By Carla Branch and James Cullum
Although Alexandria’s Fiscal Year 2009 and 2010 budgets were not on the City Council agenda last night, every discussion focused on financial hard times ahead for the City, the Commonwealth and nonprofit organizations.
The 2009 Legislative Packet
Alexandria’s Legislative Director, Bernie Caton, presented the proposed 2009 legislative packet to Council for their consideration. “Almost everything that the General Assembly is going to discuss during their upcoming session is going to relate to the budget, and it is those items I will be reporting to you about,” Caton said.
The main focus in the 2009 legislative priorities for the City is retaining the maximum amount of State aid possible. Several years ago, the General assembly began requiring most localities to remit to the State a portion of the revenue they receive for housing federal prisoners. The rationale for this initiative is that the State pays a portion of the salaries of deputy sheriffs, so the State is entitled to a portion of the per diems. Last year, the General Assembly considered taking $1 million of those funds from Alexandria. Like some other localities, Alexandria was exempt last year because the federal government had paid a larger share of the jail’s capital costs than had the State. In Alexandria, not only has the State paid very little of the jail’s capital cost, but the city pays far more of the jail’s operating costs than either the State or federal government. If the city is forced to share its federal jail per diem payments with the state, the state will pay a smaller portion of the city’s jail costs than it does for any other jail, local or regional, in the Commonwealth, according to Caton’s report.
Last year, the General Assembly used localities to make up for the state’s revenue shortfalls. Alexandria was required to give up $1.1 million in state aid for each year of the two-year budget that was passed in 2008.
“While we recognize that more cuts are coming, we are asking Governor Kaine and the General Assembly to minimize these cuts,” Caton said.
Among other proposed legislation, which the City is considering, is a ban on cell phone use while driving, a ban on smoking in restaurants, a ban on the use of plastic bags in retail establishments, a request to allow Freedom of Information Act exemptions for museum gifts and donations, and a request to allow alcoholic beverages to be served at some museum events. The city will support a piece of legislation that Sen. Patricia S. “Patsy” Ticer introduced last year that would increase existing state tax credits for certain land preservation activities. The city will also ask the local delegation to support any efforts to obtain new transportation funding for Northern Virginia.
Council Members Rob Krupicka, Paul Smedberg and Justin Wilson added an item to the legislative package regarding campaign finance disclosures. First, Alexandria is requesting that the General assembly approve an amendment to the city’s charter requiring that applicants before the city’s governing bodies disclose all investors in items presented for consideration prior to deliberation. The city will also request an amendment to the charter prohibiting elected officials from accepting campaign contributions from applicants who have proposals under consideration by Council. Also, the city will request an amendment to the charter requiring members of all of the city’s governing bodies to disclose any current or previous financial interest with any of the investors in any application pending before that body, excluding campaign contributions.
“We believe this will improve transparency in the way we conduct business in Alexandria,” Krupicka said. The city attorney will review the proposal and make appropriate changes before Council votes on the matter in November.
Council’s Budget and Fiscal Affairs Advisory Committee has reviewed city expenses associated with various special events and festivals and presented the findings at Tuesday night’s meeting. According to the report, “the city has a full special events calendar that ranges from major events such as three parades, First Night, the city’s birthday celebration, the Waterfront Festival, the Festival of the Arts and Art on the Avenue, to smaller ethnic festivals, and individual races and walks. All of these events require some city support. The city co-sponsors some events and for others only provides needed support. Some special events are self-supporting, while others are not.”
The report contained three recommendations for reducing city costs for special events next year: terminating city support for events with lower attendance or minimal economic and public benefit; combining multiple related events such as ethnic festivals; and using volunteers instead of staff, who are usually paid overtime to work special events.
Council referred the report to the Parks and Recreation Commission, which will discuss the matter at the November meeting. Council will vote on the final recommendations on Dec. 9.
Supporting The Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac Foundations
Each year, the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac foundations provide millions of dollars in funding to nonprofit human service organizations. Currently, 12 Alexandria nonprofits have grant applications pending before the foundations, totaling nearly $1 million. Since Congress ordered the restructuring of the two agencies, there has been concern about the fate of the foundations and their charitable contributions. The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments and, Tuesday night, City Council, adopted resolutions supporting the continuation of the foundations’ grant programs.
While the resolution was adopted unanimously, Krupicka expressed some concern. “In the long run, I’m not certain this should be the role of these two agencies,” he said. “Nonprofits that are relying on this funding should look for other sources of funding.”