The Alexandria City Council unanimously adopted a $761.5 million budget Wednesday, adding more money for schools, early-childhood education, additional firefighters and a new $100,000 fund to provide lawyers for undocumented immigrants facing deportation.
The property tax rate, for the second year in a row, will stay at $1.13 per $100 of assessed value, which, due to rising home values, would increase the average residential property tax bill by $118.
Mayor Justin Wilson (D), leading a seven-member council with four newcomers, called it a “drama-free” budget which put significant money into education, Metro and infrastructure.
“We certainly have a long, long list of capital investments we need to deal with in the future,” he said as he ticked off the need for more school construction, repairs to city buildings and transportation needs.
The city started the budget process expecting a $27.5 million shortfall, said city manager Mark Jinks. A combination of $5 million in spending cuts, $1 million in greater efficiencies and higher tax revenue from rising assessments prevented more onerous choices, he said. The council raised residential refuse fees by $38 to cover higher contractor and recycling costs, driving the average household bill to $411 per year.
The budget allocates $231.7 million to the city’s public schools, a 3.5 percent increase from the current year. The rest of the budget’s 1.7 percent growth will be dedicated to Metro.
Council member Mo Seifeldein (D) originally proposed spending $250,000 on legal representation for city residents facing deportation. During the budget process, that was carved down to $100,000, the same amount budgeted for that purpose by neighboring — and much larger — Arlington County. Seifeldein said the funding is a sign that “Alexandria will stand up for all its residents.”
Canek Aguirre (D), who is also in his first year on the council, said he was frustrated that the council and School Board could not find a way to save the jobs of about 30 school custodians as the schools turn to contractors for cleaning services. As of July, only those with more than 20 years on the job will retain their positions, he said.
Under the new budget, which takes effect July 1, the city will begin phasing in new hybrid or electric vehicles into its fleet, converting streetlights to more efficient LEDs, expanding domestic violence services and set up a drug treatment court. All of the city government’s energy will come from renewable sources such as wind, solar and biomass.
Wilson, who proposed setting aside $200,000 to expand early-childhood education, said high demand has created waiting lists in each of the programs served by the fund. Every year, about 20 percent of children enter kindergarten without having had prekindergarten, and there is a shortage of space, as well as money, for programs that already exist. Wilson said because of both shortages, the city cannot take advantage of all the state money that is available to it.
The city’s separate capital improvement budget includes $1.6 billion in spending planned for the next decade.