Donnellan said in a memorandum in July she would recommend issuing no new taxi licenses in the county. But when the Accessibility Subcommittee of the Transit Advisory Committee took up the issue in September, it found that there was a need the county had not adequately addressed.
“[The subcommittee] that the low level of taxi complaints reported in the 2014 Certificate Determination Report was not a meaningful measure to determine the amount of accessible taxis needed,” Donnellan’s memorandum, issued earlier this month, states. “Since taxi dispatchers are informing callers that a three-hour wait is required for an accessible taxicab ride, customers are unlikely to complain to the County or request a same-day accessible taxi trip in the future.”
All Access Taxi requested 60 accessible taxi licenses in the summer after Donnellan issued her initial recommendation. Donnellan revised her recommendation to allow All Access Taxi 30 accessible taxi licenses and 10 more licenses for Blue Top Cab, bringing the total number of accessible cabs in the county to 77. All Access CEO and Founder Julie Piché said that 30 is not the optimal number to serve the disabled population in Arlington.
“Sixty wheelchair accessible taxis in Arlington County would maximize service to this underserved population by providing 2 taxis per square mile,” Piché said in a press release. “This will allow the population of disabled individuals to receive spontaneous service for the first time in history. The days of having to call more than 24 hours ahead, or waiting over 3 hours for an accessible taxi after a spontaneous call will be a thing of the past with our 60 taxi accessible fleet.”
According to the county report, the need for accessible services is increasing in Arlington. Arlington’s STAR program and MetroAccess — two public paratransit services — have seen their registrations in Arlington increase 26 percent in the last two years, the memorandum states. Both services use cabs when they don’t have other vehicles available, and there have been more reported late pickups among Arlington STAR riders from March to June this year than during any period since March 2011.
The new taxi license recommendation will go before the county’s Transportation Commission on Thursday, and hopes to see a larger number approved by the County Board when the matter goes before them in December. If approved, accessible cabs will make up 9.3 percent of the county’s taxi fleet, up from the current level of 4.7 percent.
Photos courtesy All Access Taxi
Tree Predicts Cold Winter — Local folklore holds that the seeds of the American Persimmon tree can predict how harsh the coming winter will be. According to Arlington County naturalist Alonso Abugattas, the seeds are predicting an especially cold winter. [Arlington County]
‘Purple Out Day’ in Arlington — Today is Arlington’s second annual Purple Out Day, which encourages residents to wear purple to promote domestic violence awareness. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. [Arlington County]
Security Stepped Up at Tomb — The military increased security at the Tomb of the Unknowns yesterday following the fatal shooting at the Canadian war memorial in Ottawa. [WJLA]
Lane Closures on GW Parkway — Between 9:30 a.m. and 2:45 p.m. today, a northbound and a southbound lane of the GW Parkway will be closed in the area of the Yellow Line Metro bridge, for underside inspection of the bridge.
Donnellan Wins Leadership Award — Arlington County Manager Barbara Donnellan has been recognized with a Visionary Leadership Award. The award, from the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, “recognizes top government officials for their outstanding contributions to metropolitan Washington and their home jurisdictions.” [MWCOG]
Arlington Arby’s Sells Smaller Smalls — The Arby’s restaurant at Ballston Common Mall — and elsewhere, apparently — sells small fountain beverages that are labeled on the outside as “22 oz.” but which actually hold only 21 ounces of liquid. [Consumerist]
The FAA announced in April that it was considering changing the regulations around airports to accommodate “one engine inoperative” planes — aircrafts that have an engine fail on takeoff and can’t ascend into the air as fast. The new rule, if passed, would restrict the heights of buildings in the area surrounding airports, which could impact redevelopment in Rosslyn and Crystal City.
County Manager Barbara Donnellan sent a letter in July to the FAA stating the county’s opposition to the rule change. In the letter, she wrote “we share the FAA’s interest in ensuring that air navigation in and around airports is safe, with appropriate plans and procedures in place to account for emergency situations.”
“At the same time, Arlington is committed to our long-established smart growth and transit-oriented development policies, which includes creating mixed-use, high-density neighborhoods around investments in transit,” Donnellan continued. “Therefore, we share the view of other potentially-affected communities that the impacts be thoroughly evaluated through the formal rule-making process before any change is made.”
The Civic Federation, a county-wide organization made up of delegates from more than 80 civic and resident associations, could vote on a motion at its meeting Oct. 7 to oppose Donnellan’s letter, made by retired U.S. Navy Pilot Jim Pebley, a Civic Federation delegate. Pebley said Donnellan made only a cursory “head-nod” to safety, instead prioritizing economic development.
“If the FAA delays adopting the proposed rule, buildings in Rosslyn could soon grow past 450 feet,” Pebley said to the County Board this week. “That gives pilots flying a disabled plane two bad choices: try to clear the buildings or turn early and cross over central Arlington… Madam Manager, your letter’s head-nod towards safety and argument about the rule change’s economic impact on smart growth is not the responseI’d hoped my County would make. You know, having a ‘downtown’ airport comes with economic benefits and safety responsibilities. You can’t have an urban airport and unlimited development crowding airliners.”
Pebley’s resolution would “urge” Arlington County government to work with the FAA on building height safety regulations instead of trying to fight such regulations.
The FAA introduced the change as a “proposed policy,” which, according to Rep. Jim Moran, meant the administration could circumvent the typical rule-making procedures, including a cost-benefit analysis by the federal Office of Management and Budget. Moran said the proposed policy was written to allow airlines to overload plans with cargo and passengers, because a plane hitting a building with one engine out of commission “never happens.”
“The airlines and the airports authority are acting out of greed,” Moran said in May. “It’s self-centered on their part. It’s disappointing and it should be stopped in my view. I’m just asking that they go through the normal, standard rule-making procedure where you look at the real-world impact, but they don’t want to consider what the economic impact would be in surrounding communities because their stovepipe attitude is they exist for the benefit of the airlines.”
The Civic Federation meets Tuesday, Oct. 7. If the FAA policy were passed, buildings already built would not be affected — about 170 in Arlington, Moran said — but, if they were to be redeveloped, they would have to be built shorter than they are now.
Flickr pool photo by Brian Allen
The $1 million “super stop” at Columbia Pike and S. Walter Reed Drive – the exorbitant price tag for which became national news – was so expensive because of poor communication, an independent review found.
The review, conducted by CliftonLarsonAllen, found that a “lack of clear communication between County and WMATA staff” and “poor execution of construction performance” were the main reasons the prototype took so long, and cost so much to build.
That poor execution includes the bus stop not being built to what was designed, including glass panels being produced at the wrong size; curbs being built at the wrong height and having to be redone; and a four-year delay in getting approval from the Virginia Department of Transportation.
According to the report, the initial budget of $2.15 million was supposed to cover three “super stops.” There was no communication between the county and WMATA over any change in the budget when plans for the two that were never built were ultimately scrapped. On Dec. 22, 2011, the county informed WMATA that it wanted to cease site work for the two other stops, called Dinwiddie West and Dinwiddie East.
“While it would appear the removal of site work for the two stops would result in a lower base cost… no official communication was made by the county to WMATA,” requesting the budget be lowered, the report states. “We find that the county should have requested a proposal for the deductive change order (lowering the budget), and then should have proceeded with negotiations” to change the terms of the agreement with WMATA
According to the review, $881,933 — less than the oft-cited $1 million — was spent on the prototype that still stands today, but $456,882 was sunk into the two prototypes that were never built.
“We accept the findings of this report,” County Manager Barbara Donnellan said in a press release. “They confirm concerns that we already had, and we have already addressed the issues systematically, so we can ensure that the remaining 23 transit stations will be built efficiently and cost-effectively. I asked for this review because, as I have said before, the Walter Reed prototype took too long and cost too much to build.”
The county announced in May that the remaining 23 transit stops would be redesigned with modular components, reducing the total project budget from $20.9 million to $12.4 million. Moreover, the county is now working independently of WMATA in designing and building the transit stations, which, when built, will accommodate both bus and streetcar passengers.
As opposed to the custom-built “super stop,” the transit stations have a modular design, with interchangeable parts that allow flexibility from station to station, and are significantly cheaper to build and maintain. Construction is expected to begin construction on the first eight transit stations by FY 2017.
“This project was an exception for Arlington,” Donnellan said. “We have a solid record of delivering large, complex projects in a timely, cost-effective manner… Unfortunately, work on the Walter Reed prototype began in 2007 at a time when WMATA was scaling back its capital improvement management program, and the project suffered as a result. Delivery was further complicated by the fact that several entities were involved. With the completion of this thorough review, we are confident that we are well positioned to effectively deliver the transit stations that the Pike needs, and continue to rebuild the Pike’s transportation infrastructure.”
All Access Taxi has submitted applications for 60 taxi licenses with Arlington County, which allows companies to request additional taxi licenses for two months every other year, according to county Dept. of Environmental Services spokeswoman Shannon Whalen McDaniel.
All Access Taxi COO Rick Vogel told ARLnow.com that his company would be the first in the region to offer 100 percent of its fleet as wheelchair accessible. The former Envirocab executive claimed that the standard wait for a wheelchair-accessible cab in the D.C. area is about three hours.
“There really isn’t anything for spontaneous service,” Vogel said. “Reagan lies within our boundaries, yet there’s no accessible service there. About once a week, someone gets stuck there with no way around. There are just no taxis.”
“I think Arlington has always been a leader in disabled issues,” Vogel continued. “All our buildings are accessible, everything is, except our cabs. At first I thought of it as a business idea, but now it’s becoming a cause. It upsets me because they can’t get around town.”
Vogel said he plans for the company to be headquartered in South Arlington and to train drivers in assisting people with disabilities. He plans on purchasing vehicles like the Ford Transit Connect (pictured), the Dodge Caravan, the Honda Odyssey and others. Each cab will be equipped with a wheelchair ramp in the back, a fire extinguisher and a first aid kit.
To operate as a taxi service in Arlington, however, a company needs to own a county taxicab certificate. There are 787 certificates in the county right now, only 37 of which are wheelchair accessible. County Manager Barbara Donnellan, however, recommended in a July 1 memorandum that no new taxicab certificates be issued until 2016, specifically including accessible taxis in her recommendation.
“Based on staff’s quantitative analysis,” Donnellan wrote, “there are sufficient bases to justify maintaining the existing number of taxicabs (750 vehicles and 37 wheelchair vehicles) authorized to operate in the county.”
Donnellan and her staff will make her final recommendations by Oct. 15, the Transportation Commission will make its alternative recommendation on Nov. 15 and the County Board will decide whether to approve new certificates, if any, at its December meeting. The county issued 22 new licenses in 2012, and didn’t issue any in 2010.
According to Donnellan’s memorandum, the county’s population has increased by 3,300 since 2012, but the workforce has shrunk by 6,900 jobs. While there are roughly the same amount of cabs per person now than before the new certificates were issued, there are now 3.47 taxicabs per 1,000 employees, as opposed to 3.36 in 2012. The overall number of cabs dispatched has increased 1.1 percent over the course of the last two years.
Donnellan wrote in the memorandum, however, that a new application for a certificate might be considered if the applicant provides adequate reason or innovation. Vogel believes his company deserves to be awarded certificates to serve a chronically underserved populace.
“I think this idea’s time has come,” he said. “These people have money to spend, but they can’t get to where they want to go. I think at the end of the day, we can make people’s lives better.”
Photo via Ford
Howze is running for a four-year term on the County Board in the general election Nov. 4 against Republican- and Green-backed independent John Vihstadt, who defeated Howze in a special election for the Board seat in April.
The county has promoted its “Public Land for Public Good” platform during its deliberations over the 2015-2024 Capital Improvement Plan. County Manager Barbara Donnellan’s recommendation for moving a fire station to green space near Marymount University and the Arlington School Board’s proposal to build an elementary school on a park next to Thomas Jefferson Middle School (125 S. Old Glebe Road) have drawn criticism for, among other reasons, not including sufficient community input.
“The County Board and School Board have made good faith efforts to address very pressing community needs and their staffs have presented options for some of the most critical of these needs,” Howze said in a press release. “But I share the frustration of community members who feel that key decisions that will affect our community for decades should have more meaningful public input at an early stage as proposals are being developed.”
In his 577-word press release, Howze declines to state a position on any of the specific public land use proposals, simply advocating for more discussion while pointing out the “critical need for school capacity, affordable housing, open space, and public safety and public works infrastructure.”
Vihstadt will have a hand in determining the fate of public land when he and the County Board vote on the 10-year CIP on Saturday. He sent ARLnow.com the following response to Howze’s call for a discussion on the issue:
Land and money are finite. Setting county priorities often requires hard decisions. I heard loud and clear that citizens believe many major decisions made by both the County Board and the School Board too often originate and get settled from the top down rather than from the ground up. As a County Board member, I’m working with my colleagues and communities across Arlington to help ensure that our planning process begins earlier, includes all stakeholders, and truly considers and accommodates the sometimes competing needs and diverse interests of our County.
Pub crawl organizers should have to obtain a permit for each crawl and reimburse the county for the cost of extra police on the street.
That’s what Arlington County Manager Barbara Donnellan is expected to recommend to the County Board at its meeting later this month. Donnellan will recommend that pub crawls be classified as “special events,” subject to the county’s special events policy, according to county officials.
Arlington’s special events policy was last updated in 2012. The policy is designed to ensure that adequate resources are available for special events while allowing the county to recover its support costs.
Classifying pub crawls as a special event is seen as a compromise, somewhere in between the crawl participants who would like the events to continue unabated and residents who see the crawls as a nuisance and would like them curtailed. The events will continue, but in a more regulated environment, provided organizers can afford the extra costs.
“Organizers would have to get a special events permit and would be required to cover the costs of additional police, fire and trash services — above core services — generated by their event,” Arlington County spokeswoman Mary Curtius told ARLnow.com. “At this point, the Manager’s recommendation does not include any minimum or maximum allowed numbers of pub crawls — the applications will be reviewed as they come in and approved based on the availability of resources.”
Donnellan’s recommendation is coming less than a month after an attendee at the All American Bar Crawl (photos from the event, above) allegedly stripped naked and led police on a car chase that ended in a crash in Clarendon. In an email to a concerned constituent, County Board Chair Jay Fisette addressed the incident.
“I want you to know that we have no tolerance for this kind of behavior. At the same time I want to stress that this incident was highly unusual,” Fisette wrote. “Our top priority is safety. The Board has concerns about the impacts of pub crawls and in April asked the Manager to research options to address these impacts.”
Fisette went on to say that pub crawls can be regulated, but not banned.
Clarendon is one of our most vibrant and lively areas. We support the businesses there, and we welcome visitors who patronize our many great restaurants, shops and pubs. We want to keep it a great place to live, visit, dine, work and shop. It’s important to know that, under Virginia law, we can’t ban pub crawls. We can, however, regulate pub crawls to ensure that they are safe for all and effectively managed. Part of that regulation must include ways that the County can recover some of the costs associated with the stepped-up enforcement activities during the events, and trash and litter cleanup after the events. In the meantime, as part of the FY15 budget, the Board approved one-time funding ($42,000) for overtime costs in the Police department while a longer term strategy is developed to address the increasing frequency and cost associated with pub crawl events.
In addition to the June incident, a bar crawl attendee made the news in March when she allegedly showed up naked at the Arlington Magistrate’s Office and demanded that she be allowed to visit her husband, who was arrested earlier that day during a St. Patrick’s Day-themed pub crawl.
Both bar crawls were organized by Courthouse-based Project D.C. Events. According to the company, the two events attracted a combined 8,500-9,000 registered attendees.
“It’s two incidents out of thousands of people,” said Project D.C. Events co-owner Alex Lopez, who also pointed out that neither happened inside a bar. Lopez and fellow co-owner Mike Bramson said they work closely with Arlington County Police and with participating bars to ensure there’s plenty of security on hand.
Neither could explain why bar crawls in Arlington have resulted in high-profile incidents and controversy while D.C.-based crawls seem to go off without a hitch.
“We’ve taken the same steps in D.C. as we do in Arlington,” Bramson said.
“You don’t hear about bar crawls in D.C. because nothing happens at them,” said Lopez. “If you say, ‘oh everything was peaceful in the last bar crawl,’ well, no one is going to read that.”
Bramson and Lopez said they and other bar crawl organizers shouldn’t be on the hook for the cost of extra police staffing because the events are already generating thousands in extra tax revenue.
(Updated at 3:45 p.m.) Arlington will not award a contract for construction of the Long Bridge Park Aquatics, Health and Fitness Facility, delaying the project for at least a year, the county announced this afternoon.
The decision to cancel the bids for the facility follows an effort by County Manager Barbara Donnellan and her staff to work with construction companies to “value engineer” the project and lower costs. The bids initially came in well above the level necessary to keep the aquatics center within its original $79 million projected cost. Even with cheaper furnishings and other cut corners, however, we’re told the revised cost estimate “got close but not close enough.”
With $42.5 million in bond funding and a $15 million developer contribution already in place, that puts the County Board in a position in which it must approve additional taxpayer funds, scale back the design of the facility, or seek private funding. For now, the county will seek private funds.
County Board Chair Jay Fisette said the aquatic’s center design resulted from an extensive community outreach process that took into account its location near the Potomac River, within view of I-395 and major D.C. monuments.
“This facility resulted from [a community needs assessment] and then took several years to design,” he said. “I still think that to fulfill that plan is the right way to go. But I understand that staying within the previous budget is also appropriate.”
Fisette said the county will now seek funding from a private entity. Possibilities include a corporate sponsorship and naming rights, working with a for-profit operator, or partnering with a university or other institution.
Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Ballston is one such facility built by the county but operated by a rent-paying, for-profit entity. The fields at Long Bridge Park and Barcroft Baseball Field #6 are partially paid for under partnerships with Marymount University and George Washington University, respectively.
A corporate sponsor may be interested in the naming rights to the facility, especially given its high-visibility location. Fisette said he’d be open to having the facility known as the Under Armor or the Nike Aquatics, Health and Fitness Facility, among other potential sponsors.
“The goal is to identify any balance of funding beyond those already approved by the voters,” Fisette said. “This is an unusual and exceptional opportunity for someone who would like to have that visibility.”
What might make the opportunity more exceptional, according to county officials, is D.C’s bid to host the 2024 Summer Olympic Games. Later this month, the United States Olympic Committee is expected to narrow down the list of U.S. cities being considered as an Olympic host. Should D.C. be on that list, it could give a boost to the effort to attract sponsorships, given that the new aquatics center is likely to be one of the facilities used for the games.
“We are under the impression that as they move forward with their bid, that this site is included in their plans,” according to Fisette.
The county will “aggressively pursue private funding support” over the next 6-8 months, Fisette said. Donnellan plans to report back to the County Board in mid-2015, prior to any additional bonds being sold. Should attempts to find private funds prove unsuccessful, the next steps for the facility are “yet to be determined.”
The county press release on the announcement, after the jump.
The sites — Rosslyn Highlands Park/Fire Station 10 (1559 Wilson Blvd); Courthouse Square and Plaza; land adjacent to Lee Gardens at the intersection of Fairfax Drive and Arlington Blvd; and Gables North Rolfe Street (1307 N. Rolfe Street) — were introduced by County Manager Barbara Donnellan yesterday when she presented her proposed 2015-2024 Capital Improvement Plan to the County Board.
The sites are already in the planning process, Donnellan told the Board, and the county is exploring their potential for affordable housing during said process. Providing more affordable housing has long been a priority for many of the Board’s elected members.
In addition, Donnellan identified three sites as potential places for new school construction. Those locations include Wilson School, which had already been earmarked for a potential new school, Thomas Jefferson Middle School and the Arlington Career Center/Fenwick Center site at 816 S. Walter Reed Drive.
“Affordable housing and schools are two of our County’s highest priorities, and the County Board has emphasized its commitment to the concept of using Public Land for Public Good,” Donnellan said in a press release. “We need to do a lot more analysis, but this is a good start for finding ways to use public land to achieve important community goals.”
Four other sites are considered “Tier 2″ potential places for affordable housing — they are not in the CIP for redevelopment but they have been identified as areas where affordable housing development could be feasible. Those sites are Lubber Run Park, which one interfaith community group has also identified as having potential for affordable housing; Fire Station 8 on Lee Highway; land adjacent to Jennie Dean Park on Four Mile Run near Shirlington; and the Edison Complex, adjacent to Virginia Hospital Center.
The county and Arlington Public Schools analyzed all 678 parcels of publicly-owned land in the county to develop the final list of 11 sites. Donnellan is recommending each of the sites be considered for development within the next 10 years.
Photo via Google Maps
(Updated at 5:55 p.m.) The combined cost of the Columbia Pike and Crystal City streetcar systems is now estimated at $585 million.
Presenting an overview of her proposed FY 2015-2024 Capital Improvement Plan to the Arlington County Board this afternoon, County Manager Barbara Donnellan and her staff said that the cost of the streetcar systems had risen $190 million from the 2013 CIP due to changes in the size of the streetcar vehicles, higher engineering and start-up costs, higher inflation and a larger project contingency.
The CIP projects that the Crystal City streetcar will begin operating in the spring of 2020 at a capital cost of $227 million. The Columbia Pike streetcar is projected to begin operating in the spring of 2021 at a capital cost of $358 million, $71 million of which would be pegged to the Fairfax County portion of the line.
“This is a large capital investment for Arlington, but we have not shied away from large capital investments ever,” Donnellan said. “These are generational projects. Every generation is asked to make decisions that will ultimately benefit generations that follow. Building high-capacity rail in South Arlington will be a transformational investment for our community.”
Nearly 75 percent of the financing for the Columbia Pike streetcar is projected to come from federal and state sources. Most of the funding for the Crystal City streetcar will come from dedicated county transportation funding or bonds, with a portion coming from the state but no funds coming from the federal government. The CIP does not anticipate issuing general obligation bonds for either streetcar system — without which the county would need state legislative approval in order to conduct a referendum on the streetcar systems.
The $585 million price tag is the latest projected cost increase for the controversial Columbia Pike project. Initially pegged as a $161 million project in 2007, that number jumped to around $250 million in 2011. Last spring, the Federal Transportation Administration rejected a county grant application for funding because it estimated the project’s cost between $255.9 million and $402.4 million. At the time, a contractor estimated said $310 million was “a most likely cost” for the streetcar.
Arlington County’s latest transit ridership projection suggests that ridership along the Columbia Pike and Pentagon City-Crystal City corridors will double, to nearly 60,000 daily transit trips, by 2035. Most of those trips will be on a streetcar, the county said. The Columbia Pike line alone is projected to increase real estate values by $3.2 to $4.4 billion and generate between $455 and $895 million in additional tax revenues for Arlington and Fairfax counties over a 30-year period.
The total CIP for the next 10 years calls for $2.7 billion in investment, more than half of which is dedicated to transportation projects, including the streetcar. Donnellan’s proposed CIP now will now be considered by the Board, which will conduct work sessions and hold a public hearing on June 10 before a planned adoption on July 19.
(Updated at 10:00 a.m.) Shortly after being caught on video driving the wrong way down Military Road — a story first reported on ARLnow.com — an Arlington County snow plow driver ran a stop sign and caused a multi-vehicle accident, according to police.
The accident happened at 9:18 a.m. on Monday. The 51-year-old plow driver was heading southbound on S. Monroe Street when he ran a stop sign at 18th Street S. and struck an eastbound Toyota Highlander on the driver’s side rear panel, according to Arlington County Police spokesman Dustin Sternbeck. The Highlander then struck two parked cars.
“There were no reported injuries as a result of the accident,” Sternbeck told ARLnow.com. The driver was cited by officers for disregarding a stop sign.
The accident happened less than two hours after local filmmaker Jason Berry said he was nearly run off the road by the plow, which was driving the wrong way down hilly, twisting Military Road. At Tuesday’s Arlington County Board meeting, Board Chair Jay Fisette encouraged County Manager Barbara Donnellan to take disciplinary action.
“I think all of us saw that video and thought, ‘oh my God,” Fisette said. “That was horrible. It’s inconceivable to me that there’s a justification for driving a [snow plow] down the wrong side of the road. It was quite amazing to watch the video. We are just fortunate that nothing terrible… came of that particular driving experience.”
Donnellan reported that the driver was working a midnight-to-noon shift and called the incident “unfortunate,” “dangerous” and a “near miss situation.”
“This is completely unacceptable behavior for snow plowing. it is a violation of our Arlington county driver policy and training,” Donnellan said. “As soon as the county learned of the unacceptable behavior we identified the responsible driver and immediately removed him from duty.”
“The investigation is underway,” Donnellan continued. “We’re taking appropriate action with this employee. A full range of disciplinary actions is always on the table for serious safety violations. Our safety policy strives for zero incidents.”
Donnellan noted that the county also received calls thanking snow removal crews for their tireless work during this snowy winter.
“It’s easy to focus on one driver, on one day, but we also have many, many drivers who are safe, courteous and do great work too,” Donnellan said. “My many thanks goes out to staff who works incredibly hard during these weather events to keep our community safe and to keep our streets, trails and sidewalks clear.”
Arlington County Manager Barbara Donnellan released her mid-year review of Fiscal Year 2014 earlier this week, and it’s generally good news for the county.
County staff is projecting that Arlington will collect $20.8 million more in taxes than originally budgeted for, led by a $23.4 million increase in real estate tax revenue. Another bright spot an additional $3 million from personal property taxes. The increases are due to higher-than-expected real estate assessments and strong new car sales and used car values, according to Donnellan.
Some county revenue is lower than expected, however. Sales taxes are projected to be down $2.6 million, hotel taxes are down $2.1 million, fines are down $2 million and cigarette and communication taxes are both down $300,000.
Donnellan’s memo to the County Board blames the federal government shutdown for the lower sales and hotel tax revenue. The decrease in fines is largely due to “parking ticket revenue declines.”
Given additional savings found in county expenditures, Arlington estimates it has an additional $27.6 million available. Of that, $9.6 million will be transferred to Arlington Public Schools, $12.3 million is to be used as one-time funding in Donnellan’s proposed FY 2015 budget, and $5.7 million is unallocated.
The one-time funding included in Donnellan’s budget includes:
- $2.8 million — Affordable Housing Investment Fund
- $3 million — Paving
- $1 million — Facilities maintenance
- $1 million — Parks maintenance
- $1 million — Transportation maintenance
- $1.5 million — Technology capital investment
- $1.5 million — Park lands acquisition
Public hearings on the new county budget are scheduled for March 25 and 27. The new fiscal year starts July 1.
That means that the tax rate can only go down or remain the same ($1.006 for every $100 in assessed value) in the Board’s budget, which will be crafted over the next two months before final approval on April 22.
Two residential fees, meanwhile — the water-sewer rate and the household solid waste rate — are proposed to increase 3.4 and 2.4 percent respectively in County Manager Barbara Donnellan’s budget, which will be used as a jumping off point by the Board.
In all, thanks to a 5.9 percent increase in residential property assessments, the total tax and fee burden on the average Arlington household is expected to increase by $368, or 5.3 percent, to $7,371 if the Board follows Donnellan’s proposal to hold the real estate tax rate steady.
Arlington County Manager Barbara Donnellan’s new proposed budget will hold tax rates steady, but would still result in a higher tax bill for residents.
Donnellan is proposing no increase in real estate and stormwater management tax rates, which impact homeowners. The combined tax rate would remain $1.006 for every $100 in assessed value.
There will be modest increases in waste collection and water and sewer fees, plus a $0.25 increase in ART bus fares and a $0.50 increase in some STAR fares.
With Arlington residential property assessments rising 5.9 percent this year (5.3 percent for single family homes), homeowners will pay more in taxes under Donnellan’s budget, despite tax rates holding steady. The average Arlington household will pay $7,371 in county taxes and fees, a $368 or 5.3 percent increase over last year.
Arlington’s general fund spending would increase $28.4 million, or 2.6 percent, to $1.12 billion under Donnellan’s budget. That includes $687.7 million for county government operations, a $11.9 million or 1.8 percent increase, and $432.2 million for Arlington Public Schools, a $19.6 million or 4.7 percent increase.
Among the areas of higher spending proposed by Donnellan are:
- $5.2 million for county employee salary increases
- $600,000 for a half year of operations of the new Homeless Services Center
- An additional $3.5 million for street paving, bringing the total paving funding to $11.1 million
- A 7.5 percent increase in the county’s health care costs
- A 1 percent increase in grants to nonprofits from the Department of Human Services
- Three additional School Resource Officers
- Additional funding for streetlights and traffic engineering
- A dedicated “principal planner” for Crystal City
Other budget priorities identified by Donnellan include investments in encouraging cybersecurity companies to move to Arlington; technology investments like a “pay by cell” parking system; and growing the county’s “BizLaunch” business assistance program.
Affordable housing investments accounts for $34.3 million in local tax dollars — 5.1 percent of the county’s general fund budget (excluding schools). That includes contributions to the Affordable Housing Investment Fund, housing grants and funding for the rapid re-housing program.
Despite this year’s snowy winter, there is no change proposed for the county’s snow removal budget. Donnellan, however, said that the county is studying whether changes are necessary to the county’s snow removal operation.
Donnellan will present her proposed budget at Saturday’s County Board meeting. The County Board will begin holding work sessions on the budget next week. Public hearings on the budget and tax rates are scheduled for March 25 and 27. Final budget adoption is scheduled for April 22.
Following budget adoption, from May to July, Arlington will go through its Capital Improvement Plan process, where spending plans for major projects, like the Columbia Pike streetcar, are set.
Arlington County Manager Barbara Donnellan announced late Friday afternoon that construction bids for the first phase of the Long Bridge Park aquatics center came in “significantly higher” than the $79.3 million projected cost. As a result, Donnellan says she will not be recommending a construction contract for County Board approval in early 2014, as planned.
Donnellan said it was “disappointing” that the bids far exceeded the estimate provided by its architect, which was in turn backed up by a third-party firm.
“The high bids were particularly disappointing because the County had done extensive due diligence to ensure that the estimate was sound and within the available budget,” she said in a statement. “We took an additional step of contracting separately with an engineering firm to review design and construction documents and provide independent third party cost estimates.”
“Once staff concludes its assessment of the bids and our architects’ estimates, I will present options to the County Board for next steps,” she continued. “In the months ahead, the County Board and the community will continue their careful consideration of the costs and benefits of building and operating this facility as we shape the FY 2015 Budget and the Capital Improvement Program.”
Reached by phone Friday evening, Donnellan told ARLnow.com that she expects to receive recommendations from county staff as early as February. She declined to speculate about the recommendation, saying that there’s significant work and analysis left to be done by staff.
Donnellan also declined to specify how many bids were received and how much higher those bids were than the estimate, citing legal constraints.
News of the delay in the project comes just a month after news that the aquatics center’s operating deficit would be 2 to 4 times that of original estimates. Local fiscal watchdog Wayne Kubicki says the county should consider scrapping the project altogether.
“This project has been mishandled by the County Board almost from the beginning,” he said. “With the pressures on other parts of the county and school budgets and the stagnation of commercial real estate values, it might well be time to moth ball the Long Bridge aquatics facility and simply leave the current park as-is.”
Construction bids received by the county for the project were technically for “Phase 2” of Long Bridge Park, which encompasses both the initial phase of the aquatics center and minor improvements to the park itself, including “public gathering areas, trails, public art, interpretive signs, and walkways.” Much of the funding for the projected cost of Phase 2 has already been secured, including $42.5 million from a parks bond approved in 2012 and $15 million from Vornado as part of the PenPlace development.
A Phase 3A and 3B, for other park improvements, are also planned, as is a Phase 4, which would complete the Aquatics, Health & Fitness Facility by adding a large “multiple activity center,” additional fitness space, racquetball and squash courts, a climbing wall, an elevated jogging trail, rental meeting rooms and a 547-space underground parking garage.
“Long Bridge Park is an ambitious project for our community, an infrastructure investment that is transforming a one-time industrial wasteland from a brownfield to an iconic gateway on the Potomac,” Donnellan said in her statement. “It will provide multiple recreational opportunities for our growing population and for future generations.”