The Council Connection
your connection to City Council by: 
Vice Mayor Justin M. Wilson
Alexandria, Virginia
December 1, 2017
In This Edition
Quick Links
E-Mail Me
Past Newsletters
City of Alexandria Website
Pay City Taxes Online
Call.Click.Connect (Submit Service Requests to City Agencies)

The Next Campaign

I try to keep politics out of this monthly newsletter. 

If you have not been receiving my campaign updates and you wish to receive updates on this new campaign, please drop my campaign a line and we'll get you on the list for campaign updates. 
Scottish Christmas Walk on Saturday! 

Scheduled on December 2nd, from 11 AM to 1 PM, the parade begins at St. Asaph and Wolfe Streets and concludes at Market Square. 

I'll see you at this can't miss event! 
Ring in the New Year! 

Tickets are now on sale for First Night Alexandria! Ring in the New Year in style in Alexandria. 

Ticket prices go up after December 10th! 
Book Fair! 

Starting today, and lasting through Sunday, the T. C. Williams English Department and the Alexandria Tutoring Consortium will be sponsoring a book fair. 

Hosted by Hooray For Books at 1555 King Street, the event will include book talks, celebrity readings, music and more. 
Menorah Lighting

Chabad Lubavitch of Alexandria-Arlington will again host a Chanukah Menorah lighting open for the public. 

This year's event will be at 6:30 PM on Monday December 18th. 
Collecting Toys For Our Kids

Councilman Willie Bailey and his non-profit organization " Firefighters and Friends to the Rescue" is back this year to help collect toys for children in need. 

This year's toy collection will continue until December 10th.

Toys can be dropped off at:

  • 532 Yoga
  • Rustico
  • Dairy Godmother
  • St. Elmo's
  • The Dog Store
  • Society Fair
  • Lena's Wood-FiresPizza & Tap
  • Huntington Gateway
Be A Snow Buddy

Snow Buddies work across our City to help residents who are unable to clear snow during inclement weather. 

Sign up today! 

This unique program gives many children the summer experiences that they otherwise would be denied. 

The biggest fundraiser for this program is the annual sale of Christmas trees.

The trees are on sale now at 110 Callahan Drive (across from the Masonic Temple). 

Trees are available for purchase from 4 PM until 8 PM from Monday through Friday. On the weekends, trees are for sale from 10 AM until 8 PM. 

Please support this worthwhile cause by purchasing their Christmas trees. 

Buy Another Christmas Tree

Tree sales will benefit the Association and the good work they do in the North Ridge neighborhood. 

Sales will occur in the parking lot at Trinity United Methodist Church at the corner of Cameron Mills Road and Allison Street. 

Today, trees will be available from noon until 8 PM. On Saturday, they will be available 8 AM until 5 PM. The final day of sales will be Sunday noon until 5 PM. 

Del Ray Tree Lighting

On Saturday at 6PM, the holidays begin in Del Ray! 

All activities begin at Mount Vernon Avenue and Oxford Avenue at the site of the Del Ray Farmers's Market. 

Participants are encouraged to bring nonperishable food and diapers to benefit Carpenter's Shelter. 
North Ridge Tree Lighting

The annual North Ridge Holiday Tree lighting is scheduled to begin at 4:30 PM. 

The event occurs at "The Pit" (aka Beverly Park, at the corner of North and South Overlook Drives).

The event includes caroling, food and the arrival of Santa! 
Whether we are ready or not, we are now firmly in the holiday season.

For our residents with limited means, this can be a difficult time to ensure that all can participate in the holiday joy. 

The City's Department of Community and Human Services is back with the Holiday Sharing Program. 

For relatively small contributions, you can help ensure a joyous holiday for an Alexandria family. Please sign up to contribute today

Contact me anytime. Let me know how I can help. 
Council Initiatives
Growing Student Enrollment

Almost five years ago, the City convened the Joint  Long Range Educational Facilities Work Group. The group was given the essential charge to understand our recent increase in student enrollment, better project enrollment growth in the future, and to decide what to do about it. 

The School Board Chair, Vice Chair, the previous Mayor, and I joined a group of community members and staff to steer the effort. 

The day after Labor Day, 15,493 students started in the Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS). That constitutes a 2.8% increase from the previous year or about 435 additional students. Placed in perspective, last year ACPS added a quantity of students equivalent to the total enrollment of Charles Barrett, Cora Kelly, Lyles-Crouch or Maury Elementary Schools! 

This year is the eleventh straight year of enrollment growth. During that period, ACPS has added over 5,000 students. 

We have also worked to understand where the enrollment is coming from. For example, we learned that low-rise apartments generate nearly three times the students as high-rise or mid-rise apartments do. We learned that single family homes generate nearly double the students as townhouses. We know that public housing and other income-restricted units far outpace any other property type for student generation.

These data points remind us of the need to address this enrollment growth head-on. 

In June of 2015, the City Council and the School Board adopted the  Joint Long Range Educational Facilities Plan. The Plan is the culmination of the group's work in conjunction with the efforts of both ACPS and City staff. The Plan looks at each elementary school building in the City, assesses the facility's educational adequacy, and provides a roadmap for increasing capacity and addressing deficiencies. 

We are now concluding the  next phase of this effort, planning for additional capacity at the high school level and in pre-school. With important decisions for the Council and School Board ahead over how to address capacity challenges at both campuses of T. C. Williams, this process has urgency to it. 

Construction for a new Patrick Henry Elementary and Recreation Center is under way. The new school building, scheduled to open a year from now, will add additional capacity and is the first in a series of significant capacity projects scheduled in this era. 

With the pressure of elementary enrollment increases continuing unabated, urgency has remained to identify new capacity. This pressure is particularly acute on the West End of the City. With funding and support from the City Council, the School Board purchased 1701 N. Beauregard Street, a vacant office building. 

In September, the Council provided the land-use approvals necessary for the conversion of this building into a new elementary school. Construction efforts are now under way to complete the conversion of this property to a new school in time to open for the 2018 - 2019 school year. 

The opening of this new school will be the first new school building (not a replacement) opened in the City in over 17 years. The School Board is working to choose a name for the new school and suggestions are being collected online.

The next phases of school capacity construction will be informed by the on-going Joint Facilities Task Force discussion detailed elsewhere in this newsletter. 

It can be perilous to overreact to one year of enrollment growth. Yet after more than a decade of growth, it is clear that this is our "new normal." While the enrollment growth does present a costly challenge for the City and its taxpayers, it is still an important positive change. 
Budget Guidance

The most important decision the City Council makes each year is the adoption of the annual operating budget and capital improvement program. The operating budget generally funds the on-going costs of government (primarily personnel), while the capital budget funds one-time expenditures that provide the community with an asset (new schools, new roads, new playing fields, transit buses, etc). 

It has always been my view that the most important part of the budget process is the adoption of our annual budget guidance for the City Manager. While the budget is not presented until February, City Council adopts a resolution in the fall which provides the City Manager with direction as to how to prepare that budget. 

The guidance typically provides direction on tax policy, expenditure priorities, debt policy, and other emergent issues. To prepare the Council to provide this direction, a retreat is scheduled.

On the first Saturday in November, the Council had our annual retreat and  received the first glimpse into next year's financial picture. This is the beginning of the Council's process to adopt the Fiscal Year 2019 (July 1, 2018 - June 30, 2019) Operating Budget and the Fiscal Year 2019 - Fiscal Year 2028 Capital Improvement Program. 

The initial projections are that next year's revenues will grow at a rate of a 1.3% overall. If that estimate holds, that would provide the City government with about $9.2 million of new revenue. 

With real estate taxes generating most of our resources, that growth is driven by a larger projected increase in residential real estate, but lower growth in our commercial real estate and consumption based taxes (sales tax, dining tax, hotel tax, etc).

On the expenditure side, we quickly begin to see our challenge. Given student enrollment growth and the planned opening of a new school, the initial request from the Alexandria City Public Schools is for an additional $23.5 million of operating funds. Our estimates include $4.8 million of additional funds for transit services, most of which will be required for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA or Metro). Increases in spending required to support current services in the remainder of the City government are expected to run $4.9 million. Costs to support our capital budget (debt service and "cash capital") total an additional $7.7 million. 

All together, that creates an estimated shortfall of $31.8 million before we start the process. By the time the Council adopts its budget in May, that gap must be addressed by tax increases, expenditure reductions, or some combination of the two. The Council begins to set that direction with the adoption of its budget guidance.

It is always easier to cut the budget in the fall, than it is for the Council to cut the budget in the spring during its budget process. As such, my preference is that the City Manager be directed to present a budget without an increase in the real estate tax rate. 

This year I again proposed that the Manager be instructed to prepare a budget without an increase in the real estate tax rate. I was more successful this year, as the guidance was adopted unanimously by the Council. 

This guidance does present the City Manager with a steep challenge in requiring that he present a balanced budget that addresses the $31.8 million shortfall without utilizing any real estate tax rate increase. That will likely require additional service reductions in the proposed budget. 

The City Manager's proposed budget is scheduled to be presented on Tuesday February 13, 2018 shortly after real estate assessments are complete and final revenue projections prepared. 

Infrastructure Update

In adopting the budget, we knew that doing things the way we had always done them was not sufficient. In addition to new investment, we had to take a dramatic step forward in bringing together the disparate visions of the City and School municipal facilities plans. 

To do so, we created the  new Ad Hoc Joint City-Schools Facility Investment Task Force. This blue-ribbon group brings together significant expertise to help the City prioritize and streamline a municipal facilities vision that ensures the success of City and School services for decades to come. 

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 facilities, transportation and recreation, the practices of the past will not sustain us in the future.
The City Manager's proposed Capital Improvement Program included $2 billion of investment over the next decade. Yet the constraints of the Council's guidance and paltry projected revenue growth left over $500 million of recommended, but unfunded, capital investments.

That $500 million of unfunded capital investments serves as a hidden debt on our municipal balance sheet. These are obligations that need to be eventually. Yet instead of the 2.5% rate (the true interest cost of our most recent debt issuance) that we are paying for the City's actual debt, this hidden debt is costing us much more. 

With construction costs  climbing at an annual rate of nearly 5% and the costs of delay/defer (patching, retrofitting, and otherwise "buying time") with existing aged infrastructure growing regularly, this hidden debt is far more onerous than the well-managed municipal debt load the City carries. 

In June, the City Manager constituted the new Ad Hoc group, and they have now held several meetings as a group and among a few subcommittees.   You can watch the meetings and read the materials online.

At the beginning of November at our City Council retreat, the Task Force provided their initial report . Included with that report is a recommended list of projects to be funded and the associated time period for each

Prior to the year-end, the group will provide their final deliverable, which will include process recommendations to ensure that the City improves the process and procedures that govern these joint infrastructure efforts in the future.  

This group has arguably one of the most important tasks of any recent City group. I look forward to further considering their recommendations.  

Voting Machines

Alexandria has long had a tradition of fair, well-run elections. The City's voters are well-served by a committed Electoral Board, and a Registrar and staff that works to protect the integrity of our elections. 

The events of recent years have caused voters around the nation to question the security of our election process. Even in the past few weeks, mistakes made elsewhere in Virginia may impact control of the House of Delegates. 

In the summer, a widely publicized "hacking conference" showed vulnerabilities with many voting machines currently in use around the nation . In an abundance of caution, the Virginia State Board of Elections voted in September to de-certify many types of voting machines in use in the Commonwealth. While the de-certification action did not impact the machines most Alexandria voters utilize, it did impact the machines utilized by some voters with disabilities. 

As a result, the City was forced to accelerate our planned 2019 replacement of our voting machines. The Registrar's office conducted an accelerated public process and ultimately purchased the Verify Scan system

The new machines were successfully used throughout Alexandria on our November election day. 
Justin Speaking At Town Hall
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! 

Upcoming Issues
Cameron Run

The  Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority (NVRPA, also know as NOVA Parks) was created in the late 1950s as a public land conservation agency serving our region. 

Today, the NVRPA is jointly funded and owned by Arlington, Fairfax, and Loudoun Counties, 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. 

Cameron Run is a very active recreational park, with a wave pool, water slides, batting cages, etc. The property is very profitable for the authority and the  existing 40-year lease with the City expires in 2021

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 to assure that NVRPA would have their investment in place long enough to recoup their cost. 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. 

In the intervening time, the authority came to the City with a new proposal.  NVRPA obtained an option to purchase 517 Prince Street in Old Town.  This historic property operated a livery stable from 1772 - 1792 and has remained in the ownership of one family for 184 years. It is in remarkably good shape.  

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 would have purchased 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.

Since that time, public engagement on the future of the Cameron Run site continued through the Parks and Recreation Commission. During that discussion, NVRPA also presented their own alternative proposal for expanded uses on the site

The Commission findings were presented to the City Council last month. With consultant partners, the Commission analyzed many alternatives for the site. Their recommendation is that the City move away from the existing water park use and determine how to bring more active, year-round recreation uses to the site. 

Upon receipt of this recommendation, the Council had a very spirited, but productive, conversation on the future of this park. You can watch the discussion and staff presentation online

As I stated during the discussion last month, I believe that the Council should use the momentum of the Commission's work to endorse a future vision for Cameron Run. Once we have done so, I believe we should work with NVRPA, and potentially other partners, to determine how we transition the existing use of the site to that future vision. 

The Council will be holding a public hearing on Saturday December 16th at 9:30 AM at City Hall to discuss the City Manager's recommendation. You can sign up to speak in advance online

Metro Reform

Once the crown jewel of the Washington, DC region, Metrorail is experiencing a very difficult time. While the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) has numerous challenges, the most serious and pressing are related to safety.  

Metro is a basic building block of our region's economy. If there is a perception that the system is unsafe, then that can be crippling to the region. 

The General Manager of WMATA. Paul Wiedefeld, is aggressively working to tackle these challenges.  During the summer of 2016, WMATA began implementing the Safe Track Plan, designed to concentrate three years of work into one year.

Advancing this work requires expanded time when the system is not operating. To make this happen, extended weekend hours were  discontinued, new mid-day maintenance occurred, and most importantly, a series of "surges" occurred across the system. These surges had significant impact of Alexandria commuters. 

While safety is paramount, it cannot be the sole focus for the system. To focus on the factors that impact reliability and riders' experience, WMATA has also released the  "Back2Good Plan."   So far, this effort has been paying dividends, as the system has seen great improvements in reliability. As a daily Metro rider myself, I have seen this first hand. 

These efforts also come at a severe cost. That cost must be borne by riders or the local jurisdictions, or a bit of both. 

On the operating side, last year's approved City Budget included $7 million of new operating funds from the City for WMATA, an increase of over 21% from the previous year. On the capital side, that increase was an ADDITIONAL $32.7 million, or nearly 400% increase from the previous year. 

Returning Metro to a system that the region can be proud of is a long-term project, and one of the most important regional initiatives under way. 

To help facilitate continued Metro reform, Governor McAuliffe appointed former Congressman and former United States Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood to conduct an independent review. Secretary LaHood is now making his recommendations known to regional policymakers

There is a lot to like in Secretary LaHood's recommendations. It does overlap with regional input, like the principles endorsed by the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission

He endorses the aggressive reform efforts of the current WMATA leadership. He endorses the long-recognized need for dedicated funding across the region. He supports continued efforts to improve operational efficiency and effectiveness within WMATA. 

The most controversial recommendation at this point appears to be a recommendation to replace the existing Board of Directors for some interim period of time, with a smaller Board without representation of each member jurisdiction. 

My personal perspective is that additional WMATA reform is necessary. That reform likely should include changes to WMATA governance. However, I would be hesitant to support any change that left member jurisdictions, like Alexandria, without representation. If the taxpayers of our City are being asked to shoulder an ever-growing burden of funding WMATA, we need to be able to shape how that money is spent. 

Clean Water

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 operates this Combined Sewer System  under a permit from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (VDEQ) . In 2013, the City was issued a new five-year permit for the operation of the system.     

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. 

These cities, and many others face similar challenges to the task we face in Alexandria. While there are some differences, we all share the immense complexity and costs.  Washington's "Clean Rivers" Project is expected to take 20 years and cost $2.6 billion to cover 53 outfalls. 

Over  two and a half years ago, the Council created a new stakeholder committee to monitor the creation of and offer feedback on the Long Term Control Plan.

The  committee made its recommendations which came before the Council in May of last year. 

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. 

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)
As a result of the new legislation, the City must work to engineer and implement a solution to CSO-001 on a more accelerated timeline than we believe feasible. 

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 than most. This is not a new issue for Alexandria. 

To fund these obligations, the City Council adopted 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 going forward. 

While the Governor proposed amendments to the legislation, the General Assembly rejected the amendments.   Despite a request by the City to veto the un-amended legislation, the Governor signed the legislation into law

In June, prior to our summer recess, the Council approved a funding agreement with Alexandria Renew Enterprises and Fairfax County. 
This agreement combines planned work at the Alexandria Renew facility to reduce wet weather overflows into Hooff's Run with the remediation required to address CSO-003 and CSO-004. These projects are now under the same umbrella and have been labeled the "West Side Wet Weather Facilities." 

These projects will cost a little over $100 million in 2017 dollars. With Fairfax County now sharing roughly a quarter of the cost, the City's commitment is expected to be $76.5 million.

To determine the new direction for remediation of CSO-001, the City reconvened the community stakeholder committee. Last month they met and received new engineering alternatives to address the challenge

The committee will work to narrow down the alternatives and make a recommendation in the early part of the new year. 
Vice Mayor Justin M. Wilson 
Alexandria City Hall
301 King Street
Alexandria, VA 22314
Paid for by Wilson For Mayor