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.
Santa Visits Cherrydale — More than 300 children swarmed the Cherrydale Fire Station on Sunday afternoon, taking home free presents, stuffed stockings and fresh memories of Santa Claus. The children were beneficiaries of the 80th annual Christmas celebration sponsored by the Cherrydale Volunteer Fire Department. – Michael Doyle
End in Sight For HOT Lanes Suit? — After more than $1 million in legal costs, could the county’s lawsuit over HOT lanes on I-395 be nearing an end? Arlington “has had several positive negotiations that could lead to a settlement outside of court,” reports Ben Giles of the Washington Examiner, citing an interview with County Attorney Stephen MacIsaac.
Libraries Dominate County Manager Online Q&A — What’s on the mind of web-savvy Arlington residents these days? If Friday’s online community chat with County Manager Barbara Donnellan is any indication, they’re quite focused on libraries. Of the 14 questions asked during the question and answer session, six were about Arlington’s libraries. See a transcript here.
Fisette discussed board vice chair Chris Zimmerman’s decision to step down from the Metro board, the firing of former county manager Michael Brown, and Arlington’s legislative priorities for 2011.
Fisette’s interview starts at 35:30 in the recording found here.
Here’s a sampling of the interview.
On Gov. McDonnell’s Government Reform Commission:
“We all have some high hopes that the Governor’s Reform Commission will come through with some good ideas,” including a loosening of Dillon Rule restrictions.
On the proposed privatization of Virginia’s liquor wholesale and retail business:
“It really wouldn’t accomplish what it set out to do.”
On the Community Energy Plan:
“Reliability and the cost of energy are going to be a huge issues [in the future... At the federal level there's kind of a void over the past decade or so, no one has really tackled this, so it falls to local governments."
"We're in the process... of adopting a plan that will set goals, targets and strategies for generating, distributing and reducing the use of energy. It will make Arlington more competitive for business in the future."
On former county manager Michael Brown:
"After a few months it became clear to us... that it was time to ask Mr. Brown to move on... Fortunately for us, our deputy county manager [Barbara Donnellan] stepped in and has done a terrific job.”
The audit, conducted by the accounting firm of Clifton Gunderson LLP, was just posted on the county’s web site and discussed briefly by County Manager Barbara Donnellan at Tuesday afternoon’s board meeting.
“I’m glad to report that the county has once again received an unqualified or ‘clean’ opinion from our auditors,” Donnellan said. “Once again Arlington’s fiscal management has been found to be strong.”
The 216-page report can be downloaded in PDF format here. Instead of attempting what would likely be a woefully incomplete analysis, we’ll open up the comment section to anyone who wants to examine specific sections of the document.
If we can find a couple hundred food critics, there have got to be a few accountants out there, right?
Arlington County Manager Barbara Donnellan will hold a public meeting tonight to discuss the county’s upcoming financial year 2012 budget.
The forum will be held from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. at the Arlington Central Library’s auditorium (1015 North Quincy Street).
As we reported earlier, Donnellan has said that her recommended budget will likely not include any further cuts for county parks or libraries, but it will include sizable cuts in other areas.
Speaking to the League of Women Voters last night, county manager Barbara Donnellan said she does not expect to make any cuts to the libraries or parks in her proposed budget for financial year 2012.
At the same time, however, Donnellan cautioned that with Arlington facing a $25 million budget gap, the libraries will likely not see a restoration of hours to pre-2009 or pre-2010 levels.
At one point, Donnellan reflected on her failed effort to close the Cherrydale library, which was met with considerable public outcry. She says that she learned her lesson about community attachment to libraries.
“I’m not doing it any more, I’m done,” she said. “It’s apparent to me that every library is going to stay open.”
In a question and answer session, one attendee said she was concerned that the county seems willing to allow a deterioration in the quality of services system-wide, instead of summoning the political will to close facilities when it makes practical and financial sense. Donnellan said that while the county must carefully weigh its budget priorities, current facilities must be adequately funded.
“As long as we’re going to keep them, we have to maintain them, and that takes money,” she said.
Donnellan pledged to close the current budget gap with a balance of spending cuts and revenue increases. She will host a public budget forum for residents from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 2, at the Arlington Central Library auditorium.
Be Careful Commuting This Morning — A thunderstorm packing driving rain and high winds swept through the area overnight, causing trees and power lines to fall and coating local sidewalks and roadways with wet leaves. The leaves could make for slick conditions for cyclists, pedestrians and drivers alike this morning. More on the storm damage, including this morning’s closure of George Mason Drive, here.
Whitlow’s Hopes to Open Rooftop Deck by Thanksgiving — Whitlow’s owner Greg Cahill tells TBD that he hopes to have his new rooftop bar, Wilson’s on Whitlow’s, open in one or two weeks. Cahill is working hard to open in time for Thanksgiving eve, traditionally one of the busiest nights for bars. Bring your coat.
Meet Arlington’s County Manager — Barbara Donnellan, Arlington’s (relatively) new county manager, will participate in a public forum with the local League of Women Voters tonight. Donnellan “will speak about challenges facing the County and her plans for the County’s future,” according to an invitation. The forum will be held from 6:45 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. in the third-floor county board room at 2100 Clarendon Blvd.
Arlington County Manager Barbara Donnellan and her staff will meet with officials from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Friday to discuss the county’s desire to opt-out of the Secure Communities program.
The Sun Gazette reports that the county expects to release a public statement after the meeting.
Other local jurisdictions, like Loudoun and Fauquier counties, which participate in the Secure Communities program, say it’s an effective, uncontroversial tool for removing criminal aliens, the Sun Gazette also reported today.
Donnellan was referring to the fact that property values — and, thus, tax collections — have stabilized in Arlington, while other local communities continue to feel the pinch from the recession.
Even with a cautiously optimistic outlook, however, the county is still staring down a $25-35 million budget shortfall for FY 2012.
Reflecting the continued financial pressures, the board on Saturday issued budget guidance to Donnellan that was conservative in tone.
The board asked Donnellan to limit budget growth to 1.14 percent — the rate of inflation. The limit does not apply to additional spending required by the school system and as a result of the county’s commitment to four current capital projects (including a new fire station, Long Bridge Park, and the Mary Marshall Assisted Living Residence).
Donnellan expects capital projects to cost an additional $2.5 million, increases in employee compensation to cost $12.7 million, and post-employment benefits to cost an additional $2.1 million. The cost of additional student enrollment is expected to cost $8.6 million.
Donnellan says the county will likely collect an additional $13.8 million in revenue, based largely on inflation.
The board instructed Donnellan to find “any efficiencies or duplication that may exist in County programs,” as a way to save money. It also instructed Donnellan to add no new positions or programs, unless a dedicated funding source or a net cost savings can be identified.
At the same time, the board asked Donnellan to continue investing in affordable housing while preserving the “safety net for those in need,” as well as public safety and health protections.
New Arlington County Manager Barbara Donnellan has appointed county chief financial officer Mark Schwartz to her former position of deputy county manager. Schwartz served as acting deputy county manager during the seven months from 2009 to 2010 that Donnellan served as acting county manager.
Schawartz, who holds a bachelor’s degree from Harvard and a law degree from Penn, has overseen the county’s budget and bond sales since 2005.
Also today, Donnellan appointed William F. O’Connor III as director of the Department of Environmental Services. The department manages county roads, sewers, trash services, environmental initiatives and building projects.
O’Connor had been serving as director of design and construction for Arlington Public Schools, where he has been involved with the design, planning and building of three new high schools.
O’Connor’s appointment is effective Nov. 8. Schwartz’s appointment is effective immediately.
“Mark’s extensive background in financial management, strategic planning and administration, and his strong belief in the ability of local government to effect positive change, makes him the natural choice for this key position,” Donnellan said in a statement. “Bill understands both our community and the challenges of running the County’s largest department. His wealth of experience in the public and private sectors will be invaluable to a department that is responsible for everything from capital projects to maintenance of our water, sewers and streets.”