The tax rate will likely remain at $0.996 cents of $100 of assessed value, which will result in an average property tax bill increase of $281 per year for Arlington households. The County Board had advertised a rate 1.5 cents higher than it passed, but ultimately decided to make budget cuts instead.
“Every member of this Board is acutely aware of the tax burden on our residents,” County Board Chair Mary Hynes said. “We felt strongly that we did not want to add to that burden.”
The tax rate was one of the key decisions the County Board made during its final budget work session yesterday evening. It will vote on the Calendar Year 2016 tax rate and its FY 2016 budget next Tuesday.
In addition, the County Board vowed to fully fund Arlington Public Schools, allotting $6.2 million above County Manager Barbara Donnellan’s proposed budget. The combination of the flat tax rate and additional money for public schools meant the Board had to slash $2.8 million from their previous budgets.
The biggest of those cuts will come from closing Artisphere, effective June 30. The county still has a lease on the property and there are outside parties that would like to turn it into a tech incubator and conference space, but no formal proposal has yet been made on that front. Closing the center, converting the Metrobus 3A route to ART service and foregoing expansion of urban agricultural offerings were enough to fund a balanced budget.
The Board also acquiesced to other budget requests, including funding a new animal control officer for the Animal Welfare League of Arlington, providing pay increases to the Public Defender’s office and injecting $900,000 into Arlington Economic Development’s budget.
“This budget fully funds Schools, maintains core services and the social safety net, values our employees by providing a modest step increase, and invests more in the critical areas of economic development and public safety,” Hynes said in a press release. “I am confident that next week, we will adopt a budget that continues this County’s long track record of wisely managing taxpayer money while making strategic investments in infrastructure and environmental and economic sustainability.”
County Board to Consider Concrete Contract — The Arlington County Board is set to consider an on-call concrete maintenance contract this weekend. The contract is intended to reduce the cost of repeatedly bidding out small contracts for road, sidewalk and curb work. The low bidder, Arthur Construction Company, is expected to bill about $3.8 million annually under the contract, according to county staff estimates. [Arlington County]
Bistro 360 Profiled — Bistro 360, the Rosslyn eatery opened last year by the owner of Cassatt’s Kiwi Café, is winning plaudits for its unique food offerings, which feature Asian, Central European and French influences. [Arlington Magazine]
Flickr pool photo by Michael Coffman
The Arlington County Board is considering a recommendation by Arlington County Treasurer Carla de la Pava to reduce the fee for a real estate bill paid up to 30 days late from 10 percent to 5 percent. Tax bills paid after 30 days would continue to incur a 10 percent penalty.
“The Treasurer … has concluded that as currently implemented a 10 percent penalty for late payment of real estate taxes is unnecessarily harsh for delinquent taxpayers who pay of their own accord,” the county’s staff report reads. “Specifically, it treats those taxpayers who simply forgot about a due date the same as those who refuse to meet their tax obligation without collection action by the Treasurer.”
The average real estate bill last year, which are paid in two installments a year, was $2,752.50, according to the treasurer’s office. If a resident paid on June 17, just two days after the June 15 deadline, he or she would have had to pay a $275.25 late fee. If the County Board approves de la Pava’s recommendation, that penalty would be cut in half, to $137.63.
The treasurer’s office said 1,346 Arlington taxpayers paid their real estate taxes between one and 30 days late in 2014. The 10 percent late fee meant they paid a combined $535,721 in fees alone.
“As the average Arlington County real estate tax bill increases, so does the financial hardship suffered by generally honest property owners by the late payment penalty system currently in effect,” the report says. “Furthermore, it is worth noting that the typical homeowner with a mortgage escrow account is extremely unlikely to ever incur a late payment penalty. Instead, the individuals more likely to miss a real estate tax due date are longtime and older residents who no longer have a mortgage on their home and thus are directly and personally responsible for making their real estate tax installment payments.”
If the late penalty had been reduced in FY 2011, the county would have taken in an average of $235,000 less each year, or just under $1 million. The reduced fee has already been included in the FY 2016 budget, according to county staff.
The motion is on the County Board’s consent agenda on Saturday, which means it is likely to approve it without discussion. If the Board passes the motion, Arlington would be the first jurisdiction in Northern Virginia to not charge the maximum late fee on a real estate tax, according to county staff.
The final decision will be made by the Arlington County Board at its meeting this Saturday, and if the Board follows County Manager Barbara Donnellan’s recommendation, it will reject the school’s historic district status.
The Wilson School was built in 1910, but has since been renovated. Preservations are hoping the County Board will designate it as a local historic district, which would require pieces of the building be preserved before it is bulldozed to make way for a new, 775-seat building to house the H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program.
The Arlington School Board and Planning Commission have each recommended against the historic designation, citing cost and time concerns. The new school building is budgeted for $80.2 million and scheduled to open by September 2019.
The building, constructed in 1910 as the Fort Myer Heights school, is the oldest school structure in the county still owned by Arlington Public Schools, and the second-oldest school building overall, behind the Hume School (which now serves as the Arlington Historical Society museum).
The Historical Affairs and Landmark Review Board unanimously recommended the school be granted historic district status. According to county staff, it meets six of the 11 criteria needed for historic status, when it only needs to meet two to be eligible. However, staff wrote in its report to the Board, that doesn’t mean it should be granted said status.
“Consideration of a property for local historic district designation is not based solely on the historical and/or architectural merits of the historic resource,” the report states. “There are multiple competing County interests and priorities that must be accomplished within the limited constraints of the existing site, including a larger school, athletic fields, and open space. Coupled with these site demands, the preservation of the historic Wilson School is not considered a viable alternative.”
Despite the staff’s findings — and the county’s growing need for school space — Preservation Arlington is hoping to sway the County Board to change course and grant the historic status.
“Preservation Arlington is disappointed in the staff recommendation to deny the designation,” the organization wrote on its website. “Wilson School is the oldest continuously operating school building still owned by the County. The history of the school is directly connected to our early years as a growing community and a time when we were visited by the President of the United States, which still happens today.”
If the County Board does deny the historic status, staff and the HALRB recommend exploring “the most appropriate ways to memorialize and commemorate the historical and community value of the Wilson School in the construction of a new school facility on the existing site.”
Preservation Arlington is encouraging those in favor of preserving the school to rally at the County Board meeting on Saturday, at 8:30 a.m., in the County Board room on the third floor of 2100 Clarendon Blvd.
New Metro Train Debuts on Blue Line — Metro’s new 7000-series train made its public debut on the Blue Line this morning. Riders welcomed the next-generation rail cars with generally positive tweets. [Storify, Twitter]
Home Prices, Sales Rise — The volume of home sales in Arlington in March was 219, which is up 25 percent year-over-year. Housing sale prices also rose. The average sale price of all residential properties was up 1.3 percent to $628,483. The average price of single-family homes sold in March, meanwhile, was $919,858. [InsideNova]
Arlington to Employ Ebola Monitor — The Arlington County Board this weekend is expected to approve the acceptance of a $30,970 state grant earmarked for Ebola monitoring. “Grant funds will support ongoing monitoring and response coordination efforts for travelers returning from Ebola affected countries,” according to the staff report. “The funding supports temporary employment of a Health District Monitoring Coordinator ($29,400) and related office supplies ($1,570).” [Arlington County]
W-L Grad Dies — A student who graduated at the top of his Washington-Lee High School class in 2013 has been found dead after taking his own life. The student was a sophomore at William & Mary and was active in various theater groups. [William & Mary]
The Pike, Pentagon City and Crystal City together are projected to account for 65 percent of the county’s population growth and 44 percent of its job growth in the next three decades, and Arlington doesn’t have a long-term transit plan in place for the Pike to accommodate that growth. So far, much of the discussion has revolved around bigger and better buses.
But there is another option, a much bigger, bolder and pricier option than even the streetcar: taking advantage of an existing stub tunnel at the Pentagon Metro station and building a new Metrorail line under Columbia Pike. Such a line was envisioned as a likely expansion by the Metrorail system’s original planners in the 1960s.
When the proposal for Arlington’s short-term plan for the former-streetcar corridor comes before the Arlington County Board next year, two of the five members of the Board will be newly elected, replacing the retiring Board chair and vice chair, Mary Hynes and Walter Tejada.
So far, seven candidates have declared they’re running for the two open seats: Democrats Christian Dorsey, Peter Fallon, Katie Cristol, Andrew Schneider, James Lander and Bruce Wiljanen, and independent Audrey Clement. Will this new crop of Arlington leaders revive the idea of Metro as long-term a solution for the Pike’s growth?
Dorsey tells ARLnow.com that he’s open to Metrorail as part of a more holistic discussion of the Pike’s transportation future.
“We haven’t undergone a process to really do that in a sufficient way, where we’ve looked at a variety of transit options that are possible — not feasible, but possible — and determining whether or not that matches long-range projections,” he told ARLnow.com. “I absolutely think that’s something that needs to be done in consultation with regional partners on heavy rail.”
The county is still planning to install 23 more transit stations along Columbia Pike, for a total of $12.4 million — redesigned to cost far less than the Walter Reed Super Stop prototype – and those stations are designed to accommodate enhanced bus service. However, other than assumptions that more, bigger and fancier buses will be coming to the Pike, it’s unclear how those stations will be integrated. The county has vowed to spend $200 million on the corridor’s transit over the next six years.
Cristol agreed with Dorsey, saying Arlington needs to consider all long-term options in the corridor’s future.
“I believe we need to keep everything on the table as we contend with the forces shaping re-development and transit demand in Arlington,” she said. “Rapid population growth and demand for public transit on the Pike will be a defining feature for Arlington’s coming decades … I will always be for considering and discussing big ideas — even the expensive ones that seem infeasible in the immediate — as we look to address those dynamics.”
WMATA already has a 40-year plan in place for Metrorail’s future development, but that plan, adopted in 2013, includes a connection between Arlington’s since-cancelled and D.C.’s embattled streetcar lines. WMATA has since discussed plans for a second tunnel in Rosslyn and another line in Virginia, but public discussions from the agency have not included Columbia Pike.
Wiljanen said Arlington taking on that discussion would distract from the immediate needs of the Pike’s residents.
“If a Metro line opened tomorrow under Columbia Pike, I would be elated,” he told ARLnow.com in an email. “However, given the current political and budgetary climate, starting the process now will prove to be an exceedingly heavy lift, and the timeline could easily extend 30 years or more into the future. I think we need quicker solutions.”
Clement, a perennial candidate for Arlington public office, thinks Arlington needs to take up these discussions as soon as possible.
“It is definitely time to plan for a Metrorail line under Columbia Pike,” she said. “One of the principal reasons I opposed the Pike trolley was the fact that the trolley tracks would have to be dug up to accommodate the subway, which is the ultimate solution to congestion on the Pike.”
(Fallon, Schneider and Lander did not respond to ARLnow.com’s email asking for comment.)
Dorsey also opposed the streetcar, while Cristol, a Pike resident, and Wiljanen didn’t say whether they supported the project, only that Arlington needs to move on.
Last year, the county approved moving to year-round yard waste collection, which would require Arlington residents to put leaves, branches and grass in new, green tubs to be collected every week alongside trash and recycling.
The yard waste would have increased the county’s recycling rate by 13 percent, then-Arlington County Board Chairman Jay Fisette said.
The county was forced to put the program on hold last June when, after awarding an all-in-one waste collection contract to American Disposal, the county’s former waste contractors, Bates Trucking and KMG Solutions, sued over the bid process, claiming “cronyism.”
The lawsuit from KMG was withdrawn last November, according to court records, and Bates’ suit was withdrawn in January. Neither the county attorney nor Bates Trucking have returned requests for comment on the lawsuits.
Once the lawsuits had been filed, the county canceled its contract with American Disposal and instituted an emergency contract without year-round yard waste collection, charging homeowners $271 per year for waste collection — cheaper than the previous fees when Bates and KMG were providing services.
During budget talks this year, according to county Department of Environmental Services spokeswoman Jessica Baxter, the year-round yard waste question is back on the table.
“Arlington County will finalize a new contract this spring for refuse and recycling services to single-family, duplex and townhouse properties,” Baxter told ARLnow.com in an email. “The County Board will consider whether year-round yard waste will be added to the other waste collection services during its annual budget process.”
The annual fee for homeowners has not yet been determined, Baxter said, nor has the fate of the green cans residents were supposed to receive last year. The County Board will adopt its FY 2016 budget later this month.
The Alliance for Housing Solutions asked each candidate — Katie Cristol, Christian Dorsey, Peter Fallon, James Lander, Andrew Schneider and Bruce Wiljanen — about their priorities and solutions for the county’s rising cost of living and rapidly shrinking stock of residences affordable to middle class families.
Each candidate, in their responses, declared affordable housing a strong priority, and vowed solutions to make it easier for lower-income individuals to find a home in the county. Many of the responses touched on the same themes — public-private partnerships as a solution, the county’s lack of land as an obstacle — as the candidates try to distinguish themselves for the two open seats on the Board.
Cristol, the youngest of the candidates, said she would advocate for creative solutions, like the planned WeLive space in Crystal City and making it easier to build additions in single-family homes. The Columbia Pike resident also vowed to protect the affordable housing policies already on the books, like the Affordable Housing Ordinance, which requires developers to contribute affordable units or money to the Affordable Housing Investment Fund if they want to build more density than otherwise allowed by zoning.
“Over the past decade, the Affordable Housing Ordinance … has been critical in linking affordable housing to economic redevelopment across the County,” Cristol wrote. “I believe the approach of the Affordable Housing Ordinance is a key mechanism to mitigate the loss of our market-rate affordable stock in the decades to come, and I will champion its protection.”
Dorsey said his affordable housing priorities would be to expand the stock of committed affordable units alongside market-rate affordable units and he, along with the other candidates, argued that a mix of housing prices was key for the county’s long-term economic prosperity.
“Employers consider a community’s ability to house its workforce a critical factor in determining where to locate their business,” Dorsey wrote. “Moreover, since housing is the biggest line item in the budgets for most families, reducing housing costs yields increased income that can be spent on goods and services–increasing demand and thus business sustainability.”
Peter Fallon, who is trying to capture the Democratic nomination for County Board for the second time after losing to Alan Howze in the special election primary last year, said part of the problem with implementing affordable housing problem is the messaging — many people don’t understand why it’s a key issue.
“We need to be honest about the perception of affordable housing in Arlington,” he wrote. “Some residents view affordable housing residents as ‘takers’ who don’t add to the economic vibrancy of the community. As a County Board member, I intend to be a voice for all Arlingtonians, and that means correcting misperceptions about residents of affordable housing — many of whom are long time residents and the same young, middle-class families who make Arlington a top destination for new residents.”
School Board Chair James Lander said he wants to “implement key components” of the Columbia Pike Neighborhood Plan — which calls for the preservation of 6,200 affordable units along the corridor — as a way to spur the development of mixed-income neighborhoods throughout the county.
“Neighborhoods with residents of mixed income levels directly impact the goals of diversity, inclusion, and economic sustainability,” he wrote. “Neighborhoods with residents of mixed income levels directly impact the goals of diversity, inclusion, and economic sustainability. Prioritizing these shared values ensures that our teachers, construction workers, seniors, hospitality and service employees all have increased opportunities to make Arlington their home.”
County to Study ART Bus Ads — Arlington County staff will study selling advertisements on the side of ART buses. With County Board member John Vihstadt being joined by Jay Fisette and Libby Garvey in support, the Board directed County Manager Barbara Donnellan to study the issue and report back later this spring. Vihstadt said ART ads could bring in additional local revenue. [InsideNova, Twitter]
RAMMY Nomination for Liberty Tavern — Clarendon’s Liberty Tavern has been named one of the finalists in the “Everyday Casual Brunch” category for the 2015 RAMMY awards. Liberty Tavern appears to be the only Arlington restaurant nominated this year, although Tim Ma of Water & Wall in Virginia Square was nominated in the “Rising Culinary Star of the Year” category. The awards are organized by the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington.
Props for Crystal City, Pentagon City — Crystal City and Pentagon City are, in some ways, “experiencing the best of times,” according to Bisnow, which held a conference last week about business prospects in the “two cities.” [Bisnow]
Alleged Bank Robber Was Staying at Retirement Home – The FBI tracked down an accused bank robber in an Arlington on Friday thanks to his cell phone usage. The so-called Bicycle Bandit is accused of a dozen bank robberies, including a robbery in Alexandria just a few hours prior to his arrest. Investigators used phone records to figure out his identity. The suspect, Woosen Assaye, was staying at his father’s apartment at The Carlin retirement home at the time of his arrest. [NBC Washington - WARNING: Auto-play video]
Arlington Named Healthiest County in Va. — A new study has named Arlington County as the healthiest county in Virginia. Albemarle, Fairfax and Loudoun ranked second, third and fourth, respectively. [Associated Press]
Fehr Reads to Key Students — Washington Capitals player Eric Fehr read his new anti-bullying book to students at Key Elementary School yesterday. [NBC Washington - WARNING: Auto-play video]
Blue Line Issues — A Blue Line train suffering mechanical problems offloaded passengers at the Pentagon station this morning, causing overcrowding on the platform. [Twitter]
Arlington County appears ready to move forward with selling Rosslyn Highlands Park to a developer in exchange for a new fire station, and some residents are protesting the deal.
This Saturday, a new group called Friends of Rosslyn Highlands Park will host a rally at the park (1555 Wilson Blvd) to try to garner support and more signatures for its petition to the Arlington County Board. The rally will run from 10:00 a.m-noon and the group says it has invited all members of the County Board and the six announced candidates to attend and listen to park advocates’ concern.
Of particular concern to the group: the revelation that Arlington signed a letter of intent with developer Penzance to trade the piece of land for a new fire station in January 2013, six months before the Western Rosslyn Area Planning Study (WRAPS) was launched.
“Friends of Rosslyn Highlands Park, along with neighboring civic associations and countless citizens, are dismayed that a negotiation behind closed doors would threaten, and in effect predetermine the fate of, one of Arlington’s cherished neighborhood parks,” Katie Elmore, spokeswoman for Friends of Rosslyn Highlands Park, said in a press release. “Such action by the County Board corrodes public belief in the ‘Arlington Way’ and the viability of future public processes.”
The WRAPS Working Group was formed by the County Board to determine the best mix of uses for the area between 18th Street N., Wilson Blvd, N. Quinn Street and the edge of the 1555 Wilson Blvd office building. The WRAPS group has met regularly since the summer of 2013 and the County Board will vote on the area’s future next month.
The park currently includes a small playground, basketball court, parking lot and some open green space; a total of 30,182 square feet. It’s adjacent to a 45,000 square foot playing field behind the Wilson School that will stay in place when the site becomes the future home of H-B Woodlawn.
The proposal that county staff recommended to the Board earlier this month would reduce county park space to 11,500 square feet, but add a publicly-accessible plaza in between new high-rise, mixed-use office and residential buildings.
The proposal also calls for Penzance to construct a N. Pierce Street extension between Wilson and 18th, even though some residents said they preferred an extended N. Ode Street, slightly farther east. County staff say Ode Street would interfere with traffic from the new fire station and the new school.
While preserving open space and parkland has been a stated County Board priority, the panel has made it clear that it would be willing to sell the land in exchange for fulfilling other priorities. Residents say not only is the county selling one of the last remaining green spaces in Rosslyn, but it’s not even getting a good deal.
“This is trading a public good for private gain, the sale price of the land is significantly undervalued, the financial trade off is short-sighted and not ‘fiscally responsible,’ and the board has been deaf to the input of residents on this issue,” Elizabeth Schill, who lives nearby, told ARLnow.com in an email. “This is not a NIMBY issue, but rather one in which we are opposed to the sale of rare and irreplaceable parkland to a private, commercial developer at below-market rates for purely private gain.”
Some of county staff’s proposals for Rosslyn Highlands Park’s replacements include more urbanized versions of playgrounds, or basketball courts integrated with plaza seating like the new plaza on 19th Street N. But the Friends of Rosslyn Highlands Park say it just won’t be the same as the park they’ve been bringing their children to for years.
“The park is a second backyard, a friendly place,” Friends of Rosslyn Highlands Park leader Anna Duran said in an email. “The park for us is a place to relax, a place to nod in humanity at other humans, perhaps unknown at the time, but just a moment away from friendliness. There, we’ve gotten much further with making friends than in passing each other on the street — and much further than in passing through a jungle of tall business buildings.”
Photo, bottom, courtesy of Anna Duran
(Updated at 8:15 a.m.) Almost half of Arlington’s elected officials will have retired or resigned by Jan. 1, 2016, starting with Chris Zimmerman’s retirement from the Arlington County Board in February 2014.
At the same time, the leadership of the county’s staff is having a major changing of the guard, losing four department heads since last March, not including the impending retirement of County Manager Barbara Donnellan, effective June 30.
“The only constant in life is change,” County Board member Jay Fisette told ARLnow.com yesterday. In January of next year, Fisette and Libby Garvey will be the only Board members to have begun to serve before April 2014.
The list of leaders who have left or are leaving county government reads like a who’s who of Arlington agenda-setters in recent memory:
Rep. Jim Moran, Del. Bob Brink, Board members Zimmerman, Mary Hynes and Walter Tejada, Del. Rob Krupicka, School Board members Sally Baird, Noah Simon and Abby Raphael, Treasurer Frank O’Leary, Donnellan, Community Planning, Housing and Development Director Bob Brosnan, Arlington County Police Chief Doug Scott, Department of Human Services Director Susanne Eisner and the late Terry Holzheimer, Arlington Economic Development Director, who died last year of a heart attack.
“I don’t know that we’ve ever seen so much change at once,” said Eric Dobson, a former Planning Commission chairman and Arlington native who serves as the Northern Virginia government liaison with the NAIOP Commercial Real Estate Development Association.
While the staff turnover is staggering — five of the county’s 14 department directors will be replaced — many county officials say the transitions will be seamless. Deputy County Manager Mark Schwartz, who will become interim county manager on July 1, said that’s partly because of Donnellan’s forward thinking.
“I think we have great bench strength,” the Boston native and avid Red Sox fan said. “Barbara has always talked about succession planning. You need to have that security. At the same time, I think it’s a good thing that an organization renews itself.”
Donnellan’s departure will have lasting effects, colleagues said. Many offered effusive praise of her work over the past 31 years, particularly her five years as county manager.
“She will be sorely missed,” said Kevin Shooshan, chairman of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce and vice president of Shooshan Company, a Ballston-based real estate firm. “Everyone in Arlington County was a fan of Barbara Donnellan. People underestimate what that job entails, which is running that entire billion-dollar organization. It’s a big job and a big budget, and she’s done a great job for several years. Everyone’s going to be very sad to see her go.”
Confidence does not abound, however, regarding the future of the Arlington County Board. Hynes and Tejada represent a combined two decades of Board experience, and when the dust settles in November’s election, the future of Arlington could look different.
“That is a far more significant issue than the administrative staff, which has a deep pool,” Fisette said. “Three people set the direction for the Board. The community’s vision can be changed in subtle and harsh ways.”
Five Democrats have announced their candidacy for the two open seats — Peter Fallon, Christian Dorsey, School Board Chair James Lander, Katie Cristol and Andrew Schneider — and one independent, longtime Arlington Green candidate Audrey Clement. No Republicans have declared, nor has any candidate like John Vihstadt announced his or her intention to run.
Still, Vihstadt’s election and resounding re-election last year is fresh in the minds of many in Arlington politics. No one seems to know who — if anyone — will try to emulate Vihstadt’s combination of fiscal conservatism and progressive stances on social issues. Some Democrats running are championing platforms of change, but few have offered specifics of how they would operate any different from Hynes or Tejada. (more…)
Rosslyn Skyscraper Still Empty — The D.C. area’s tallest building, 1812 N. Moore Street in Rosslyn, is still empty a year and a half after its completion. Owner Monday Properties, however, is feeling good about the regional economy and about Rosslyn specifically. The company is reportedly not planning to lower its asking rent for the building. [Washington Post]
Deaf Man Suing Arlington County — Updated at 9:20 a.m. — A homeless deaf immigrant who was wrongly jailed for six weeks, allegedly without access to an interpreter, is suing Arlington County in federal court for failing to meet the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The man, Abreham Zemedagegehu, is originally from Ethiopia and was unable to communicate with his jailers via written English. [Associated Press]
Advertising on ART? — The Arlington County Board on Tuesday briefly discussed the possibility of adding advertisements to the side of ART buses — but no action was taken. It was also revealed that the cost of a Metrobus route is about 2.5 times more expensive than the equivalent ART bus route. [InsideNova]
Local Business 40th Anniversaries — Two local businesses are celebrating a 40th anniversary this month. Heidelberg Pastry Shop (2150 N. Culpeper Street) celebrated its 40th year in business this past Saturday, while the Crystal City branch of Navy Federal Credit Union (2450 Crystal Drive) is celebrating its 40th with cake, refreshment and giveaways to those who stop by the branch.
Flickr pool photo by Dennis Dimick
(Updated at 6:00 p.m.) The Animal Welfare League of Arlington is strapped for cash and it says it’s time for the Arlington County Board to honor its responsibility to animals in the area.
“There’s a point at which we have to say ‘you’ve got to step up here’,” AWLA CEO Neil Trent told ARLnow.com today. “If you want to maintain the high level of animal welfare in Arlington, you have to give more.”
Every year, Trent said, the animal shelter — which is the county’s contractor for all animal control services — gives the county a budget for how much it costs to maintain its level of service.
In FY 2016, the difference between AWLA’s budget and the money allocated in County Manager Barbara Donnellan’s proposed budget is $365,000. Donnellan has allocated a total of $1.37 million to AWLA.
“The county has never provided the amount of money we’ve asked for. Never,” Trent said. “Every year, they come back and say ‘this is what it is … this is what you’re going to get.’ It’s never been negotiable.”
For the first time, AWLA is asking for help to pressure the County Board for money. Yesterday, the shelter sent an email to supporters asking them to contact Board members by March 24, and “tell them that as voters and taxpayers, YOU WANT public health and animal welfare to be a budget priority and ASK the County to provide AWLA with an additional $365K to continue to keep pets and the community safe.”
AWLA employs four animal control officers who work in shifts to have coverage 24 hours a day, every day of the year. Trent says he did an analysis, and the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria covers less area, a smaller population and employs five officers, all of whom are better paid than their Arlington counterparts.
On Sunday, the one control officer on duty fielded five calls from 11:20 a.m. to 4:40 p.m., including a German shepherd running in traffic that the Arlington County Police Department had to use a Taser on to subdue. Another dog had to be given shelter after its owner attempted suicide. It was busier than a typical day, Trent said, but not by much. Earlier this year, AWLA officers spent 70 hours investigating poisoned sausages that were left around north Arlington.
The lack of animal control resources in a county of 220,000 residents sometimes takes a toll. Arlington police officers have at times had to wait upwards of an hour for an animal control officer to finish up one call and respond to the animal-related police call they’re on.
In AWLA’s contract with the county, according to Trent, the shelter is required to care for injured wildlife; quarantine sick animals; take in animals whose owners have been injured or whose houses have suffered a disaster; rescue animals from abuse or neglect; and investigate public health concerns.
Also in the contract, Trent said, is a County Board-set goal of saving 90 percent of the dogs and 85 percent of cats taken in, despite the national shelter average save rate of 60 percent.
Last year, Trent said AWLA signed a 10-year extension of its animal control contract with the county, but every year the contract comes up for review. Last year, the county upped its contribution to the shelter by 1 percent, but the three years before that, the rate was flat. Meanwhile, AWLA’s costs rise about $60,000-$90,000 a year, Trent said.
“Name an award, we’ve received it,” he said. “It seems to me that we probably shot ourselves in the foot because we continue to maintain such a high standard of care that the county says ‘they’ll get on with it.’”
Trent said if AWLA doesn’t receive any additional funding, the board of directors will have to discuss which services it can scale back. He said, as CEO, the welfare of the animals in the county “is my responsibility, and I’m really concerned about the level of service. It’s not the County Board that’s going to be affected, it’s some kid that’s bitten or scratched by a rabid animal.”
And while he understands the County Board has plenty of items to fund, Trent is saying “enough is enough.”
“It would be a smack in the face from the county if they didn’t acknowledge our need,” Trent said. “You’ve only got to get one rabid raccoon in the middle of Arlington and you’ll see who’s needed most.”
(Updated at 3:10 p.m.) More than five months after the Arlington County Board canceled the Columbia Pike and Crystal City streetcar, the county is still a year away from any alternative plan.
“Transportation is complex,” County Manager Barbara Donnellan told the Board yesterday in an update on the area’s transit plans. “We really need to move forward in a deliberative way. We want a transit alternative very fast, but we’re going to make sure that the community is involved in whatever we do in terms of coming up with an alternative.”
Arlington Transportation Director Dennis Leach said the post-streetcar plan for Columbia Pike and Crystal City will likely mean more buses — buses that may be larger and fancier than those currently serving the corridors. While the county did previously study alternatives to streetcar, Leach said those plans need to be updated.
The future of transit in the area will be determined by the results of the county’s upcoming Transit Development Plan, to be completed by spring 2016. The TDP will be submitted to the state to make the county’s transit projects eligible for funding.
Top on the list of priorities, Leach told the Board, is building a facility for maintenance and storage for whatever buses the county decides to run on along the Pike.
“The facility issue is a really critical issue for Arlington, both for our existing ART service and for expanded service,” Leach said. The under-construction ART bus facility on S. Eads Street “does not quite meet the storage need for our fleet that we anticipate having this year. For Northern Virginia, we have some really serious facility challenges. These facilities are really hard to site.”
The county is already planning on expanding ART bus service — it’s cheaper than the equivalent Metrobus service — and Donnellan has asked the Board for funding to increase service for the ART 41, 42, 43 and 45 lines by this summer.
The county continues to progress on its major Columbia Pike multimodal improvements project, the Columbia Pike transit station project and projects in Crystal City and Pentagon City, but a unified, enhanced transit plan is not coming until next year. In all, county staff says it will spend $200 million in the next on transit improvements to the Columbia Pike and Crystal City corridors over the next six years.
The TDP will encompass countywide transit projects, but Leach said staff’s focus will be on the Pike and Crystal City.
Some County Board members used Leach’s update on post-streetcar planning to rehash old arguments made by both sides before the streetcar’s demise.
“People were told there would be another option that can be built faster and at a fraction of the cost, and it would be bus rapid transit,” Board member Walter Tejada said to Leach, referencing streetcar opponents, specifically John Vihstadt and Libby Garvey. “I’m not hearing you say that those are being considered as alternatives right now.”
Vihstadt responded by asking Donnellan if any developments had been cancelled or scaled back after the streetcar cancellation, to which Donnellan responded it was too early to tell –”I have not gotten any indication” that development was slowing, she said.
Fisette and Tejada went back and forth asking Leach to explain the federal definition of Bus Rapid Transit. According to the Federal Transit Administration, BRT is defined as 50 percent or more of a line using a dedicated lane during peak traffic periods. Columbia Pike is not feasible for a dedicated lane, but, theoretically, a combined Pike-Pentagon City-Crystal City-Potomac Yard line, using dedicated lanes in Crystal City, could meet the definition of BRT.
“I’m all about providing factual information to the community, not incorrect information that could unintentionally mislead,” Tejada said.
Board Chair Mary Hynes and member Jay Fisette — the two members who changed their votes to join Garvey and Vihstadt in cancelling the streetcar last year — admonished both sides for hijacking the discussion.
“The last 45 minutes has been disappointing,” Fisette said. “I don’t like seeing us devolve into last year’s competing facts. It’s certainly not appealing. It’s best that we, jointly, keep our eyes moving forward.”
Garvey, meanwhile, said she wanted to see the transit planning proceed expeditiously.
“Now we have to do a whole countywide process before we can look at the Pike again, and I think that’s not the intention,” she said. “I understand it all has to go together, it’s a good thing… The more I can hear a sense of urgency about moving forward the happier I will be and I think the happier our citizens will be.”
Leach responded that county staff has a leg up in the planning process due to the “body of work” already in place. He said a contract is in place for the design of new transit stops — the cheaper successor to the infamous $1 million Columbia Pike “Super Stop” – but construction isn’t likely until “early 2016.”
Hynes said the study, which will join the community facilities study and Long Bridge Park aquatics center study, also announced yesterday, is important to keep the community reminded of the Board’s effort.
“I don’t want anyone listening today thinking that we are abandoning Columbia Pike,” she said, citing the multimodal improvements and transit station projects and examples. “We need the community to understand that our commitment to those things is deep, is strong, is ongoing and it’s funded.”