31°Ice Pellets

by Peter Rousselot — February 26, 2015 at 3:00 pm 575 0

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 RousselotThe county manager and the Arlington Public Schools superintendent have released their proposed budgets. The County Board also advertised a proposed tax rate for calendar year 2015 that could be as much as 1.5 cents higher than the current rate.

Some of the major issues impacting the ability of citizens to participate effectively in public discussions about these budgets are the county’s funding level of APS and the real estate tax rate.

County Funding of APS

Under the “revenue sharing principles” adopted by both Boards in January:

The amount of the transfer to APS will initially be based upon the same percent of local tax revenue transferred to APS in the County’s last adopted budget. As budget deliberations continue, additional ongoing funding for critical needs identified by APS, including enrollment growth, will be a top funding priority.

Superintendent Patrick Murphy’s proposed budget identifies what the superintendent says are critical needs, which would cost $13.6 million more than the amount of shared revenue to which the county manager’s proposed budget commits. In addition, the superintendent’s budget identifies a set of specific APS budget cuts that are the ones the superintendent recommends if the County fails to provide APS with any additional revenue.

Citizens should participate in a constructive debate about whether the particular set of proposed cuts the Superintendent recommends are the best way in which to make up the identified $13.6 million shortfall. But, the Superintendent should be commended for proposing:

  • a specific set of cuts with dollars attached, and
  • a budget that reverses the growth trend in per-pupil expenditures

As I have written previously, the “percent of local tax revenue transferred to APS in the County’s last adopted budget” was too low. For that reason, combined with APS’s projected explosive enrollment growth, the county should provide the entire additional $13.6 million to APS.

The County Manager’s proposed budget fails to identify, specifically, the dollar savings that could be achieved by cutting particular programs or services.

The County Board should direct the county manager to identify for the Board’s and the public’s consideration at least one — and preferably more than one — set of cuts in county programs and services that could be made in order to make up the $13.6 million APS shortfall.

Real Estate Tax Rate

Property tax bills will rise in CY 2015 even if the County Board adopts the same property tax rate as last year’s.

The County Board should direct the County Manager to identify for the Board’s and the public’s consideration at least one — and preferably more than one — set of cuts in County programs and services that could be made if the Board votes to cut the real estate tax rate by 1.5 cents.

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

by Mark Kelly — February 26, 2015 at 2:30 pm 760 0

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 KellyAfter campaigning last fall on his work to cut the tax rate by 1 cent, John Vihstadt voted to advertise a rate for 2015 that is 1.5 cents higher than last year. The voters could have rightly anticipated a 4-1 vote with Vihstadt voting no.

With the increase in assessments, the average homeowner is slated to see a tax increase of $266 on the real estate rate without a rate increase. If the Board adopts the rate increase, it would tack on an additional $87.

Some may ask, is 97 cents a day more too much to pay for everything we have in Arlington? A fair argument if we had not wasted so much money on boondoggle projects.

And, it ignores the fact that the average homeowner saw a $256 increase in 2010, $66 increase in 2011, $155 increase in 2012, $234 in 2013 and $223 in 2014. That would total $1,287 in annual tax increases in six years.

Think of it another way: cumulatively, the average homeowner will have paid an additional $3,987 from the six years of increases over 2009 tax levels if a rate increase goes into effect in April.

Sure, the Board does not have to implement a higher tax rate, but they have made no case that they need the extra money.

This leads to the second point. The County Board gave guidance to the County Manager to present a balanced budget that did not raise the tax rate. Something Ms. Donnellan managed to do with relative ease.

Yet, by advertising a higher rate, the Board has once again ignored its own guidance. Board Chair Hynes acknowledged this fact, but said the Board unanimously wanted more flexibility. That is code for, if we think you will allow us to take more of your money, we would be happy to spend it.

While the case can easily be made for another tax rate cut, the likely outcome is that the Board will reshuffle some priorities and leave the rate unchanged. They can claim they made some “tough choices” and in the end “saved” the taxpayers some money by not raising the rate.

But, none of the current Board members will face the voters again until 2016. Hynes and Tejada will not face them again at all. After the unanimous vote to advertise the higher rate, you just never know.

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

by Larry Roberts — February 26, 2015 at 2:00 pm 505 0

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Larry RobertsThis week marks the second meeting of the Arlington Facilities Working Group, a diverse group of 24 Arlingtonians putting together the “Arlington Community Facilities Study — A Plan for the Future.”

The group and its charge were developed jointly by the County Board and School Board. The County (Mary Hynes/John Vihstadt) and School (James Lander/Nancy Van Doren) Boards designated members to interact with the group throughout 2015.

In addition, the group has a resident forum to promote monthly two-way communication between the group and Arlington organizations that designate forum members and alternates.

This collaboration by the two boards, while maintaining their respective and traditional roles, provides common ground to help solve classroom capacity needs and is an important step forward for Arlington. Addressing the high priorities of school capacity and instruction will require resources that neither board has on its own.

The School Board is facing a lack of land, limited debt capacity, and no independent access to tax revenues. The County has some available land, some ability to address debt capacity, and must determine how to balance the revenue needs of the Arlington Public Schools with the needs of those who rely on county government services in a time of increasing demand and limited support for additional taxes.

Arlington faced somewhat similar challenges in the 1970s and 1990s and in each instance the county came together to develop solutions that have moved Arlington forward.

In light of the continuing work of the 2015 working group and the upcoming formulation by County Board candidates of their platforms and priorities, we return to our interview with Joe Wholey, who chaired the mid-1970s initiative known as the Long Range County Improvement Program (“LRCIP”). Through that initiative, a divided County achieved a consensus that guided Arlington’s revitalization, growth and development through successive periods of Democratic-endorsed, Republican, and Democratic County Boards.

Progressive Voice: Did the LRCIP adopt a formal report?

Joe WholeyJoe Wholey: The committee on the Long Range County Improvement Program put forth recommendations, but it was the County Board that adopted the Long Range County Improvement Program. Board hearings about our work resulted in changes to the committee’s recommendations. I remember that Lyon Village residents were upset about tall buildings that would block the sunlight in the area. The County Board did not adopt what we recommended in the Clarendon area, but opted instead for less intense — and what turned out to be slower — development.

Clarendon would have been more like Ballston. The process showed that the committee did not have all wisdom. Citizen input led to the great restaurants and nice shopping that we have in Clarendon with a lot of pedestrian traffic at all hours. Results like that showed that the blend of analytical work and citizen input were both quite important to what the Board finally adopted.

Our work, and the Board report with regard to land use, led to sector planning. It became the foundation for what later came to be called Arlington’s “smart growth policy.” But also, we had never had a long-term capital budget before it was recommended by LRCIP. We also never before had a historic preservation ordinance.

The Board began implementing the report in 1976-78. After a new county manager took office and even after changes in control of the Board through elections, the plan remained in effect. New boards kept on implementing the plan over the years and decades. The County Board’s report based on LRCIP’s work and citizen input had staying power as a community consensus. (more…)

by Gillian Burgess — February 19, 2015 at 2:30 pm 1,358 0

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Gillian BurgessParked in my garage, I have a car and a bike. When I need to go somewhere, I have a choice of which to take, and I want to ride my bike. When I choose the bike, I’m happier, I’m healthier and I’m an active part of the community.

I stop to chat with neighbors. I shop at local stores. I see things that are out of the ordinary — the guy that is lost, the dog that escaped from its yard, the smoke coming from that empty house — and I can stop to help. Plus, I usually get a prime parking spot.

Biking is awesome for me, but what does it matter to you, if you’re in a car?

When I choose the car, I am another car in front of you at that stop light. My car will take that prime parking space right in front of where you’re going. I will be driving another car past your house, making your neighborhood a little less safe for the kids playing outside. My car will make that annoying pot hole just a little bigger and will spew more fumes into the air you breathe.

I will do what I can to figure out how to bike. Over the past two winters, with tips from BikeArlington, I’ve mastered biking comfortably in the cold and safely in the snow. With the help of Kidical Mass and the family biking community, I’ve figured out how to bike with two toddlers and a big pregnant belly.

But the primary factor to whether I will choose the bike — or whether I will choose the car and be in your way — is whether I can get where I need to go safely. This is where the community comes in.

When Arlington invests in safe routes for people who bike and maintains those routes, I will bike. What is a safe route? Trails are great, although they must be wide enough and designed to handle the traffic they get. Most neighborhood streets in Arlington work well. Protected bike lanes, like the ones Arlington installed on S. Hayes and S. Eads Streets, are also a great choice, especially when they are accompanied by the signage that we see in Pentagon City.

On the other hand, narrow bike lanes that offer only paint to separate vulnerable bikes from fast moving cars, like the ones on Wilson Boulevard, N. Quincy Street and Fairfax Drive, are not a good option. Sharrows and signs that “Bikes may use full lane” on busy roads like George Mason offer no protection — and with my toddlers and pregnant belly, I am not willing to risk it. Arlington needs to invest in making these routes safe.

Maintenance is also a key issue. For these safe routes to be usable, they need to be clear of snow and have smooth pavement. For a fraction of what Arlington spends fixing potholes and clearing snow from the main roads, Arlington could maintain all of its trails and protected bike lanes. The snow clearing on trails that started this year must be made part of the regular budget, and Arlington must develop a reliable system to maintain the pavement on our trails. (more…)

by Peter Rousselot — February 19, 2015 at 2:00 pm 908 0

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 Rousselot

A new report concludes that Arlington County charges excessive fees to Arlington residents participating in certain sports classes and teams.

In direct contravention of long-standing Arlington County policies, the participation fees substantially exceed 100 percent of the direct participation costs. Currently, the excess revenues are being funneled back into the County’s general fund operating budget.

A firestorm engulfed the Arlington County government last year — when the County Board initially adopted and then rescinded a 50 percent fee increase for nonresident participants on gymnastics and aquatics/swimming teams. That led to the new disclosure that resident participants are being overcharged for certain sports classes and teams.

A work group, comprising citizens, commission members and county staff, prepared the latest report. The new report reflects careful study, and contains thoughtful reform recommendations.

The work group also appears to be listening to citizens’ concerns:

As part of its process, the work group collected public feedback on a set of draft recommendations through an Open Arlington survey. The work group will continue its research to develop a recommendation regarding alternatives to the County operating the team program… This research will include opportunities for public input …

There are only two logical explanations for these county policy violations: The current, excessive fees were set

  • inadvertently, because the County lacks sufficient auditing and financial controls to detect errors like these, or
  • deliberately, as a backdoor way to generate additional revenue that would offset budget shortfalls in other programs or areas.

Neither explanation paints county government in a sympathetic light.

Assuming that these fee overcharges are inadvertent, a recent letter to the Sun-Gazette‘s editor makes the following observation:

All of this could have been prevented had an inspector general or internal auditor been present to conduct regular reviews of the finances of the Department of Parks and Recreation. The County Board owes it to residents to ensure that they are being charged fees in line with the policies it has established …

The growing demand for these youth sports programs illustrates that our public schools are not the only public facilities strained by Arlington’s rapid population growth. We have a youth sports capacity problem, too.

We must plan to accommodate more gymnasts and swimmers (among others). This provides yet another reason to deep-six the extravagant $80-plus million Aquatics Center, and redirect those funds to youth and other sports programs countywide.

CONCLUSION

Arlington County must take greater care not to violate its own policies by inflating user fees above what is needed to cover the costs in the program for which the fees are being charged.

Government exists to serve the people, not the other way around.

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

by Mark Kelly — February 19, 2015 at 1:30 pm 616 0

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 Kelly

(Updated at 3:30 p.m.) On Saturday, the Arlington County Board will determine the maximum tax rate for real estate, vehicles, and business improvement service districts in Ballston, Crystal City and Rosslyn. The final rate will not be determined until April, and you can have your say at a hearing in March, but this Saturday the Board will set the cap.

If you have never dug into a County Manager’s report, you could count yourself lucky. In this case, Attachment II of the report on the property tax rate provides a decade’s worth of history. Including 2015, the average homeowner’s annual tax bill has increased by $1,676 over the past 10 years.

If the current tax rate does not change, the average residential tax bill will go up $281 this year over last — the largest increase since 2006.

Today, the Manager sent out a press release indicating she would recommend no tax rate increase which is in line with the Board’s guidance to “present a balanced budget that assumes no increase in tax rates.” The Board can accept or ignore her recommendation to keep rates level. Best bet is the Board will not raise the rate. Whatever the Board decides, however, it will not impact Ms. Donnellan’s checkbook as she does not live in Arlington.

Two years ago, Patch reported on the salary for county employees. Roughly 1 in 10 earned $100,000 or more. In most places in America, this would be an above average sum. Not here in Arlington. So, it’s not surprising that a majority of county employees live outside of Arlington.

However, there is no reason that top county staff, most importantly the county manager, should not be required to live in Arlington. When Ms. Donnellan makes recommendations to the Board on what tax rates will be or any other important issue, it should be with a more personal perspective. That applies to the school superintendent as well — who already lives in Arlington voluntarily.

For the rest of county staff, the Board could use some objective income level as a standard to require residency, say 125 percent of the median income for the county, and phase-in the requirement for them as well. It would make an excellent addition to the budget.

Correction: The original version of the column said the average salary for a county employee was “north of $100,000.” That was an incorrect reading of the original Patch story. I regret the error

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

by ARLnow.com — February 18, 2015 at 10:35 am 1,537 0

Snow removal in Pentagon City 2/17/15

About 4-5 inches of snow fell in Arlington Monday night and Tuesday morning.

County crews worked throughout the night and day to clear primary and secondary roads, before starting to tackle neighborhood streets. Compared to past, disruptive snowstorms, they had some things working in their favor:

  • The snow fell overnight, not during a rush hour
  • It was predicted correctly well in advance
  • It was a light, fluffy snow and, because the ground was already cold from the frigid weekend, there was minimal melting and refreezing
  • Schools and the federal government closed for the day, limiting vehicle traffic

Regardless of the circumstances, how would you rate the county’s job in clearing the streets Tuesday?

by ARLnow.com — February 13, 2015 at 10:15 am 2,474 0

Valentine's Day heart candy by Chris RiefAlmost four years ago, we asked who the dating game in Arlington was more difficult for, men or women.

The question came after Bloomberg News declared that single women faced “long odds” in the D.C. area. By a slim majority — 53 percent to 47 percent — ARLnow.com readers said women had a harder time finding a suitable mate in Arlington.

Today, on the eve of Valentine’s Day, we’re posing the question again. But this time, a bit of additional information: while women are overrepresented in the District — 52.6 percent of the population in D.C. compared to the nationwide average of 50.8 percent — in Arlington women actually only comprise 49.9 percent of the population, according to 2013 census data.

So, if you have first-hand knowledge of the local dating scene, who has it worse, men or women?

Flickr pool photo by Chris Rief

by Mark Kelly — February 12, 2015 at 1:45 pm 686 0

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 KellyJohn Vihstadt spoke regularly about hiring an independent auditor in the county government during his campaigns and throughout his brief tenure on the Board. The credit for originally identifying the need goes to the Arlington Civic Federation. The Civic Federation raised the idea back in 2011, calling for an independent “Inspector General.”

While candidates from the Republican and Green parties raised the issue in previous election cycles, the idea did not really seem to take hold until the infamous $1 million bus stop made national news. Along with the ongoing Artisphere subsidies, a $1 million dog park and an aquatics center price tag that seemed to be spiraling out of control, the need became apparent to the voters as well.

Enter Del. Patrick Hope. Delegate Hope’s bill would remove any doubt as to whether the County Board could hire a truly independent auditor who will not report to the county manager, but directly to the Board itself.

With its unanimous passage in the House of Delegates, it seems on track to become law. Delegate Hope deserves kudos for pushing the bill towards passage.

With this in mind, the Board should be building this office into its FY 2016 budget with the anticipation it will be approved. The Board should ensure the office is adequately staffed and has broad enough authority to examine county spending in a truly independent fashion.

It seems as though the Board or the county manager had been dragging their feet on hiring an internal auditor under the current staffing structure as approved last year. The position is still vacant. So, the Board should set a self-imposed deadline to have an independent auditor in place of not later than July 1.

The Board should also grant the office authority to examine how county staff estimates revenues. While the White House chronically over-estimates revenue growth to make projected federal deficits look smaller, the staff at Courthouse seem to chronically underestimate revenue growth to drive tax rates higher.

The Board and county manager like to say they are budgeting conservatively, but there is nothing conservative about creating “revenue shortfalls” on paper as an excuse to drive up taxes and spending.

Providing transparency and accountability from outside the normal chain of command in Arlington is a good idea with broad support from across the partisan spectrum. Provided the Hope bill passes the General Assembly, the Board should follow through on it promptly.

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

by Mike Lieberman — February 12, 2015 at 1:00 pm 777 0

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Mike LiebermanArlington occupies only 26.5 square miles — a geographic fact that looms larger and larger as we confront the challenges of a growing community on the doorstep of Washington.

Our school population is growing — projected to exceed 30,000 students in five years. More than 20 percent of our business office space is vacant, hit hard by sequestration, BRAC, GSA cutbacks, and other government spending cuts. And development has exploded and property values have increased, creating unprecedented challenges to affordable housing and the neighborhood feel of Arlington.

That’s why I believe that it is so important now that the County Board and School Board have formed a Community Facilities Study Committee — which meets for the first time this week — to analyze our current financial resources and physical assets, discuss our infrastructure challenges, and make recommendations for our community to move forward.

In some ways, the premise of the committee is unimpeachable — of course there is value in knowing what assets we have and planning for where we are going. But there are aspects of the committee that I believe make it particularly well-suited to the task at hand.

For one, it represents a collaborative effort between the County Board and School Board. All too often, the County Board and School Board have felt siloed. To be sure, there have been cooperative efforts among board members and initiatives that have broken through these walls, but in general, the School Board has focused on schools, and the County Board has tended to focus on other community needs.  The Community Facilities Study Committee will bring both boards into the same conversation.

Similarly, the committee is structured to bring all community groups to the table. County interests are represented by current members and veterans of several county advisory bodies. School interests are represented by members of school advisory councils and PTAs. And neighborhood interests are represented by members of civic associations from across Arlington. This diversity of views will help ensure that all interests have voice as the committee divides limited land and budget resources.

Finally, the committee represents a bipartisan effort premised on community engagement — the so-called “Arlington Way.” This will begin with monthly “resident forums,” and it will continue as the diverse views of committee members are heard and factored over the course of a year of discussion.

In 1975, the county plans that served as the foundation of our vibrant Rosslyn-Ballston corridor were the product of extensive community discussion and engagement. The Community Facilities Study Committee rightfully recognizes that that same model is needed for Arlington’s next chapter.

To be sure, even with the right structure, the committee faces no easy task. There is no shortage of strong viewpoints in Arlington, and no shortage of constituents willing to voice them. (more…)

by Peter Rousselot — February 12, 2015 at 12:15 pm 312 0

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 RousselotLast September, Gov. Terry McAuliffe relaunched an effort to enact effective ethics reform. He appointed a bipartisan commission charged with making recommendations.

As we enter the last weeks of the 2015 legislative session, some progress has been made. But, one key reform — the establishment of a truly independent ethics commission with teeth — appears to be dead. That’s a shame.

Virginia’s very weak ethics laws have led to a culture of corruption in Richmond — including the recent McDonnell and Puckett scandals. The corruption has tainted both Republicans and Democrats.

Some improvements — now in the legislative pipeline — would cap gifts to legislators and their immediate family members at $100 (rather than the current $250). These pending bills also would close the notorious loophole allowing unlimited “intangible gifts” like vacations and event tickets.

But, one of the critical recommendations that came from McAuliffe’s bipartisan commission was the recommendation to create a new, independent Ethics Review Commission with teeth, including subpoena and enforcement power. Setting up a permanent ethics commission with power to interpret and enforce ethics and anti-corruption laws is critical.

Virginia needs such a new commission with the:

  • resources to conduct investigations,
  • power to assess fines for violations, and
  • authority to make referrals to the attorney general or other prosecutors.

Regrettably, significant disagreement about the need for this type of strong ethics commission has led to the omission of such a provision from legislation adopted by both the Virginia Senate and the House of Delegates. They appear to have been swayed by statements like this one from Del. C. Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah):

“I think that’s a terrible idea, and I don’t think that either party wants to set up a framework where people can start and stop political vendettas through that process.”

In light of the persistent ethical problems in Richmond, the truly terrible idea is to omit this provision from the legislation.

A large majority of other states, including Massachusetts, South Carolina, and Pennsylvania have permanent ethics commissions. In Massachusetts, for example, the Ethics Commission can impose the following penalties:

  • a civil penalty of up to $10,000 for each violation of the conflict of interest law or the financial disclosure law, and
  • a maximum civil penalty of $25,000 for bribery.

By carefully studying the different ethics commission models established in these and other states, Virginia legislators ought to be able to find a model that combines effective enforcement power with safeguards against partisan abuse.

It’s a big mistake for legislators to leave Richmond this year without passing a comprehensive ethics reform package that includes a strong ethics commission.

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

by ARLnow.com — February 10, 2015 at 10:00 am 3,034 0

The proposed Thomas Jefferson elementary school site, put on hold by the Arlington County Board
Two weeks ago, the Arlington County Board said “not now” to a planned elementary school next to Thomas Jefferson Middle School.

Opponents of the plan cheered the County Board’s action, saying that plans to build on the TJ site would eliminate land that could later be used as parkland. Arlington Public Schools will now go back and conduct more studies and community engagement in order to figure out how to deal with its capacity crisis in south Arlington.

Supporters of the school plan said delaying the construction of urgently needed school capacity could result in 45 new trailer classrooms next to south Arlington schools by 2018.

While the “Save TJ Park” group that opposed APS’ proposed placement of the school was the most vocal during the lead up to the County Board vote, those who supported the school are now making their voices better heard.

In a letter to the Sun Gazette, Arlington resident Nathan Zee writes that the County Board decision shows that there is “an unquestionable divide” between north and south Arlington.

“The County Board’s direction to APS to keep working with the community until consensus is reached is nothing short of a total absolution of leadership and decision-making responsibility,” Zee writes. “There could always be more planning, but the time to act was now.”

In order to find out (unscientifically) how the community as a whole feels, we’re putting it to a poll: do you support the County Board’s decision?

by Peter Rousselot — February 5, 2015 at 1:45 pm 1,677 0

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 RousselotThe County Board recently decided not to approve “for now” an APS plan to build a new elementary school at the Thomas Jefferson site.

Several critical lessons must guide our way forward to meet the APS goal of adding a minimum of 725 new elementary seats in South Arlington by 2018.

Three of those lessons are discussed below.

1. APS Can’t Choose The Best Option Unless It Knows What All The Options Are

The county and APS must share with each other – and with the public – an inventory of all site options that they know about. This inventory must include both County-owned sites and private sites (like vacant commercial office space).

2. APS Must Be Completely Transparent In Discussing All Options

After APS has all the information about potential options, APS must conduct an open and transparent process to share options with the community, explaining:

  • what APS’ preferred options are, and
  • why other options were not chosen.

This transparent process cannot be limited solely to sites. The process also must include programs. For example, APS must disclose whether it intends to use a new facility as a neighborhood school or a choice school or a combination.

New, updated forecasts for enrollment growth – jointly prepared with the county – must be part of the conversation. The public must have confidence that all of our new school facilities will be located in the areas in which both the county and APS agree that the greatest school enrollment growth is likely to occur.

New, less elaborate and lower-cost design options for new school facilities everywhere in the county must be part of the conversation. The public needs assurances that all APS designs are as frugal as possible.

3. Developers Must Be Part Of the Solution

The county must get developers to pay for part of the cost of new school seats. Financing new learning facilities will require more than bond financing.

For starters, Arlington must emulate other jurisdictions, like Fairfax and Loudoun, that require a separate school impact analysis and developer contributions as a condition of approval of development projects.

If the County Attorney believes that Arlington lacks the authority to emulate Fairfax and Loudoun, then he must spell that out now so that we can ask our legislators to seek necessary changes in state law.

Of course, we cannot expect developers to pay for everything. But they must foot the bill for their fair share of the cost of the public infrastructure needed to serve the increasing population their new projects attract.

CONCLUSION

Arlington leaders must:

  • consider all available sites,
  • share publicly all proposed options,
  • make developers pay their fair share.

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

by Mark Kelly — February 5, 2015 at 1:00 pm 688 0

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 KellyAcross America, there is a move to encourage states to call for a Constitutional Convention. That debate has moved to our General Assembly in Richmond.

Article V of the U.S. Constitution states in part:

The Congress, whenever two-thirds of both houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose amendments to this Constitution, or, on the application of the legislatures of two thirds of the several states, shall call a convention for proposing amendments, . . .

This means a minimum of 34 states would be required to petition Congress to set a date and venue for new Constitutional Convention. Any proposed amendments would then need to be ratified by 38 states.

Much of the beauty of our Constitution is in its simplicity, both in length and wording. Its 4,000 plus words have rarely been amended since it was drafted in 1787. By comparison, the European Constitution contains over 156,000 words, the King James Bible contains over 780,000 words, and the tax code and regulations are over 4 million words and counting. Nothing about the tax code or regulations can be argued to be simple or straightforward.

Amending the Constitution is serious business, which is why our Founding Fathers had the wisdom to make it difficult. In fact, our Constitution has never been amended as a result of a Constitutional Convention subsequent to its ratification.

Proponents, who tend to be on the conservative side of the political spectrum, are pushing for a balanced budget amendment and limitations on executive power, among other things. Their fiercest opposition also seems to be among conservatives who do not want to open up the Constitution to mischief by states that would send liberal contingents to a convention. And if my email inbox is any indication, both the proponents and critics are extremely passionate about their positions.

Whatever your view, there really seems to be no path to finding 34 states to petition for an Article V convention — at least not in the near future.

At the same time, a public debate about how, when and why to amend the Constitution is a healthy thing. If nothing else, maybe it has caused Virginia, birthplace of its primary author, to take a second look at the Constitution and to think about what it would mean to amend it. Hopefully more than a few teachers viewed it as an opportunity to use current events to study one of the best foundational documents ever written.

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

by Krysta Jones — February 5, 2015 at 12:15 pm 834 0

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Krysta JonesOur community and our society are becoming more aware of and educated about the issue of sexual assaults. This is, in part, due to high-profile cases that have drawn increasing press attention, including national media stories involving the military, college campuses and the National Football League. This issue is a difficult one, with many facets. But it is one that we must address fully and fairly.

According to whitehouse.gov, “Young women… face the highest rates of dating violence and sexual assault. In the last year, one in 10 teens have reported being physically hurt on purpose by a boyfriend or girlfriend. One in five young women have been sexually assaulted while they’re in college. While men compromise a smaller number of survivors, male survivors are no less important.”

Locally, Arlington data shows there were 201 sexually related offenses with reported victims in 2011. As is generally true, victims of sexual offenses in Arlington have been predominantly female.

As a single woman living in Arlington, it is something I think about a lot. A few years ago there were disturbing incidents on Arlington’s recreation trails, one by my home. I made the difficult decision to alter my exercise routine, but was pleased with how the county and citizen groups came together to respond to the incidents and address the broader safety issue.

As many of these crimes are not reported, it is hard to know for sure whether there has been an increase or decrease in assaults from year to year. Yet one thing is clear: in 2015, it is imperative that Arlington’s progressive values guide our work in preventing, raising awareness, and addressing sexual assault.

Fortunately, Arlington County has a history of addressing difficult community concerns, and it is responding to the issue of all-too-frequent instances of sexual assault. For example, during my term (2011-2014) on the Arlington Commission on the Status of Women, one of our top priorities was addressing sexual assault and rape.

One priority was establishing a local hotline for sexual assault incidents. Before now, the county’s only hotline for sexual assault incidents was the Virginia Domestic and Sexual Violence Action Alliance in Richmond. Although answered 24/7, the hotline’s location prevented those in urgent need of an immediate response from being connected with a County Violence Intervention staff person for assistance.

In Arlington’s FY 2015 budget, funding was included for a hotline in Arlington. As chair of the Commission on the Status of Women, I was proud to join organizations like Project Peace in supporting an Arlington-based hotline.

According to the county website, Arlington’s Violence Intervention Program (VIP) provides survivor services including safety planning, hospital accompaniment, or support when contacting law enforcement. The VIP program is also committed to preventing abuse from occurring by providing programs to a broad range of adults and adolescents. The VIP also offers consultation and training to allied professionals on the issue. (more…)

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