mayor Euille calls meeting to order and makes opening remarks. Council will be focusing on highlighted items only tonight. Looks like Engine 204 is safe.

6:44 PM
Mayor Euille says delay in start time is due to staff recalculating figures.

6:41 PM
LooKing at tonight’s worksheet, looks like Engine 204 is safe and parking meter hours expansion will not make the cut. Mayor Euille arrives.

6:38 PM
City manager arrives. Bet he didn’t have one-tenth of the traffic I did getting here. Six members present. Where’s the Mayor?

6:35 PM
Meeting running late. Here I thought I was running late. Looking at Council’s spreadsheet for tonight, looks like $605 is the difference right now.

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[…] Alexandria’s FY 2015 Budget is finalized – $.005 tax increase and businesses will pay a lot more for commercial utilities (Red Brick Town) […]

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[…] fun starts at 7:00 PM. The final add/delete session was Monday and the budget was locked in. On the agenda for tonight is the vote on the FY 2015 budget as well […]