Memo for fiscal year 2017, updated 2016-04-20

[Archived] What is the Staff response to questions included in the Environmental Policy Commission (EPC) letter to City Council?

In general, staff prepared a proposed FY 2017 budget after consideration of guidance and priorities provided by the City Manager for the Livable, Green and Prospering City Focus Area. For FY 2017, the City Manager’s priorities most aligned with the Livable focus area included affordable housing, traffic/parking management, increasing General Fund revenue and IT investment. Additionally, departmental budget proposals focused on continued commitment to core services. Staff reviewed this process and the priorities in fall and early-spring coordination meetings with the chairs and vice-chairs of Transportation and Environmental Services (T&ES) staffed boards and commissions.

EPC Question #1: To what extent has staff considered the creation of a sustainability coordinator position, and why has staff decided not to include a new FTE for such a position in any of the scenarios included in its proposed FY 2017 budget?

Answer: The EPC letter to City Council dated November 15, 2015 was considered by staff from multiple departments within the Livable, Green and Prospering City Focus Area. Staff also understands that the proposed sustainability coordinator, like other potential positions that were considered and not proposed, are worthy proposals that support important City initiatives.  However, the proposed position was not included in the FY 2017 City Manager’s proposed budget because the City has committed extensive resources and significant funding on three major environmental initiatives: stormwater programs, development of a long-term control plan for the City’s combined sewer system, and finally, completion of the Oronoco outfall dredge and cap project. Staff also believes that its focus on the identified priorities advance significant goals within the Environmental Action Plan and align with City Manager/City Council priorities.   

EPC Question #2: Does City staff have sufficient resources in the Manager’s FY 2017 budget request to complete a comprehensive strategic review of the City’s resource recovery programs and policies in time to inform the FY 2018 budget process?

Answer: The T&ES departmental work plan includes a multi-year, staff-driven effort to develop a strategic plan for the City’s resource recovery programs. This plan will support some short-term policy proposals (for example, after-action reports on the Food Waste Composting Pilot and continued assessment of the Farmers Market composting program) for consideration by City Council in the FY 2018 budget process. However, the longer term effort will be a phased assessment of the City’s resource recovery programs and will ultimately lead to updates to the City’s Solid Waste Management Plan, which will be submitted to the Department of Environmental Quality in 2019. Staff anticipates continuing its close working relationship with the EPC as we undergo this multi-year effort. A long-term staff/EPC partnership is essential to successful completion of this substantial effort.

EPC Question #3: What priorities would need to shift to free up staff resources sufficiently to move the update of the Environmental Action Plan (EAP) back to FY 2017?

Answer: Updating the EAP is a significant inter-departmental effort that will require focused resources from multiple departments and could take over a year to complete. A Draft FY 2017 Interdepartmental Work Plan was presented to City Council at its Legislative Meeting on February 23, 2016. Plans and initiatives currently proposed for FY 2017 are shown on that document and include (but are not limited to) Old Town North Small Area Plan; North Potomac Yard Update; combined sewer system plan; stormwater utility; as well as related parking, facility and transportation initiatives. The City Manager’s proposed FY 2017 budget also includes funding for an Eisenhower West Infrastructure Plan which will be coordinated with a newly-formed Ad Hoc Eisenhower West/Landmark Van Dorn Implementation Advisory Group. Finally, staff estimates the EAP update will require consultant resources of approximately $100,000.

Question: What would T&ES do with a full-time position (FTE) to help further our ability to leverage more dollars for our Eco City Plan?

The full-time sustainability coordinator position would enable better coordination of sustainability efforts at all City departments, better tracking of key performance indicators to measure progress of the Eco-City program, and allow for better priority settings and faster implementation of the Environmental Action Plan.

This position would leverage City resources by: 1) integrating sustainability principles into all CIP projects and generating revenue through pursuing federal and state grants that could help reduce CIP project costs; 2) participating in regional sustainability projects to demonstrate new technologies, thus reducing costs and risks to Alexandria; 3) promoting successful technologies within Alexandria that have been demonstrated at other jurisdictions, resulting in faster implementation of new technologies while reducing development costs; 4) promoting best green practices to reduce costs to homeowners and at the same time, ecological impacts to the environment; 5) assisting in incorporating sustainability goals and practices into Small Area Plans, such as the Eco-District concept for Old Town North and the Eisenhower West SAPs, and ensuring that City’s sustainability goals are largely paid for by the developers; and 6) in the short term, working with City departments and the Environmental Policy Commission to accelerate the updating of the City’s Green Building Policy as well as the Environmental Action Plan.

This position requires technical knowledge across many fields (e.g., renewable energy, energy efficiency, air and water quality, green building, etc.) combined with excellent communication and project management skills.  Given the high technical knowledge and experience of such a position, staff recommends that it be at the Principal Planner (GS24) level. The estimated salary plus benefits for this level is $140,000.

Question: What is the potential of utilizing one of the Stormwater positions (potentially part-time role) as the Sustainability Coordinator?

Following Council’s recommendation to pursue a Stormwater Utility to fund costly stormwater infrastructure mandates, the City’s proposed FY 2017 budget includes 3 FTEs. These positions are needed to meet the recommended schedule to develop critical parts of the utility such as the rate, credit policy and billing strategy as part of the resolution brought to Council in fall of this year. They will then need to develop the customer database, appeals process and final rate to be included in the recommendation for adoption to go before Council in spring of 2017. It will be crucial for these positions to complete these tasks to meet these interim milestones and finalize this work leading to full implementation and billing by FY 2018. It has been suggested that one of these positions focus part time on City-wide sustainability efforts. Sharing responsibilities at this critical time may jeopardize the schedule for implementation. However, once the Stormwater Utility is up and running, there may be an opportunity for one of these positions to dedicate a portion of the work day on issues suited to a Sustainability Coordinator in order to further the City’s ongoing efforts to champion the vision and actions of the Eco-City Alexandria initiative.

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