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Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Council Must Make Hard Choices
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Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Council Must Make Hard Choices

One hundred years ago America went to war. On Jan. 31, 1917 Germany notified the United States it would sink on sight all merchant vessels found in a particular zone. President Woodrow Wilson broke off diplomatic negotiations and on April 6, 1917 war was declared.

Alexandria celebrates the war’s centennial. Yet the city’s Potomac River sewage problems, as reported in the day, remain unresolved. The city’s combined sewage system outfalls date from the early 19th century.

President Wilson’s shipbuilding program included the 1918 Virginia Shipbuilding Corporation located at Jones Point in Alexandria along the Potomac River. VSC employed 7,000 men who built and repaired standardized steel cargo ships. The permanent yard was constructed in 85 days.

“A number of men employed by the Virginia Shipbuilding Company … have been suffering from intestinal troubles,” the Alexandria Gazette reported May 9, 1918. “The water from the Potomac river … has never been fit for drinking purposes. At this day, when sewers from Washington and Alexandria run into the river, together with so much filth, it is dangerous for anyone to drink of it.”

On April 5, 2017 the Virginia Senate rejected Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s plea to extend state imposed deadlines for sewage system repair. The city manager’s proposed 2018 capital budget includes $386 million to be spent on sewer upgrades, as well as a 500 percent increase in taxpayer sewer related fees. The amount allegedly falls short. It covers only three of the four needed outfall repairs.

If Vice Mayor Wilson has his way, council will continue to sock the taxpayer. If T&ES fails to comply with the state’s repair deadline, if the state later levies penalties, council will further increase its proposed 2018 sewer-related fees. If the Alexandria School Board does not negotiate a reasonable 2018 CIP budget, council will again increase the property tax rate.

“If only German sympathizers had poisoned the water used by shipyard workmen.” Life today would be simpler.

A budget is a plan of action, a reflection of decisions made relative to the allocation of scarce resources. Blow the budget, project or otherwise, and council begs your indulgence. Bottom line, a budget is a plan for future activity. And there’s the rub! Since the city thinks only in the political moment no hard choices have been made.

Virginia mandates a balanced budget. So should the city of Alexandria. Instead our tax-and-spend council dawdles, bankrupting the rest of us.

David Harrison

Alexandria