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County Budget Cuts, Tax Hikes Looming

by Katie Pyzyk | November 19, 2012 at 4:50 pm | 4,382 views | 263 Comments

The Arlington County Board has asked County Manager Barbara Donnellan to plug a projected $25-50 million budget gap with a combination of spending cuts and tax increases.

At its Saturday meeting, the Board approved a set of budget guidelines intended to assist Donnellan in putting together her proposed budget for fiscal year (FY) 2014. Despite two years of rising real estate assessments and tax rates, the projected 1-2 percent increase in county property values this year is not expected to be enough to keep up with increased spending.

(The real estate tax accounts for just over 55 percent of all county revenue.)

Costs are expected to increase in FY 2014 in the specific areas of employee compensation, health care, funding for Metro, debt costs, communications infrastructure and operating expenses for new county facilities like the Arlington Mill Community Center.

Donnellan has already taken initial steps to begin cutting costs, such as ordering a hiring slow down, which has already gone into effect. Donnellan has also authorized early retirement offers to qualified staff, and has instructed department heads to provide expenditure reductions.

The county last year benefited from an $18 million carryover from the previous year’s budget. Without that carryover, revenue next year is projected at $1.039 billion while total spending is expected to increase 1.1 percent to $1.064 billion. Projected county expenditures in FY 2014 include $401.8 for Arlington Public Schools, a 0.7 percent increase over this year’s budget.

Among the factors hurting county revenue, officials say, are the impacts of the Base Realignment and Closure Act, potential federal budget cuts and stagnant real estate assessment growth.

County Board Chair Mary Hynes promised to engage the community in the budget process, but warned residents to expect some unpopular budget decisions.

“During these uncertain economic times, we will have to make some tough choices,” she said. “We look forward to months of discussion with the community as we set priorities and make those choices.”

The Board asked Donnellan for an equal mix of tax hikes and budget cuts.

“The Board emphasized the importance of maintaining long-term financial sustainability and preserving the County’s AAA bond ratings,” according to a county press release.

(more…)

Ribbon Cutting for New Rosslyn Office Building

by ARLnow.com | November 19, 2012 at 2:55 pm | 3,548 views | 26 Comments

A ribbon cutting ceremony was held Friday afternoon for 1776 Wilson Boulevard, one of the county’s newest office buildings.

The $33.5 million office building includes four floors of office space, 30,000 square feet of ground floor retail space, and 231 garage parking spaces. With environmental features like a green vegetated roof, solar panels, electric vehicle chargers and water use reduction systems, developer Skanska USA is seeking LEED Platinum sustainability certification.

The building is located in Rosslyn at the intersection with N. Quinn Street. The project included the construction of a new section of N. Quinn Street to connect Wilson Blvd to Clarendon Blvd.

Attendees at Friday’s ribbon cutting included representatives from Skanska USA, County Board members Jay Fisette and Chris Zimmerman, Rosslyn BID Executive Director Cecilia Cassidy, and George Contis, the doctor who sold the property to Skanska in 2010.

The building still being leased out, but confirmed tenants include CRDF Global and the National Association of Chain Drug Stores. Skanska has also established its new regional headquarters in the building.

DEVELOPING: Man Hurt After Plunge from Ballston Parking Garage

by ARLnow.com | November 19, 2012 at 1:10 pm | 3,807 views | 22 Comments

(Updated at 1:30 p.m.) Arlington police and firefighters are on the scene outside the Ballston Common Mall for a report of a man who fell about 30 feet from the Ballston public parking garage.

The incident happened on the Glebe Road side of the parking garage, near the intersection with Carlin Springs Road. The victim is described by police as a 40-year-old white male.

Witnesses saw the man dangling from the first level of the parking garage, according to Arlington County Police spokesman Dustin Sternbeck. Police were called, but the man fell before they arrived on scene. He suffered a traumatic head injury and was rushed to Inova Fairfax Hospital, Sternbeck said.

The incident at first sounded like a suicide attempt — since 2010, two people have taken their own life by jumping from the parking garage – but police say that is not the case.

According to Sternbeck, the man was involved in a hit-and-run accident on the G-4 level of the parking garage today. Investigators believe he was attempting to flee the scene when he climbed onto the ledge of the garage, but he didn’t realize how high up he was until it was too late. Sternbeck said police and paramedics have had “frequent contact” with the man in the past for alcohol-related incidents.

Police have closed down the sidewalk and blocked two out of three northbound lanes of Glebe Road while they continue to investigate.

Thanksgiving Travel Begins, Up Slightly Over Last Year

by Katie Pyzyk | November 19, 2012 at 11:55 am | 2,324 views | 9 Comments

People around the country and here in Arlington have already begun heading to their Thanksgiving destinations. In the D.C. metro area, the number of travelers is expected to be slightly higher than last year.

More than 1 million local residents are anticipated to travel 50 miles or more for the holiday, according to AAA. That’s a 1.3 percent increase over last year.

“The consistently solid travel numbers since the 2008 drop, despite high gas prices and a struggling economy, is impressive and reassuring,” said Martha Mitchell Meade, Manager of Public and Government Affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic. “The ‘recovery’ rate of the number of holiday travelers has out-paced the economic recovery and, as Thanksgiving is primarily a family holiday, speaks to the importance of family in good times and bad.”

Meade noted that travelers should plan accordingly if driving to areas such as New York or New Jersey, which have been hurting for gasoline due to Superstorm Sandy. She spoke with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s office and was informed that gas rationing was supposed to end yesterday (Sunday), but might need to be re-evaluated today.

“If gas rationing is going on, if there’s not enough gas for the people who live there, certainly bringing in other people who need gas will only make the situation worse,” Meade said.

AAA predicts air travel in the metro area will decrease by a little more than 1 percent, even though it shows air fare is about 11 percent lower than last year.

According to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, the Thanksgiving travel rush began on Friday (November 16) and will continue through Monday, November 26. The busiest days are anticipated to be tomorrow (Tuesday) and Wednesday, in addition to the Sunday and Monday after Thanksgiving.

Peak travel times are typically in the early morning from 5:30-8:00 a.m. and late afternoon from 3:30-5:30 p.m. There could also be a mid-day peak from 11:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m. Travelers are advised to arrive at least two hours before a domestic flight and three hours before an international flight, especially during these peak times.

Student Ambassadors and Travelers Aid volunteers will be at Reagan National Airport to offer directions and answer traveler questions. The Student Ambassadors will be wearing distinctive yellow shirts and the Travelers Aid volunteers will be wearing blue blazers.

MWAA offers the following tips for travelers:

  • Confirm the status of your flight directly with your airline before coming to the airport. Weather here or in other parts of the country can affect airline schedules across the route network.
  • Print out your boarding pass in advance. Some airlines also offer electronic boarding passes.
  • Bring government issued photo ID to the airport for all adult passengers.
  • Expect full flights and full luggage bins on board.
  • Pack wisely – no prohibited items in carry-on luggage; and no valuable items in checked luggage. Label your luggage so your name is plainly visible.
  • Reagan National customers can check parking availability on the airport’s website or at 703-417-PARK. Economy tends to fill during holiday periods.
  • For travelers not familiar with the airport, a printable one-page information sheets is available in the “Travel Tips” section at the airport website. Travelers can also follow MWAA on Twitter for updated information.

Board Approves Purchase of Property for Homeless Shelter

by Katie Pyzyk | November 19, 2012 at 10:40 am | 6,786 views | 111 Comments

(Updated at 11:25 a.m.) At its meeting on Saturday, Nov. 17, the County Board unanimously approved the controversial acquisition of an office building (2020 14th Street N.) in Courthouse that will house county offices and a homeless shelter.

The shelter, which will occupy two of the building’s seven floors, will be open year-round and will replace the current emergency winter shelter, located about two blocks away. Like the winter shelter, it will be operated by the Arlington Street People’s Assistance Network (A-SPAN).

“Arlington is making good on its declaration that in this county, every person is important” said County Manager Barbara Donnellan. “It’s not enough to merely provide beds in an inadequate emergency winter shelter during the coldest months of the year. It is not enough just to keep the homeless alive. We want to give them an opportunity to rebuild their lives.”

County staff recommended the Board approve the deal, because they found that particular building to be most suitable for county offices and storage. Staff members also said they found a portion of the building adequate for renovating into a homeless shelter, to replace the emergency winter shelter located at 2049 15th Street N.

County staff had been working to reach a purchase agreement with the property owner since November 2010, and last year the County Manager was authorized to acquire the property for $25.5 million by purchase or eminent domain. The price finalized at the Board meeting on Saturday was more than $27 million. Staff said although the cost is greater than the county’s appraisal, it’s less than the seller’s appraisal.

More than a dozen people took turns speaking to the Board about the controversial issue, both in favor of and against the building purchase.

Kip Laramie, who owned Santa Fe Cafe (1500 Wilson Blvd) in Rosslyn, said he hasn’t had trouble with homeless people at any of his businesses in Arlington throughout the years. He likes the idea of helping homeless people and giving them a place to go.

“The homeless population was much lower when the emergency winter shelter is open than when it’s closed,” Laramie said. “It would be nice to have that year round lower level of people on the streets.”

Safety was a concern of many residents who live near the shelter.

“I don’t care if my property values go down, what I care about are people outside of my building threatening the safety of my wife and my daughter,” said Nathan Kleekam. Supporters of the homeless shelter argued that the shelter’s location — directly across from Arlington police headquarters — will actually improve safety. Also, they say, A-SPAN has done a good job of addressing safety concerns with the existing shelter.

Another topic of concern was the financial impact of the county purchasing the property.

“I’m not necessarily against the homeless shelter. I do think $25 million in order to build the homeless shelter is quite a lot of money, considering that Arlington County is having a very difficult time building enough schools to educate its children,” Kleekam said.

One common theme that emerged was that neighbors did not feel the county had taken adequate steps to work with them throughout the entire process. Some residents said the county did not do a good job of notifying them about meetings regarding the building purchase.

(more…)

Morning Notes

by ARLnow.com | November 19, 2012 at 9:15 am | 2,116 views | 18 Comments

FCVFD Donating Ambulance to Sandy-Stricken Community — The Falls Church Volunteer Fire Department is donating its reserve ambulance to the community of Island Park, New York, which was hard-hit by Hurricane Sandy. Today, volunteer firefighters will be driving the 2002 Freightliner ambulance up to Island Park, where it will replace an ambulance lost by the Island Park Volunteer Fire Department during the storm.

County Kicks Off Rosslyn Planning Process — Arlington County has begun an effort to create a comprehensive new long-range plan for Rosslyn. Dubbed “Realize Rosslyn,” the plan will seek to “transform this 1960s car-centric area to one of our region’s great urban centers.” Through a civic engagement process, the county will create “an enhanced urban design framework,” refine and improve transportation options, recommend a new “building heights strategy” and develop “a more cohesive, functional parks and open space network.” [Arlington County]

Officials: No Plan to Sell Reeves Farm — County officials say there’s no plan to sell the historic Reeves farm, despite reports on WAMU and in the Arlington Connection newspaper suggesting it might be heading to the auction block. “The board is not interested in selling the farmhouse at this point in time,” said County Board Chair Mary Hynes. [Sun Gazette]

Board Updates Special Events Policy — The Arlington County Board on Saturday voted unanimously to update the county’s special events and demonstrations policy. The new policy “encourages such events while ensuring that the County recovers its support costs,” the county said. [Arlington County]

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