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Report: Arlington Lacks Robust Internal Auditing

by ARLnow.com | April 11, 2013 at 5:30 pm | 1,366 views | No Comments

arlington-va-logoA local civic activist is calling for Arlington to improve its internal financial auditing, lest more spending snafus fall through the cracks.

Suzanne Smith Sundberg, a member of the Arlington County Civic Federation Revenues and Expenditures Committee, has written an eight page report detailing what she characterizes as a lack of audit oversight over the county’s finances.

The county eliminated two internal auditing positions during budget cuts in 2010, Sundberg writes, a move that raised red flags with her committee at the time. Recent news items have supported their concern and point to need to create a permanent internal auditing office, she says.

“Recent events in Arlington County — mounting discontent over the ongoing taxpayer support devoted to keeping the Artisphere afloat, taxpayers’ demonstrated opposition to the Columbia Pike streetcar at the recent town hall, and the public outcry over the eye‐popping $1 million price tag for a single bus Super Stop — provide clear evidence that citizens are losing confidence in their local government and its ability to utilize resources in an efficient, effective, and practical manner,” Sundberg writes.

The county employs an external auditing firm, CliftonLarsonAllen. Sundberg, however, pointed to the case of an Arlington County employee convicted of embezzling $12,000 from the county fair as evidence that external auditing is not comprehensive enough to catch many financial irregularities.

County Manager Barbara Donnellan has included $250,000 in one-time funds for “an internal audit function in the Department of Management and Finance” in her proposed FY 2014 budget – still subject to County Board approval – but Sundberg says that doesn’t go far enough.

“Although it’s a welcome step in the right direction, the County Manager’s proposal in her FY 2014 budget is vague and appears insufficient to support the establishment of a robust, permanent internal audit function in Arlington County,” she writes. “No effective internal audit function can ever be established if it is treated as an afterthought, subject to elimination or significant reduction when money is tight. In fact, the most advantageous time to have a strong, independent audit function is during economic downturns when difficult choices must be made and every dollar counts.”

Sundberg suggests that Arlington look to Fairfax County or Montgomery County for examples of effective internal auditing mechanisms.

Fairfax County has two separate internal auditing offices. Montgomery County created an Office of the Inspector General in 1997. Sundberg cites data suggesting that both counties save millions of dollars annually thanks to their internal controls. Arlington, she says, should do the same.

“If Arlington County cannot or will not provide sufficient resources, authority, and independence to sustain a robust and permanent internal audit function, then the establishment of an office of inspector general or special independent auditor — or whatever statutory option may be available — is all the more necessary,” she writes.

Sundberg’s report represents her own analysis and opinion. It has not been endorsed by the Civic Federation.

Police Seek Victims of Accused Rapist

by ARLnow.com | April 11, 2013 at 3:20 pm | 983 views | No Comments

Joshua Franklin (photo courtesy ACPD)Arlington County Police are seeking more potential victims of a man accused of raping a prostitute in Crystal City.

Woodbridge resident Joshua Terrell Franklin, 24 was charged last week with the December 2012 rape of a prostitute in a Crystal City hotel room.

“The suspect, in response to an online advertisement, hired a woman to perform sexual acts,” police said in a press release. ”Shortly after arriving at the victim’s hotel room, the suspect forced the victim to perform sexual acts at gunpoint. ”

Franklin has been charged with Rape, Robbery and Forcible Sodomy in connection with that incident. He is currently awaiting trial in Fairfax County for a similar crime, the alleged sexual assault of two women in a Springfield hotel room in January.

Police believe Franklin might have assaulted other women, and are asking for additional victims to come forward.

“Information revealed in the investigation indicates that there are potentially other victims or persons with information regarding this subject,” police said. “Anyone who has information about this suspect is asked to call Detective Angela Comer at 703.228.4243 or email investigations@arlingtonva.us. To report information anonymously, contact the Arlington County Crime Solvers at 866.411.TIPS (8477).”

This is the third time in three years that a man has been accused of sexually assaulting prostitutes in Crystal City hotel rooms.

Photo courtesy Arlington County Police Department

Major Road Improvements Coming to Columbia Pike

by ARLnow.com | April 11, 2013 at 1:30 pm | 2,457 views | No Comments

Sketch of one section of the planned Columbia Pike Multimodal Improvements project(Updated at 2:20 p.m.) While the planned Columbia Pike streetcar has been making local headlines, Arlington County has been quietly moving forward with a project that’s bringing significant infrastructure improvements to the busy thoroughfare.

Arlington County’s Columbia Pike Multimodal Street Improvements Project seeks to implement “streetscape and related improvements for pedestrians, bicycles, transit, and vehicles along Arlington’s 3.5 mile Columbia Pike corridor.” The improvements include a completely reconstructed roadway, new left-turn lanes, planted medians, additional street trees, enhanced pedestrian crossings and so-called bicycle boulevards.

The $80 million project is currently in progress, and expected to run through 2018. About $72 million of the $80 million price tag coming from the county’s commercial tax-funded Transportation Capital Fund.

The turn lanes in particular are expected to “lessen delays and improve traffic flow,” said Bill Roberts, Transportation Program Manager for Arlington County. Meanwhile, the bike boulevards, which will run parallel to Pike along 9th and 12th Streets, will combine with planned 10-foot-wide shared bike and pedestrian sidewalks to make it easier for cyclists to traverse the Pike away from traffic. But residents might be happiest to learn about the roadway reconstruction.

Poor road conditions on Columbia PikeThe project will ultimately result in the reconstruction of the entire stretch of Columbia Pike from the Pentagon to Fairfax County. That should be welcome news for road users, who have been grumbling about the pockmarked state of portions of the Pike.

Currently, road crews are working on the stretch of Columbia Pike between S. Wakefield Street and Four Mile Run Drive. That work is expected to wrap up this fall, according to Roberts.

The stretch of road is in especially bad shape, Roberts said, thanks to runoff from multiple water main breaks, which seeped into the project area, and heavy bus traffic, which has caused depressions in the roadway, particularly around bus stops. Even with plans to reconstruct the roadway, Roberts said crews will be doing some temporary repaving in the westbound lanes in the next 2-3 weeks.

Poor road conditions on Columbia Pike“It will be much better very shortly,” he said. Crews have already repaved the eastbound lanes between Four Mile Run and S. Wakefield Street, according to Roberts.

Following that work, the county expects to start road reconstruction between the Fairfax County line and Four Mile Run Drive. That portion of the project is slated to start in the spring of 2014 and end 24 months later, in the spring of 2016.

Next up after that is S. Wakefield Street to S. Oakland Street, and Walter Reed Drive to S. Scott Street. Those projects will happen concurrently between early 2015 and early 2017.

Project work has already been completed between S. Oakland Street and Walter Reed Drive.

The work is necessary, Roberts says, because the underlying roadbed has become uneven due to its age and the patchwork nature of previous roadwork. Some of the existing infrastructure along the Pike dates back to the 1920s and 1930s, while the Pike itself was first built in 1810.

“What we’re going to be doing is installing a consistent sub-base and a thicker layer of asphalt,” Roberts said. “We’re completely reconstructing the roadbed.”

While the road improvements will be the most visible part of the project, much of the funding will actually going to work well below the roadway. Aging and leak-prone 8-inch water and sewer pipes under the road will be replaced by new 12-inch pipes, and existing overhead utilities will be placed underground. The utilities are all being placed in the middle of the roadway, so that water main breaks or other utility work doesn’t disrupt the future streetcar.

Poor road conditions on Columbia PikeThe timeline for the final piece of the multimodal project — from Washington Boulevard to S. Joyce Street — is still up in the air. The county is currently in talks with the federal government about a land swap that would allow the county to “realign” Columbia Pike to make a straighter, more direct connection with S. Joyce Street. If all goes well, Roberts says that work could be completed in 2018.

The Multimodal Improvements are a necessary warm-up act for the ultimate construction of the planned Pike streetcar, but the project is being run independently of the streetcar project. County Board member Chris Zimmerman, who lives along the Pike, said that improvements to the Pike are necessary regardless of whether the streetcar gets built.

“We’re going to have big traffic challenges in the next few years on the Pike, streetcar or no,” he told ARLnow.com late last year. “It’s been a good road for a long time but it’s really old now. The street itself has to be upgraded.”

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Peter’s Take: Childcare Fiasco is Just the Tip of the Iceberg

by Peter Rousselot | April 11, 2013 at 11:45 am | 2,021 views | No Comments

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter RousselotAs ARLnow.com reported last week after an enormous public outcry, the Arlington County Board has decided not to accept a proposal by the Arlington County Manager to save roughly $250,000 annually by cutting the additional staff Arlington needs to enforce stricter child care standards for Arlington childcare facilities.

What prompted the County Manager to make this proposal in the first place? What are the most important lessons to be learned from this experience?

The County Manager made this proposal because she was instructed last November to make recommendations for cuts in the County’s operating budget that added up to one half of the then estimated $50 million shortfall in the budget. She was looking for ways to cut about $25 million out of the operating budget. This proposed $250,000 cut represented only one percent of the savings she was trying to achieve, yet she proposed the cut anyway.

I believe the County Manager made this recommendation in good faith because it was her way of trying to cope with the lack of willingness by the County Board to reduce or eliminate the huge expenses associated with financing projects like the Artisphere, the Aquatic Center, and the Clarendon dog park. With those projects and others like them “off the table”, the Manager was forced to reach out for a relatively small projected saving in an area like this.

The many Arlington consumers of child care services revolted and shone a light on the risks of gutting Arlington’s child care guidelines. But, those risks were well known, or certainly should have been well known, beforehand.

This $250,000 skirmish over childcare guidelines is just a taste of much more dire cuts to Arlington’s social safety net that are in the offing in future battles over the FY 15, 16, and 17 budgets unless the County Board fundamentally alters its current trajectory of layering one overly-costly capital project after another onto a budget beset by revenue shortfalls due to the flat commercial real estate sector of Arlington’s economy.

Claims that some of these capital projects, like the Columbia Pike streetcar, don’t impact Arlington’s operating budget because they are funded by a “special surtax on commercial property that can only be used for transportation”, are just plain wrong. These supposedly special capital projects do indeed affect Arlington’s operating budget adversely. There is “no such thing as a free lunch.”

The same commercial property owners who pay this special transportation surtax also pay the regular real estate tax that funds the bulk of Arlington’s operating budget. If the Board continues to impose this special transportation surtax at the maximum rate, while also continuing to raise the regular real estate tax rate that directly funds the operating budget, these commercial property owners will pass these costs on to Arlington consumers of their products or services, or they will move to greener pastures in Tysons.

Peter Rousselot is a member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

The Right Note: A Good Reason to Vote?

by Mark Kelly | April 11, 2013 at 10:45 am | 1,228 views | No Comments

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Mark KellyAt last week’s Arlington County Democratic Committee meeting, party leaders stressed the importance of giving voters a positive reason to come out and support gubernatorial nominee Terry McAuliffe in November.

You might question the sincerity of that plea since the meeting took place immediately after a “dramatic reading” of excerpts from Attorney General Cuccinelli’s book. Based on Mr. McAuliffe’s ongoing resume problems, they may actually spend a lot of time talking about the Attorney General instead.

But, what about a little farther down the ticket? What does County Board Vice Chairman Jay Fisette offer to inspire Arlingtonians to vote in 2013?

Mr. Fisette stands firmly behind the Columbia Pike trolley boondoggle. And, he has offered no indication that he would support a straight up or down vote on the issue. Yes, a vote is possible if the Board adjusts the funding mix to include a small amount from general obligation bonds.

It follows that Mr. Fisette is squarely in favor of building the 24 super bus stops on Columbia Pike as well. Yet, the first one took so long, cost so much, and was subject to such intense public ridicule, that the project has now been stopped pending review.

ARLnow ran a story on Monday on the black hole of spending known as the Artisphere. Mr. Fisette recently admitted the arts center did not meet expectations. It should not have surprised him as the Board ignored those who predicted the Artisphere’s shortcomings at the time the Board approved the project.

The Board will raise taxes yet again this year and still may not be able to fully fund our police and fire departments. Remarkably enough, fiscal responsibility and public safety are the top two issues listed on Mr. Fisette’s campaign website.

Website issues list aside, Mr. Fisette has made a “crusade” against single use water bottles — his number one pet project for the year. He announced it at the Board’s kick-off meeting January 1st and has followed through by scheduling a public forum on the topic.

Any effort to legislate on water bottles at the County level will likely go the way of efforts to regulate single use plastic bags, single use styrofoam, or even energy use in private homes — another Fisette idea. The Virginia General Assembly is unlikely to lift the Dillon Rule for Arlington to regulate these items any time soon.

However, it might make you wonder if a water bottle “crusade” was what the local Democratic leaders had in mind to inspire voter turnout.

It might be time to schedule another dramatic reading.

Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

Pedestrians Struck on Lee Highway

by ARLnow.com | April 11, 2013 at 9:15 am | 3,520 views | No Comments

Two pedestrians were struck at the intersection of Lee Highway and N. Veitch StreetPolice and firefighters are assisting two pedestrians who were struck by a vehicle on Lee Highway.

The incident happened at the intersection of Lee Highway and N. Veitch Street just before 9:00 a.m. Via a traffic camera, it appears that the pedestrians were attempting to cross Lee Highway on the western side of the intersection when they were struck near the center median.

One of the victims suffered a head injury, while the other suffered a possible back injury, according to scanner traffic. Both victims’ injuries are described as relatively minor.

Morning Notes

by ARLnow.com | April 11, 2013 at 8:55 am | 1,283 views | No Comments

A man jogging through a park on a spring day

Arlington Outpaced in Home Sale Prices – Falls Church, Alexandria, Fairfax County and D.C. have all outpaced Arlington when it comes to growth in home sale prices. Prices in Arlington increased only 1.1 percent year over year in March, and year-to-date prices are down 1 percent, according to data from RealEstate Business Intelligence. The median home sale price in Arlington hit $515,000 in March. [Washington Post]

O’Connell Defeats Stone Bridge — The highly-ranked Bishop O’Connell softball team defeated their closest competitors in Virginia, Stone Bridge, by a score of 3-0 last night. The Knights improved to 10-0, and remain ranked No. 2 in the region. The team will face No. 9 McLean and No. 1 Northern (ranked second in the country; DJO is ranked third) later this month. [Washington Post]

Kanninen Wants More Responsiveness — Barbara Kanninen says she’s running for Arlington School Board because she wants the board to be more responsive to the concerns of parents. “There’s a lot of parent dissatisfaction,” she said in an interview with the Sun Gazette. Of her opponent, incumbent James Lander, she said “it truly isn’t about him, specifically.” [Sun Gazette]

Remembering WEAM — “Our Man in Arlington” columnist Charlie Clark takes a trip down Memory Lane and remembers the Arlington-based AM radio station WEAM. The station used to play pop  and rock hits from a studio located “above Minor Hill, off Williamsburg Blvd.” [Falls Church News-Press]

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