The Alexandria City Council gave final approval last night to a $147 million operating budget for fiscal 1984 beginning July 1 that raises the property tax rate 4 cents, gives city employes a 3 percent pay raise and provides increased funds for social services.
The council passed the budget, a 9 percent increase over actual spending this year, after a late-night session during which members added money for day care, legal services and job placement for ex-convicts, and voted to reduce city contributions to firefighter and police pension plans by $500,000.
Although the reduction will require lower disability pension payments, the council will not consider those changes until a later meeting.
The budget also provides full funding for the Alexandria School Board's $50 million request, though almost $400,000 was cut with the board's approval because of savings in the school bus program and in personnel costs.
The council rejected a $96 per household trash collection fee that City Manager Douglas Harman had proposed, opting instead to raise the property tax rate beyond the 2 cents increase in Harman's draft budget.
The $147 million is slightly below spending levels proposed by the city manager, reversing the recent trend of the council approving budgets higher than the manager's spending recommendations. The cut in pension contributions was largely responsible for this year's reduction.
The new tax rate, retroactive to the first six months of this year, was set at $1.41 per $100 assessed value. That means that the owner of a house or apartment assessed at $100,000 will pay a property tax of $1,410 for this year.
City officials generally characterized the budget as a "hold-the-line" spending plan, blaming most of the rise on inflation and other uncontrollable factors. "We're not cutting any services," said councilman Donald Casey. "We're not making any major expansions."
However, the vocal Alexandria Taxpayers Alliance has disagreed with this analysis, saying that city spending is growing out of control.
The council's decision to raise the tax rate marked the end of an era lasting at least a decade in which the city was able to hold the tax rate steady or decrease it each year, but still collect more money, as the tax base expanded rapidly.
Despite objections from the Chamber of Commerce and restaurateurs, the council voted to raise the meal tax from 1 percent to 3 percent and the hotel tax from 4 percent to 5 percent. The increases are designed to shift some of the tax burden away from property owners and are expected to generate $2 million per year.
The tax rate on personal property such as automobiles and boats was lowered from $5.20 per $100 assessed value to $5.10.
Council members rejected repeated requests to cut spending from councilman Carlyle Ring, who was the only member of the seven-person panel to vote against adoption of the budget.
Ring asked that 29 police and firefighter management jobs be eliminated through attrition and transfers. While rejecting the proposal, the council instructed Harman to report back in the fall on personnel issues.
The $500,000 reduction in contributions for the police and firefighter pension plans followed a council study of the plans. It concluded that disability retirement provisions were being abused. Police and firefighters oppose the findings and have said they may challenge the cuts in court.