On Feb. 21, the city manager will present the 2018 city budget to the City Council. In the next four months, a number of budget alterations and adjustments will occur prior to July 1, when the budget goes into effect.
This year, the budget is critically important for a number of reasons. First, the city is currently $600 million in debt, with a projected 2018 debt service of $90 million. The scant 1.5 percent GDP growth of $9.9 million will be offset by expected expenditures of -$25.8, thus leaving a potential funding shortfall of -$15.9 million, which could result in an additional 4.1 cents in real estate taxes. Moreover, this does not even include the school budget estimate. Historically, the Alexandria Public School System (ACPS) has asked for $10 million extra every year, but they will be asking for an additional $23.3 million above last year's funding level due to increased student enrollments. This could potentially add six more cents to our property taxes assessments.
The Capital Improvement Budget (CIP) contains a number of critical needs throughout the city, starting with large infrastructure needs to city buildings, schools and IT. Metro contributions will increase from $33 million to $39.5 million, which is a $6.5 million increase. The repair of our combined sewer system will require $310 million over the next eight years. The city continues to tout the Potomac Yard Metro Station at a cost of $268 million, and the resurfacing and reconstruction of our roads is also extremely critical. All of these items put a great deal of pressure on the city manager to develop a balanced budget with as little a negative impact on the tax-paying citizens as possible.
With all of the pressures of putting together a sound 2018 budget, one of the most important issues continues to be ensuring that our first responders are adequately funded and compensated. Both the police and fire departments should receive first consideration in funding, as they are without a doubt the most important and critical pillars in our city. With the large number of homicides, robberies and aggravated assaults this past year, coupled with increased lawlessness on our streets, we need more police enforcement and protection on all our thoroughfares. Best practices tells us that for every 10,000 citizens we need 16 sworn officers and five backup employees, or a total of 21 personnel. That being the case, Alexandria requires 240 sworn officers and 75 individuals in non-patrol positions totaling 325 personnel.
Currently the Alexandria Police Department has 304 sworn officers, of which 65 are working in non-patrol positions. This leaves a shortage of 21 officers. However, an additional 40 officers attend both the Police Academy and field training on a recurring basis, thus leaving an overall shortage of 61 officers, as verified by the latest International Association of the Chiefs of Police Study. The new police chief needs to ensure that all the department’s overhead costs and staffing levels are realistic, and that officers are compensated fairly in comparison to other jurisdictions.
We must remember that police presence is the greatest deterrent to crime on our streets. Hopefully, that will be reflected in the Alexandria Police Department’s 2018 budget.
Townsend A. “Van” Van Fleet