An oversight by an Alexandria city employee who failed to schedule a final vote on a planned utility tax increase in June cost the city $275,000 and gave residents a little break on their summer tax bills.
An employee in the Alexandria management and finance office forgot to put a required “second reading” — the final vote — on the City Council’s June 15 agenda, which means that the tax increase did not take effect. It would have raised the taxes on residential gas and electric bills by 60 cents a month each and commercial electric taxes by 10 percent, starting July 1.
City Manager Rashad Young said Tuesday that the matter “slipped through the cracks” in part because of the budget staff’s unfamiliarity with year-old document-management software. The staff routine was to schedule final votes in the database after an item passed on the first vote. Young said the staff member responsible for doing that simply forgot.
The city has changed that routine, Young said, and will consolidate all tax and fee changes made during the budget process into one or two documents instead of submitting them to a series of votes, as is now the practice. He said the city will also monitor revenue collections through the rest of the fiscal year and control spending so the shortage doesn’t affect taxpayers.
No one was disciplined for the mistake, Young said, and the city will not try to collect the taxes retroactively.
“I don’t think this omission was because people weren’t being dutiful at their jobs,” he said. A $275,000 shortfall in a $625 million budget won’t break the city, he said, but “we take it seriously in an environment where we have to raise taxes and fees. Every dollar is an important dollar. But in the scheme of the overall budget, this is not overly significant.”
Young plans to bring the tax-rate ordinance back to the council at its Sept. 10 legislative meeting and schedule the final public hearing and vote for the Sept. 21 meeting. The tax increase would go into effect Oct. 1.
Alexandria residents have already seen their tax burden go up this year because the council voted for a 4-cent increase in the property tax rate. In June, the council was also debating whether to continue setting aside a portion of the tax revenue for its affordable housing and parks funds. (It retained the affordable housing set-aside but eliminated the open-space set-aside.)
Young said those issues were not a factor in the utility tax increase’s being overlooked.
The error was discovered by City Council member Justin Wilson (D), who noticed that his Dominion Virginia Power bill was 60 cents lower than he expected.
“I look at all my bills pretty closely, and the city’s bills, too,” he said. “I kind of wish I caught it a month ago. We could have saved ourselves more. It’s a significant amount of money, but not hugely significant.”