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!
Starting today, and lasting through Sunday, the T. C. Williams English Department and the Alexandria Tutoring Consortium will be sponsoring a book fair.
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
This year's toy collection will continue until December 10th.
Toys can be dropped off at:
- 532 Yoga
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The new machines were successfully used throughout Alexandria on our November election day.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The committee will work to narrow down the alternatives and make a recommendation in the early part of the new year.