Of that money, $203.3 million has already been allocated for FY 2015 programs, toward county reserves or spent according to county policy.
This includes $46.7 million toward Arlington Public Schools and $62.4 million toward “maintaining the operating and self-insurance reserves” required to keep the county’s current bond rating.
A significant leftover sum is present nearly every year and was accounted for in the FY 2015 budget process. This year, there’s $29.8 million in discretionary funds remaining the county can spend as they see fit.
The County Board approved in a 5-0 vote the county manager’s recommendation to allocate:
- $13 million for “FY 2016 budget issues,” including $6.3 million in capital improvements like ConnectArlington and the continued move of Department of Human Services divisions to the Sequoia Plaza along Arlington Blvd
- $8.2 million to the affordable housing investment fund for FY 2016
- $3.4 million for “employee compensation and management,” including recruiting for the Arlington County Fire Department, staffing the Emergency Communications Center and the fourth year of the county’s pay reclassification program
- $2 million for safety and technology investments, such as field training, software replacement and records retention
- $2.4 million for programs like economic development and for contingency funds
- $1.5 million to housing grants
Among the $13 million is $1.3 million for funding Artisphere. Next month, County Manager Barbara Donnellan will give the County Board a recommendation on the future of the facility, which was expected to be self-sustaining but instead requires millions of dollars in county funding per year.
Donnellan declined to give a preview of her recommendation, but said that even if the county decided to terminate its contract, it would still need to pay $1.1-1.3 million as part of its commitment to the owner of the building that houses Artisphere.
Last year, the county had a $25 million surplus and spent it on many of the same projects: Artisphere, employee compensation and affordable housing. During the County Board’s discussion on Tuesday, no Board member brought up the idea of directing funds elsewhere, including back to taxpayers.
The County Board approved its annual budget guidance to County Manager Barbara Donnellan yesterday, the framework from which Donnellan will work before she presents her proposed budget to the Board in February. As part of the direction, the Board says Arlington Public Schools should again receive 45.9 percent of county revenue, but County Board Chair Jay Fisette said that number will go up.
“The percentage share is going to change,” Fisette said. “It will end up being a percentage increase to the schools, I think. It will end up being inevitable through the process.”
The county is projecting a 3 percent growth in real estate tax revenue, but that will come entirely from a 6-8 percent increase in residential real estate assessments, according to county CFO and Finance Director Michelle Cowan. Commercial real estate assessments are “flat,” Cowan said, which, coupled with the county’s now 21.4 percent office vacancy rate, is putting “increased pressure” on commercial real estate growth.
“We’re sort of back to where we were in mid-90s,” Cowan said about tax revenue. “Back then, where we were growing was in commercial [growth]… now it’s residential.”
According to the county’s projections, expenditures will outpace revenue based on funding levels from the FY 2015 budget. On the county side, there’s projected to be a $4 million to $6 million funding gap; for Arlington Public Schools, that gap is projected at $20 million.
The chair of APS’ Budget Advisory Council, Moira Forbes, asked the county to increase its funding level to the district, if only to cover the cost of the higher-than-anticipated enrollment growth the schools are experiencing this year.
“While the county of course also is experiencing a lot of pressures and desire for public services because of population growth, the costs associated with new students are immediate, significant, and driven partially by state and federal requirements,” Forbes said. “The Budget Advisory Council suggests that the County Board either increase the revenue sharing percentage or provide a fixed amount to offset half of the $14.1 million in costs [APS is expected to incur] associated with the enrollment growth.”
To help trim costs, the Board asked Donnellan to “eliminate duplication and inefficiencies, and explore further collaborations with Arlington Public Schools as well as regional collaborations and partnerships that might lead to cost savings and efficiencies.”
The Board also directed the manager to provide an alternative option in her recommended budget that would include a 1 percent cut of operating expenditures. In the event that tax revenue exceeds the county’s projections, Donnellan is asked to look at either lowering the tax rate or providing more funding for schools, new facilities and affordable housing — or some combination of the two.
County Board member Libby Garvey suggested postponing the budget guidance until next month to allow the public to comment, but her motion ultimately failed by a 4-1 majority.
“One of the things we could improve in how we engage the public is bringing them in more at the beginning level,” Garvey said. “Having people read this through and think it through… I think that’s helpful.”
Donnellan, when asked, said she hasn’t spoken to her department heads about the FY 2016 budget, and postponing the budget process for a month would make it far more difficult to present a full budget by her February deadline. Fisette and Vice Chair Mary Hynes each said the public had ample opportunity comment on the budget and tax rate later in the process.
“I think we have a good idea of what we would hear,” Hynes said. “This is the box, not the stuff in the box. We will hear a lot from the public about what’s in the box.”
This morning, the Arlington Professional Firefighters and Paramedics Association (the IAFF Local 2800) issued a long, detailed statement on the need to staff Tower 104, which serves the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor, and Rescue 109, which serves Pentagon City and Columbia Pike, with four firefighters, as opposed to their current three-person staffs.
“Tower 104 and Rescue 109, with an ever-rising response area population, massive increase in high-rise square footage, terrorism threat, and other changing factors, require adequate staffing to safely and effectively carry out our assignments,” the Local 2800 writes. “The current staffing of three firefighters is woefully and dangerously inadequate.”
Rescue 109 was one of the first responders to the house fire in Nauck on March 15 that claimed two lives, and the firefighter who was injured fighting the blaze was on the three-person truck. He has not yet returned to duty, according to the Local 2800.
Tower 104 is a large fire truck with a ladder and “bucket” that puts firefighters into position, while Rescue 109 is a truck with no ladder that transports firefighters to emergency scenes, but comes equipped with tools for responding to car accidents and building collapses, according to Arlington County Fire Chief James Schwartz. Both trucks are staffed with firefighter/EMTs.
Schwartz said he has been advocating for four-person units for years, but he said budget constraints have prevented Tower 104 and Rescue 109 from joining the rest of the county’s fleet with four-person staffs.
“It’s been a longstanding position of mine and it has been advocated by the department for some time,” Schwartz told ARLnow.com this afternoon. “Obviously, the Board has to make policy decisions. I think they, too, would like to get to four-person staffing in each of the units. Sometimes the budget guidance is limiting in that regard.”
Schwartz said four-person staffing is not as simple as just hiring two more firefighters. Each additional firefighter on a truck is the equivalent of four full-time positions, to account for three eight-hour shifts a day and covering for vacation and sick leave.
“In order to achieve the safe staffing levels that we’re after, it would require us to hire eight new positions,” he said. “That’s not an insignificant budget issue. It’s doable, and I think the Board is supportive of this effort.”
Schwartz said years ago, only about half of Arlington’s fire trucks were manned by four-person crews, but the last time the county added staff to bring fire trucks up to four-person teams was in 2004.
Four-person trucks are not just the ideal position for the union, Schwartz said, but it’s also the national standard as dictated by the National Fire Protection Association and several other advocacy groups. Despite the fact that Tower 104 and Rescue 109 are assigned to some of the county’s most densely populated areas, the decision to leave specifically those two units undermanned was done after careful risk analysis.
“Almost every unit in the department is quite busy and has a level of responsibility that is not greater or lesser than any other unit in the system,” he said. “We have 14 suppression units in service every day. Twelve have four-person staffing, and those were selected based on judgments we make that have a lot to do with call activity, the kind of calls that units run. I have to make judgments based on the resources I’ve been allocated.”
Schwartz said the County Board gave County Manager Barbara Donnellan direction to “review all public safety staffing and to make a recommendation for FY 2016,” at a budget meeting last month. To the Local 2800, FY 2016 is already too late.
“It has been shown that increased staffing reduces firefighter injuries, thus reducing the amount of money paid by Arlington taxpayers to care for and backfill with overtime employees,” the union writes. “Tower 104 and Rescue109 are limited in being able to safely, quickly, and effectively perform… critical functions while understaffed with three firefighters… This is dangerous and unacceptable.”
Arlington Public Schools will receive a transfer from the county of $432.2 million, with the rest of the money coming from federal, state and other sources.
Responding to parent criticism, the School Board reversed many of the cuts proposed by Superintendent Patrick Murphy. While the school system is growing thanks to increased school enrollment, Murphy sought to offset some of the expense of that growth through cuts totaling $7.3 million and the equivalent of about 75 full-time positions.
The School Board moved more than $5.6 million in reserves for 2016 into expenditures for this coming year, adding the equivalent of 70 full-time positions to Murphy’s proposed budget. Among the proposed cuts nixed by the Board:
- Merging the Langston High School continuation program with Arlington Mill High School, located at the Arlington Career Center ($1.6 million and 19 positions)
- Eliminating library assistants at elementary schools ($1.1 million in the budget and 21 positions)
- Reduction of professional development funding from the Twice Exceptional program, for gifted special education students ($75,000 and a part-time position)
- Cutting seven of the 12 assistants from APS’ secondary school autism program (see below)
School Board Chair Abby Raphael was the only School Board member to vote against reinstating the autism assistants. The seven positions were restored with $271,859 in one-time funding.
“It’s our job to set priorities,” she said during the meeting last Thursday night. “I think as we go through that process, it’s also our job… to decide if we’re not going to have cost savings and we’re going to add things, then what are we going to cut? Primarily how we’ve funded [these programs] is taking funds from our FY 2016 reserve.”
Raphael said the reserve in the approved budget is less than $300,000 for FY 2016. In addition to restoring the autism programs, the School Board approved ending early Wednesday release and implementing FLES programs (foreign language in elementary schools) at Oakridge, Nottingham, and Tuckahoe elementary schools.
The School Board decided to quietly eliminate the superintendent’s 1:1 Initiative, which received considerable attention when it was announced this winter. The initiative would have provided APS second-graders with Apple iPads and sixth-graders with Google Chromebooks, with plans to broaden the program to other grades in future years. The initiative was slated to cost $200,000 next year, and it was part of Murphy’s broader literacy initiative, which was slashed by $600,000 in the School Board’s adopted budget.
FY 2015 will also see a decrease in capital projects funding, with the $6.9 million allotted for 2015 coming in 13.5 percent less than 2014′s $8 million in funding.
Though the budget will push Arlington’s per pupil spending to $19,244, the highest of any suburban D.C. school system, some teachers are saying — privately — that it doesn’t deliver on APS’ pledge to attract and retain high-quality teachers. The budget includes a 2 percent cost-of-living increase and $500 one-time bonus for APS employees, but no salary step increase.
“They are not giving teachers the step increases that they promise when you are hired,” one anonymous tipster told ARLnow.com. “They are giving us cost of living increases, sometimes, which help older teachers, but not younger teachers. They keep implementing new ideas and spending loads of money [on] stuff that gives teachers more work, but not actually increasing the pay to even it out.”
The Arlington County Board adopted a $1.15 billion budget Tuesday night.
The Fiscal Year 2015 budget trims one cent from the county’s real estate tax rate while — thanks to a rise in property assessments — adding funds for schools, road paving and high speed fiber optic infrastructure. It also maintains service levels in other areas of county government.
The real estate tax rate is now $0.996 per $100 in assessed value, bringing the annual county tax burden on the average Arlington homeowner to $7,327.
The budget includes merit pay raises for county employees, which the County Board added back into the budget after an outcry from police and firefighter employee associations.
The Board, including newly-elected member John Vihstadt, voted unanimously for the budget. Vihstadt, who was elected on a platform of fiscal responsibility, said he was pleased with the tax rate reduction and did not want “to let the perfect be the enemy of the good” in budget deliberations.
Two other Board members echoed that sentiment in voting for the budget. Libby Garvey said she didn’t approve of the budget’s cut to mental health services for prison inmates (a grant that funded an employee for that task had run out) and accused the Board of squirreling away transportation money in various funds with the intention of, at some point, using it for streetcar projects, which she opposes.
Walter Tejada spoke out against budget guidance that directs the county manager to study the possibility of privatization and outsourcing Volunteer Arlington, which promotes and coordinates volunteer opportunities.
Other budget guidance for the manager (which was added by the Board outside the normal public budget process) included:
- A request for a report by the end of the year on the financial sustainability of Artisphere
- Enhancement of the county’s internal audit functions and the establishment of a fraud and waste hotline
- Improved parking ticket adjudication for tickets issued in error
- A plan for a phased implementation of staffing increase for the county’s police, fire and other public safety departments
The county’s press release on the budget passage, after the jump.
(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…)
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.
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.
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.
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 email@example.com. Letters to the editor may be edited for content and brevity.
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.
APS 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.
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.
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.
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.
Property 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.