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Alexandria makes progress on virtual meetings and flood prevention legislation

Douglass Cemetery has been damaged in recent flooding, photo courtesy Michael Johnson

Alexandria has had a few promising starts so far in the 2022 legislative session, with preliminary funding and authority granted on some key issues.

In a legislative update to the City Council last night (Tuesday), Legislative Director Sarah Graham Taylor outlined some of the early successes.

Taylor said Delegate Elizabeth Bennett-Parker has been spearheading legislation that would allow localities to continue with greater virtual representation in public meetings even after the pandemic.

“[A bill to] increase opportunities for electronic participation in public meetings… passed out of the general laws subcommittee today unopposed,” Taylor said. “We’re eally excited to see that bill move forward. It’s something the city has been really focused on both as vice mayor and now as a delegate. [We’re] really pleased to be a part of that and see that move forward. It’s something that will be incredibly valuable to our boards and commissions; to be able to operate in a virtual environment even outside of a declared emergency or pandemic.”

Taylor said the pandemic has been a sort of pilot for virtual engagement.

“It’s really been an opportunity for us to learn how best to not only put our public engagement out into the universe but to create opportunities to create two-way engagement with our public bodies,” Taylor said. “This bill goes a long way to creating more opportunities.”

Another preliminary success has been funding to restore the Douglass Memorial Cemetery, a historic Black cemetery in Alexandria under threat of being washed away by recent flooding. The outgoing governor’s budget includes $500,000 for the restoration of the cemetery, and State Senator Adam Ebbin has put in a request for an additional $500,000.

“[The project cost is] estimated at $2 million, would put state investment at 50%,” Taylor said. “[We’re] discussing it not only as preservation of a historic African-American cemetery but also a flooding issue, which is something very front and center in the discussion this session.”

The outgoing budget also includes $40 million for the city’s combined sewer overhaul (CSO) project, but Taylor said there’s some concern that CSO funding could get more scarce as Richmond is pushed to move up its CSO timeline.

“The city’s name has come up quite a bit this week in relation to Richmond’s CSO project, and while it’s always lovely to hear Alexandria as an example of what a city can do when its feet are held to the fire, it’s been brought up in relation to Richmond’s CSO deadline,” Taylor said. “You might see Alexandria used as an example of why to push Richmond on their CSO deadline.”

But Taylor said the city’s concern is that if Richmond’s CSO timetable is moved up, it could put the two cities in a battle royale for a limited annual pot of funding.

“If Richmond is accelerated, that puts us in competition for resources,” Taylor said. “We want to a timeline [where] everyone can have access to resources, not all competing for a limited pot.”

Crossover, the last day for the legislative houses to act on legislation, is on Tuesday, Feb. 15. The last day for bill approval is March 10 and the Governor is required to take action on bills by April 11.

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