The new regulations will include fees charged to the organizers to recoup the cost of extra police and community resources required to deal with the nearly 5,000 people estimated to attend some of the crawls. The crawls, which have previously been organized without much input from the county, will now need to be approved in advance.
The specifics of how much organizers will have to be and the criteria under which pub crawls will be approved or rejected have not yet been determined. County Manager Barbara Donnellan said she plans to return to the County Board with the full, implemented policy before Halloween, which is expected to be the date of the next major pub crawl.
“We have, I believe, the highest percentage of 25-34 year olds as a percentage of our population than any community in the United States, and we embrace that group,” County Board Chair Jay Fisette said during the meeting. “We embrace their vitality and the energy they bring to our community as a creative class and workforce, and at the same time we request and require that they respect others.”
The approved regulation was seen as somewhat of a compromise between residents who want fewer and smaller crawls and the organizers who want to see the crawls continue on unabated. The Board first discussed amending its special events policy, last updated in 2012, in April during budget discussions. At the time, Donnellan requested $45,000 for police overtime specifically to manage the pub crawls. The Board directed Donnellan to return with an updated policy.
In the meantime, the crawls drew another round of controversy after an attendee in June allegedly stripped naked before leading police on a car chase that ended with a crash in Clarendon. That incident, paired with a women alleging stripping naked at the Arlington Magistrate’s Office during a March bar crawl, helped bring the issue to the Board’s attention.
“It’s two incidents out of thousands of people,” Project D.C. Events co-owner Alex Lopez told ARLnow.com earlier this month. Lopez pointed out that neither happened inside a bar. Project D.C. Events organized both the March and June pub crawls at which the incidents take place, as well as crawls in D.C. that have occurred without public incidents. “You don’t hear about bar crawls in D.C. because nothing happens at them. If you say, ‘oh everything was peaceful in the last bar crawl,’ well, no one is going to read that.”
According to a county press release, about 1,130 people responded to an online survey about how best to manage the pub crawls, but only one member of the public spoke during the comment period: frequent County Board critic Jim Hurysz.
The motion passed 5-0 and the Board generally lauded the police and staff for their work in bringing a “common sense” solution to the issue.
“It’s an evolution to figure out how to satisfy the various kinds of people who live in Clarendon,” Board Vice Chair Mary Hynes said. Hynes lives just a few blocks from the epicenter of the pub crawls in Clarendon. “People don’t want Clarendon’s reputation to be only what happened at that last pub crawl. Business owners want people to come to Clarendon and eat and enjoy all the amenities.”
“We’re going to do this and monitor and see what happens,” Hynes continued, “and if this doesn’t work, we’ll be back here… to see if we need to take any more steps or not.”
Photo via Project D.C. Events
(Updated at 5:45 p.m.) An independent consultant hired by Arlington County has found that the planned Columbia Pike streetcar could generate between $2.2-3 billion more than an enhanced bus system for the corridor over the next 30 years.
The study, conducted by HR&A Advisors, estimates that the streetcar will generate between $3.2-4.4 billion of net impact to the area in the form of increased property values, density and retail opportunities, among other factors. In addition, the streetcar is estimated to bring in up to $620 million in additional local tax revenues between Arlington and Fairfax counties over 30 years, plus 4,600 more jobs within 10 years after construction is completed.
“[This study] is a great validation for what we’re about to do,” County Manager Barbara Donnellan said at a press conference this afternoon announcing the results of the study.
The study, which was commissioned last year as an update to the streetcar’s projected return on investment, compared the streetcar to an enhanced bus system. HR&A President Eric Rothman said the study did not factor in bus rapid transit because a dedicated bus lane is “not feasible” for the Pike.
HR&A used four case studies for its projections for Columbia Pike, as well as interviews with Arlington developers and retailers — some of whom are already invested along the Pike — to formulate its predictions.
HR&A used the streetcar in Portland, Ore., and the Hudson Bergen lightrail system in northern New Jersey as case studies for the streetcar. The Boston-Washington Silver Line and the Max Bus in Kansas City, Mo., were used as case studies for enhanced bus service.
“Previous studies that have been done by and large found positive impacts across the board for streetcar implementation in the country the last 15 years,” Rothman said.
Kyle Vangel, who was the study’s project manager for HR&A, said the developers he interviewed the project looked more favorably at the Columbia Pike streetcar if it connected with the Crystal City streetcar line, which Transportation Director Dennis Leach said will have its environmental impact study completed this fall. He also said that, while the tracks and wires might not be aesthetically pleasing, rail engenders confidence in long-term investment.
“In many people’s perceptions,” Vangel said, “the streetcar has more of a feel of permanence than an enhanced bus.”
From one end of the corridor to the other, Vangel said the streetcar would only take one fewer minute than an enhanced bus system, but it would hold 61 more riders per trip, be a one-seat ride to Crystal City and would be under capacity by 2035, whereas enhanced bus would be over capacity in 30 years.
“Having previously spent many millions of taxpayer dollars on studies trying to justify the choice of the Columbia Pike streetcar”, said Peter Rousselot, ARLnow.com columnist and a leader for Arlingtonians for Sensible Transit, in a press release, “there was no legitimate reason to spend more taxpayer money on another ‘study’ unless the consultant had been given the independence to reach the conclusion that the streetcar was the wrong transit choice on Columbia Pike.”
Rousselot’s main point of contention was over the contract HR&A signed with the county, which stipulated the county must approve the study at certain milestones before it could be presented. Rothman said those milestones were simply submitted to the county so the company could receive payment, not edited for review.
“The county provided no substantive input for the numbers in the report,” Rothman said.
Frequent County Board critic Jim Hurysz, attending the meeting for his blog, Arlington Yupette, railed against the consultants and county staff members giving the presentation, accusing them of cherry-picking examples of streetcars and buses to serve the county’s agenda. Hurysz fired off questions and opinions alongside reporters from ARLnow.com, the Washington Post and the Washington Business Journal, before being shouted down by a county communications staffer, as she was attempting to end the meeting on schedule.
Yesterday, County Manager Barbara Donnellan announced the appointment of Assistant County Manager Shannon Flanagan-Watson as the county’s new business ombudsman, responsible for working with the business community to identify improvements to the county’s business processes.
Flanagan-Watson served as the director of business development for the International City/County Management Association before coming to Arlington, according to her biography on the county’s website.
“During my listening tour with the business community last year, I learned a lot about how we can improve the way we do business,” Donnellan said in a press release. “One important component is appointing a senior-level person in my office to work on my behalf with the business community in coordination with County officials and agencies. Shannon brings the skills, passion and understanding of how important our work is in this area to nurture sustainable partnerships.”
Flanagan-Watson will report directly to Donnellan and work with the county’s BizTeam, an interdepartmental group created to assist small businesses with navigating the county’s bureaucracy. For site plans projects, however, the ombudsman will only become involved after County Board approval.
Flanagan-Watson will continue to serve as Assistant County Manager, and none of her responsibilities in that position have been removed, according to Arlington Director of Communications Diana Sun.
“This is not a new position, but rather a new area of focus for me as an Assistant County Manager, and I am excited for the opportunity to work with businesses here or looking to come to Arlington,” Flanagan-Watson told ARLnow.com in an email. “This new role will provide an additional resource and point person to ensure the permitting process in Arlington is as efficient and smooth as possible.”
Ombudsmen, by definition, are typically given a degree of independence from the organization over which they have oversight to ensure they are effective in advocating for the public’s — or in this case, the business community’s — best interests.
Photo via Arlington County
Along 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.
At its meeting on Tuesday, the Arlington County Board gave direction to County Manager Barbara Donnellan for developing the proposed Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 budget. The Board recommended the County Manager close a projected $20 to $25 million budget gap while maintaining the current tax rates.
Although this is the sixth consecutive year the county expects a gap between revenues and expenditures, Board members note the gap for FY 2015 is not as severe as in recent years. It’s smaller partially due to higher tax revenue projections — mostly from an increase in residential property assessments — but a significant gap still exists.
“It’s not something to ignore,” said Board member Chris Zimmerman. “There may be tough choices that have to be made.”
An average increase of 5.5 percent for residential real estate assessments is expected to boost the overall real estate tax base 2.6 percent. Commercial assessments are expected to remain flat or decline slightly. Real estate taxes are the county’s largest source of revenue.
Board members recommended Donnellan does not increase the tax rate, which currently stands at $1.006 per $100 of assessed value.
“I for one, could not give guidance to the manager today to raise the tax rate, knowing that we project an increase in real estate on homeowners and not on commercial,” say Board member Jay Fisette. “With all of the issues out there that we will have to grapple with, now is not the time to do that, in my view.”
The Board requested continued funding for services that protect residents’ health and safety, investments in affordable housing and environmental sustainability, and adequate support for public schools. That includes funding for an expected increase in school enrollment. Board members spent much time discussing the need to maintain school funding.
Costs are expected to increase for items such as county employee compensation, funding for Metro and debt financing for major capital projects. New costs are expected for projects such as the new homeless shelter, the Long Bridge Park aquatics center and investments in the ConnectArlington fiber network.
The Board members repeatedly pointed out that this is simply an initial recommendation and more input is necessary before Donnellan presents the proposed budget in February.
“This is the very beginning of the budget process,” said County Board Chairman Walter Tejada. “There’s a whole lot more information and data that we will be getting over the next few months.”
Board members acknowledged the potential to discuss additional cuts should the economic climate worsen. Measures could mimic Donnellan’s previous cost cutting measures, such as the county hiring slowdown that began in 2012.
“Our guidance to the Manager begins a months-long conversation with our community that will involve tough decisions,” Tejada said in a subsequent statement. “With the increase in residential property assessments costing many homeowners close to $300 more per year, we have directed the County Manager to assume no tax rate increase; however, we recognize that this is a time of continued financial uncertainty. If the economic environment changes, we expect the Manager to give us options that may include further budget cuts and/or revenue increases.”
The Board approved the guidance by a 4-1 vote, with Libby Garvey offering the opposing vote.
Arlington’s projected budget gap for Fiscal Year 2015 is between $20 and $25 million, the county manager’s financial forecast shows.
County revenues are expected to increase 2.6 percent to $1.093 billion, thanks largely to higher residential real estate assessments. Residential real estate tax revenue is expected to increase 5.6 percent, while commercial real estate revenue is expected to stay the same or slightly decrease, due to weakness in the office market.
Expenses, meanwhile, are expected to increase, thanks to pay raises for some of the county’s 3,344 full-time employees, a rise in the county’s payment to Metro, and costs associated with new facilities like the year-round homeless shelter and the Long Bridge Park aquatics center.
Total county expenses are projected at $675.6 million, and that assumes cutting the county’s Affordable Housing Investment Fund and pay-as-you-go project financing in half, due to the removal of one-time funds. The county government will face a $7.7 million revenue/expenditure gap.
Arlington Public Schools, meanwhile, will see its budget transfer from the county rise 3 percent to $425 million. Still, the school system is expected to face a $16 million budget gap due to a rise in enrollment.
County staff caution that the figures are still preliminary at this point. FY 2015 doesn’t begin until July 1, 2014.
“Current projections rely on incomplete revenue data and preliminary cost estimates,” staff wrote. “Projections will change as more data becomes available and further analysis is completed. Cost estimates could increase and revenue projections could decrease, exacerbating the problem, or estimates could also improve.”
County Manager Barbara Donnellan will present her budget projections to the County Board at its meeting tonight (Tuesday). The Board, in turn, will provide budget guidance to the manager and her staff.
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.
In a column last month, I urged Arlington County to explain the enormous growth in the size of its cash surplus relative to its operating budget.
Deputy County Manager Mark Schwartz took the time to write a detailed response. Mark deserves kudos for providing it.
Mark’s response presents some explanations that make sense, but provides other material that is cause for significant concern. Since Mark has referenced too much material to address adequately in one column, I’ll discuss today two aspects of that material: general cash management policy and the transportation capital fund.
General Cash Management Policy
The material Mark presented reveals the lack of a coherent, consistent policy for when, how, and under what circumstances taxpayer-funded cash ought to be accumulated in, and then spent from, the multiple different types of Arlington County funds he described.
Some funds have very specific purposes, accumulate cash for a short time, and then spend that cash on the purposes specified. That’s good, but the county ought to have a policy to do that for all its cash surplus funds.
By contrast, Arlington Public Schools does have a coherent, consistent cash management policy that is designed to apply to all its cash surplus funds: At APS, the fund balances don’t just sit there and grow indefinitely.
Transportation Capital Fund
Arlington County’s Transportation Capital Fund (TCF) is an example of a fund that is accumulating taxpayer cash without any adequate explanation for how and when the money will be spent.
Moreover, the following critical TCF details are missing:
- the expected cost of each of the individual projects specifically mentioned;
- how the total cost of all projects specifically mentioned compares with the total amount of money accumulated in the fund;
- the financing plans for any shortfall between the total cost of all projects specifically mentioned and the total amount in the fund, and
- how the county proposes to pay for other known and desired, but unmentioned, projects that are eligible for payment out of the fund.
Frankly, this lack of transparency with respect to the TCF suggests one of two things:
- lack of effective planning, or
- a cynical attempt to hide the county’s true intentions for deploying scarce taxpayer dollars.
Either way, this is not good financial management.
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.
By statute, the Board must approve the referendum if 2 percent of the county’s qualified voters sign a petition. After a six-month campaign championed by the Arlington Green Party, the petition to create the authority got the necessary 2,845 signatures in June.
Approval is scheduled for the Board’s Tuesday meeting, its last meeting until September. The Board must approve the measure before it goes on its summer recess in order to meet the state-mandated deadline of August 16.
The item is not on the Board’s public agenda, which prompted a concerned email to County Board Chairman Walter Tejada from Arlington Green Party treasurer Audrey Clement earlier this week. Though Tejada assured Clement that the resolution will be brought up, she’s now worried that the county will try to influence voters into voting down the referendum, which was on the ballot but failed to pass in 2008.
At that time, a county-disseminated Q&A flyer stated that a housing authority would not produce more affordable housing, and “would only have access to the same tools and finding that the County currently uses.”
“Not only is this language non-neutral, it is false,” Clement told ARLnow.com. “Unlike the subsidies currently awarded by Arlington County to private housing corporations, a housing authority would get most of its funds not from the taxpayers but from [Department of Housing and Urban Development] guaranteed bonds issued in private capital markets.”
“In light of county government’s longstanding opposition to establishment of a housing authority, I am concerned that it will once again lobby to stop the referendum dead in its tracks by disseminating biased information about the referendum in contravention of state law,” she said.
County spokeswoman Mary Curtius said the county stands by its statements in the Q&A from 2008. The County Attorney is not aware of any legal complaint over the message.
“We reject any allegation in any way we acted improperly or illegally, then and even now,” Curtius said. “We feel that everything we said then was factual and neutral, and if we say anything this time, it will be factual and neutral.”
According to HUD’s website, there are 17 buildings that offer subsidized housing in Arlington, compared to nine in Alexandria and 42 in Fairfax County. Both of those jurisdictions have their own housing authority.
Next County Manager To Be Arlington Resident? – A majority of County Board members would like the next county manager to be from Arlington. “Residing in the locality would make someone aware, in a more personal way,” County Board Walter Tejada told the Sun Gazette. But, “our first priority has to be [getting] the best-quality person.” Current county manager Barbara Donnellan lives in Fairfax County. [Sun Gazette]
Hard Times To Get Exclusive Starr Hill Brew – Hard Times Cafe will soon be serving a new brew — Hard Times Craft Lager. The beer is is the result of an exclusive partnership between the restaurant and the Virginia-based brewery. Hard Times’ 17 D.C.-area locations, including its spot in Clarendon, will all offer the beer, starting around the end of the month. [Washington Business Journal]
Video Laments Union Jack’s Closing – Some enterprising local videomaker has created a YouTube video to mourn the closing of Union Jack’s in Ballston. The video is done in the style of the “Hitler Reacts To…” meme. Note that the video contains explicit subtitles and is not safe for work. [YouTube - NSFW]
Bike Lane Boxes Suggested For Arlington – A cyclist who commutes from Washington, D.C., to Arlington every day took note of a bike-friendly feature that can be found on roads in New York City: bike boxes that allow cyclists to stop closer to an intersection on red than cars. Bike boxes could work here in Arlington, writes Brendan Casey, a business development manager at Arlington Transportation Partners.”If Arlington could implement bike boxes, cyclists could get a safe and legal head start on car traffic and build up momentum before cars are on their tails,” Casey writes. [Arlington Transportation Partners]
Flickr pool photo by Wolfkann
Rabbit Closing — Just days after telling ARLnow.com he had reduced hours to lunch only, the owner of Rabbit Salad and Grill (3035 Clarendon Blvd) in Clarendon has apparently decided to completely call it quits. The restaurant will close on Friday to make way for Fat Shorty’s, a beer and sausage restaurant. The new restaurant is expected to open in early April. [Washingtonian]
Carlee Becomes Charlotte City Manager — Former Arlington County Manager Ron Carlee has taken a new job as the city manager of Charlotte, NC. Carlee had worked for Arlington County for 29 years, but left in 2009 for a job with the International City/County Management Association. Carlee’s new salary is reported to be $290,000 per year, a 15 percent increase over his predecessor’s salary. [Charlotte Observer]
Chuck Todd to Give Marymount Commencement Address — Chuck Todd, Chief White House Correspondent for NBC News, will give Marymount University’s commencement address this spring. He’ll speak at D.A.R. Constitution Hall on May 19, the same day the University will award Todd the honorary degree Doctor of Humane Letters in recognition of his career in journalism.
Concern Over Unlicensed Cabs — County Board members voiced concerns about reports of unlicensed taxis operating in Arlington. They asked county staff to investigate the issue and report back. The Board oversees the county’s taxi business by allotting a fixed number of operating certificates and regulating fares. [Sun Gazette]
Sun Gazette Office Moving — Today is moving day for The Sun Gazette. The paper’s office is being relocated from Springfield to 6704 Old McLean Road in McLean. The move is intended to put advertising and newsroom offices in the heart of the paper’s coverage territory, which stretches from Arlington west to Great Falls and then south to Vienna and Oakton. [Sun Gazette]
A draft of Arlington’s Community Energy Plan (CEP) has been revealed. If approved, it would provide a guide for transforming the way energy is used, generated and distributed in Arlington through 2050.
Arlington County Manager Barbara Donnellan presented the draft to the County Board members at Tuesday’s Board meeting. Developing the CEP has been part of a three year effort by county staff members, who consulted with energy experts, community leaders and businesses.
“Once again, Arlington is taking a leadership role in advancing a transformative Community Energy Plan that represents the next generation of smart growth and another visionary way to support a sustainable future for our community,” Donnellan said in a press release.
The goal of the CEP is to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 3.0 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per resident per year by 2050. That equates to a reduction of about 75% from current levels.
The CEP lists six primary areas in which the county intends to implement the plan: buildings, district energy, renewable energy, transportation, county government actions, and education and human behavior.
In a press release, the county listed a number of strategies for achieving the energy goals, including the following:
- Improving by up to 60% the energy efficiency of newly constructed and renovated residential, commercial and civic buildings. Includes financial incentives for investment in energy efficiency upgrades.
- Managing home and building operations to reduce energy costs. Arlington County will continue to lead by example, through its Arlington Initiative to Reduce Emissions (AIRE) program, and by partnering with Arlington Public Schools.
- Creating district energy systems in the highest density development corridors. District energy, although not a new technology, has never been deployed on a community level by any jurisdiction in the Washington, D.C. area. The CEP calls for district energy and local cogeneration of power to provide about 40% of the County’s energy needs in 2050.
- Deploying alternative energy sources, such as solar photovoltaic and other renewable energy systems. The CEP contains an ambitious goal for solar power: 160 megawatts of solar electricity by 2050; enough electricity to power 40,000 homes.
- Refining and expanding transportation infrastructure and operations enhancements. The CEP envisions more people walking, biking and using transit and fewer cars on the roads, in addition to cleaner-burning vehicles.
- Changing how people in our community think about energy, helping them to understand how to have an impact on energy consumption, and actually changing human behavior to transform how we consume energy.
County staff says a community benefit of the plan is a reduction in energy use, which would lower greenhouse gas emissions and create a more sustainable environment. Individuals and businesses would be able to use money saved on energy for other investments to improve their quality of life. Lower energy costs are also cited as directly affecting business’ bottom lines, which is expected to create a more competitive economic environment. Diversifying the local energy supply with alternative options like solar is expected to provide better energy reliability and supply security.
The Board will consider adopting the plan in June of 2013. If it’s approved, county staff would then begin implementation. Prior to adoption, there will be a number of meetings for the public to review the plan, ask questions and to offer feedback.
The Arlington County Board has passed a $1.052 billion budget that will cost the average homeowner an additional $13 per month, while providing additional funding for affordable housing, schools, maintenance and county employee raises.
The Board voted unanimously on Saturday to pass the budget with a 1.3 cent increase in the real estate tax rate for Financial Year 2013. The county tax rate will now be $0.971 for every $100 in assessed real estate value. The tax hike will be partially offset by a $32 decrease in trash and recycling fees, to $294 per year. Taking into account rising real estate assessments, the overall tax and fee burden for the average Arlington homeowner will increase by 2.4 percent, or about $155 per year, according to the county.
County Manager Barbara Donnellan had recommended the tax rate increase be limited to 0.5 cents in her $1.03 billion proposed budget.
The new budget includes a 5.1 percent increase in funding for Arlington Public Schools. The $405.1 million school budget transfer will assist the school system in addressing its current student capacity crisis, while a separate $1.9 million reserve fund, created via 0.3 cents of the 1.3 cent tax hike, will help pay for a possible state mandate of additional contributions to the Virginia Retirement System.
Among other spending priorities the new budget addresses, the county’s housing programs will see significant funding increases. The Board added $2.8 million in one-time finding to the County Manager’s proposed $6.7 million contribution to the county’s Affordable Housing Investment Fund. In addition to $9.5 million for the affordable housing fund, the Board added $2.2 million to the county’s Housing Grants Program. The program, which provides rent subsidies for older adults, people with disabilities and working families with children, will now receive $8.6 million in funding in FY 2013.
County employees will get raises as a result of the new adopted budget. The budget includes $3.9 million for employee merit step increases and a new, higher top salary step. On average, county employees will get a 2.8 percent raise — with the goal of “keeping County salaries competitive with surrounding jurisdictions,” according to a press release. County Board members themselves will have their pay raised by 2.3 percent.
The budget adds $4.7 million in funding for maintenance of county facilities and infrastructure, $2.8 million of which is new ongoing funding. The money will address what’s being described as a backlog of maintenance and repairs that has “built up over the years.”
“We are fortunate here in Arlington that our financial foundation is strong, even as others across the nation cope with continued economic uncertainty,” County Board Chair Mary Hynes said in a statement. “The FY2013 Budget builds on the Board’s direction to the Manager to pay particular attention to three critical areas of County need: affordable housing, compensation, capital maintenance. With this Budget, we have taken significant steps forward in each of these areas, and we intend to continue making progress in these areas with each subsequent budget.”
Other budget items of note include $442,996 to restore branch library operating hours to pre-recession levels and $60,000 to add extra policing to the Clarendon business district. The Board also added funding to a number of nonprofit community groups, including the Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC), Arlingtonians Meeting Emergency Needs (AMEN), the Arlington Free Clinic, the Arlington Street People’s Assistance Network (A-SPAN), and BU-GATA tenants association.
Now that A-frame signs and branded sidewalk cafe umbrellas have been approved for use in Arlington, the County Board is moving on to other, slightly less pressing signage issues as it works to revamp the county’s sign ordinance.
Last week Board members held a work session with County Manager Barbara Donnellan to give input on revisions they’d like to see to the proposal before the final version is inked. The latest draft was devised based on staff input and information gathered at public sessions last year.
One proposed change that all the Board members indicated support for was reducing the number of signs issues that require the Board’s attention. The hope is that by making the ordinance more clear and specific, fewer cases will need special approval.
The county also hopes to include clear standards for illuminated signs. Before that topic can be adequately addressed, Donnellan said a lighting consultant must be hired. Suggestions for illuminated sign restrictions include requiring businesses to turn off lit signs between 10:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. Currently, there aren’t guidelines for lit signs in the ordinance because such signs weren’t widespread the last time the Board made revisions. Of particular concern are some of the signs on high rises in Rosslyn, such as on the Northrop Grumman building.
“It starts to look like a commercial district with major marketing when you come across the bridge,” said Board Member Jay Fisette. “I really don’t want to see that proliferate.”
Another topic garnering attention is the issue of allowing commercial signs on the so-called public right of way, such as medians. Right now, only political signs and real estate signs can be put up in these areas. The board splintered on this issue, suggesting solutions ranging from eliminating commercial signs on medians altogether, to imposing fees or permits for such a practice.
The Board voiced approval for listing specific times for when a sign can be put out and must be brought in. Along with that came the idea to revise how far away a sign may be placed from its advertised event. The proposal currently suggests half a mile, but the Board members prefer a quarter mile.
“We are the smallest county in the nation, only 26 square miles,” said Board Member Walter Tejada. “Half a mile is a lot of space.”
Donnellan and staff members will incorporate the Board’s suggestions into a new draft of the ordinance, and additional public meetings will be scheduled in the spring to discuss the nearly finished proposal. The goal for submitting a final revised ordinance and getting it approved is July.
“We certainly have an awful lot of work ahead of us,” Donnellan said.
At a work session yesterday, the board instructed County Manager Barbara Donnellan to hold the tax rate steady at 95.8 cents per $100 in the final budget.
“They’re sticking with their initial guidance of no real estate rate increase,” county spokeswoman Mary Curtius confirmed this morning.
Donnellan’s proposed budget had recommended holding the tax steady, but the board gave itself some wiggle room in February when it advertised a slightly higher tax rate. Even without a real estate tax rate increase, however, the county’s coffers will be bolstered in FY 2012 by a 6.3 percent rise in property assessments.
The board will vote on its final budget on Saturday.
There’s unease in the easy-going city of Savannah. The city’s search for a new city manager — made necessary after Arlington hired away now-former county manager Michael Brown — is not going as hoped.
After a ten-month nationwide search, candidates for the job include the current interim city manager and three former or soon-to-be former city managers who all left amid allegations of improper conduct
“I don’t believe this search was conducted in the best, most transparent way,” Savannah Alderman Tony Thomas told TV station WSAV.
By contrast, it took a seven-month, $30,000 nationwide search for Arlington hire Brown, who was essentially fired four and a half months after he took office. Immediately after Brown was given the boot, former interim county manager Barbara Donnellan took over as the permanent county manager. Donnellan has remained an uncontroversial hire ever since.
If there’s now any objectively positive thought to take away from the whole lamentable Brown affair, it seems to be… at least we’re not Savannah.