In preparation for a difficult budget year, the Alexandria City Council Tuesday night ordered the city manager to build a spending and revenue plan for the next fiscal year with no increases in real estate or personal property taxes.
“Any hopes we were immune to the effects of sequestration are pretty much dashed,” said council member Justin Wilson. “Next year, very little new revenue will be available to us in the budget process, so the guidance before us asks the manager to make some very difficult choices.”
The council directed the staff to use surplus funds from the current fiscal year to make sure the capital improvements it has identified are funded first. Any additional projects have to show where the money for it comes from, and they have to meet the strategic goals the city has identified.
Alexandria public schools, the budget guidance says, should expect the same appropriation as this year, unless more is needed to address changes in student enrollment or less is needed because of cost savings.
The council did not bar any tax, fee or fine changes for fiscal year 2015, as long as they are “equitable, fair and administratively feasible” under Virginia law.
The budget year begins July 1, but the city manager typically releases his recommendations in February. The council usually works through the recommendations and votes on the final budget in May or June.
Last spring, however, a misunderstanding caused a small controversy over the budget’s adoption. The budget resolution removed fractions of a cent from the city’s $1.038 tax rate that had previously been “set-aside” in the budget for affordable housing and for an open-space fund. Neither had not been voted upon separately, and their removal was not announced when the budget was passed.
City manager Rashad Young later blamed it on a staff mistake, caused when the staff rushed a memo to the council just minutes before the vote. Because of that, the council this time ordered that the budget resolution to be finalized and released to the public 48 hours before the council is scheduled to vote on it.