Leading the Commonwealth
The process of choosing our new Governor, Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General is underway.
On Tuesday June 13th, both the Democratic and Republican parties will be holding statewide primaries to choose their nominees for office.
Polls across Alexandria will be open from 6 AM until 7 PM at your normal polling place.
The Democratic Party will be choosing a nominee for Governor and Lieutenant Governor. Attorney General Mark Herring is unopposed for the Democratic nomination for reelection.
You can review the sample ballot online.
The Republican Party will be choosing a nominee for Governor and Lieutenant Governor as well. John Adams is unopposed for the Republican nomination for Attorney General.
You can review the sample ballot online.
Cinema Del Ray Returns!
Thanks to the generosity of Realtor Jen Walker, Cinema Del Ray returns on Saturday May 20th.
The monthly free outdoor movie on the field next to Mount Vernon Recreation Center has become a summer tradition.
Saturday is Water Discovery Day!
This Saturday from 10 AM until 2 PM, Alexandria Renew will be hosting Water Discover Day at their headquarters at 1800 Limerick Street.
Opinions On Our Schools
The Alexandria City Public Schools are conducting a survey as they work to implement their new strategic plan.
Real Estate Assessment Appeals Due June 1
Any appeal of 2017 Real Estate Assessments must be filed by June 1 for hearing by the Board of Equalization.
Bike To Work Day
Friday, May 19th is Bike to Work Day across the region.
I'll see you there!
Parkfairfax Gardens in the Park
Held from 9 AM until noon in the Valley Drive tennis court parking lot, the event will have food, prizes and lots of plants!
Host an Ace
The Alexandria Aces, Alexandria's own collegiate summer baseball team, plays at Frank Mann Field next to Cora Kelly Elementary School.
This summer, the Aces will be starting their 10th season affiliated with the Cal Ripken League.
As a non-profit organization, the team relies on host families throughout Alexandria to provide a room for players.
Memorial Day Jazz Festival
Back on the waterfront at Waterfront Park (1 Prince Street), the festival starts at 1 PM on Monday, May 29th.
Don't miss this great, free event!
In one 24-hour period, Spring2ACTion raised $1,592,459 for 158 non-profit organizations that serve Alexandria.
This year there were 9,058 donors! This is an incredible outpouring of generosity from our community.
Thanks to everyone who gave during this time.
The City Manager's proposed Capital Improvement Program includes just about $2 billion of capital investment over the next 10 years.
In Fiscal Year 2018, which begins on July 1st of this year, the City Manager has proposed $150 million of capital investment. The list reads like a journal of the arcane. The highlights include:
- $33 million to support the City's capital contribution to Metro (mostly to fund new MetroRail cars and separate from the operating budget transfer)
$19 million to be transferred to the Alexandria City Public Schools for capital investment (separate from the operating budget transfer)
- $5.3 million for street reconstruction and resurfacing
- $3.3 million to replace aged DASH buses
- $2.5 million to replace worn-out turf athletic fields
- $2.2 million to install new turf fields and playgrounds at the rebuilt Patrick Henry Recreation Center
- $1.6 million to make critical repairs at Chinquapin Recreation Center
- $6.6 million to make critical repairs on other City facilities
- $8 million to rebuild the Cameron Mills Fire Station
- $3.5 million to perform critical upgrades and renovations to the Alexandria Courthouse
- $2.4 million to address critical building issues at City Hall
- $7.8 million to address sanitary and stormwater sewer issues (addressed later in this newsletter)
- $5.8 million for infrastructure investments on the waterfront
- $12.3 million for investments in Information Technology infrastructure including a portion of the Municipal Fiber build-out
This is now the seventh City budget
that I have worked on during my time on the City Council. While I've never had the opportunity to work on a budget when revenues were skyrocketing, some years have been worse than others.
I've tried to have the same approach in each budget; push for efficiency and savings within the operating budget, but maintain strong levels of investment in capital infrastructure.
At various points, this philosophy has gotten me in trouble with people on either side of the debate about the relative size of government. I have generally opposed extensive growth in the operating budget but strongly supported addressing deferred capital needs.
The operating budget provides the resources to fund employees and their benefits. A competitive regional labor market have pushed employment costs higher. That drives our operating expenses to grow at a rate greater than general inflation.
Capital expenditures are the City's investment in our infrastructure. These investments can reduce operating costs, promote economic development and reduce the need for larger tax increases in the future.
Despite large efforts to address deferred capital investment in recent years, the City stands at a crossroads. With a perfect storm of infrastructure needs for school, sewer, city facility, transportation and recreation, the practices of the past will not sustain us in the future.
The City Manager's proposed Capital Improvement
Program identifies over $500 million of unfunded capital investments that he was unable to include in his proposal despite funding $2 billion of needs over the next decade.
We have to do something dramatically different.
Deferring capital investment further will threaten economic growth and ultimately exacerbate the challenges we face.
From 2002 until 2009, the City was enjoying the run-up in the residential real estate market. Taxes from this run-up helped our General Fund budget increase by an average of 6.5% per year. The work force in City Government grew from 2,229 Full Time Equivalents (FTE) to 2,660 FTEs during that period.
In Fiscal Year 2010, the bottom fell out as the Great Recession took hold. The City adopted its first negative budget in at least 40 years, reducing spending from Fiscal Year 2009 to 2010 by over 2%. From 2010 to 2017, the General Fund budget increased by an average of 2.9% per year.
Today, the City workforce is proposed to be 2,563 FTEs, 4% lower than 2009.
Under current rates, projections are that we would experience an anemic 1.6% revenue growth. That would provide an additional $11 million of new revenue.
It is impossible to sustain an average budget growth of less than 3% per year with 4% annual student enrollment growth, employee healthcare costs increasing far above rates of inflation, long-deferred infrastructure needs, and ever-escalating funding challenges from Metro.
Competing for the $11 million of new operating revenue:
While not an exhaustive list, those costs alone total $29.1 million of new spending. One cent on the real estate tax rate this year generates $3.9 million of general fund revenue. So that represents nearly 7.5 cents of the real estate tax rate of requested new expenditures.
To address these funding challenges, the City Manager employed a series of efforts, including:
The proposed general fund operating budget is $712.4 million, an increase of 3.5% from Fiscal Year 2017. With revenue growth in the low single digits, the City Manager included a proposed increase of 2.7 cents in the real estate tax rate.
The City Manager's proposed 10 year Capital Improvement Program continued the focus on expanding infrastructure investment. The 10 year plan increased by nearly 20%, driven largely by $368 million to address Combined Sewer projects, an additional $161 million for increases for WMATA capital funding, $144 million of increases for Alexandria City Public Schools capital funding, and $47 million to address City facilities deficiencies.
At the proposed real estate tax rate of $1.10 and including the impact of assessment increases, the average single family homeowner will pay an additional $294 during 2017. The average condominium homeowner will pay an additional $89.
Yet, even with a 10 year, $2 billion Capital Improvement Program, the proposal leaves large gaps in the Alexandria City Public Schools capacity and modernization plans, as well as in City efforts to address deficient municipal facilities.
The City is entirely too small and dense to continue building single use municipal facilities. It is imperative that we break down the barriers between the City, the Alexandria City Public Schools and other public agencies and use our scarce capital funds to truly collaborate. I'm hopeful this newly proposed process will help facilitate that.
Tonight the Council will finalize that list and on Thursday we will formally adopt the budget.
Cleaner Water, Murky Process
Early in the last Council term, the members grappled with the challenges that the City faced from federal environmental regulations. These govern how we handle sewage from homes and businesses. Those efforts culminated in the adoption of the
City's Sanitary Sewer Master Plan
. In conjunction with our partners at
Alexandria Renew Enterprises
, we are working to implement that plan.
Protecting the historic nature of Old Town is one of the more important obligations of the City Council. However, there is one aspect of our historic infrastructure that must be modernized.
In 95% of our City, stormwater (run-off) is collected and returned to rivers and streams with very little treatment to remove pollutants accumulated from roads, parking lots, and other surfaces upon which it falls. Separately, sanitary sewage is sent to the
Alexandria Renew Enterprises wastewater treatment facility
where it is treated and later returned to waterways as clean water.
However, in a 540 acre section of Old Town, a Combined Sewer System still collects both sanitary sewage and stormwater together and sends it to the wastewater treatment facility for its final disposition.
In addition to the impact that this has on the cleanliness of our rivers and streams, this type of overflow is strictly regulated by law primarily the Clean Water Act.
The City has always been in compliance with all permits for the operation of the system, releasing amounts of sewage within the limits permitted and has conducted targeted sewer separation activities along with redevelopment and other planned activities.
Essentially, this permit requires the City to work with the community to adopt a new Long Term Control Plan. The plan reduces
the presence of dangerous bacteria in the flow that is returned to the water. The new plan was submitted to the state last year.
The Plan, to be implemented over the next two to three decades, is a significant undertaking. It will be disruptive to some areas of our City and it will require $125 - $188 million, primarily funded by ratepayers as an addition to bills from Alexandria Renew Enterprises.
The Combined Sewer System has four outfalls:
- CSO-001 which discharges into Oronoco Bay
- CSO-002 which discharges into Hunting Creek
- CSO-003 and CSO-004 which both discharge into Hoofs Run
The permit requires that the City address CSO-002, CSO-003, and CSO-004. While CSO-001 is not covered under the permit requirements, the committee and the City have voluntarily chosen to begin addressing this outfall under this plan.
The plan proposes to use a variety of solutions between now and 2035 to reduce pollution from CSO-002 by 80%, from CSO-003 by 99%, and from CSO-004 by 99%. This would provide for a total pollution reduction of 86%.
This reduction is achieved by:
- Construction of a 10-foot, 1.6 million gallon tunnel to address CSO-003 and CSO-004
- Construction of a three million gallon storage tank to address CSO-002
- New "green" infrastructure (improvements to the permeability of surfaces)
- Targeted sewer separation (typically funded by developers in the context of redevelopment)
In the proposed plan, CSO-001 is addressed by targeted sewer separation and green infrastructure.
In May of last year, the Council approved the draft plan for submission to VDEQ. In addition, the Council requested that our Staff return with recommendations as to how we might speed the remediation of CSO-001.
Last year, our staff accomplished this task.
The revisions proposed by the staff accelerated the feasibility study by 14 years. This study would explore where a storage tunnel or storage tank near CSO-001 could be located and the pros and cons of these alternatives.
The revisions also accelerated the assessment of CSO-001 by six years. This assessment would help us determine the sizing of any proposed infrastructure that must be built.
In addition, the revisions proposed greater prioritization of capital improvement program funds for green infrastructure and separation activity in the sewershed.
Ultimately, the cost of the remediation for CSO-001 could total up to an additional $130 million.
The Council ultimately approved these revisions and submitted the revised plan to the VDEQ.
Despite the General Assembly's previous reluctance to assist our efforts, this year there was a flurry of legislation proposed to force Alexandria to further accelerate the remediation of the Combined Sewer System.
A State Senator, Richard Stuart,
proposed one of the more draconian pieces of legislation
. As proposed, the legislation would have required the City to bring all four outflows into compliance by 2020, a little over three years from now. From an engineering perspective, that timeline is impossible. To make matters worse, that legislation proposed that if the City fails to comply with the 2020 timeline, we would have ALL state funding of the City removed, including funding for schools, public safety, human services, etc. It is basically the state funding equivalent of the "death penalty," and has never before been proposed.
Thanks to the efforts of Senator Adam Ebbin, the "death penalty" provision was removed, but the legislation that was enacted requires the City to complete ALL work on these remediation activities by July 1, 2025. While I strongly support addressing this issue as quickly as possible, our engineers indicate that this timeline is not feasible.
- This legislation potentially undermines the City's efforts to reduce pollution in the River by forcing us to redo all plans that were under way.
- This legislation undermines the Commonwealth's own regulatory process under the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), which the City has been in FULL compliance with at all times.
- This legislation treats the City differently than every other locality in the Commonwealth.
- This legislation takes an orderly and coordinated approach to address decades of work and mandates chaos and massive disruption to one portion of our City.
The City Manager has proposed a 30% increase in the Sanitary Sewer Maintenance fee that is paid on Alexandria Renew Enterprises bills across the City. The estimates are that ANNUAL 30% increases will be required.
The challenge is significant. We certainly did not plan to rectify CSO-001 on the timetable that the Commonwealth has provided. Even with the unreasonable timetable, Alexandria remains ahead of many jurisdictions around the nation on this issue. Stormwater planning and work coordinated with redevelopment activity has left us better situated.
It is disappointing that politics has again trumped science in the General Assembly, but the City must do the only reasonable thing: work to comply with this legislation to the extent possible.
A Safe Alexandria
Last week I had the opportunity to attend the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce's Public Safety Valor Awards. The annual event honors the men and women of the Alexandria Police, Sheriff and Fire Department who work tirelessly to keep our community safe.
Part I crime are the most serious offenses, as classified by the Federal
Bureau of Investigation. Alexandria's Part I crime dropped by 4% in 2016.
There were only two Part I crime categories where the City saw any increase: homicide and auto theft.
The City did experience an increase in homicides from four in 2015 to seven in 2016. Five of the seven were closed during the calendar year.
While incidents of serious crime remain at the lowest rates the City has experienced since the 1960s, we should never become complacent. Engagement with the community as well as vigilance and awareness by residents can help prevent crime.
Alexandrians can continue to have the highest degree of confidence in the dedicated work of the Alexandria Police Department, the Alexandria Sheriff's Department and the Alexandria Commonwealth's Attorney's office to work to prevent residents from becoming victims.
Aquatics in Alexandria and the Future of Public/Private Partnerships
Politicians of nearly every stripe extol the virtues of "Public/Private Partnerships," sometimes called "P3" for short. While the partnerships come in many flavors, it usually involves the blending of private and public resources to achieve a community good.
Residents and businesses have partnered to make improvements at Ewald Park.
When these partnerships work, they can be an exciting way to leverage private resources to create public amenities.
But they don't always work out.
Community opposition to land-use concessions required to support the private component of the partnership scuttled the arrangement. In the end, the City simply budgeted and built a new school building on the site.
Nearly a decade later, the Joint Municipal Facilities effort described earlier in this newsletter will explore other public/private partnerships for school facilities.
Recently we tried again with aquatics.
Several years ago, the City had seven municipal pools: the
at Chinquapin Recreation Center, two large outdoor pools (
Old Town and Warwick
), and four small neighborhood pools (Ewald,
, Lee and Colasanto).
Over the past six years, with little new financial resources devoted, and mounting capital needs, the City closed Ewald, Lee and Colasanto. In the summer of 2015, Warwick did not open with the other outdoor pools.
In partnership with
Advocates for Alexandria Aquatics
, the Council proposed a partial rebuild of Chinquapin Recreation Center to include a new 50 meter pool, as well as aquatics improvements throughout the City.
For Chinquapin Recreation Center, the Council budgeted $20 million to match the commitment of $2.5 million of private fundraising.
One of the central components of that new investment was the
exploration of feasibility and construction of a 50-meter pool at Chinquapin Recreation Center. The financing plan approved by the Council included assumptions for $2.5 million of private fundraising from
Advocates for Alexandria Aquatics
Last year, with next steps ready to begin, and an ever-mounting capital crunch, the City Manager paused the project. With the Council poised to adopt its Capital Improvement Program on Thursday, it does not appear funding will be included for this project.
Like the All City Sports Facility of a decade ago, the 50 meter pool at Chinquapin has fallen victim to the very same brutal capital prioritization driven by low revenue growth and mounting needs.
While there is hope that the Joint Municipal Facilities effort will yield opportunities to incorporate these indoor aquatics needs, it will not be easy.
Eventually we will need to address our City's indoor aquatics needs. It will require significant public resources and likely private resources. It will need to involve sustained commitment from the community and policymakers.
The sad tale of this project drives home the importance of establishing a sustainable funding level for capital investment, maintenance and reinvestment.
Host a Town Hall in Your Living Room!
My regular series of Town Hall Meetings continue!
You supply the living room and a bunch of your friends and neighbors. I will supply a member of the Alexandria City Council (me) with the answers to any of your questions about our City.
Just drop us a line and we'll get a Town Hall on the calendar! Thanks for the interest!
Keeping Things Up To Date
As an old City we have old laws. I have worked with our City Attorney over the past few years to modernize or repeal several old laws.
While it's relatively easy to repeal anachronistic laws, it becomes more challenging when the laws need to be modernized.
Essentially the 72-hour rule provides that a vehicle cannot be parked on a City street for longer than 72 hours. The rule was enacted to prevent abandonment and long-term storage of vehicles on our streets. Unfortunately, today it is primarily used as a tool in "neighbor versus neighbor" disputes.
From 2000 to 2015, our Police Department has been asked to check a vehicle for compliance 7,500 times and they have issued roughly 1,300 citations for violations. This is a law where enforcement is primarily initiated by complaint. That was true in 87% of the time.
In neighborhoods without off-street parking, the rule can become particularly problematic when residents are on vacation or on a business trip, without any place or anyone to move their vehicle.
Council held a discussion on this proposal last week. Ultimately Council unanimously decided to docket the ordinance for consideration in May. On Saturday May 13th, the Council will accept public testimony on this proposal.
You can sign up to speak online
Last week, Councilman Paul Smedberg and I brought another proposal for modernization of our City Code forward for consideration.
This classification includes bowling alleys, theaters, dance halls, and miniature golf courses. We believe this classification is an anachronism and serves to significantly limit where these businesses can set up in the City.
Councilman Smedberg and I initiated a "Text Amendment" to classify tattoo parlors in the same category as barber shops and beauty parlors to more accurately reflect the potential impact of the use.
This proposal will next come to the Planning Commission and later the City Council for further action.
North Potomac Yard Planning
With the site of the station finalized it became necessary to re-
calibrate the land-use plan for the area immediately adjacent to the new station. If the quality of development is somehow determined by the number of times an area is planned and re-planned, than I suspect Potomac Yard will come out on top.
In 1999, the City Council approved the first plan for Potomac Yard. In 2010, with the dream for a Metro station revived, the Council approved a new plan for Potomac Yard. This is to speak nothing of the many ill-fated plans for Potomac Yard.
The changes are not dramatic, but they work to bring to reality the City's most bold effort to leverage the economic benefit of transit-oriented development.
Today, the NVRPA
is jointly funded and owned by Arlington, Fairfax, and Loudoun County, as well as the cities of Alexandria, Fairfax and Falls Church.
In full disclosure, during my 3.5 years off of City Council, I served as one of Alexandria's representatives on the NVRPA Board.
Carlyle House is a historic site, with historical interpretation conducted by volunteers and NVRPA staff. NVRPA heavily subsidizes the operation of Carlyle House.
A few years ago, NVRPA came to Alexandria seeking to construct a new aquatics feature at Cameron Run. In order to finance the project, an extension to the lease was required. Prior to the issuance of any new lease, the City's Park and Recreation Commission sought to explore alternative uses for the property, as well as address some issues with the existing use.
After some negotiation, a tentative agreement was negotiated to extend the lease at Cameron Run for 20 years (cancelling the existing lease). In exchange, NVRPA will purchase 517 Prince Street and operate it as a historic site similar to Carlyle House.
In June of last year, the Council held a public hearing on this proposal and ultimately directed our staff to come back with a framework for how we might plan the future of the Cameron Run site.