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Flooding on lower King Street in Old Town, October 29, 2021. (staff photo by James Cullum)

It’s about to get a little more expensive to live in Alexandria.

On Saturday, City Manager Jim Parajon will present City Council with proposals to increase:

On ambulances, Council will consider raising the cost of basic life support from $600 to $750, which is about as much as neighboring Fairfax and Arlington Counties charge. As for additional levels of treatment, advanced life support (ALS) treatment would increase from $780 to $1,000, and the most advanced treatment requiring life-saving and other measures could rise from $900 to $1,200.

In the meantime, City Council is also considering a real estate tax increase to fund a significant budget request from the Alexandria School Board.

Parajon estimates that the fee increase will account for $1.1 million in revenue.

The Manager also wants to raise fees for late personal property tax payments. He’s proposing to increase the late payment penalty from a flat rate of 10% to “a rate of 10% if paid within 30 days 20 after the due date, and 25% if paid more than 30 days after the due date,” according to the proposal.

The city’s personal property tax rate is $5.33 per $100 of the assessed value of  vehicles, and $3.55 for vehicles retrofitted to accommodate disabled drivers.

Parajon also wants to increase the stormwater utility fee from $308.7 to $324.10. The increase will help the city pay for infrastructure improvements, Mayor Justin Wilson wrote in April newsletter.

House of money (photo via Kostiantyn Li on Unsplash)

Alexandria City Manager Jim Parajon is asking City Council to increase penalties for late personal property tax payments.

The news comes as City Council considers a real estate tax increase to fund a significant budget request from the Alexandria School Board.

Parajon wants to increase the late payment penalty from a flat rate of 10% to “a rate of 10% if paid within 30 days 20 after the due date, and 25% if paid more than 30 days after the due date,” according to the proposal that Council will receive on Tuesday, April 2.

The city’s personal property tax rate is $5.33 per $100 of the assessed value of  vehicles, and $3.55 for vehicles retrofitted to accommodate disabled drivers.

The following residents can get an exemption on personal property taxes:

  • Active-duty U.S. military personnel and their spouses
  • Antique car owners
  • Member of Congress and their spouses
  • Foreign diplomats
  • Disabled U.S. military veterans

Personal property tax bills are mailed in the summer and payments are due Oct. 5.

Alexandria Interim Police Chief Raul Pedroso (via City of Alexandria)

Alexandria’s Interim Police Chief Raul Pedroso has been on the job a little more than a month, and tells ALXnow that he wants the permanent position.

Pedroso was hired as an assistant police chief last October, and took the reins of the Alexandria Police Department last month after the retirement of former Chief Don Hayes.

“I’m interested in being the chief of police for the City of Alexandria,” Pedroso said. “I’ve worked my whole career to get myself ready for a position and opportunity like this. But at the end of day, I’m here to work, and so I’m going to work today, I’m going to work tomorrow, I’m going to work every day as long as I’m in this position.”

While the city begins its planning for a national search to permanently fill the position, Pedroso says that he’s been directed by City Manager Jim Parajon to keep moving the department forward without limitations on his interim authority.

“The direction has been simple,” Pedroso said. “Do whatever that we need to do to keep the department moving forward.”

Pedroso has inherited a city experiencing a crime surge, with dramatic increases in gun-related incidents, as well as a department that suffered diversity and morale issues under his predecessor.

“To me, we’re in a great position here,” Pedroso said. “We have all the elements of what is a great organization to be a part of. You’ve got great men and women in the agency, you’ve got a proud tradition, which is good for a police department. You have a very supportive community, and a very supportive elected body and administration.”

Pedroso also said that he doesn’t envision making any major changes to the organizational structure of the department with three assistant police chiefs.

“The focus for me is delivering the best in service and making the greatest impact for the people that live here and visit here,” he said. “You’re gonna get caught if you come to Alexandria and commit crime.”

Pedroso was previously a major in the Coral Gables Police Department, where he worked his way up the ranks for 30 years. He speaks fluent Spanish, attended the FBI National Academy and has a master’s of science degree in criminal justice from Florida International University and a bachelor’s degree in business from the University of Florida, according to his LinkedIn page.

Pedroso left Coral Gables for Alexandria because he was facing mandatory retirement, he said.

“I wanted to keep working,” he said. “I felt I had more to give, and so when I was about 18 months out is when I decided I’m going to start to really work hard at finding that next opportunity.”

A Florida native, he says he was inspired to pursue a career in law enforcement while working as a loss prevention officer as studied for a Bachelor’s degree in business at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

“My intent was to go into business,” Pedroso said.

But after helping a detective bust a sheriff’s deputy who was shoplifting and making fraudulent refunds in uniform, Pedroso went on a police ride-along and was hooked.

“I went on that ride along and it changed my life,” he said. “I knew what I wanted to do and I went full-force.”

Former Alexandria Sheriff Dana Lawhorne said that Parajon made a good decision promoting Pedroso.

“I have spent  time getting to know Chief Pedroso over the last four months,” Lawhorne said. “I am impressed by what I have heard and seen so far. He is taking measures to address the crime problem, improving morale, and engaging the community. I trust his leadership abilities, decision making, and vision.”

Pedroso describes his leadership style as “authentic.”

“I am who I am,” he said. “The person who is talking with you now is the person that’s going to talk in a meeting with our command staff. It’s who’s going to be out there with their officers on the street, or with the community or at home. I’m real.”

Pedroso continued, “My style is I am empathetic. I understand. I did this job for a long time. I don’t forget where I came from. I don’t forget what it is to be a police officer riding a beat in a police car at three o’clock in the morning and the challenges that come with that job. It’s a very difficult job. It’s incredibly rewarding, but comes with a lot of challenges. I’ve never forgotten that.”

Pedroso says his priorities are ensuring proper resources and training for officers, as well as staying connected with the community.

“We don’t have all the answers in here,” he said. “The answers are all around us. By having those interactions, by building that trust, developing that relationship, we’re getting a lot of great ideas when it comes to how we should be out there policing our community.”

Pedroso says that he hasn’t been keeping track of the hours he’s putting in as interim chief.

“There are a lot of hours and they’re long hours, but that’s okay,” he said. “This opportunity is one that I don’t take lightly, and it’s one that for every minute that I am in this position, or any position involved with leadership and public safety, I’m gonna give it my all.”


Alexandria School Board Members went all-in Wednesday night in asking City Council to fund its budget by approving a massive tax increase.

Mayor Justin Wilson told the Board at a budget work session on Wednesday night that its fiscal year 2025 $384.4 million combined funds budget request would result in a historic tax increase. The Board, in turn, said that the funding could stem the school system’s staffing crisis.

“To be candid, the combination of the operating requests and the capital requests is probably about a 6 cent tax increase, which is not viable,” Wilson said, adding that it would be the largest tax increase since the 5.7 cent tax increase of 2017 raised the average residential property tax bill by more than $300.

The Board’s proposed budget, which was approved last month, surprised Wilson and other Council Members, who said they were left in the dark with its development.

“I’ve heard nothing around a strategic look at how we pay folks,” City Council Member John Taylor Chapman told the Board. “I know many of you personally. I know you care about what you do. I know you are professionals. So, when I say ‘Hey, I expect you to bring a great budget to Council and Council is going to fund it,’ I don’t expect you to be just willy nilly. I expect you to be focused and I think that’s who you are.”

School Board Chair Michelle Rief countered that the Board has been strategic in its thinking, and that she prioritizes the 2% market rate adjustment for staff as the most important addition that needs funding.

“In my opinion, to sort of go out publicly and tell us to fight for the thing that we need and then come here and tell us that we’re we’re asking for too much, I think might be a political strategy on your part,” Rief said.

Vice Mayor Amy Jackson, who is running for mayor, said that the city should raise taxes to fully fund the school system’s budget request.

“I know it’s a sacrifice for all of us,” Jackson said. “I mean, we all live here in the city, and raising taxes would be a sacrifice.”

Jackson was the only Council member to not criticize the school system’s budget during the meeting.

“I just feel like we need to get close to what they’re asking for, if not fully funded,” Jackson said. “I think raising taxes also will mean that hopefully we’re not cutting our services and that our services are remaining at the optimum level for our residents and our businesses, but also making sure that our schools are remaining competitive and keeping our community stronger.”

School Board Member Tammy Ignacio was brought to tears while recounting the stresses that staff and students are experiencing.

“We have got to be able to compete with our surrounding jurisdictions,” Ignacio said. “In my 32 years in education, I have never seen it this bad. I have never seen the level of kids in a classroom without a teacher in front of them.”

City Council will set a maximum tax rate next week, allowing the City Manager to pursue some of the Board’s proposed additions, which include $4.2 million for staffers who did not get step increases in fiscal year 2021 and a $5.4 million (2%) market rate adjustment for all eligible staff.

Council Member Alyia Gaskins, who is running against Jackson in the Democratic mayoral primary, said she is in favor of advertising a higher tax rate to consider the additions.

“We have to deliver a balanced budget that responds to the needs of our community and that means doing right by our teachers and students,” Gaskins said. “If in the end we decide an increase is necessary, then I will be leading the charge to figure out relief for those who cannot keep affording these increases, like seniors on fixed incomes or others who are one tax increase away from not being able to afford to live here.”

School Board Member Abdel Elnoubi, who is running for City Council, said that he’s asking them to make an unpopular decision during an election year.

“It’s your decision to decide whether you want to raise taxes or not,” Elnoubi said. “If you do that, if you decide to raise taxes, I’m 100% with you… Let me just address the elephant in the room. It is an election year and as a School Board Member I’m in a less tough position.”

Four City Council Members are seeking reelection, and two members are running for mayor. Elnoubi and School Board Member Jacinta Greene are also running in the June 18 Democratic City Council primary.

Elnoubi said that from Council’s perspective, the Board gets to take credit for the increased funding while City Council has to deal with the consequences of raising taxes.

“That’s very viable, that is the political reality of things,” Elnoubi said. “What I will tell you is we are doing what we think is right for the school system… I would be derelict in my duty if I don’t ask you for what we need, understanding full well you may not be able to give it to us, which is fine.”

Wilson said that the Board needs to work closer with Council to craft not only this budget, but future budgets.

“It is impossible for us to resolve the gap on both the capital and operating side,” he said. “So we are going to pick a number and to come to some conclusion to our process, and it’s going to be challenging to arrive at that number without some really good input from the School Board as to what that should be.”

School Board Member Tim Beaty said that living in the city is becoming more expensive, and that the additions are focused on teacher retention.

“We were doing what we thought was best in order to keep the quality of what we’ve got,” Beaty said. “I’m frustrated that this leads to this huge difference between what we need and what’s available in the budget.”

City Council will adopt its final budget on May 1.


Alexandria’s annual George Washington Birthday Parade brought the usual pomp and circumstance befitting the country’s first president.

This year’s parade marshals were the recipients of the prestigious Living Legends of Alexandria award. The theme of this year’s parade was “George Washington: Alexandria’s Living Legend.”

A number of political candidates marched (or rode) in the parade, including mayoral candidates Vice Mayor Amy Jackson and Alyia Gaskins, as well as Sheriff Sean Casey and Clerk of Court Greg Parks. City Manager Jim Parajon also marched, as did his counterpart in the school system, Superintendent Melanie Kay-Wyatt. Former Mayor Allison Silberberg also marched in the parade with the “Coalition to Stop the Potomac Yard Arena.”

Alexandria’s next parade is the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Old Town on Saturday, March 2.


(Updated 9:35 p.m.) It was overcast and cool — the perfect weather for the Campagna Center’s 52nd Scottish Christmas Walk Parade.

The parade is one of the most popular events in the city, bringing thousands of participants, including Irish dancers, historic reenactors and the City of Alexandria Pipes and Drums. It is considered the highlight of a weekend full of events.

This year’s grand marshals were Congressman Don Beyer (D-8th) and his wife, Megan.

Enjoy the photos!


Updated at 11:45 a.m. Alexandria Fire Chief Corey Smedley announced his retirement today, and that he will leave the top job on Friday, Jan. 12.

After more than three years at the helm of the department, the 51-year-old Smedley did not say what his next move would be after his retirement. He’s the city’s first permanent Black fire chief, and led the department through the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as negotiated the AFD first-ever collective bargaining agreement with the fire department’s union.

“I am extremely blessed and honored to serve,” Smedley said. “The Fire and EMS service is a great way to spend your life serving others and helping those in need. Although this is a bittersweet moment, I find solace knowing the department is in a better place and there are leaders within that will continue the journey of improvement.”

Mayor Justin Wilson called Smedley a “great leader.”

“Chief Smedley has been a great leader for one our fastest-growing departments at a critical time in our history,” Wilson told ALXnow. “His retirement is a big loss for our City. I wish Chief Smedley well in his retirement and I thank him for his tireless work to protect the safety of people and property in our community.”

City Manager Jim Parajon also appointed Jim Schwartz to act as interim Fire Chief as the city conducts a national search for Smedley’s permanent replacement. Schwartz retired in 2021 as a deputy county manager in Arlington.

Smedley was born in Washington D.C., raised in Maryland and lives in Chesapeake Beach, Md. He joined the department in 2015 as the deputy fire chief of emergency management and homeland security, after 20 years with the Prince George’s County Fire Department. He was promoted to Assistant Fire Chief of Administration in early 2019, and was named the acting fire chief that summer after former Chief Robert Dubé unexpectedly announced his retirement.

City Manager Jim Parajon thanked Smedley for his contributions over the last eight years.

“His outstanding leadership has led to significant workplace improvements for our firefighters and EMS providers, while improving the quality of life in Alexandria,” Parajon said. “We wish him all the best for a well-earned retirement.”

A Metro train headed toward the Van Dorn Metro station (staff photo by James Cullum)

(Updated 9:55 p.m.) Bailing Metro out of its $750 million budget shortfall is going to sting the budgets of localities next year, and the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) expects to release a plan addressing it next month.

COG Director Clark Mercer said that the organization’s Chief Administrative Officers (CAO) Committee work group on Metro’s cost structure will release a report next month outlining three options for Metro to consider. One of those options includes a one-time option to use Metro’s preventative maintenance fund against the balance for the next year or two, potentially cutting the shortfall by hundreds of millions of dollars.

“Most transit systems in the country do this on a regular basis,” Mercer told ALXnow. “But what Metro has heard kind of loud and clear is that the region cannot absorb a $750 million bill on top of what they already paid this year. What are some other options? It’s a big, huge mountain to climb.”

Mercer said that Metro CEO Randy Clarke has identified $50 million in ongoing savings from eliminating consultants, as well as nearly $100 million from this year’s budget that will roll over into next year’s budget.

“Just so you know, that fiscal cliff of $750 million, once moving those preventative maintenance dollars up, the next year that cliff is still there,” Mercer said. “It goes down to $300 or $400 million, then up to $750 million again. Those numbers are real.”

Clark Mercer, executive director of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (courtesy of COG)

COG acts as a regional powerhouse, corralling 24 member jurisdictions (with about six million residents) to get on the same page on regional initiatives like transportation planning, affordable housing, law enforcement and environmental sustainability. Last month, COG released a statement in response to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s financial update.

“Our region’s economy and quality of life depend on a reliable, sustainable Metro system,” stated COG Board of Directors Chair Kate Stewart, who is a Montgomery County Councilmember. “State, local, and federal leaders need to prioritize ensuring we avert the fiscal cliff facing the system and work together to find a long-term, sustainable funding solution.”

The CAO work group, which compiled the report and recommendations, is chaired by Alexandria City Manager Jim Parajon.

COG is made up of about 130 employees, and nearly half of them work in transit with the Transportation Planning Board for the region. Additionally, Metro’s budget has to be approved in the organization’s long-term plan to get federal funding.

Mercer said that not funding Metro by next summer would result in a “transit death spiral.”

“You’re not gonna be able to recruit a company to this region without a well-run Metro system,” he said. “One reason Amazon came where they came was because of Metro, and there are a lot of companies like that.”

Mercer continued, “We can say, ‘We don’t want to fund it, and we want a poorly run Metro,’ and that’s a disaster for the region,” Mercer said. “Option one is a transit death spiral.”

In 2018, jurisdictions in the region agreed to cap their funding to Metro to $500 million, and to increase their allocation no more than 3% every year. Now with Metro’s $750 million shortfall, that 3% needs to be re-baselined with Virginia and Maryland state legislators, Mercer said.

“The second option is to look at the way that Metro is funded — from Richmond, Annapolis, the District of Columbia, and the federal government,” Mercer said. “Ask any business person if they want their budget approved every year by four different boards of directors. Funding options needs to be discussed over the next year.”

Without a funding increase from Alexandria and its neighbors, WMATA reported “unprecedented operating deficits” will force it to make drastic cuts to rail, bus, and paratransit services across the region.


With Alexandria’s consumption tax revenues hitting an all-time high in fiscal year 2023, Mayor Justin Wilson says that the city has emerged from the economic spiral created by the 2020 coronavirus pandemic.

The city’s consumption tax revenues (sales, meals and transient lodging) peaked at $81 million in fiscal year 2023, a 7% increase over the $76 million collected in FY 2022 and 23% more than the $66 million in FY 2019, according to figures presented at Visit Alexandria‘s annual meeting on Tuesday night.

“We’re back,” Wilson told an audience of hundreds at the Westin Alexandria Old Town. “And now it’s not about planning and recovery, it’s not about figuring out what’s next, it’s not about adapting. It’s about putting the pedal to the metal. This is an exciting moment for our community. And we have an opportunity to seize this incredible opportunity for the city in the future.”

Alexandria was also listed in Travel and Leisure’s Best Places to Travel in 2023 and Best Cities in the U.S. 2023, and was voted third in Condé Nast Traveler’s list of best small cities in the country.

Handing out flags at the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Old Town, March 3, 2023 (staff photo by James Cullum)

Visit Alexandria CEO Patricia Washington said that her success is largely the result of a series of video advertising campaigns, like the “Best Kept Shh!” campaign, where the city is advertised as a best-kept secret. The campaign garnered a reported 60 million impressions, and contributed to a record 186 million total digital marketing impressions in FY 2023, according to Visit Alexandria.

“Our marketing strategy meets people where they are, whether they’re watching a YouTube video on their computer, a streaming app on their TV, or social media on their phone,” Washington said. “We’ve worked hard to gain national recognition and a national reputation and this is the moment to capitalize on it with a new spot that ties together all the accolades with the ‘Best Kept Shh’ campaign.”

Hotel occupancy rose 18% in Fy 2023, according to Visit Alexandria. That resulted in record revenue per available room of $111, a 4% increase from the previous record of $107 set in 2019.

Visit Alexandria is the city’s tourism bureau, and earlier this year City Council approved $2 million for marketing, advertising, printing and web expenses. The allocation, a 4% increase of $149,800, was directed to be spent at Visit Alexandria’s discretion. A majority of the funding, $1.7 million of it, is budgeted directly toward advertising, with $162,000 for website support and $127,000 for printing costs.

Washington said to expect new video campaigns highlighting Alexandria’s neighborhoods, Black heritage and more. She also said that travel inflation and fears of recession will mean that consumers will want to get the most value from their money in the coming year.

“At a time when so much of our life is lived in the digital world, we need to remember that authentic travel is a refuge that provides meaning, magic and connections,” Washington said.

Wilson said Visit Alexandria’s success allows the city to support critical services and protect an attractive quality of life.

“We’re in a joint venture,” he said. “And we’re going to make sure that joint venture is even more successful in the future.”

The Franklin P. Backus Courthouse at 520 King Street in Alexandria (staff photo by James Cullum)

After weeks of waiting, Alexandria Circuit Court Judge Katie Uston denied a petition to promote Alexandria Police Department Captain Monica Lisle to the rank of assistant police chief.

Lisle, a 29-year APD veteran, is a white, gay woman who has fought for more than a year to become the assistant chief of police. She sued the city after City Manager Jim Parajon refused a three-member city grievance panel’s order to promote her to the position after finding that she’d been harmed and discriminated against in her pursuit of the job.

In her decision, Uston wrote that City Manager Jim Parajon has the sole authority on hiring and promoting in Alexandria, and that the grievance panel exceeded its authority in demanding that he promote Lisle to one of two open assistant police chief positions.

Uston wrote in her decision that she would not restate the city’s “alleged failure to follow established procedures and standing practices in this selection process,” and that the panel went outside of its limited scope.

“While the panel may order such relief as it deems necessary to remedy the harm shown to have affected the grievant (Lisle), the actual scope of that relief, while not clearly defined, is clearly limited,” Uston wrote in her decision. “Any relief ordered must be consistent with written personnel policies of the City. Nowhere is the Panel empowered to promote an employee. That power is instead reserved to the City Manager.”

Lisle’s attorney Will Thetford said his client was disappointed by the ruling and is looking at appeal options.

“I do hope the city keeps one of those positions open for her,” Thetford said. “The panel said that Monica Lisle should be in that position and is qualified for the position.”

A flawed process

The grievance panel was comprised of an Alexandria Police Department lieutenant, a deputy director of planning, construction and facilities, and a staffer with the Department of Planning and Zoning. They found on July 3 that APD violated 10 city procedures in the effort to fill the vacant position. Those violations included improperly posting the job announcement in the summer of 2022, appointing under-qualified officers to question candidates, appointing an all-Black panel that “improperly” considered race, and tanking Lisle’s application with unfairly low scores.

On July 1, however, Parajon’s officer amended city administrative regulations so that only he – not a grievance panel – can promote employees in the city of Alexandria.

Parajon and Police Chief Don Hayes then submitted affidavits to the court acknowledging that they discussed “concerns” that had been raised regarding the hiring process last October. Parajon allowed the process to continue despite those concerns, and he told the court that he had nothing else to do with filling the position until Hayes finally selected now-Assistant Police Chief Easton McDonald.

Former Alexandria Police Chief David Baker is an Alexandria Police Foundation board member, and said that the optics of the hiring failure reflects poorly on the department’s leadership.

“I wish someone in the decision-making posture in the city would have corrected whatever was going wrong in this process and redid the whole thing,” Baker said. “I know this department, and there will be lingering ill-will, finger pointing and mistrust. None of that is good for the city, and I find it sad and unnecessary and I wish they’d handled it better.”


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