The Alexandria City Council on Thursday unanimously passed a $649.2 million general fund budget, with no tax rate increase, for the coming fiscal year, but homeowners’ tax bills are expected to rise by an average of about $200 as a result of higher property values.
The council set aside almost $1.3 million to hire and employ about 20 firefighters for the city’s newest station, near the Van Dorn Metro stop. Nearby residents raised a fuss when it became clear that the station was opening last month with only a paramedic crew, despite the West End’s growth and the $15 million station’s proximity to a rail yard where potentially dangerous ethanol transfers occur routinely.
Mayor William D. Euille (D) said that despite a stagnant economy, the city was able to hold the line on the tax rate and that it would provide more money to schools. “This budget maintains Alexandria’s commitment to high-quality services and long-term community investment, without raising taxes or cutting core services,” he said.
About the new firehouse, Fire Station 210, he said, it “has the dollars to be up and running as soon as possible, hopefully between December 2015 and March 2016.”
Last year, under pressure from North Old Town residents, the council rejected the fire department’s recommendation to move a fire engine and crew from a station just off the George Washington Memorial Parkway to Fire Station 210. The North Old Town-based crew was trained and equipped for hazardous material fires and was the one most likely to respond to a serious fire in the Norfolk Southern rail yard.
Money to hire additional firefighters came from revised revenue estimates and savings, City Manager Mark Jinks said. The budget, he said, maintained core services “without any gimmicks” and does not dip into an emergency account that credit agencies require the city to maintain.
Alexandria homes are valued at an average of $509,853. The tax rate, at $1.043 per $100 of assessed value, is remaining the same.
The average assessment, however, rose 3.08 percent, to $509,853. That would put the average tax bill at $5,318, a $203 increase.
Owners of single-family homes are likely to see bigger increases; condominium owners, smaller ones. Residents will also pay more in parks and recreation fees, which vary according to programs and centers.
Other major changes in the city budget include a 9 percent wage increase for entry-level police officers and a 4.5 percent raise for all other police officers. The council also agreed to set aside $250,000 from its capital budget to improve the playground at Matthew Maury Elementary School.
The council added $1 million to what Jinks proposed in early March for the city’s contribution to the school system’s budget, approving a $198.8 million transfer, about 30 percent of the general fund, for fiscal 2016,.
Council members agreed to put $1.85 million into the transportation-improvement program in its capital budget to operate 16 new bike-sharing stations, buy another local bus and set aside money for future projects. The 10-year, $1.6 billion capital investment program includes about $300 million for school projects.