Council Seeks to Make

Budget More Accessible

Alexandrians should be aware of the changes the City Council has made to its budget process in an effort to manage growth in city spending, make budget development more transparent and give the council and the community more time to deliberate on the budget.

As an important step in that new process, the City Council held a budget retreat on Oct. 29 at Samuel Tucker Elementary School. At the City Council's direction, city staffers presented a preliminary budget forecast for both revenues and expenditures. They project an 18 percent increase in average residential real estate assessments in 2006, compared with a 21 percent increase this year, and a 16 percent increase in average commercial real estate assessments, compared with a 15 percent increase this year.

The staff presented a preliminary forecast of expenditures needed to maintain current city services and policies. The city's Budget and Fiscal Affairs Advisory Committee (BFAAC), which I chair, has urged the city to use such a budget base line as a tool for making good budget decisions and for increasing public understanding of the budget. The city staff estimated that expenditures will have to increase by 8.5 percent to maintain current services; the main cost drivers are expected to be cost-of-living and merit-pay increases, as well as increases in the costs of health insurance and mandatory actuarial charges from the Virginia Retirement System for both city and school employees, increases in the costs of fuel, electricity and natural gas, and the number of major public construction projects approved or underway in Alexandria.

City staff then described current efforts to seek greater efficiencies in current city programs, including intensive efficiency and best-practices audits of the Fire Department and the Department of Transportation and Environmental Services. They also discussed possible discretionary program increases under review by the city manager. Council and city staff then discussed the implications of various possible expenditure targets for city programs and the residential tax rate. Under the new budget process, the City Council will set FY 2007 expenditure targets for city programs and the Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) on Nov. 9.

At the retreat, the council also heard from Schools Superintendent Rebecca L. Perry about the preliminary FY 2007 budget forecast for ACPS, as well as from BFAAC. Council and city staff also discussed progress in meeting the goals of the City Council Strategic Plan as well as the changes that have been made in the budget process. For example, when the city manager presents his proposed FY 2007 budget on Feb. 14, it will include a new, simpler, more readable presentation of the budget, a "budget overview," which will include the current services budget base line and compare it to the budget target level.

Alexandrians who are concerned about the city and school system budgets should take advantage of this new, more open and deliberative budget process. You can start by viewing several key documents from the Oct. 29 budget retreat at the city's Web site at www.alexandriava.gov and click on the Web page for the city's Office of Management and Budget.

Tim Lovain

Chair, Alexandria City Budget and Fiscal Affairs Advisory Committee