The Alexandria City Council signaled Monday night that it plans to raise the local property tax rate 5.7 cents, an attempt to address years of overcrowded schools, aging buildings, outdated sewers and a still-growing bill for Metro.
The proposal, which the council will vote on Thursday evening, would cost the owner of an average Alexandria home about $356 more per year in property taxes. The tax rate would rise to $1.13 per $100 of assessed value, the same rate as in neighboring Fairfax County, but higher than Arlington, Prince William and Loudoun counties.
Alexandrians also are likely to see large increases in fees for storm water management, sewer line maintenance, refuse collection and other services, costs that Mayor Allison Silberberg (D) estimated will add an additional $350 or so to a homeowner’s annual bill.
Silberberg unsuccessfully tried to limit the proposed tax-rate increase to 3.6 cents, which is higher than the 2.7 cents City Manager Mark Jinks proposed in February.
“Five point seven cents is too much to ask the taxpayer to shoulder,” she said.
The rest of the council members said that they, too, were reluctant to raise taxes, but added that years of underspending on schools and infrastructure have caught up with the city. They stood solidly behind Vice Mayor Justin Wilson’s proposal to increase the tax rate by 5.7 cents, a motion he made in March, the day after scores of school activists called for more spending.
“Our problem is we’ve had so many years of neglect of our schools and our facilities that we are never going to get on top of it, but at least we can make a major jump,” said Redella S. “Del” Pepper (D), who was first elected in 1985 and is the longest-serving council member.
“We’ve never had as many students as we have now. There’s a severe deficit in seats. Children in some cases are sitting in what used to be storerooms,” said council member John T. Chapman (D). “This is something we need to tackle as a community.”
The council members said they intend to create a joint city-schools task force to investigate and guide the creation of a facilities plan that could result in shared buildings and a plan that both the city and the schools agree to.
The City Council and the school board are independent entities under Virginia law, but the schools have no taxing authority, so the district must seek a portion of the money raised by the local property tax. That has resulted in a political pas de deux each year in which each party tries to raise as much as possible for its priorities.
“Once and for all, we need to end the political games that have gone on as long as I have been on council,” said council member Paul Smedberg (D), first elected in 2003.
Some of the costs the council has grappled with this spring include Metro’s request for $7 million more for its operations and safety work; a school district operating budget $9.6 million higher than the current year’s, to cover an expected 2.8 percent increase in enrollment as well as other costs; an additional $7.8 million for both merit salary increases and health-care costs for the city’s 2,563-person workforce, which is 4 percent smaller than it was in 2009; and a $9.1 million contingency fund in case of federal budget cuts.
The budget leaves out $4.5 million the city had planned to contribute to the construction of a 50-meter swimming pool at the Chinquapin Recreation Center, a project that the city had agreed to develop under a public-private partnership. Advocates for Alexandria Aquatics had just begun raising money for the pool and hoped to start construction in 2018.