Friday, October 25, 2019
The asphalt plant on Alexandria’s West End is a curious anomaly. It’s been there since 1960, a time when Old Town was up in arms about the possibility that asphalt might smother cobblestone streets supposedly laid by Hessian forces during the revolution. These days it seems out of place next to the Van Dorn Metro station, which is why City Council is considering rezoning the land.
But when should that happen? Three years from now or seven years from now? That was the question before members of the Alexandria City Council last weekend, when the elected officials decided to play the long game and close the plant on New Years Day 2027.
Virginia Paving employs 110 people, about 10 percent of whom live in Alexandria. It contributes about $340,000 every year in tax revenue, and its location inside the Beltway reduces the cost of paving projects. But it’s an industrial use right next to a Metro station, so it doesn’t really fit in with the long-range plan for the area.
“I just want to point out the Eisenhower Avenue was paved with Virginia Paving asphalt,” noted Councilwoman Del Pepper.
“And good intentions,” added Mayor Justin Wilson.
Virginia has no rent control, a system that allows localities in four states to limit rents landlords can charge. The infamous Dillon Rule prevents Alexandria from regulating much of anything unless the General Assembly says it’s OK, and for now that includes rent control. So why do members of the City Council spend so much time debating “voluntary rent guidelines” that limit rent increases to 5 percent a year?
“We have no ability to make landlords comply with this, says Melodie Seau, division chief of the Office of Housing. "We use the resolution to introduce negotiations to reduce rent increases.”
When the Alexandria government receives a formal complaint about a landlord spiking rent, city officials investigate. That can happen as many as 150 times a year, especially when the real estate market gets white hot. That’s what happened before the global financial crisis, when City Council members raised the voluntary guidelines up to 9 percent. The current guideline is 5 percent, which has been consistent since 2009.
Earlier this week, Councilman Mo Seifeldein suggested that the coming rent increases associated with Amazon required what he called “political will” to do something. So he suggested setting the voluntary rent guidelines at 3 percent.
“If you want to talk about political will, let’s just make it 1 percent,” suggested Councilman Canek Aguirre.
Seifeldein agreed, and the two tried to get their colleagues to set the guidelines at 1 percent. That effort failed, as did a separate effort to reduce the guidelines to 3 percent. So, for now, the Alexandria’s voluntary rent guidelines remain at 5 percent, although city officials acknowledge that landlords largely ignore them.
Aiding the Aides
Should City Council members have full-time aides? How much should those aides be paid?
“Our current policy and treatment of council aides doesn’t seem to align with our own city’s compensation policy,” says Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker. “This is ultimate a retention issue.”
Alexandria City Council aides are currently considered part-time temporary workers, and some don’t even qualify for health insurance or retirement benefits. They currently pull in about $21,000 a year, considerably less than neighboring jurisdictions where they make anywhere from $30,000 to $100,000. And unlike other city employees, aides don’t get merit increases.
“I can’t think of any other business that would not offer some sort of increase or incentive for performance,” says Bennett-Parker. “And I’m curious about how other jurisdictions treat that issue.”
City Manager Mark Jinks says he’ll look into how other jurisdictions approach the issue and report back to City Council members on their options.