The Right Note is a weekly opinion column published on Thursdays. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.
Despite all of the spin by Democrats about low turnout (50 percent higher than the last special election) causing Tuesday’s loss, the message from voters was clear — it is time to shake things up.
One week earlier, Arlington Civic Federation delegates voted by a two-to-one margin to call on the County Board to lower the property tax rate by at least three cents. In the face of rapidly rising assessments, the Civic Federation decided that keeping tax rates level was simply not good enough.
What would that mean to the average homeowner? About $200 less in taxes for the upcoming year.
That level of tax relief might still keep us in first place for highest property tax bills in the region, but it may keep us from permanently cementing our top spot.
One of the first orders of business for new County Board member John Vihstadt will be to vote on setting the tax and spending levels for fiscal 2015. Vihstadt’s convincing 16 percent margin of victory came in a county that just five months ago handed Democrat Terry McAuliffe a 49 percent margin. The result was clearly a mandate to rethink the status quo in county government.
Looking back, Arlington County has not had to make really tough budget decisions like so many local governments have, despite rhetoric to the contrary. Arlington was largely insulated from the worst of the recession because our economy is dependent on the federal government and the contractors, law firms, trade associations and service industries its presence in the region supports. Even with federal spending restraint over the past three years, Arlington’s real estate tax receipts continued to rise.
Because the Board did not have to make really tough decisions, they did not have to take a long hard look at budget priorities. They were able to continue subsidizing the failed Artisphere experiment. They spent more than $1.5 million on a dog park. They moved forward on million dollar bus stops and then drug their feet on producing the report on why it cost so much.
Is it any wonder that long time civic activists finally said enough is enough?
We have very real issues to address moving forward, like school capacity and maintaining our aging infrastructure. If the Board wants to make room for these spending priorities in future budgets, they should re-examine spending priorities now.
Between excess tax revenue already identified for the current year budget, reserve funds, and closeout dollars, the Board can cut the tax rate without endangering any essential services. The only thing providing this tax relief will do is make the County Board work a little harder to finalize the budget and plan for the future.
The voters asked for more fiscal discipline on Tuesday, now we will see if they get it.
Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.