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Board Members Offer Legislative Priorities, Express Funding Concerns

by Katie Pyzyk | November 20, 2012 at 3:59 pm | 3,432 views | 84 Comments

On Saturday (November 17), the County Board took time at its meeting to discuss Arlington’s legislative priorities for the 2013 General Assembly session. During that discussion it quickly became clear the Board members fear significant cuts in the amount of funding the county receives from the state.

Board members are preparing to take a hit, although it’s unclear how serious the situation will be until legislators at the federal and state levels figure out their own financial issues.

In its legislative priorities package, the Board is requesting the restoration of state funds for Arlington, which have been cut in recent years to balance the state’s budget. A county staff report indicates that between fiscal year (FY) 2008 and FY 2013, the state cut $7.2 million in funding to Arlington.

The Board is also making a big push for more state funding for transportation, and requested around $1 billion annually for maintenance and continued operations on roads and the transit infrastructure. Board member Jay Fisette said state funding for transportation over the next three years is “disastrous.”

“We in Arlington and every local government in Virginia, we keep saying it, it sounds like we’re beating a dead horse, but the reality is that is the context in which we do all this work. That’s the context in which the manager has to balance a budget,” Fisette said. “Support from the state level has decreased substantially.”

Board member Libby Garvey shared Fisette’s concern.

“One of the things that I keep hearing, and it’s starting to sink in more and more, I think we all understand the fact that the federal government cuts things to the states, states cut things and it all falls down to the localities to have to do more and more,” she said. “As it gets tighter and tighter and we’re going to be raising taxes and cutting services, which it looks like we’re going to have to do, there’s going to be a lot of push-back from the public.”

County Manager Barbara Donnellan confirmed that the amount of funding coming into Arlington has slipped.

“The degradation [of funding] over the years has been significant,” Donnellan said. “The good news is we don’t have a ton of money from the state and the feds. The bad news is even what you have is still a significant hit if it goes away.”

A county press release offered the following highlights of the legislative priorities package:

  • Fully restore state aid to localities funding – Between FY 2008 and FY 2013, the state cut $7.2 million in funding to critical services in the County to help balance the state’s budget. Cuts in state aid have reduced funding to the Public Library, the Courts, the police department, the Dept. of Human Services, the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office, the Arlington County Sheriff’s Office and other services.
  • Increase transportation funding with new, permanent and reliable sources — There is a critical need for increased funding for transit capital, operations and maintenance. Arlington joins jurisdictions along the I-95 and I-64 corridors in supporting a substantial increase in dedicated funding for roads and transit from new, sustainable sources. Arlington will advocate for at least $1 billion annually to support maintenance and continued operations of Virginia’s existing road and transit infrastructure.
  • Require on-line travel companies to collect and remit all state sales and local transient occupancy taxes — Currently on-line travel companies, such as Expedia, Orbitz or Hotel.com, buy rooms from hotels, then resell them at a higher rate. They are remitting taxes to the state and localities at the wholesale rate they have paid the hotels,not the retail rate that they sold on-line. Arlington County, and other localities, are urging the General Assembly to adopt language that would require these on-line travel companies to pay the full amount of sales and use taxes to the state and local governments and Transient Occupancy Taxes to the localities.
  • Ensure that the state provide adequate resources to support individuals leaving Virginia Training Centers under the Justice Dept. settlement — Arlington expects to need to provide for 23 individuals with severe mental and physical disabilities who will be discharged from the Northern Virginia Training Center External link by June 30, 2015.
  • Housing – Support additional funds for the state Housing Trust Fund that was established in the 2012 budget with one-time money.
  • Immigration – Oppose any state mandates to localities requiring local law enforcement officers to evaluate the immigration status of individuals.

The board will vote on the final version of its legislative package at its December 8 meeting, after hearing from the public. Arlington residents are invited to read the details of the proposed legislative priorities package online and offer feedback until Friday, November 30.

The General Assembly session begins on January 9, 2013, and runs until February 23, 2013.

County Closes on Purchase of Homeless Shelter Building

by Katie Pyzyk | November 20, 2012 at 2:45 pm | 3,039 views | 22 Comments

Arlington County has completed the closing on its purchase of a seven story property at 2020 14th Street N., which will house county offices, storage and a homeless shelter.

The Arlington County Board unanimously approved the $27 million purchase of the building in Courthouse at its meeting on Saturday (November 17). As of today’s closing, the county officially owns the property.

County staff will hold a series of public meetings regarding the acquisition to solicit input on certain physical and operational aspects about the property, including issues regarding the homeless shelter. The first will be held at Key Elementary School (2300 Key Blvd) on December 5, from 7:00-9:30 p.m. The other meetings, also from 7:00-9:30 p.m. at Key Elementary School, are scheduled to take place on December 17 and January 14. The county’s final plans will be presented at the January meeting.

The county will also be accepting input on parts of the project via its virtual town hall meeting website.

Cab-Cop Car Unveiled in Anti-Drunk Driving Effort

by Katie Pyzyk | November 20, 2012 at 1:31 pm | 9,060 views | 67 Comments

(Updated at 2:30 p.m.) Arlington residents can expect to see an unusual car on the streets through the holiday season, reminding of the dangers of drunk driving.

The Arlington County Police Department partnered with Red Top Cab and the Washington Regional Alcohol Program (WRAP) in the unveiling of a vehicle that’s half police car and half taxicab. The vehicle has been nicknamed the “Chooser Cruiser” because it reminds people that they have choices for getting home after drinking — in the back of a taxi or in the back of a police car.

“We are very excited to present yet another reminder of the choice people have before taking to the roads if alcohol is part of their celebration,” said Red Top Cab Chief Operating Officer Wayne Miller.

As part of the public/private initiative, Red Top donated the former taxi, which has more than 396,000 miles on it, and paid for its makeover. ACPD donated the lights on top which had previously been on a former police cruiser, and will be responsible for positioning the vehicle throughout the county. Both organizations emphasize that due to the donations, the vehicle was of practically no cost to taxpayers.

The car’s unveiling (which was delayed due to Superstorm Sandy) comes just in time for the holiday season. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 25 percent of all drunk driving deaths in the U.S. occur in December. The holidays of Christmas and New Year’s Eve see a 40 percent and 60 percent spike in alcohol related traffic deaths, respectively.

“The holiday season is a particularly dangerous time,” said ACPD Chief M. Douglas Scott. “We’re doing everything we can to both identify and apprehend impaired drivers.”

Chief Scott noted that penalties for first time drunk driving offenders include up to a $2,500 fine, a jail term of up to one year and/or the suspension of the offender’s drivers license for up to one year.

Neal Nichols, President of Red Top Cab, handed over the vehicle’s keys to Chief Scott at the unveiling ceremony.

“This retired Red Top Cab spent some of its time already taking people home who had overindulged,” Nichols said. “Let’s hope that this Chooser Cruiser will cause people to think twice and will save lives.”

Arlington is the first area in the D.C. metro to take part in this pilot program. The Chooser Cruiser will be stationed at various points around the county through the new year. It will be used in conjunction with regularly scheduled sobriety checkpoints.

“Hopefully it will change behavior. Even if it changes the behavior of one individual, it can be deemed a success,” said ACPD spokesman Dustin Sternbeck. “Drunk driving is one of the rare public health issues that is 100% preventable.”

On the front of the car are all the badges for the D.C. metro area’s supporting law enforcement agencies. The back features the number to call for a free lift from SoberRide, a service that has provided nearly 56,000 free rides since 1993.

Starting on December 14 and running through January 1, local residents age 21 and older can call SoberRide for a free trip home, up to a $30 fare. Between the hours of 10:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m., residents can call 1-800-200-TAXI (8294), and AT&T customers can text #WRAP. One of these methods must be used to get the free ride, because calling individual cab companies directly will result in normal cab fares. More information about the program is available online.

Board Defers Restaurant’s Karaoke Request, Citing Crime Concerns

by Katie Pyzyk | November 20, 2012 at 11:45 am | 9,466 views | 61 Comments

The Arlington County Board has deferred a restaurant’s request to host karaoke several nights a week due to crime concerns.

Restaurante El Salvador (4805 Columbia Pike) had asked for a live entertainment permit, but at its Saturday meeting the Board voted unanimously to defer the request six months until its May 2013 meeting.

The local civic association, the Barcroft School and Civic League (BSCL), opposed the granting of the permit, which would allow karaoke until 2:00 a.m. on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Tuesday nights.

According the BSCL and county staff, there have been recent complaints about “alcohol related incidents and violations” that prompted police to respond to the restaurant. Neighbors worry that allowing the live entertainment permit would increase the instances of public drunkenness and rowdiness.

“BSCL concurs with the Arlington County Police Department that such an addition would exacerbate the crime problems the neighborhood is currently experiencing at and around this establishment,” said BSCL President Pat Williamson.

County staff recommended deferring the issue for six moths in order for Restaurante El Salvador to foster a better relationship with the community. Restaurant representatives, county staff and members of BSCL are supposed to meet within the next few weeks to address issues such as hiring security and enforcing drink limits for patrons.

“Staff will work with the applicant to foster a better relationship with the community and with other County agencies,” said the staff report. “The applicant is aware of the reasons staff is recommending deferral, and staff will be working with the applicant, the Arlington County Police Department, and the community over the next few months to address the issues that have been identified.”

Photo via Google Maps

Don’t Remove Lingering Political Signs from Medians

by Katie Pyzyk | November 20, 2012 at 10:35 am | 4,405 views | 54 Comments

Despite the fact that the election was two weeks ago, some political signs still have been spotted in public spaces around town in recent days. That’s against county code, but residents are being told to report, not remove rogue campaign signs.

Per code, all political signs were to be removed from the public right of way (such as road medians) by the campaigns within five days after the election. Those that remain are subject to confiscation by county staff. Residents who notice lingering signs are asked not to remove them; the signs are to be removed only by the organization that originally placed them, or by county zoning staff.

The regulations are part of the larger sign ordinance, which has been revamped this year. Audrey Clement, who ran for County Board as a Green Party candidate, spoke at the Board meeting on Saturday (Nov. 17) to complain about the lack of enforcement for the sign rules. Clement pointed out that leading up to the election, no more than two signs are to be placed in a public space. She reported to have sometimes seen “six to a median.” Clement also said she went around the county to remove her own signs after the election.

“Given the level of abuse, what is the point of wasting countless hours of community and staff time to revise an ordinance that the county itself ignores?” said Clement. “If the losers uphold the law, why can’t the winners enforce it?”

Board member Jay Fisette noted that candidates at the federal level would probably be less likely to know Arlington’s ordinances, but said they should have been informed of the regulations. He said Clement’s concern was warranted.

“Whether they’re federal, state or local candidates, the county should be enforcing them,” Fisette said.

Not all signs in Arlington fall within the county’s authority, however. Campaign signs along VDOT-maintained roads are subject to enforcement and removal by the state.

County staff has been removing signs they see or that are reported along county roads. Anyone who wants to report a political sign in violation of the ordinance may call code enforcement at 703-228-3232. The county is encouraging residents who wish to dispose of a political sign on their own personal property to recycle it.

File photo

Another Hazmat Situation at Pentagon City Metro

by ARLnow.com | November 20, 2012 at 9:40 am | 8,305 views | 12 Comments

 

Police and firefighters are again on the scene at the Pentagon City Metro station for a hazardous materials situation.

Eight bottles filled with a cloudy, yellow liquid were found on both platforms at the station, according to scanner traffic. The situation mirrors an incident on Friday when 10 bottles filled with a yellow liquid were found on the platforms.

No word yet on what the substance might be. Citing an “ongoing investigation,” Metro spokesman Dan Stessel declined to divulge details.

“I can say that the substance in the previous incident was not harmful,” he said.

So far, the station has remained open during this morning’s investigation.

Update at 10:05 a.m. — The incident has been cleared and emergency responders are leaving the scene.

Morning Notes

by Katie Pyzyk | November 20, 2012 at 8:50 am | 1,785 views | 16 Comments

Library Catalog System Remains Down — The Arlington Public Library catalog and accounts system has not come back online since it crashed on Friday. It will not be running until this afternoon, at the earliest. Library users should ignore any overdue notices or fines they have accrued since the crash. The library continues to update its website with the latest information regarding the crash. [Arlington Public Library]

Yorktown Wins with Different Offensive Plays — The Yorktown Patriots sported different offensive plays at their Northern Region Tournament Division 5 football semifinal and beat the South County Stallions on Friday, 48-28. The plan was to focus on passing, but instead the Patriots ran the ball 45 times for 389 yards. Yorktown will play Stone Bridge on Friday (November 23) in the region final. [Sun Gazette]

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