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by Ethan Rothstein — April 18, 2014 at 3:35 pm 2,810 0

County Board Chair Jay Fisette(Updated at 4:40 p.m.) Two days after the Arlington County Board voted to offset a one-cent tax rate cut by eliminating a pay raise for county employees, the Board has changed course.

County Board Chair Jay Fisette told ARLnow.com Friday afternoon that, after the Board met with representatives from the police and firefighter unions this morning, it decided to cut from other areas to make up the $6.6 million gap in the budget the tax cut will create.

The Arlington County Police Union, the Arlington Police Beneficiary Association and the Arlington Professional Firefighters and Paramedics Association (Local 2800) each released statements denouncing the Board’s decision to go against County Manager Barbara Donnellan’s recommendation to keep the property tax rate at 2014′s level of $1.006 per $100 in assessed value — and to pay for it by eliminating pay raises in favor of a “modest” 1 percent Cost of Living Adjustment and a one-time $500 employee bonus.

The decision was made in the days leading up to Wednesday’s budget mark-up, leading the police and firefighters to question the process and transparency of the Board’s budget process.

“Throughout the budgetary process that started in September 2013, there were no discussions by the County Board that indicated that step increases would be eliminated,” Local 2800 said in a statement. “Only now, six days before the vote, have we been informed… We understand that there needs to be a balance and restraint in the current economic times but there also needs to be transparency.”

The APBA said the cut in step increases would have hit twice as hard because the county changed employees’ healthcare plans this year, resulting in increases in premiums as high as 7 percent for some employees.

“Not only is this budget cut targeting employees in one of the most expensive places to live in the U.S., it also was made at the 11th hour, outside of Arlington’s well-accepted and long-established budget process and after the last opportunity for public comment,” the APBA said in a statement.

“It is the opinion of the APBA and Union that this last minute decision is politically motivated as a newly elected County Board Member was just sworn into office,” APBA member Jim Tuomey said in a separate email. “We feel this is a last minute effort for the County Board to try and ‘win over’ the voters by saving a penny on the real estate tax rate at the expense of all County employees and we have no opportunity to be heard at future work sessions with the budget adoption next Tuesday night.”

Fisette said the Board unanimously decided to cut the tax rate “a few weeks ago,” before the April 8 special election that saw John Vihstadt became the first non-Democrat elected to the Board since 1999 by a 57-41 percent margin over Democrat Alan Howze.

The decision to do away with the step increase came as a shock to the employees because it hadn’t been mentioned in any public hearings or meetings. Moreover, Fisette said, it’s rare that the Board goes away from the county manager’s recommendations on compensation. It’s particularly rare that the Board lowers salaries or cuts pay raises, Fisette said. (more…)

by ARLnow.com — March 21, 2014 at 9:05 am 3,045 0

Inside Ben's Chili Bowl (Flickr pool photo by Christaki)

School Board Nixes Controversial Proposed Cuts — The Arlington School Board on Thursday took three key cuts proposed by superintendent Patrick Murphy off the table. The nixed proposals are: combining the Langston-Brown High School Continuation Program with Arlington Mill High School, reducing day classes offered to students over the age of 22, and eliminating elementary school library aides. The cuts would have saved at least $2.7 million. The Board is also “asking for more information about” a proposal that would outfit every second and sixth grader with an iPad or Chromebook at a reported annual cost of $200,000. [InsideNoVa]

WHS Video for Happiness Day — The Wakefield Asian Club at Wakefield High School created a musical video from Pharrell Williams’ song “Happy” in honor of International Day of Happiness on Thursday. [YouTube]

Girl Scout Troop Orders Too Many Cookies — A new Girl Scout troop from Arlington’s Nottingham Elementary School misread an order form and accidentally ordered 12 times as many cases of Girl Scout cookies to sell as intended. Luckily, other local Girl Scout troops rallied and helped the troop sell the 1,440 excess boxes of Samoas, Tagalongs, Do-si-dos, etc. [Washington Post]

Bennington Apartments Sell for $101.1 Million — The Bennington apartment building at 1201 S. Eads Street in Pentagon City has traded hands for $101.1 million. The 348-unit building was purchased by New York-based Pantzer Properties, which plans to rebrand the building as “The Point at Pentagon City.” [Washington Business Journal]

SPRC to Meet on Key Blvd Apartment Plan — The county’s Site Plan Review Committee will meet Monday to discuss a plan to demolish and redevelop the Key Boulevard Apartments near Rosslyn. The group Preservation Arlington has expressed concern about the proposal. “Built in 1943, Key Boulevard Apartments are a nearly perfect garden apartment complex with all the right details and scaling,” the group wrote on its blog. [Preservation Arlington]

Road Closures for Nottingham 5K – Several streets will be closed Saturday morning for the Nottingham Elementary 5K race. The closures will be in place on parts of Williamsburg Blvd, Little Falls Road and N. Ohio Street from 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. [Arlington County]

Flickr pool photo by Christaki

by Katie Pyzyk — July 15, 2013 at 12:00 pm 1,361 0

MoneyThe county will tap into the $3 million Economic Stability Fund it established to lessen the sequestration’s impact on the community. The County Board voted on Saturday to send $39,000 from the fund to the Department of Human Services for its Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP) program.

The Board voted to tap into the fund for the first time after learning of cuts to federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funding, which would trickle down to the local level. The Virginia Department of Social Services informed the county its contribution would be reduced by $39,000 in FY 2014 due to cuts in the state HPRP funding, which originates at HUD.

“This is the first time the County has had to tap into its sequestration fund, but unfortunately, we are quite certain it will not be the last,” said Arlington County Board Chairman J. Walter Tejada. “Across the nation, communities are feeling the impact of sequestration. These indiscriminate cuts are affecting the lives of real people, in large and small ways, and that impact is only going to grow as time goes on. In this instance, we are able to use the special funds to continue important safety net services for some of our most vulnerable individuals and families.”

HPRP has been in existence since 2009 and receives funding through a combination of $249,000 of state money to support case management, and $200,000 of local money to support housing-related financial assistance. Four non-profits provide case management services: Arlington Street People’s Assistance Network, Doorways for Women and Families, the Arlington Alexandria Coalition for the Homeless and Volunteers of America-Chesapeake.

Individuals and families who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless can qualify for short term financial assistance from HPRP. Participating families are limited to $1,200 for homelessness prevention and $3,000 for rapid re-housing. Participants also receive case management services such as guidance for developing household budgets and maintaining their housing.

So far, county staff has not identified any other sequester cuts that would require a dip into the reserve fund. Although the state has experienced some cuts it hasn’t yet passed those on to localities.

by ARLnow.com — April 2, 2013 at 6:55 pm 2 Comments

Sign at the County Board budget hearing on 3/26/13The Arlington County Board has taken a proposal to eliminate local childcare inspections off the table for the 2014 budget.

The recommendation, one of numerous spending cuts in County Manager Barbara Donnellan’s proposed budget, was met with controversy. Hundreds of parents and residents signed a petition against the elimination of Arlington Child Care Office, which would have turned inspections over to the state and resulted in more lax oversight.

The county issued the following press release about the Board’s decision tonight.

Arlington County Board Chairman J. Walter Tejada today said that the County will continue its inspections of childcare centers and family childcare homes and will continue to train providers. County Manager Barbara Donnellan had recommended in her Proposed Fiscal Year 2014 Budget that the County eliminate childcare inspections and provider training.

“The Board is committed to maintaining Arlington’s inspections of childcare facilities and training for providers,” Tejada said. “Although most localities in Virginia rely on the State alone to conduct inspections of childcare facilities, Arlington has, for more than 40 years, provided an extra layer of inspections and training for providers – and the Board is committed to continuing both of those elements.”

Tejada made his statement at the start of a Board public work session on the Department of Human Services’ proposed FY 2014 Budget. In her Proposed FY 2014 Budget, had recommended that the County rely on the state to inspect childcare centers and family childcare homes, and cut provider training, as part of her effort to cut costs across departments. The proposed cuts to inspection services had raised concerns within the community about the safety of Arlington’s childcare facilities.

The measure would have saved about $250,000 per year. The County Board will approve a final Fiscal Year 2014 budget on April 20.

by ARLnow.com — March 27, 2013 at 6:15 pm 826 30 Comments

County Board budget on 3/26/13Dozens lined up Tuesday night to ask the Arlington County Board to open the county’s purse strings just a bit more.

Most speakers at the 3 hour, 45 minute public budget hearing addressed the $9.3 million in proposed cuts to social programs, environmental initiatives, the arts and other county services — though some came to encourage additional cuts, namely to the proposed Columbia Pike streetcar.

The top issue at the meeting by speaker count was County Manager Barbara Donnellan’s proposed cut of the county’s Child Care Office. Some 16 speakers, wearing yellow in solidarity, asked the County Board to reconsider the $250,000 budget cut, which would deregulate small home-based child care operations and return the regulation of larger child care businesses to the state.

County Board budget on 3/26/13“These extra services and higher standards helped us feel comfortable about using an in-home daycare provider in Arlington,” said Michelle Sagatov, a full-time working mom with two kids. “The state does not have the same standards.”

Lauren Harris, the owner of Little Ambassadors Academy in Arlington, said she opposes the Child Care Office’s closure, even though reverting to state regulations could allow her to have a higher and more profitable child-to-employee ratio.

Affordable housing was another hot topic, with about 9 speakers urging the County Board to invest more in affordable housing. Donnellan’s proposed budget, which is currently under consideration by the Board, calls for a total of $32.3 million to go to affordable housing — or 4.9 percent of the County’s general fund budget (excluding schools).

Tim Wise, of the Arlington County Taxpayers Association, countered that the county spends enough on “the so-called affordable housing special interest.”

Wise and about a half dozen other speakers also called for the Board to cancel the $250 million Columbia Pike streetcar project.

“As an Arlington county resident, I appreciate our services and our relatively low taxes compared to D.C. and Maryland and even Fairfax,” said Lee Schalk, who works at the National Taxpayers Unions “But with our current budget gap… we must pump the brakes on this quarter of a billion dollar streetcar project. Instead of throwing away our tax dollars on an inefficient form of public transportation, based on questionable assumptions… the local government should work to keep spending and taxes in check.”

Schalk called the streetcar a “boondoggle” and said he was “not amused by the $1 million bus stop” on Columbia Pike.

At least one speaker urged the County Board to press on with the Columbia Pike streetcar project.

(more…)

by Peter Rousselot — March 26, 2013 at 3:00 pm 2,365 75 Comments

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column published on Tuesdays. 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 Arlington County Board needs to learn some lessons from the Rolling Stones:

Yeah, a storm is threatening
My very life today
If I don’t get some shelter
Lord, I’m gonna fade away

As ARLnow reported last week, the cost of the new “Super Stop” at the corner of Walter Reed Drive and Columbia Pike will be more than $1 million. This is a cost escalation of over 100 percent from the original estimate.

Shouldn’t we say, “superexpensive?”

With due credit to Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and the rest of the Rolling Stones (who know a lot more about rock and roll than the County Board knows about transportation infrastructure), here are three lessons to be learned from the Board’s Super Stop fiasco:

1. Since the County Board did such a poor job on just this one superstop, the County Board can’t possibly be ready to choose the managers and contractors for a project like the streetcar currently estimated to cost 250 times more than this one stop.

Trying to counter the tsunami of public criticism about the enormous cost overrun on this Super Stop, county officials have tried to deflect blame onto WMATA – the Super Stop’s project manager. They say WMATA won’t be chosen to play such a role again. This begs the question: how can we rely on the County Board to make the right choice of managers for much larger projects if they failed to recognize WMATA’s poor performance on this one? Are you ready for the $500 million streetcar?

2. Since the County Board failed to recognize the many design flaws in this one Super Stop, the County Board can’t possibly be ready to recognize the design flaws in much larger and more complex transportation infrastructure projects.

Disregarding the advice of the Rolling Stones, the County Board approved a design for this Super Stop that failed to provide one of the fundamental things that many bus stops in other parts of Arlington already provide: adequate shelter from rain and wind. How can we rely on the County Board to make good design decisions about much more complex transportation infrastructure projects that contain many elements they have never seen before?

3. The County Board displays no public understanding of the multiple ways in which the costs of large transportation infrastructure projects take funding away from core services.

Hiding behind erroneous claims that the costs of mammoth capital projects have no impact on proposed operating budget cuts, various spokespeople for the County are turning themselves into pretzels arguing that watering down child care standards or cutting back on community policing are completely unrelated to financing large transportation infrastructure projects. As anyone with a mortgage or a car loan knows, this defies common sense: the bigger your loan payments, the less you have left over for your other needs.

A fiscal storm is threatening Arlington’s life today. Gimme shelter!

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

by ARLnow.com — March 19, 2013 at 11:15 am 2,076 104 Comments

Child care (photo via Arlington County)A group of residents is organizing to oppose a proposed cut to child care regulation in Arlington County Manager Barbara Donnellan’s proposed budget.

Donnellan’s budget, which is under consideration by the County Board, cuts the county’s Child Care Office, which regulates local daycare centers. Three full time positions would be eliminated, saving $250,000 annually.

If the cut were made, a local ordinance regulating daycare providers would be eliminated, and oversight of such daycare centers would be returned to the Commonwealth of Virginia, which opponents say has weaker standards than the county. In addition, family daycare centers with up to 5 children are not regulated by the state and would instead go unregulated.

Opponents of the Child Care Office cut have formed an online petition, now with 288 supporters, and a Facebook page, with 113 fans, to send a message to county leaders.

“The County Code and Child Care Office PROTECT our children by requiring small home daycares to be licensed and by requiring SIGNIFICANTLY higher standards for all settings,” says the petition page. “Investing in early childhood is SMART ECOMONICS: research has shown high quality early care and education significantly decreases major social and economonic problems such as crime, teenage pregnancy, dropping out of high school and adverse health conditions.”

The petition was started by Sandra Redmore, director of the Clarendon Child Care Center.

In addition to eliminating local oversight of the county’s dozens of licensed daycare providers, the closure of the Child Care Office would eliminate professional development programs run by the office.

Child Care Office supporters are being asked to register today to speak at the upcoming March 26 public budget hearing.

Photo via Arlington County

by Peter Rousselot — March 12, 2013 at 2:00 pm 2,144 89 Comments

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

In last week’s column, I explained why Arlington needs to develop a core services approach to deal with its budget. Several commenters offered helpful suggestions as to how Arlington ought to define a core services approach.

For example:

  • “Another way to look at the role of government revolves around the phrase ‘Basic Human Needs.’ Things like the Artisphere, other arts and cultural projects, fancy swimming pools, and dog parks need to take a back seat to education, public safety, assistance to the needy.” -Willy
  • “Focus on the core and spend in other [areas] only as funds permit. But equally as important, spend wisely on everything.” -John Fontain
  • “It’s stuff that you would think is almost too self-evident to need mentioning. But when you see the cuts proposed, you have to wonder. Sure, there is some room for debate about what is core, and the published example from California is just one example.” -Flux

Of course, there are refinements, adjustments and other details that Arlington needs to address in order to adopt a core services approach to its budget.

For example:

  • Core services such as police, fire, and schools should not be immune from cuts. As “John Fontain” says, Arlington should “spend wisely on everything”. But, programs and services in core areas such as these should be given greater protection from cuts than programs in more peripheral areas.
  • Contrary to the views of another commenter last week, I certainly do not believe that Arlington should stop funding parks or libraries. These are critical functions of our local government and justify very substantial continuing investment.

Where Arlington has missed the mark is by spending, or proposing to spend, extravagant amounts of money in areas relating to, for example, public recreation. Don’t get me wrong. I believe it is important for Arlington to provide facilities like swimming pools and dog parks. But, I also believe it is extravagant to construct an $82 million Aquatics Center or a $1.7 million dog park.

In the end, Arlington needs to adopt a core services approach to budgeting because such an approach will provide a publicly articulated and understood set of values by which budget proposals can be measured.

A core services approach to budgeting should only be adopted by the County Board after an appropriate process of community engagement.

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

by ARLnow.com — March 11, 2013 at 9:45 am 1,928 145 Comments

A plane on approach to Reagan National Airport, seen from Gravelly Point

Vote Expected on Homeless Shelter — The Arlington County Board is expected to vote this weekend on a use permit for the planned year-round homeless shelter at 2020 14th Street N. in Courthouse. A group of neighbors has vehemently opposed the shelter, which is located two blocks from the existing emergency winter shelter. [Sun Gazette]

Opposition to Environmental Cuts — One local environmental advocate is sounding the alarm about proposed cuts in the County Manager’s proposed budget. The budget would cut a Natural Resources Specialist at the Long Branch Nature Center, would eliminate an “urban forestry” position,” and would shrink the budget for tree plantings, tree supplies and invasive species control. [Arlington Mercury]

Proposed 2013-14 School Calendar – The 2013-14 school year for Arlington Public Schools would begin on Tuesday, Sept. 3 under a proposed calendar that administrators presented to the School Board. [Arlington Public Schools]

Volunteers Pack 60,000+ Meals — A group of volunteers packed more than 60,000 meals for the hungry on Saturday. The meals — a lentil casserole consisting of “lentils, dehydrated vegetables, rice, vitamins and Himalayan sea salt” — were packed in baggies that will be distributed through the Arlington Food Assistance Center and the Capital Area Food Bank. [Sun Gazette]

by ARLnow.com — March 8, 2013 at 11:05 am 2,128 115 Comments

arlington-va-logoIn her proposed FY 2014 budget, which calls for a 3.2 cent tax hike and 9.2 million in spending cuts, County Manager Barbara Donnellan also identified — for discussion purposes — ways the county could cut enough spending to negate the need for tax hikes.

The county would need to cut an additional $13 million to balance the budget without the property tax increase. Among Donnellan’s theoretical options for cuts are: reducing library hours, closing Artisphere, delaying major capital projects, eliminating employee pay raises and cutting maintenance funds.

From the manager’s budget:

  • Changing operating hours of facilities and / or evaluate repurposing or closure of facilities
    • Reducing library hours to 2011 levels – $0.5 million
    • Closing the Artisphere would result in $0.9 million in ongoing savings in FY 2014 (assuming one-time closure costs are covered with other funds)
  • Delay opening of new facilities which could result in operating cost and possibly debt service savings
  • Evaluate employee compensation, including both pay and benefit levels
    • Eliminate merit step increase for FY 2014 – $3.4 million
    • Shift health care increase to employees and retirees – $1.8 million
  • Evaluate service levels in each operating department for possible reduction or elimination
    • A 1% across the board reduction in County departments would yield $4 – $4.5 million
    • Reduce maintenance capital — a 10% reduction would equal over $1 million
  • Redirection of dedicated revenue streams, e.g., reduce allocation to Crystal City Tax Increment Financing Area from 33 to 20% would yield $0.9 million; redirect dedicated bike-pedestrian fee to any General Fund use – $1.2 million

On top of the county’s $13 million in cuts, in a no-tax-hike scenario, Arlington Public Schools would need to find an additional $6.8 million to cut from its budget.

Even if tax rates remained the same, however, local homeowners would still pay higher taxes this year. The average single family home property tax bill would increase $52, thanks to an increase in property assessments. Under Donnellan’s budget, the average homeowner will pay an additional $262.

If the county were to decide to do away with all of Donnellan’s proposed cuts — including cuts to public safety, human services and other departments — Arlington would have to raise the real estate tax rate 5.7 cents to $1.028 per $100 in assessed value. That would result in a $351 increase in the average real estate tax bill.

Such a tax hike is not legally possible in FY 2014. Last month the Arlington County Board voted to advertise a $1.021 tax rate, meaning the Board cannot ultimately set the rate higher than that.

The Board will adopt its final budget on April 20. Public budget hearings are scheduled for March 26 and 28. The Board’s next budget work session is set for March 12, and will address the police, fire, sheriff and emergency management budgets.

by Peter Rousselot — March 5, 2013 at 1:45 pm 892 63 Comments

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column published on Tuesdays. 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

In last week’s column, I explained why a new normal has arrived for Arlington’s budget. I concluded that business as usual in setting budget priorities must change. In response, one commenter named “Courthouse Diva” said “[I] love the idea of defining core services — everything does not need to be core.”

Courthouse Diva nailed it.

Arlington needs to develop standards to define core services, and then use those standards to decide which services and programs are core services and those that are at the edge or outside of that core.

How does Arlington handle this now?

For the FY 14 budget now under review, the County Board essentially told the County Manager, “If you think there’s going to be a $50 million shortfall, design a budget that eliminates that shortfall by relying half on spending cuts and half on tax increases.” The manager was then left to recommend a combination of spending cuts and tax increases, using that very general guidance.

How would a core services approach be different?

Under a core services approach, programs and services at the center of the core would have much greater protection from any cuts. The farther out you move from the core, there would be less and less protection. The size of a cut as a percentage of the total expenditures in its category would be greater the farther out from the core.

(more…)

by ARLnow.com — March 1, 2013 at 10:00 am 90 Comments

Police investigate a bank robbery at the Bank of America at 3600 S. Glebe RoadProposed county budget cuts would mean fewer police officers available for neighborhood meetings and events and a reduction in “quality of life” community policing.

As we previously reported, Arlington County Manager Barbara Donnellan’s proposed FY 2014 includes the elimination of seven police officer positions by attrition. A new police memo details the potential impacts of those cuts.

“Until now, the Police Department has been able to make reductions without significantly affecting important programs,” says the memo. “That is no longer possible.”

The memo, which was written by three ACPD captains and sent to community groups, is below.

I wanted to share with you the latest news on the County’s Fiscal Year 2014 Budget, and how it will affect policing in Arlington.

As you may know, County Manager Barbara Donnellan recently presented her Proposed Budget to the County Board.  She explained that Arlington faces a $22 million budget gap, and proposed closing that gap with a mix of service cuts and a tax rate increase. All County departments have been asked to make cuts.

When asked to identify potential areas for reduction, the police department examined many potential options for reductions including:

  • Responding to calls for police service
  • Enforcement
  • Follow-up investigations

After evaluating potential options, the decision has been made to propose reductions in staffing levels to the current District Policing Teams.  I can assure you that we remain committed to working with the community to ensure that Arlington remains a great place to live, work and visit, but these staff reductions will impact the manner in which the teams currently do business.  We truly value our partnerships with the Arlington Community and will work diligently to continue these strong relationships.  Here are some details about the proposed reductions and how they will change the way we do community policing.

District Policing Team reductions

Twenty officers are currently assigned to the three District Policing Teams. The proposed reduction would ultimately trim that number to 13 sworn staff members. In addition, we will re-assign one captain position currently assigned to the District Teams to form an Operational Support Unit. The Operational Support Unit will be responsible for most of the ancillary duties currently assigned to the district captains and patrol commanders, allowing them to focus on core functions.  We will reorganize our District Policing in two phases.

Phase I

Should the Board accept the reductions as proposed, we will reorganize from three to two Community Policing Teams. These teams will still be geographically assigned.  The exact geographic boundaries have yet to be determined, but our initial plan is to use Route 50 as a dividing line. Any civic associations which exist on both sides of Arlington Boulevard would be assigned to one team, for consistency. In this phase, each team will have one captain, one sergeant, one corporal and three officers.

Phase II

Through attrition, the two teams will eventually be further consolidated to one large team. This single team will include one captain, two sergeants, two corporals and eight officers.  We anticipate that this phase will occur sometime in the next 18 months.

The positions eliminated from the current District Team configuration will be re-assigned to core function areas within the Department.

We realize that some in the community may be concerned about these proposed changes. As you know, communities across the nation have faced years of constrained budgets, the result of the financial crisis, subsequent recession and slow economic recovery. We in Arlington remain very fortunate – we have been able to preserve our core services. Until now, the Police Department has been able to make reductions without significantly affecting important programs. That is no longer possible.

We remain committed to continuing our community partnerships and community policing efforts.  While the staff reductions will certainly limit our ability to continue to provide community policing services at current levels, I can assure you that we will do our best to provide the community with the highest level of service possible.  Our initial assessment of areas where the community may realize a reduction in service from the community policing teams could include the following:

  • Fewer community, civic, business, security meetings/workgroups attended
  • Less participation in general and safety presentations
  • Less opportunity to participate in community events such as picnics, parades, etc.
  • Fewer staff to focus on quality of life issues in a specific community

We will work collaboratively to facilitate a smooth transition into this new structure, should it be adopted.  At this point, no decisions have been made regarding staff assignments, but should the County Board adopt the proposed reductions we will make assignments quickly and ensure that you are kept informed.

Hat tip to John Antonelli

by Mark Kelly — February 28, 2013 at 12:00 pm 2,120 62 Comments

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column by 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.

Mark KellyIt’s a big week in Virginia.

The federal government will see the sequester implemented on Friday, reminding us that despite substantial tax hikes to start this year, we are still far short of balancing our budget.

Our elected officials in Richmond, who for years on a bi-partisan basis raided revenues collected for transportation, have given us a big tax increase to pay for new transportation priorities.

We found out that the Arlington County Manager’s budget will include cuts to public safety — clearly one of the non-negotiable responsibilities of a local government.

We learned that some members of our County Board wanted to nearly double the County Manager’s recommended 3.2 cent real estate tax increase. A 6 cent rate increase would have been advertised if Chris Zimmerman had not been sick with the flu.

In short, as taxpayers, there is a lot to be outraged about these days. But are Arlingtonians outraged?

Here in Arlington, we have seen our tax bills more than double over the past decade or so. Yet, we are informed we cannot afford to pay the same number of public safety officials we paid last year.

We have the money for a swimming pool, but not firemen. We have the money for the artisphere, but not police officers. We have the money to fund about 3,700 county employees — one for every 60 or so Arlingtonians — but we are putting our safety at risk.

The County Manager, who does not live in Arlington, put this budget together and got a $10,000 raise in return. But are we outraged?

A friend of mine emailed me this week and informed me that Arlingtonians were simply willing to continually pay more in taxes for additional services. Based on my experiences attending the annual budget and tax rate hearing, history indicates that my friend is right. Everyone who wants higher taxes and more spending shows up and asks for it. Our Board is only too happy to oblige and identify new ways to spend our money.

But why are Arlingtonians resigned to pay for more but actually get less? In addition to public safety cuts, we continue to pay more in taxes, but don’t meet our ongoing maintenance needs. I am looking forward to the March 27th hearing when we can ask why the Board is willing to finance a trolley but not maintain our emergency services.

Arlingtonians deserve to know why we have to spend more of our tax dollars on vanity projects when we cannot provide the basics.

I hope Arlingtonians will ask the County Board these questions during the budget process this spring and show some outrage rather than another round of resignation.

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

by Peter Rousselot — February 26, 2013 at 2:20 pm 1,155 24 Comments

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

Peter RousselotEven Arlington can’t have it all.

How Arlington decides what it can afford says a lot about the realism of our leaders. Are they making the hard choices, or just struggling to preserve the illusion that some choices are unnecessary?

I’ve been thinking about this since I received a political fundraising letter earlier this month saying the following:

“Our goal should be to balance the short-term budget adjustments with the long-term needs of our community. We should ensure that our schools remain among the very best, that we maintain a strong social safety net, and that we continue to provide affordable housing options. We must also continue to make needed capital investments in transportation and infrastructure that will improve the quality of life and protect the future vitality of the community.”

It’s hard to argue that we shouldn’t:

  • balance short-term budget adjustments with long-term needs, or
  • ensure that our schools remain among the very best, or
  • maintain a strong social safety net, or
  • continue to provide affordable housing options, or
  • make needed capital investments in transportation and infrastructure

But, we need to move far, far beyond the framing of this particular fundraising letter and ask ourselves questions like these:

  • What’s a short-term budget adjustment and what’s the new normal?
  • In the new normal, what projects and services should be cancelled?
  • What’s a needed capital investment and by what criteria should need be measured?
  • What must be done to ensure that our schools remain among the very best?
  • When the only way to ensure that our schools remain among the very best is to do without other county services or capital investments, will our leaders step up and say so?

We must define or redefine what our core services are because those are the services that ought to be guaranteed funding. Some of the other services and projects must be placed in a “so sorry, no can do” category. We must take these steps because the likely rate of growth in the value of Arlington’s commercial real estate tax base will be flat or very low for many years compared to the past. This is the new normal.

As the budget season unfolds, I will use this framework to define which specific Arlington services and projects (or categories of services and projects) should be retained, and which should be set aside to adjust to the new normal.

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

by ARLnow.com — February 16, 2013 at 2:20 pm 2,756 82 Comments

County Manager Barbara Donnellan discusses her proposed budget in 2011County Manager Barbara Donnellan has announced job cuts within Arlington County government.

The cuts are being made to help plug a $25-50 million budget gap for the upcoming fiscal year. Donnellan will outline her proposed FY 2014 budget to members of the media on Wednesday afternoon. The budget is expected to include a mix of cuts and tax hikes.

On Friday, in a memo to county employees (below) obtained by ARLnow.com, Donnellan announced that the county is cutting 46 staff positions, including 20 that are currently filled. She also said that the county has instituted a hiring slowdown and that 20 employees have taken an early retirement package.

The county is working to place the 20 employees whose positions were cut in other open positions within county government, Donnellan said.

To: All County Employees
Re: Balancing the FY 2014 Budget
Date: February 15, 2013

I’m sure you are aware that we are grappling with a $25 million gap for the Fiscal Year (FY) 2014 budget.

As a County we have taken many steps to help close that gap, and I am proud of the way departments have embraced this challenge. To close the gap, we will need to use a combination of tax rate increases and spending cuts.

As a part of the spending cuts, we instituted a hiring slow down a few months ago, which limits the pace at which departments may fill openings. Another piece of the strategy was to offer an Early Retirement Window for eligible employees, and 20 employees participated in that program.

After much thoughtful discussion, we have made the difficult decision to cut 46 County staff positions. Unfortunately, of these, 20 are currently filled, and we are working to move these employees into other open positions. The department directors and I do not take this decision lightly; these are among the toughest decisions that we have to make. We are making every attempt to place those employees into other positions within the County. If we are, for some reason, unable to match an employee with an open position, the employee will receive a severance package.

These are difficult fiscal times. We are aware that over the last few years, we have asked you to do more with less – taking up more work when a colleague retires and isn’t replaced; addressing new and increasing service demands due to our growing population; performing administrative work in addition to normal job duties.

We are successful only because of the strength of our staff, and I am grateful for your continued dedication and service to our community.

Sincerely,

Barbara M. Donnellan

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