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County Board Backpedals on Cutting Staff Raises

by Ethan Rothstein | April 18, 2014 at 3:35 pm | 1,239 views | No Comments

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…)

County Tax Rate to Drop By a Penny

by ARLnow.com | April 17, 2014 at 9:50 am | 2,467 views | No Comments

County Board members Jay Fisette and Walter Tejada at a budget presentation on Feb. 20, 2013(Updated at 10:10 a.m.) Arlington’s property tax rate will drop by a one cent in the next fiscal year.

The County Board last night directed the County Manager to reduce the tax rate in its Fiscal Year 2015 budget from $1.006 per every $100 in assessed value to $0.996.

That penny corresponds to about $6.6 million in reduced revenue for the county. However, the tax and fee burden on the average Arlington taxpayer will still rise about 4.6 percent, thanks to an increase in property assessments and increases in solid waste and water-sewer fees.

The county plans to use the additional tax revenue on a variety of projects, but much of it will go to Arlington Public Schools and to a “modest” 1 percent cost-of-living adjustment and $500 bonus for county employees.

“The Board’s action provides $432.2 million to the Schools, an increase in base funding of $19.6 million, or 4.7% more than FY 2014, the county said in a press release. “With this budget, Arlington’s support of our students now exceeds $19,000 per pupil — more than any other school district in the region.”

The Board also funded three new School Resource Officers and $8 million for school construction. Other non-school projects the Board committed to funding yesterday include $200,000 in tourism marketing, $1.6 million for the county’s high-speed fiber optic network for businesses, $52,000 for a new sexual assault hotline, $72,606 for a mental health coordinator, $700,000 for costs associated with the opening of the new year-round homeless shelter early next year, and $300,000 for plowing snow from bike trails.

“The Board had to make some tough decisions,” County Board Chair Jay Fisette said in a statement. “In order to give some break to homeowners who have seen their assessments rise, we limited the growth of the County budget, launched no new major initiatives and focused on funding schools and maintaining our core services and existing infrastructure.”

The $200,00 for tourism came at the request of the county’s hotel businesses, which were doubly hurt by a quarter-cent drop in the Transient Occupancy Tax and the lack of business in the fall during the government shutdown.

“I’ve got to thank you for this,” County Manager Barbara Donnellan told the Board. “With the vacancies in the fall, I met with people in the hospitality industry and they were telling me, ‘It’s terrible, we’re going to have to lay people off.’”

At the end of the meeting, new Board member John Vihstadt made a motion to halt all funding that would directly or indirectly go to funding the planned streetcar network along Columbia Pike and in Crystal City for 2014 and 2015. The measure failed 2-3, with Vihstadt joined by Libby Garvey in voting for the motion.

The County Board will officially vote on the budget on Tuesday. The county’s press release on the budget decisions, after the jump.

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Residents, Nonprofits Line Up to Request Taxpayer Funds

by Ethan Rothstein | March 26, 2014 at 1:00 pm | 1,256 views | No Comments

County Board budget hearingThe Arlington County Board held its annual public budget hearing Tuesday night, and there was no shortage of requests for more spending.

During the hearing members of the community typically lobby the Board to direct budget funds to particular areas of need or to specific nonprofit organizations. Only a couple asked the Board to cut spending.

Forty-five speakers came to the podium Tuesday night, and even more packed the County Board meeting room in support of their causes.

Members of the Arlington General Employees Association (AGENA) represented a significant chunk of the audience, with speakers rallying against pay raises that they feel unfairly favor management over the labor force.

“A team works together to provide great service. Each member brings something unique which makes the team work well,” said Jewyll Davis, speaking on behalf of AGENA. Davis cited County Manager Barbara Donnellan’s budget that calls for an avergae general management pay-for-performance raise of 3.2 percent, but an average increase of 2.3 percent for general employees. “Good team members should not receive a raise less than their managers’.”

Dozens of speakers requested additional — or continued — funding for nonprofits like Arlington Free Clinic; Bu-Gata, a tenant advocacy group; and the new nonprofit Arlington Neighborhood Villages, which supports those aging in place in Arlington.

There were at least five speakers who mentioned a need for an increased contribution to mental health services, from $75,000 for peer counselors to support for replacing state and federal funding that is set to run out.

“The preservation of critical safety net services to protect our most vulnerable residents should take highest priority,” Jim Mack, chair of the county’s Community Services Board, said.

The biggest contingent of speakers were those requesting additional County Board investment in affordable housing. Six speakers presented direct cases for more affordable housing funding, while others speaking for related causes, like family services and tenant’s rights, expressed support during their comments for more affordable housing money.

“I’m here to ask that [the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing] and other organizations like APAH will be able to have a budget to be able to fund affordable housing in Arlington for many years to come,” one speaker said. “I know that that the request is for $5 million more in the budget, but it’s worth it.”

Donnellan’s proposed budget calls for a general fund of $1.1 billion, which includes no tax rate increase but an average yearly cost increase of $381 per family due to a rise in real estate assessments and other fees. Only three speakers at the meeting spoke out against spending more.

“Needs not wants must drive county government and the county board. But that’s not what’s occurring in Arlington County,” said Jim Hurysz, a frequent County Board critic. He said he’s attended several budget work sessions so far, and “no one, with the exception of [Board member Libby] Garvey, expressed any concern for Arlington’s taxpayers, and I haven’t heard any concern expressed here tonight.”

The County Board will be holding another public hearing tomorrow night at 7:00 p.m. to address the tax rate, which Donnellan has proposed holding steady at $1.006 per $100 in assessed value tax rate.

County Taxes: Real Estate Up, Hotels and Sales Down

by ARLnow.com | March 13, 2014 at 10:45 am | 1,268 views | No Comments

Personal property tax envelopeArlington 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.

Letter to the Editor: The Real Case for APS Funding

by ARLnow.com | March 1, 2014 at 3:00 pm | 1,452 views | No Comments

The following letter to the editor was submitted by former School Board member Ed Fendley.

Peter Rousselot is right to argue for increased school funding, but wrong to claim that there is a systematic bias against local funding for Arlington Public Schools.

What matters for students and teachers is the actual amount of funds provided each year.

By this measure, support for our schools has deservedly and substantially grown in recent years. By any recognized standard, APS is one of the best-funded systems in the nation.

School-budget funding is poised to rise again if the County Board approves the County Manager’s proposed 4.7% funding boost for APS or, hopefully, an even greater amount.

But instead of considering actual funding and actual needs, Rousselot focuses on the irrelevant statistic that school operations as a percent of the overall county budget is lower than in some previous years.

By this flawed metric, the U.S. military is also grossly underfunded. Military outlays as a percent of the federal budget are smaller today. than in the 1950′s or 60′s — never mind that actual defense spending has sharply increased in real dollars,

It is in the interest of Arlington Public Schools to focus on the actual amount of funding received from the county, not the percent this represents of the county budget. This is especially the case because in years when county revenue is static or declining (yes, it does happen in Arlington) our schools would otherwise be at risk of underfunding.

In the midst of rising enrollment and increasing educational needs, the Arlington schools budget is a legitimate area of discussion. But this should be done on the basis of real numbers, not the irrelevant figures that Rousselot presents.

Ed Fendley served on the Arlington County School Board from 2006-2010 and is a founder of the Arlington Egg Project.

To submit a letter to the editor, please email it to arlingtonnews@gmail.com. Letters to the editor may be edited for content and brevity.

APS Budget Funds Enrollment Increase, New Initiatives

by ARLnow.com | February 27, 2014 at 6:55 pm | 3,103 views | No Comments

APS superintendent Dr. Patrick Murphy gives his FY 2015 budget briefing(Updated at 9:00 p.m.) The proposed FY 2015 Arlington Public Schools budget funds an increase in enrollment without increasing class sizes, but includes cuts to alternative high school programs.

The $539.4 million budget — a 3.1 percent year-over-year increase — also provides a cost-of-living salary increase for APS teachers, launches a new early literacy initiative and funds an APS-provided take-home iPad for every 2nd grader and a Google Chromebook for every 6th grader.

APS Superintendent Patrick Murphy presented his proposed budget to the Arlington School Board Thursday night. It’s the beginning of a process that will culminate with the School Board’s final budget adoption on May 8.

Murphy’s budget includes $7.3 million in cuts and “efficiencies.” APS expects to save $1.6 million by merging the Langston High School continuation program into Arlington Mill High School (located at the Arlington Career Center) and by reducing day classes offered to students over the age of 22.

“I understand the commitment of the community to provide this option for adults,” Murphy said. “But in these challenging budget times… one of my concerns remain core services for children who are school-aged and on the K-12 continuum.”

Murphy also proposes saving $800,000 via cuts to special education assistants and $1.1 million by eliminating library assistants from elementary schools. Another $200,000 will be saved by reducing non-mandated elementary school field trips.

Because the school system is growing, Murphy says APS employees impacted by the cuts will be transferred to other roles instead of being laid off.

A chart showing APS class sizes, illustrating increased enrollment at lower grade levelsAPS expects school enrollment to increase by about 800 students in the coming school year, from 23,316 to 24,153. That will cost APS $9.8 million for the hiring of teachers, acquisition of textbooks and materials, and for relocatable classrooms, furniture and technology. Another $300,000 will go to hiring four additional bus drivers and a route coordinator. Murphy’s budget keeps class sizes the same, but the cost per pupil will increase, from $18,678 to $19,244.

The proposed budget includes the beginning of a number of significant initiatives.

Starting in the fall, every 2nd grader will be issued an Apple iPad and every 6th grader will be issued a Google Chromebook. All 2,150 iPads and 1,650 Chromebooks will be internet-accessible at school (via WiFi) and students will be able to take them home. Officials say the computers will be leased and the cost in FY 2015 will be $200,000. Dubbed the 1:1 Initiative, APS expects to gradually expand the program to every grade level, with 3rd and 7th grades next in line.

Fiscal Year 2015 will be the first year of a three-year goal to eliminate early release days and to spread foreign language programs (FLES) to all elementary schools. Two of the seven schools with early release days will have the early release eliminated under Murphy’s budget, thus providing additional instruction time for FLES. It’s yet to be determined which two schools will be chosen.

A third major initiative in Murphy’s budget is early literacy. Murphy hopes to boost reading levels for those in two grade categories — PreK-2 and 3-6 — via investments in technology, summer reading programs and professional development for teachers.

“I feel a real responsibility that we need to build in that area,” Murphy said of the literacy initiative.

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Peter’s Take: Board Continues Shortchanging Our Schools

by Peter Rousselot | February 27, 2014 at 1:45 pm | 1,658 views | No Comments

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

Peter RousselotThe proposed FY 2015 Arlington County Budget continues the Arlington County Board’s pattern of providing too small a share of our tax dollars to Arlington Public Schools (APS).

Background

While school enrollment is projected to continue to surge, and while educational challenges are continuing to rise, APS’ share of the tax revenue we provide to the County was shrinking even prior to the latest County-proposed budget:

“The share of revenue that APS has received from the County has declined in recent years, from 46.1 percent in FY 2011 and FY 2012 to 45.6 percent in FY 2014,” School Board Chair Abby Raphael wrote in an open letter to County Board Chair Jay Fisette.

The FY 2015 Budget

Despite repeated pleas last fall from parents to the County Board to rectify this inequity — pleas that were rudely and inappropriately criticized by some County Board members — the latest proposed County budget fails to rectify the inequity. It still proposes the 45.6 percent shrunken share.

On Feb. 21, the School Board once again requested that the share be restored to 46.1 percent.  If granted, this increase would produce an additional $4.8 million in revenue in FY2015.

Why is the County Board continuing to shortchange our public schools?

Why have we gotten to the point where the School Board feels compelled to write a public letter to the County Board asking the County Board to restore APS’ historic share of the tax dollars we pay? Why do some members of the County Board tell members of the taxpaying public (who fund our government 24/7/365) that there are only certain months each year when the public can ask the County Board for more resources for our schools?

If anything, the School Board was too deferential when its Chair noted in her letter that “the School Board understands that the County Board has many priorities to balance in meeting the needs of our residents.” The persistent problem the School Board faces is that the County Board has the wrong priorities.

The County Board’s priorities are wrong because the County Board is:

  • committing our money to vanity projects like an unnecessary $310+ million Columbia Pike streetcar, a gold-plated $80+ million Aquatics Center, and an extravagant $1.7 million Clarendon dog park;
  • pouring our money into tax increment financing schemes (TIF). Under TIF, increased revenues amounting to millions of dollars are no longer available to fund any other services such as schools;
  • failing to give first priority to using our money to fund core services like schools.

In these times of surging enrollment and new instructional challenges, APS deserves an even higher share of our money than the School Board seeks in its Feb. 21 letter. 

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.

Board Advertises No Change to Real Estate Tax Rate

by ARLnow.com | February 24, 2014 at 5:00 pm | 1,006 views | No Comments

arlington-va-logoThe Arlington County Board on Saturday voted to advertise no increase to the county’s real estate tax rate.

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.

Additional information on the budget and the budget process can be found in our previous article and on the county website.

County Manager’s Budget Includes No Tax Rate Increase

by ARLnow.com | February 21, 2014 at 11:50 am | 1,660 views | No Comments

County Manager Barbara Donnellan presents her FY 2014 budget on Feb. 20, 2013Arlington 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 Property Values Up 5.8 Percent

by ARLnow.com | January 22, 2014 at 1:00 pm | 1,988 views | No Comments

Arlington County real estate assessmentProperty values in Arlington rose significantly over the past year despite high office vacancy rates.

Arlington County said today that its overall 2014 real estate assessments rose 5.8 percent. The growth was “fueled primarily by strength in the residential market, as well as new construction of commercial properties,” the county said.

The assessments for residential properties — single-family homes, condos and townhouses — rose 5.3 percent, to an average of $552,700.

Commercial real estate assessments were the biggest surprise, rising 5.4 percent over Calendar Year 2013. County staff projected in November that commercial assessments would be flat.

In addition to new construction, the county said that apartment and retail properties helped lead the growth in the commercial sector. Apartment assessments rose 4.8 percent while general commercial properties (retail) increased more than 10 percent. Office property values “rose slightly.”

Last year, residential property assessments increased 1 percent while commercial property assessments declined by 0.5 percent.

With real estate assessments up 5.8 percent this year, over the 2.6 percent projection, the county should get some welcome wiggle room for its upcoming Fiscal Year 2015 budget. This fall county staff projected a $20-25 million budget gap. The county says it still expects to face a budget gap, but didn’t list any specific projections.

“We are grateful that Arlington continues to show resilience and stability, despite ongoing tensions in the larger economy,” said Arlington County Manager Barbara Donnellan, in a press release. “I am pleased the budget gap is narrowed, but we still face expenditure pressures for both County and Schools.”

The County Board instructed Donnellan to come up with a budget that does not raise tax rates. The higher assessments, however, will serve as a defacto tax hike if rates remain the same — $1.006 per $100 of assessed value.

The county press release says rising school enrollment in particular is putting pressure on county finances.

Arlington also faces a number of expenditure pressures, especially to support aging County infrastructure and Arlington’s population growth. For Fiscal Year (FY) 2015, the pressures include health care, retirement costs, new facilities and contractual cost increases, including Metro. Meanwhile, the County continues to invest in current and new infrastructure to maintain the high quality of services that are important to the long-term sustainability of the County.

Arlington’s largest expense is Arlington Public Schools, which represents approximately 45.6% of local tax revenue, and an investment of more than $18,000 per student. Continued year-over-year growth in school enrollment has put pressure on School facilities and educational costs.

As revenue is again expected to be less than projected expenditures, both the County and Schools will need to determine their priorities within these fiscal constraints. The County Manager and School Superintendent will present their proposed budgets to the County Board and School Board in late February. The County Board will set the real estate tax rate in April.

The real estate assessments were mailed today to property owners and are expected to be available online at 11:00 p.m.

Morning Notes

by ARLnow.com | January 21, 2014 at 8:55 am | 1,470 views | No Comments

Sunset over Metro 29 Diner on Lee Highway (Flickr pool photo by Wolfkann)

County Gets $500k for Beaver Pond Project — Arlington County has received a $500,000 state grant for a project to improve the Ballston beaver pond. “The $2.7 million improvement project, paid for mostly from stormwater funds, includes changing the flow pattern to keep water in the pond longer, allowing wetland plants to remove nutrients and other pollutants before it flows out,” the county said in a press release. “Construction is expected to begin in the summer 2014.” [Arlington County]

Fisette’s Disclosure Doesn’t Include Husband — County Board Chairman Jay Fisette’s annual financial disclosure did not include the finances of his husband. Fisette was married in D.C. this past September, but Fisette says he’s not required to include his spouse in the disclosure since their marriage is not recognized under Virginia law. [Washington Post]

Howze Tops Fundraising Battle — Democratic County Board hopeful Alan Howze has raised the most money of any County Board candidate, with $16,245. Fellow Democrat Cord Thomas appears to be completely self-funding his campaign, while independent candidate John Vihstadt’s donors include a number of local Republicans. [Blue Virginia]

Congressional Primary Date Set — A date has been set for the crowded Democratic primary in the race to succeed the retiring Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.). The primary will be held on June 10. [Twitter]

APS Budget Forum Dates Set — Arlington Public Schools will hold three community forums on the upcoming FY 2015 budget. The forums will be held on Jan. 22, Jan. 29 and Feb. 3. [Arlington Public Schools]

Flickr pool photo by Wolfkann

Kaine Praises Budget Deal, but Disappointed With Cuts

by Katie Pyzyk | December 11, 2013 at 3:45 pm | No Comments

Sen. Tim Kaine (D) (courtesy photo)U.S. Senator Tim Kaine (D) has offered a statement regarding Tuesday night’s bi-partisan budget compromise that averted another government shutdown.

Kaine largely praised the $85 billion agreement that funds government agencies through 2015. He did, however, express disappointment in certain cuts, such as cost-of-living adjustments for military retirees and for federal employee benefits.

Here is Kaine’s full statement:

“Ever since I took office last January, I made it a mission to do everything I could to replace the across-the-board sequester cuts that have so severely hurt Virginia and return to normal budgetary order. I even delivered my maiden floor speech last February on the urgent need to find compromise and avert sequestration. Tonight, I’m pleased that after passing a Senate budget for the first time in four years and going to conference with the House, a deal has been reached.

I’m disappointed that reductions in the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for military retirees and cuts to federal employee benefits were included. But the deal goes a long way toward alleviating the most harmful effects of sequestration next year – cuts that have disproportionately impacted federal employees and the defense community – and restoring basic economic certainty to businesses and families across the Commonwealth. It also ensures we won’t suffer another damaging government shutdown next month that would have resulted in more negative consequences for federal employees.

The two-year, bipartisan agreement will relieve $63 billion of sequester cuts for 2014 and 2015. It will also avert additional defense cuts – including $20 billion in cuts that were set to take effect in January 2014 – and replace non-defense cuts over the next two years. We’ve also given appropriators the certainty they need to write full appropriations bills – a significant step toward ending the dangerous pattern of stopgap, governing-by-crisis measures that have plagued the budgeting process in recent years.

While I’m still examining the details of the deal, I am pleased a spirit of compromise and cooperation prevailed.”

Update at 5:10 p.m. — Rep. Jim Moran (D) has also issued a statement on the budget agreement, saying it’s flawed but he will ultimately support it. The full statement, after the jump.

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Increased Efficiency Earns County Rare Kudos from Taxpayers Association

by ARLnow.com | December 10, 2013 at 11:45 am | 492 views | No Comments

County Manager Barbara Donnellan discusses her proposed budget in 2011The Arlington County Taxpayers Association doesn’t usually have nice things to say about the county’s spending habits. But on at least one metric the group has some plaudits to share.

The county’s Department of Management and Finance recently released its Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for Fiscal Year 2013, which ended June 30, 2013. In broad terms it looks like county spending is continuing its inexorable rise: “Total expenditures increased from $745.8 million in FY 2004 to $1,122 million in FY 2013, 50.5%, an annual average of 5.1%,” ACTA reported.

Also on the rise: the county’s indebtedness, which now stands at $4,082 per capital for general bonded debt, a 62 percent increase from FY 2004.

But operational efficiency — as determined by looking at the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) county and school employees per 1,000 residents or students — is improving at the same time. For county government, there were 18.68 FTE per 1,000 residents in FY 2004 and only 17.05 FTE per 1,000 residents in FY 2013. Arlington Public Schools were a similar story, with 186.02 FTEs per 1,000 students in 2004, and 177.79 FTEs per 1,000 students in 2013.

The increased efficiency is made possible by increases in the county population and the student body, but ACTA credits County Manager Barbara Donnellan and APS Superintendent Dr. Patrick Murphy with running a tight ship, so to speak.

“While there is still too much local government in Arlington County, and too high taxes, the numbers above show some numbers such as the efficiency ones are moving in the right direction,” ACTA wrote in a blog post. “Kudos to the Manager and staff for keeping the FY 2012 to FY 2013 increase in total expenditures to less than the inflation rate. Also to the Manager, especially, and the Superintendent for increasing operational efficiency.”

Donnellan and Murphy will present their proposed FY 2015 budgets in the first quarter of 2014.

Morning Poll: Long Bridge Park Aquatics Center

by ARLnow.com | December 6, 2013 at 9:45 am | 1,793 views | No Comments

Renderings of the future Long Bridge Park Aquatics, Health & Fitness FacilityLast year, voters approved a bond to help build the new Long Bridge Park Aquatics and Fitness Center by a vote of 61 to 39 percent.

Now, however, the ongoing costs of the center are projected to be even higher than anticipated.

“What had been an expected annual operating deficit of $1 million to $1.3 million has now ballooned to more than $4 million, according to projections included in County Manager Barbara Donnellan’s updated budget forecast,” the Sun Gazette reported on Monday.

This news comes at a time when the county is facing a potential $24 million budget gap. Local fiscal watchdog Wayne Kubicki, who previously declared that the aquatics center could turn out to be “Artisphere on steroids,” said that the county would be better served to use its funds for other priorities.

Still, the aquatics center has its supporters, like the group Friends of Long Bridge Park, which has said it’s needed because “the large demand for aquatic activities can’t be met by… high school pools, which have limited public hours and space, and were designed for instruction, not a wide range of community needs.”

The Friends of Long Bridge Park also argue that other aquatics centers can cover most of their operating costs through memberships and rentals. The county itself, meanwhile, cautions that the latest projects are preliminary in nature.

If Donnellan’s projections prove correct, and the aquatics center will not be as self-sustaining as originally believed, do you still think it should be built?
 

Board Closes Out FY 2013 with Budget Surplus

by Katie Pyzyk | November 21, 2013 at 5:00 pm | 1,160 views | No Comments

County Board discusses FY 2013 closeout funds on 11/19/13Along with discussing recommendations for the Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 budget, the County Board closed out the FY 2013 budget at its meeting on Tuesday. As it turns out, the county was left with a $25 million budget surplus.

The surplus is due, in part, to savings by both the county and the school system, in addition to higher than anticipated tax revenues. Many of the funds will be re-appropriated to FY 2014.

County Manager Barbara Donnellan gave a presentation to the Board outlining the carried-over funds and recommendations for re-appropriation, noting that several of the funds have dedicated revenue sources which restrict their use.

“With all of the economic uncertainty, the federal government shutdown, sequestration and BRAC, Arlington continues to be fiscally responsible,” said Donnellan. “I am recommending that we add to certain pots to ensure that we are prepared for an uncertain economic environment.”

She added that the county anticipates keeping its triple-A rating.

Carried-over funds were allocated to reserves, previous commitments, and priority projects. Some of the one-time allocations are detailed below:

  • Additional $5 million to the economic stabilization fund in light of federal sequestration and BRAC impacts.
  • One-time $3.3 million employee compensation contingency, in case employee step/market pay adjustment is not included in the FY 2015 Budget. Another $1.5 million to fund ongoing comparative pay studies.
  • Affordable housing initiatives for FY 2015, including $2.9 million to Affordable Housing Investment Fund and $1.5 million to housing grants.
  • Additional funding of $1.7 million for Artisphere, for both FY2014 and FY2015.
  • Other FY 2015 set-asides, including a $3.0 million unallocated contingent to provide flexibility for the Board and funding various one-time projects primarily in the technology, planning and safety areas.

Donnellan specifically addressed the issue of what to do with Artisphere, which came in over budget for FY 2013. Donnellan had handed down a warning about Artisphere in February but seemed more optimistic on Tuesday.

“This is a facility that came online just as the economic environment was turning. For the arts to be successful, it needs participation from attendees, donors and local or state support. Very few arts facilities like Artisphere can exist without some form of government support,” Donnellan said. “I want the Artisphere to be successful, and I think many others in our community want it to be successful as well.

Donnellan recapped her previous decision to shift half of Artisphere’s funding from ongoing to one-time. She then made a recommendation for the future, highlighting the arts center’s recent increased attendance, better programming and increased revenue from rentals.

“I’m recommending that we use some of the closeout funding to shore up this facility for this fiscal year and next. I told the Board that FY 2014 would be a transition year for Artisphere,” she said. “We’re beginning to see real signs of progress toward our goal of creating an arts and cultural center that will draw thousands of people from our county and across the region into Rosslyn, generating economic and cultural benefits for our entire community.”

Last fall, Donnellan imposed a hiring slowdown to provide expense savings in light of the budget gap faced in FY 2014. The county credits the hiring slowdown with helping departments achieve a higher amount of savings than in previous fiscal years. The slowdown is expected to continue indefinitely in order to achieve savings in FY 2014.

According to the county staff report, three departments did not achieve expenditure savings in FY 2013:

  • County Attorney’s Office (-$485,626): The over expenditure was primarily the result of increased legal costs and expenses including consultants, expert witnesses, filing fees, court reporters, copying costs and outside legal counsel related to law suits and other transactions the County was involved in during FY 2013.
  • Office of the Treasurer (-$146,731): The over expenditure was due to increased printing expenses and full staffing, which did not enable the Office to achieve a budgeted expense that assumed savings from vacant positions.
  • Economic Development (-$83,647): The over-expenditure resulted from personnel costs exceeding budgeted amounts, including temporary help for Artisphere

After Donnellan’s presentation, the Board voted unanimously to approve the recommended re-appropriation of funds carried over from FY 2013.

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