By Rodger Digilio
City Council adjourned for the summer after a year filled with interesting issues. On balance, Council has done very well.
The budget adoption resulted in a very small tax increase, given the real estate issues that abound in northern Virginia. This is good news for hard pressed consumers. Budgets in this uncertain economy are a year-by-year issue, and we will see how next year’s stacks up when we get there.
Council did take an action that may free up some money in the short term. For many years the city’s capital budget was funded by a mixture of bonds and cash capital. The cash capital was taken out of the operating budget’s revenues. This combination made it possible to hold down the city’s debt. Council has now eased the debt ratio targets a bit and signaled that more of the major projects would be financed by bonds.
Accordingly, principal and interest payments will weigh more heavily on future budgets, but cash capital will be less of a burden. Since capital projects benefit future residents, it is a more fair system that has them pay for them. Cash capital is taken from current taxpayers. Nevertheless, we hope that the manager and council will keep their eye on the economy. Uncertain times are often not the best to undertake very large and expensive projects with the ongoing financial commitments that flow from them.
We were heartened to see that the city, the state and Mirant have come to terms. The power plant will continue to operate under a strict and monitored set of guidelines and a very large investment of some $34 million in upgrading the plant’s pollution control equipment. We support this agreement as the best solution in this time of energy constraints.
We were also happy to see that council listened to the many voices in the community that called for dropping the referendum on changing the date of municipal elections from the Presidential Election ballot in November. We believe the council has plenty of information on which to base a decision of moving the elections if it so chooses. If members truly believe a referendum is necessary, then it should be held at an election which would not be as susceptible to disruption as the one this November which should feature a record turnout of voters.
We hope the mayor and council members will enjoy some time off this summer. Next year will also be filled with many interesting issues. It is also an election year. There will be little rest for our local elected officials after August.