Newsletter

In the last few months, a head-long battle between Alexandria’s police and firefighters against city leadership has come to a head as first responders unions say underpayment has left staffing at critical levels.

City staff recently laid out the potential costs to implement a pay raise for first responders, but unions representing those first responders say that sticker shock is less intense in the broader context of the budget.

“The question we should be asking is, ‘Is ensuring high-quality first responder services a priority for this community?'” said Captain Josh Turner, President of the firefighter union IAFF Local 2141. “For a 10% pay increase for our entire fire department, it would only take an additional $3.4 million in the proposed upcoming $780 million budget. That’s less than 0.5% of the upcoming budget. So if this is an actual priority for Council, finding $3.4 million in the existing budget shouldn’t be difficult.”

A 1% pay increase would cost around $3 million and the city would need to increase the tax rate by 0.7 of a cent if it wanted to pay for the increase from tax revenue, acting Human Resources Director Jen Jenkins said at a City Council retreat.

A breakdown of the 1% pay scale increase costs indicated that general city staff comprised $2 million of the $3 million total. At the retreat, City Manager Mark Jinks noted that city employees aren’t unionized like police or firefighters are, but shouldn’t be left out of the pay raise discussion.

For the first responders, the breakdown was:

  • Police Department: around $400,000
  • Fire Department: around $340,000
  • Sheriff’s Office: around $200,000

Not only have first responders said a 1% increase would be “insulting”, Turner said there are alternative sources to pay for the increase.

Turner noted that the Annual Comprehensive Financial Report given to the City Council last night (Tuesday) indicated that there was around $1.9 million left over from the past fiscal year. The chart shows $2.9 left over in the police budget.

“That’s half the money we would need for a 10% increase right there in the leftovers from last year,” Turner said. “We’re not asking the City to go bankrupt, or to deplete the rainy day fund, or for the City to ruin their bond rating. We’re just saying that, if it’s a priority, the City has the money to pay their first responders fairly.”

Marcus Downey, vice president of the police union IUPA Local 5, also objected to the characterization of a tax increase being the only option for funding the pay raise.

“The archaic excuse of requiring a substantial tax increase and placing the burden on City residents is straight out of Alexandria City Hall’s playbook,” Downey said. “Pre-election, we were told employee compensation would be a priority. There were literally zero comments about a need to increase taxes. Less than a week after the election, the conversation quickly shifted to ‘the residents will have to pay more in taxes.'”

Both police and firefighter unions have said low levels of staffing threaten the reliability of city services. Union representatives have previously claimed the low staffing could lead to the closure of a station, a claim Mayor Justin Wilson said was untrue.

“For us, at the end of the day, we’re talking about people,” said Turner. “We’re talking about a half percent for our first responders to get a fair shake — not for a park or for a building or for inanimate objects. We’re talking about people. People who came to work throughout the entire pandemic, running the risk of exposing themselves, and their families, to COVID, in order to serve the City.  People who in some cases have worked over 70 hours a week to provide life-saving services to the citizens of Alexandria.”

The FY 2023 budget discussion is currently in the early stages, with a proposed budget scheduled to be presented on Feb. 17, 2022.

32 Comments

City Council member John Chapman has the distinction, marked in the record, of being the first on the dais to use the phrase “hot girl summer” — and in the most unlikely of contexts.

Chapman’s millennial moment came through at the end of hours of public discussion on where the American Rescue Plan Act funding is going. No decision was reached at the City Council meeting this weekend — and final passage is scheduled for Tuesday, July 6 — but the City Council did indicate interest in emphasizing the city’s tourism and overall marketing in the funding package.

Chapman, who runs the Manumission Tour Company, said funding for tourism and marketing would be a bigger help sooner rather than later.

“Everyone is getting ready for hot girl summer,” Chapman said. “There is an energy about getting out. Everybody knows that. We’re going to try [to use that], but with tourism industry it’s tough. We have immediate need we’re trying to fill.”

“We’re trying to open up,” City Council member Amy Jackson said. “As soon as you tell everyone, ‘We’re open,’ and broadcast that, that will help create jobs. If we’re waiting and holding it back, [it’s] increasingly less likely that we’re helping the maximum number of people that we could be helping.”

Jackson also noted that many of the jobs helped by boosts in retail and service industry sales help the city’s lower-income populations.

“I want us to look at that more, not just in programs, but overall in bringing people here,” Jackson said.

Chapman said the city also needs to be aware that many industries are looking for funding both for front-end immediate needs created and longer-term fixes for big problems. It’s a distinction that Chapman said could help separate where funding should go in the first round.

“The idea that we’re giving out money in a couple of tranches seems too simplistic,” Chapman said. “There are organizations that can get half of their money in one phase and half in another phase. One organization may not need all of their money in one year or one tranche —  which leaves more room to move up initiatives and people that need more relief.”

City Manager Mark Jinks said the one concern to keep in mind is this mindset could lead to too many delays to the future for funding.

“The pro is you can do more,” Jinks said. “The downside is it’s kicking the can down the road. You’re saying ‘we’ll pay for that out of the next one.'”

The City Council will look at the first round of funding again on July 6, after which Mayor Justin Wilson said he hopes the word tranche — which came up frequently during the discussions — “Goes back into oblivion.”

3 Comments

Some officials say that a last-minute proposal to add a pool to the Alexandria City High School’s Minnie Howard campus is long overdue.

While previously dismissed as prohibitively expensive, the total cost for the addition of the pool isn’t clear yet.

School Board chair Meagan Alderton said Monday night that the regulation-sized pool is long overdue for a school system that still has the hallmarks of racial disparity in its aquatic sports teams.

“We are, indeed, asking the city to provide additional dollars to provide this facility for the Minnie Howard site,” Alderton said at the joint City Council/School Board subcommittee meeting. “I find it hard to think there will be racial equity without investing dollars in communities that have historically been denied access… Consider it reparations for people of Color, because it’s long overdue. It has been so hurtful to watch and this School Board is ready.”

Beyond the actual cost of building the pool, it would cost ACPS $1.2 million in energy credits to keep the school at its Net Zero goals. The current total cost of the School Board’s chosen design for the school is $149.5 million.

The addition of the pool throws a slight wrench into budget process, as the City Council approved the School Board’s budget weeks ago. City Manager Mark Jinks said any proposal for more funding for the addition of a pool to the school would need to be given to the city by June 1.

Photo via ACPS

2 Comments

What a week in Alexandria. Here are some of the highlights.

The Alexandria City Council on Wednesday approved its Fiscal Year 2022 $770.7 million budget on Wednesday, and it includes a 2 cent real estate tax reduction. It’s the first time that’s happened in 15 years, and the budget also fully funds Alexandria City Public Schools’ request and includes a 1% raise for city and state employees.

But perhaps the biggest news of the week came with City Councilman Mo Seifeldein’s proposal to eliminate School Resource Officer funding from the budget. The effort was supported along by Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker, Councilman Canek Aguirre and Councilman John Taylor Chapman, who voted along with the group after failing to save the program in a last-minute effort.

Crime stories dominated many headlines, and Police Chief Michael Brown spoke with us this week about his department’s efforts to reduce destructive elements throughout the city. More from that interview will be published next week.

In this week’s poll, we asked about the importance of political endorsements for local candidates. Out of 222 responses, 48% (107 votes) don’t consider endorsements while voting; 39% (86 votes) said endorsements influence their decision; and 14% (29 votes) feel that endorsements hold a lot of sway.

Election stories

Important stories

Top stories

  1. Parking issues plague Potomac Yard, city looks to create residential parking district
  2. Knife pulled on woman who chases would-be thieves in Old Town
  3. D.C. man arrested after 130 mph chase leads to crash on Interstate 495
  4. Police: Armed robberies occur minutes apart in Del Ray and Arlandria
  5. Two injured in hit-and-run in Old Town, driver leaves car and flees on foot
  6. Too noisy? City Council is considering revising Alexandria’s noise ordinance
  7. Alexandria City Council to end School Resource Officer program at Alexandria City Public Schools
  8. Alexandria man arrested for firing gun at 7-Eleven door near Braddock Road Metro station
  9. Here’s the order that City Council candidates will appear on the ballot for the June 8 democratic primary
  10. JUST IN: Power outages across Alexandria as strong winds hit the city
  11. What’s next for GenOn and the rest of Old Town North?

Have a safe weekend!

13 Comments

The Alexandria City Council unanimously adopted its $770.7 million fiscal year 2022 budget on Wednesday night, and it includes the first tax real estate tax reduction in 15 years.

Retiring Councilwoman Del Pepper made the motion to pass the budget, her last after 35 years on Council.

“This budget is filled with some good things that will be helpful to our citizens, and for me that is what counts,” Pepper said. “It is an opportunity to really move the city forward, and that’s really what’s important. I’m very pleased with the things that are in this budget, and I know that the staff has worked very hard.”

The motion was seconded by Councilman John Taylor Chapman.

It has been a tough past fiscal year for all of us across the city and for businesses,” Chapman said. “I look forward to the future, to the growth that we can start to achieve.”

The upcoming fiscal year (an election year) will see real estate tax bills decrease from $1.13 to $1.11 per $100 of assessed value. At the same time, there is a $24.22 increase in the residential refuse collection fee, from $460 to $484.22.

All city and state employees will also get a 1% raise, and City Manager Mark Jinks said that $12 million, or a 2.3% reduction from last year’s budget, was made without impacting programs or services.

Mayor Justin Wilson said that city staff prepared a high quality budget during a period of incredible uncertainty. That uncertainty is eased, however, since the city will be getting approximately $59.4 million American Rescue Plan funds.

“We have only been successful this last year in getting through this moment because of our incredibly dedicated staff, in many cases doing jobs at physical risk to themselves and physical risk to their families,” Wilson said. “While we can never completely repay folks for that commitment and dedication, I think we were doing what we can in this in this environment.”

Councilwoman Amy Jackson thanked Jinks and staff for including the tax reduction into the budget.

“This is the year that is most needed,” Jackson said.When our residents are looking at other avenues of how they are going to save money, how they’re going to pay their bills, how they’re going to feed their families and continue their jobs.”

Council also unanimously approved the 10-year $2.7 billion Capital Improvement Program, which includes $293 million in investments for schools, transportation, sewers, stormwater management, public buildings and facilities, and information technology.

“We are making some very significant investments in our infrastructure,” Wilson said. “I’m pleased to see that in this in this budget.”

Additionally, nearly $800,000 in Alexandria Police Department funding for School Resource Officers at Alexandria City Public Schools was “temporarily reallocated” to contingent reserves until the school system presents a proposal this summer on using the funds to provide mental health resources for school-age children, the Teen Wellness Center, and the hiring of an additional Behavioral Health Specialist for the Alexandria Crisis Intervention and Co-responding Program (ACORP). The proposal will have to be presented to City Council before their summer recess.

2 Comments

Alexandria City Councilors seemed surprised by Police Chief Michael Brown on Tuesday night, when he presented an alternate plan to Council Mo Seifeldein’s proposal to reappropriate nearly $800,000 in School Resource Officer funding for mental health resources for school aged children.

“The proposal is to cut the funding and redirect it,” Mayor Justin Wilson said. “It sounds like the Chief is talking about something that involves retaining the funding, and making changes to the way the folks are operating.”

Per the proposal, $789,909 for SRO funding would be reallocated to “add mental health resources for school aged children, support staff to the Teen Wellness Center, an additional Behavioral Health Specialist to the ACORP Pilot, and other similar needs identified by staff.”

If passed, the proposal would require an implementation plan from police and ACPS, and be presented to Council by July. It currently has the support of Seifeldein, Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker, Councilman John Taylor Chapman and Councilman Canek Aguirre — just enough to pass.

Brown asked that Council not cut the six officers from the budget, but instead transition them to a new community engagement program that he recently unveiled to the city manager. As part of that program, police are increasing a community presence in areas of the city with increased crime, such as Old Town North and Arlandria.

“But the key is we need staffing to do it, and with these people if we ended up having to move out of the SRO program as a council policy decision, we would recommend that we keep those assets because we’re going to need them for that,” Brown said.

Seifeldein said that Brown’s proposal was news to him.

“I don’t know really what’s going on here,” Seifeldein said. “I have not heard of this till now. It is not my proposal and I certainly do not support it and does not fall in line within the parameters of the proposal which deals exclusively with mental health resources to school aged children.”

Seifeldein continued, “Am I hearing that you just kind of reworking your budget and looking potentially at your overhead and moving that to this, or are you talking about taking the money that I’m proposing for the mental health program to be reappropriated to what you just talked about?”

Last month, School Board members asked City Council to respect their decision on SROS after its bi-annual memorandum of understanding (MOU) was signed with the police department.

The final add/delete session for the fiscal year 2022 budget is on Monday, May 3.

4 Comments

To go along with a recent increase in the stormwater utility fee, Alexandria’s City Council is broadening the scope of what that can be covered by that fee.

At a City Council meeting on Saturday, the Council voted unanimously in favor of expanding the uses of the fee to help combat some of the rampant flooding that’s plagued the city over the last few years.

The ordinance added “to mitigate surface and subsurface flooding from precipitation events” to the description of the fee. The new ordinance also adds specific examples to the types of stormwater infrastructure the project can fund, “including the enlargement or improvement of dams, levees, floodwalls, and pump stations.”

The fee is scheduled to increase from $140 this year to $210 starting in June, up to $280 by November.

The new language will also allow the city to use the funds for stormwater management contracts with private businesses.

“[Funding may be used for] contracts related to stormwater management, including contracts for the financing, construction, operation, or maintenance of stormwater management facilities,” the ordinance says, “regardless of whether such facilities are located on public or private property and, in the case of private property locations, whether the contract is entered into pursuant to a stormwater management private property program under Section 15.2-2114(J) of the Virginia Code or otherwise.”

The expansion comes along with plans to double the stormwater utility fee. That increased fee faced some pushback, including from Councilwoman Amy Jackson and retiring Sheriff Dana Lawhorne.

0 Comments

Alexandria’s DASH bus network could soon be completely free for all passengers.

In a recent newsletter, Mayor Justin Wilson said he is proposing to make DASH free for all riders to go along with a planned overhaul of the bus network going into effect in September.

“To coincide with the implementation of this new route structure, I will be proposing that we use this opportunity to make DASH free for all riders,” said Wilson. “Free transit will expand ridership by an estimated 23%, bring riders back to transit following the pandemic, help achieve the City’s environmental goals and disproportionately benefit our lower-income residents. With ridership depressed due to the pandemic, the initial cost to implement this change is dramatically reduced.”

The move comes after a brief window when DASH stopped collecting fares during the pandemic, a practice it resumed last month.

In answer to a budget question from Mayor Justin Wilson, staff included full fare elimination as one of four possible scenarios, which also included off-peak fare elimination and free or reduced fare for low-income residents.

While Wilson said in the newsletter that the initial amount of revenue lost in the change would be relatively low at first, staff noted in the response that over the next few years the amount of money not-collected in fares would go up as ridership returns.

According to staff, the levels of funding left off-the-table by eliminating fare collection is project to look something like this:

FY23 Full DASH Fare Elimination: $3,912,107
FY24 Full DASH Fare Elimination: $4,961,078
FY25 Full DASH Fare Elimination: $5,512,309

Staff said the change would require the city to increase it’s funding to DASH over time.

“It should be noted that due to one time use of $2.9 million in one time federal relief funding in FY 2022, the City support of the DASH budget will need to increase by approximately $0.9 million in FY 2023, assuming the projected return of passenger revenue,” staff said. “This increase does not include current services adjustments or any supplementals that may be approved. Therefore, any fare reduction initiative will add to that subsidy increase.”

The change would come in the middle of DASH shifting from a coverage-based system, that prioritizes bus access geographically, to a service-based system, which would realign bus routes to prioritize areas of greater density to increase service quality for more Alexandrians while leaving some in less-dense parts of the city with limited or no access to the bus.

There has been some haggling over how much service would be cut to less dense areas, with DASH agreeing to restore some bus lines through the Seminary Hill area. But staff has noted that the level of coverage could depend on the upcoming budget with City Manager Mark Jinks saying fully funding both a geographic coverage and greater service in areas of higher density are incompatible with his suggestion to decrease the real estate tax rate.

While the City Council has ruled out increasing the tax rate, it’s not clear yet whether the Council will go along with the proposed tax rate reduction.

“The City Council will ultimately determine the future of this proposal as we work to finalize our budget this month,” Wilson said.

0 Comments

The Duke Streeet transitway, the Potomac Yard Metro station, and several other city projects have made some substantial headway recently with some big new developments scheduled for the next few months.

A quarterly report headed to the City Council tonight details the latest on several of the city’s major infrastructure projects.

One of the projects recently completed was the construction of Fire Station 203. The report noted that earlier this year, the fire department moved out of the temporary station and into the new one in the Cameron Mills neighborhood.

“New station construction complete and AFD move-in,” the report said. “Temporary station disassembled and relocated. Site work to proceed.”

The project is estimated to be fully completed in the first quarter of fiscal year 2022.

At the Potomac Yard Metro station, the report said that work is currently ongoing for the pedestrian bridge, and the next steps are beginning work on the south pavilion that will provide additional pedestrian access to the station. Pile driving at the project also began in March.

The report also noted progress on a plan to build a new Bus Rapid Transit system on Duke Street between the King Street Metro station and Landmark Mall — which could become more of a destination with new redevelopment plans.

This project will include planning/environmental design and construction of a Bus Rapid Transitway along Duke Street between the King Street Metro Station and Landmark Mall. The project is anticipated to be implemented in phases, which will be determined through the Civic Engagement and conceptual design phases of the project.

The project had a kickoff meeting last month, and is scheduled to be completed at the end of FY 2028 with an estimated cost of $116 million.

On the smaller side, the report noted that the overhaul of Armistead L. Boothe Park (520 Cameron Station Boulevard) is in the midst of its design process and is currently in the middle of public outreach. According to the city, the project will convert the natural turf baseball diamond into a synthetic turf field with more baseball and other sporting amenities:

The Field Replacement project will convert the existing natural turf field from a natural grass diamond field with a natural grass overlay rectangular field to a full synthetic turf diamond field with synthetic turf overlay rectangular field. In addition, the project will include upgrades to the field lighting, dugouts, warm up areas, batting cages, spectator seating, scoreboard, and scorers’ table. The project will be ADA compliant and it will address environmental site constraints.

Construction is scheduled to start later this year.

While much of the community discussion about stream restoration has been focused around Taylor Run, the city is also ramping up efforts to start undergoing similar restoration work at Strawberry Run.

Urban stream restoration project to address the state and federal mandates of the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) to clean up the Bay as enforced through the City’s Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) General Permit. The project also stabilizes a degraded (and continually degrading) urban stream corridor along with critical sewer infrastructure within the stream corridor and stream bed.

Through March, the report noted that staff were continuing to:

Develop comment responses and organize additional public engagement meetings and on-site meetings with homeowners and community representatives. Consultant to perform downstream site inspection and assessment. Continue to engage with homeowners for right of entry agreements. Public engagement period anticipated to be extended beyond the meeting with City Council on 4/27.

The Strawberry Run restoration is scheduled for completion in FY 2023 with a total cost of $2.53 million, a notable increase over the $1.60 million listed in 2020. The report said the increased costs were the result of the expanding scope of the project.

“Total Estimated project budget is $2.53M; however, $0.80M is anticipated to be reimbursed with Stormwater Local Assistance Fund (SLAF) funding from Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) per a grant award,” the report said. “The estimated project cost increased due to additional critical areas identified during design which resulted in scope expansion. Additionally, higher CMI costs are anticipated per cost data from recent projects with similar scope.”

The report also noted that improvements to Windmill Hill Park are also running a bit over budget, increasing from $5.5 million in last year’s estimates to $6.6 million this year.

“Phase II project cost estimated to be $730,000 for professional services. Cost estimate may change based on cost escalation associated with any delay due to funding timeline.”

Estimated completion was also pushed back to later in FY 2025.

Holmes Run has been left in a state of disrepair following intense flooding two years ago, but the city is currently in the process of repairs that will reopen portions of the trail to pedestrian access and add measures to help prevent future flooding.

Design proposals for the project were due last week and the city is currently working through the necessary budget documents for a pedestrian bridge along the trail.

The repairs are estimated to cost a total of $6 million to be completed in FY 2024.

2 Comments

Alexandria City Councilman John Taylor Chapman wants to be mayor someday. Not now, but he says that the seat is in his longterm plan.

In the meantime, Chapman’s got a few ideas on improving government access in the West End, which is also where he lives. Additionally, he says that the Eisenhower Valley is ripe for affordable housing development and that it’s the duty of local politicians to directly address resident concerns on social media platforms.

He’s also got a toddler and a wife at home, a full-time job with Fairfax County Public Schools and a touring company, in addition to a strapped city budget and a never-ending list of docketed items to be voted on or discussed.

“The last 36 months have been very interesting,” Chapman said. “I got married, had a child, and like everybody else am going through a pandemic. A lot of heavy, heavy stuff has happened over the last year.”

Chapman says it’s acceptable for the public to engage with local elected officials on social media — a contentious topic that was recently raised at a joint meeting with the City Council and School Board. Mayor Justin Wilson is an admitted social media addict who routinely talks with residents on multiple platforms, and retiring Councilwoman Del Pepper does not engage on social media at all. Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker and Councilman Canek Aguirre have staffers to manage their accounts, and Chapman, Councilwoman Amy Jackson and Councilman Mo Seifeldein directly discuss issues with the public on social media.

“As an elected official, if you want to try to reach out to folks outside of normal communication channels, yes, it’s definitely acceptable,” Chapman said.

A lifelong city resident, Chapman graduated from St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes School and has a degree in social studies education from St. Olaf College. By day, he works as a community use specialist for Fairfax County Public Schools, and coordinates with more than 1,000 community and government partners that want to rent out about 100 school spaces. He initially harbored hopes of being a teacher — a goal he says that was realized by founding his Alexandria-centric African American history Manumission Tour Company in 2016.

Chapman wants to renew conversation about opening a West End Service Center to connect residents to city resources and save them a trip to City Hall.

“I think we’re coming up on 75 years that the West End has been a part of the city, and I’m going to be calling for a study on how to better connect residents to the services that we have here in the city,” he said. “We need to solve that issue of connectivity.”

Chapman said Alexandria needs to capitalize from its Black historical roots, much as it has from being a favorite destinations for America’s founding fathers, like George Washington.

“I really believe there could be a whole industry around local African American history in Alexandria and throughout the nation,” he said. “Telling the stories of enslaved and free people and how they elevated themselves, their community and their city is a story that needs to be told. I want Samuel L. Tucker to be a household name across the country for the work that he did in the library sit-in in 1939, before the modern Civil Rights Movement. Most folks don’t know that across the country. That’s news to them when they get to Alexandria.”

Chapman will occasionally go against his colleagues, like when he voted against the Seminary Road road diet. He also, along with Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker, recently called for Council to review the Taylor Run and Strawberry Run Stream Restoration projects in light of concerns over habitat destruction.

“I think my latest pet peeve has been around the idea that the truth is flexible, that there are alternative facts,” he said. “I’ve had people tell me flat out to my face, ‘John, you never voted against Seminary Road.’ This is on the record, and, honestly, there’s a video of it.”

Affordable housing is a continual issue that the city is working on, and Chapman says that the Eisenhower Valley will need to be grown out.

“That’s a huge industrial area with Covanta there, and Virginia Paving, Co,” he said. “I think you have an opportunity to look at mixed use and additional residential development, but also looking at the infrastructure there to support it. Then, moving down east on Eisenhower Avenue you get past Cameron Run Regional Park and some of the additional developments and where you get into the heart of Carlyle there are a number of parking lots or places where things are just sitting there without development — plots of land that have not been built out or planned for. That means growing out the area around our Van Dorn Metro and our Eisenhower Metro stations.”

Chapman said he eventually wants to be mayor.

“It’s something that I want to build toward,” he said. “I mean that politically but I also mean that in terms of relationships with more people in the community not only know my name, but also know what I stand for. I think the folks that I’ve seen run for mayor have been very firm in that and people gravitate to them because of what they stand for.”

15 Comments
×

Subscribe to our mailing list