Thursday, October 30, 2008

Belt Tightening

Tonight (Thursday, October 30) at City Hall at 7 PM, the Council will hold a public hearing on the upcoming FY 2009 budget, including cuts being proposed to make up for a projected $10.5 million revenue shortfall.

The source of the problem: falling real estate values.

The picture is even more grim next year, when City Manager Jim Hartmann anticipates a $35 million revenue shortfall. "The City has not faced a budget decline of this magnitude in decades,” he notes.

Normally this annual preliminary hearing on the budget would bring out droves of PTA parents pressing for more funding for the school district, historic preservationists arguing for more money for Alexandria's historic buildings and museums, and child care providers begging the City to fill gaps in Federal funding for disadvantaged families.

However, the Growler rather imagines there won't be too many speakers that bravely approach the podium tonight to throw their own pet projects on the pyre.

We need to remember that Alexandria's budget is precariously dependent on property taxes, which account for more than 50% of its revenue.

But also keep in mind that under the Democratic hegemony now controlling the City, the budget was allowed to nearly double in size in the last six or seven years, ballooning as the real estate bubble matured and spiraled out of control.

As the Growler has asked before, do those of us who were living here in 2000 feel that the spending spree has really changed our quality of life that substantially or even measurably? Can we live without some of what has been added in recent years?

Another interesting facet of this issue is whether the City's own policies are making the crisis worse. The school system is currently being overwhelmed by an unexpected tsunami of new pupils, not due to a sudden population explosion in Alexandria but attributable to the wave of Hispanic families moving to Alexandria from Fairfax and Prince William Counties.

Did they land here because of the foreclosure crisis in the other jurisdictions and if so was this due to Alexandria's open-armed embrace? It's one thing to be quietly sympathetic to the plight of the illegals (which the Growler most certainly is) but another thing entirely to light a public beacon to guide them all here.

Although the school district was exempt from significant cuts in the first budget go-round, can it escape the inevitable?

One short-term solution to the crisis would be to raise property taxes by as much as 10%. This would certainly be a measure of desperation, with Council elections looming in the spring of 2009.

Are there other alternatives? If you were in charge, where would you make the cuts?