Two of Three Dem Candidates Endorse Streetcar — Two of the three Democratic candidates for County Board — Alan Howze and Peter Fallon — have voiced support for the Columbia Pike streetcar project. The third Democratic contender — Cord Thomas — has concerns about the proposal. [Sun Gazette]
Lack of Decal in Fairfax Affects Arlington — Eight years ago Fairfax County became the lone jurisdiction in Northern Virginia to abandon car tax decals, and Arlington County Treasurer Frank O’Leary believes that’s costing Arlington $300,000. O’Leary said it’s too labor intensive to check every single vehicle parked in Arlington without a decal to determine if the vehicle is from Fairfax or if the owner didn’t pay Arlington taxes. [Sun Gazette]
Civic Leadership Program Deadline Extended — Arlington County has extended the deadline for residents interested in signing up for the eight week Neighborhood College program. Participants will learn communication and influencing skills, how to organize for action and how to give and receive feedback, among other things. The deadline to sign up for the free series is now January 10, and classes begin February 13. [Arlington County]
Police Officer Profiled — A member of the Arlington County Police Department — Capt. Kamran Afzal — has been profiled in Asian Fortune. The Pakistani American studied economics in college before turning to a life in law enforcement. He has been with the department for 20 years. [Asian Fortune]
Christmas Tree Collection Begins — County workers began collecting discarded Christmas trees yesterday. The trees are collected curbside until January 17 and will be turned into mulch. [Arlington County]
Flickr pool photo by wolfkann
In the Virginia gubernatorial race, Democrat Terry McAuliffe defeated Republican Ken Cuccinelli by a margin of about 56,000 votes. Arlington, meanwhile, contributed about 33,000 surplus Democratic votes to that total.
Arlington’s importance to securing Democratic victories in statewide races cannot be underestimated, county Treasurer Frank O’Leary told the party faithful at last night’s Arlington County Democratic Committee meeting.
“We are exporting votes that are desperately needed… throughout Virginia,” he said, lauding the party’s get-out-the-vote efforts, which helped lead to McAuliffe’s 72 percent to 22 percent shellacking over Cuccinelli in Arlington.
O’Leary said the nearly 67,000 votes cast in the governor’s race in Arlington were a record, smashing the previous record of about 57,000 and pointing to an overall upward trend in overall turnout for statewide, congressional and presidential races in Arlington. (Turnout in purely local elections — County Board, etc. — remains flat.)
Arlingtonians cast about 7,250 absentee ballots this year, a record for a non-presidential year. The previous record was 7,077, set in 2006. While some of the increase can be attributed to a broader upward trend in absentee voting, O’Leary said the federal government shutdown also played a significant role.
“An interesting thing happened in early October,” O’Leary said. “A whole lot of people were furloughed… and they were mad as hell and weren’t going to talk it any more.”
“My theory that the absentee vote was swollen by angry federal workers, using their unappreciated furlough to come in and vote, may be sustained by the fact that McAuliffe received 79.5% of their vote versus 70.6% in the 52 precincts,” O’Leary said in a subsequent email. “Thus, McAuliffe garnered 650 more votes at the absentee level than might have been expected based on his performance in the precincts.”
The Libertarian candidate running for governor in Virginia, Robert Sarvis, captured about 6.5 percent of the vote statewide, and about 5.8 percent in Arlington. Contrary to the conventional wisdom of some Virginia political watchers, who argued that Sarvis largely siphoned off votes that would have otherwise gone to Cuccinelli, O’Leary said he has reason to believe Sarvis actually hurt McAuliffe in Arlington.
“In my opinion, Mr. Sarvis actually cost our gubernatorial candidates some votes,” he said.
County Treasurer Frank O’Leary (D), Arlington’s unofficial predictor of local voting trends, says a dramatic increase in absentee voting this year points to higher voter interest in the Virginia governor’s race.
“This year’s race will probably set the record for turnout in a Gubernatorial Year,” O’Leary wrote. “In 2009, with seven days of voting remaining, 2,914 absentee votes had been cast. This year, 4,476 have already voted absentee and I expect the final number to hit 7,200 or more.”
O’Leary says the government shutdown might have boosted absentee voting.
“It seems likely that this remarkable increase in absentee turnout is a direct result of federal workers being furloughed,” he wrote. “During the furlough period, 500 additional votes occurred when compared to 2009. Those additional votes may well have arisen from angry federal workers, who had nothing better to do.”
O’Leary is predicting a total turnout of roughly 70,000 ballots cast among the 137,027 active registered voters in Arlington. That predicted 51.1 percent turnout rate in Arlington compares to 42.9 percent for the 2009 race between Bob McDonnell (R) and Creigh Deeds (D), and 50.5 percent for the 2005 race between Tim Kaine (D) and Jerry Kilgore (R).
(The turnout for presidential and congressional elections is generally higher than that of gubernatorial elections, with an average of 81.6 and 56 percent of active voter turnout respectively in Arlington between 1972 and 2012, according to O’Leary.)
Speaking to ARLnow.com on Tuesday, Arlington County Registrar Linda Lindberg confirmed the increase in absentee voting so far this year. She said absentee voting will “definitely” be higher than in 2009. She was more conservative in her prediction for overall turnout, calling for a 50 percent turnout rate.
In addition to various local races, Election Day on Nov. 5 will feature the hotly-contested Virginia governor’s race between Democrat Terry McAuliffe, Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and Libertarian Robert Sarvis.
Treasurer Makes Deal for iPark Refills — Arlington County Treasurer Frank O’Leary has struck deals to allow the county to refill iPark devices, while adding more devices to the cache that can be used to replace non-functioning units. The county paid $10,000 to the bankrupt manufacturer of the devices for the codes necessary to add value without additional authorization or payment to the company. The move comes about a month and a half after the company’s bankruptcy suddenly prevented the county from refilling the devices. [Sun Gazette]
Man Gets 10 Year Sentence for Custis Trail Robbery — A 23-year-old D.C. resident has received a 10 year sentence for a robbery on the Custis Trail that left a jogger with a head injury and lingering cognitive effects. The attacker and his 17-year-old brother, who’s expected to receive a 1.5 to 3 year sentence, were both arrested as they fled toward the Ballston Metro Station. The victim, a 55-year-old personal trainer, says he still suffers from headaches, nightmares and memory loss. [Washington Post]
Remembering Allison’s Tea House — From the 1920s to the 1950s, Allison’s Tea House, at 1301 S. Arlington Ridge Road, was “a coveted neighborhood restaurant… that had been visited by dignitaries including Amelia Earhart and Eleanor Roosevelt.” The restaurant’s iconic stone well house was preserved after the restaurant and its grounds were redeveloped into an apartment building in the 1960s. It still stands, and is used as storage for the apartment’s swimming pool. [Preservation Arlington]
ACPD Participating in Drug Take-Back Day — The Arlington County Police Department is participating in National Drug Take-Back Day on Saturday. From 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., at fire stations No. 1, 8 and 9, officers will collect expired, unused, and unwanted prescription drugs. “The service is free and anonymous, no questions asked,” police say in a press release. [Arlington County]
Flickr pool photo by Wolfkann
Tax Delinquency Rate Hits Record Low — Arlington County Treasurer Frank O’Leary and his staff managed to get the county’s tax delinquency rate down to a record low 0.41 percent for the fiscal year that ended June 30. “Just amazing — phenomenal, absolutely fabulous,” O’Leary was quoted as saying during a celebration of the accomplishment last night. [Sun Gazette]
Remembering Arlington’s Nazi Past — He wasn’t very popular with his fellow residents, but George Rockwell, the founder of the once Arlington-based American Nazi Party, remains part of Arlington lore. Before being shot to death in the Dominion Hills Shopping Centre, Rockwell helped organize a picket of Mario’s Pizza House on Wilson Boulevard for refusing Nazi party members service while continuing to serve black customers. The Nazis also made a bomb threat against the Arlington Unitarian Church. [Arlington Magazine]
Adult Soccer Clinic Registration — Registration is open for a six-week adult soccer clinic for men and women, to be held at Washington-Lee High School. The clinic is primarily intended for adults who want to learn how to play soccer or who haven’t played since childhood. [Arlington County]
Photo courtesy Brendan P. Childs
The Right Note is a weekly opinion column published on Thursdays. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.
Last week, Arlington’s Treasurer Frank O’Leary produced a chart which showed the swelling cash on hand coffers in the County. He was right to question why it was growing so much. He was also right to point out it very well could mean Arlingtonians could be paying less in taxes.
Having this issue brought to light seemed to be a good bit of common sense to me.
Then it got more interesting. This week O’Leary wrote a letter to the editor explaining that his commentary on paying lower taxes and questioning spending decisions by the Board was in his role as a private citizen and not as Treasurer.
We are left to wonder, what prompted O’Leary to feel compelled to backpedal so quickly? Did he receive one or more angry phone calls from a County Board member or members? Did they threaten to cut his office budget? Did they say they might just have to back a primary opponent against him in 2015?
Frank O’Leary is elected by the same Arlingtonians who elect the County Board. They entrust him with a critically important fiduciary duty. He is the guardian of the treasury funded by the taxpayers.
He had every right to bring this issue to our attention. And, he had every right to offer his commentary on it as the elected official who is safeguarding our money.
I have made the argument that our County Board and Manager underestimate revenue each year to give themselves two things: a “budget shortfall” excuse to raise taxes; and a slush fund to spend in the close-out process each year.
Maybe the Board feels like having to explain away our growing cash on hand surplus confirms my theory. Maybe they just do not appreciate having to explain themselves at all. Of course, the explanation by county staff did little to actually answer the underlying questions O’Leary raised. Regardless of how the Board and Manager feel, we deserve more transparency from our county government, and we should applaud Frank O’Leary for pulling back the curtain on this issue.
Here’s my challenge to Treasurer O’Leary going forward. Put the County’s check register online. Let citizens who care about fiscal responsibility monitor the cash flow every month. This will really hold the County Board accountable, and it sounds like it is well within your constitutional job duties.
Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.
Too Much Cash on Hand? — Is Arlington County’s nearly $300 million cash hoard excessive? Many county officials says the extra cash cushion is an example of good fiscal stewardship. County Treasurer Frank O’Leary, however, suggests the cash reserves are “causing us to pay more taxes than we should.” [Sun Gazette]
More Coverage for Girls’ Firefighting Camp — The Today Show broadcast a segment yesterday about the Arlington Girls’ Fire Camp. The unique camp has also been covered by CBS News, among other broadcast outlets. [Today Show]
Korean War Tribute at Twilight Tattoo — Last night’s Twilight Tattoo performance at Fort Myer featured a special tribute to the heroes of the Korean War. The high-energy performance commemorated the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Korean War Armistice and was hosted by Joseph Westphal, Under Secretary of the Army. [U.S. Army]
Dating Event for Ages 31-40 — Date Social, the Arlington-based dating startup, will be hosting a dating mixer for those ages 31-40 at Hard Times Cafe tonight, starting at 7:00. Tickets are $12. [Clarendon Nights]
Flickr pool photo by Ddimick
The bill would extend the Federal Offset Program to local governments. The program currently helps 42 states and Washington, D.C. to collect funds from delinquent taxpayers by reducing — or “offsetting” — their federal tax refund.
The bill, if passed, would be a triumph for Arlington Treasurer Frank O’Leary, who has advocated for such a tax-collecting tool on the local level.
“This is a win-win program for all levels of government and those who regularly pay their taxes,” O’Leary said in a press release. ”Passage of this legislation could mean hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue for local governments without increasing the tax burden on those who faithfully pay their fair share of taxes.”
“This bill offers a unique opportunity not just to provide needed, owed funds, at no cost to the federal government, it also protects honest taxpayers from an increase in local property taxes,” Moran said. “The federal government has done this successfully with states and we should provide the same partnership to local governments looking for relief.”
The federal government will collect a $25 fee from localities for each offset request. In Fiscal Year 2010, the Federal Offset Program collected more than $400 million in delinquent taxes to the states enrolled, Moran’s office said.
Registration Open for Bike to Work Day — Cyclists interested in participating in Bike to Work Day on Friday, May 17, can register online. There are three official pit stops in Arlington — Freshbikes in Ballston (3924 Wilson Blvd), Gateway Park in Rosslyn (1300 Lee Hwy) and Crystal City Water Park (1750 Crystal Drive). There will also be a stop in East Falls Church along the W&OD Trail near the intersection of Lee Hwy and N. Washington Street. Last year, a record 12,700 people in the D.C. area participated in the event.
Possibility of Another Record Low Year for Tax Delinquencies — If Arlington residents continue paying their taxes as expected, the county could experience another record low for its tax delinquency rate. Treasurer Frank O’Leary says the current delinquency rate is 0.397 percent, which is below the 0.47 percent for Fiscal Year 2012. FY 2012 had the lowest tax delinquency rate in recorded county history. [Sun Gazette]
Amnesty International 5K Run for Rights on Saturday — Amnesty International will be holding its first 5K Run for Rights at 8:00 a.m. this Saturday, March 30. The race begins at Bluemont Park. Online registration closes tonight (Thursday) at 7:00 p.m., but on-site registration will be offered on race day. More details are available on the event’s Facebook page.
By law, restaurants collect a 4 percent food and beverage (“meals”) tax in Arlington on top of the 5 percent state sales tax. The meals tax is then to be remitted to the county. But some restaurants — especially restaurants experiencing financial difficulties — simply pocket the money and accrue a debt to the county.
Frustrated by weak enforcement measures, O’Leary is seeking the power to seize and shut down restaurants that continue to accrue large meals tax debts, with no end to the delinquency in sight.
“What we would like to do is get the power to close down restaurants that are going deeper and deeper into debt,” he told ARLnow.com. “What they’re doing is essentially criminal. You can’t charge people tax on their meals and keep it for yourself, no matter how pressing your problems are. That money belongs to the county.”
O’Leary said he has been meeting with members of Arlington’s delegation to Richmond and is hoping to get a law passed in the state legislature’s upcoming session.
The effort is an uphill battle, however; the Republican majority in the state legislature has been reluctant to pass tax-related bills, especially those sought by Arlington County. O’Leary says he plans to argue that the measure could benefit the state’s coffers. He says restaurants that aren’t paying their meals taxes might be skimping on their state sales taxes, too.
Part of the challenge of enforcing the meals tax is the nature of the restaurant business itself. The county can seize property from tax cheats, but restaurants often operate in rented spaces with rented furniture and rented kitchen equipment.
“There’s very little to actually confiscate,” O’Leary said.
Restaurant owners are also able to keep the tax man at bay by offloading their personal property to others. His proverbial white whale, chef and restaurateur Roberto Donna, managed to get away with pocketing some $140,000 in meals taxes — for awhile, at least — in part because most of his personal property, like his McLean mansion, was in his wife’s name. O’Leary took the extraordinary step of having Donna prosecuted, but he avoided jail time and is now paying off his debt at a rate of a mere $500 per month.
O’Leary said he even considered having Donna extradited back to Italy, but decided he’d rather have the famous chef make his paltry debt payments than no payments at all.
Should O’Leary get his way, sheriff’s deputies would be dispatched to a severely delinquent restaurant to post closure notices on the doors and change the locks, so restaurant owners aren’t able to remove any property.
“Nothing else seems to work,” he said. “What we really need to do is stop them from operating. That’s the only thing I can think of to solve the problem.”
Even if his lobbying efforts prove unsuccessful, though, O’Leary has another trick up his sleeve: public shaming.
This month, the treasurer’s office is sending a mailing to tax delinquent restaurants, warning the owners that their tax delinquencies will be publicized in the media and on the county’s web site should they not agree to a repayment plan. Should any restaurants continue to flout the tax laws, O’Leary says he hopes Arlington residents will take note and do as he does: not dine there.
If the past five special elections are a guide, Democrats will need to muster about 10,000 votes to win tomorrow’s County Board special election.
Clement received 9,728 votes in the 2011 November general election, when she was the sole challenger to Mary Hynes and Walter Tejada, who both ended up winning reelection. Kelly received 20,570 votes to Democratic incumbent Chris Zimmerman’s 32,894 votes in November 2010. Special elections, however, tend to attract far fewer voters.
As detailed in an email from Arlington County Treasurer and amateur election statistician Frank O’Leary (see table, above), the turnout for special elections has ranged between 18,000 and 22,000 over the past 22 years, compared to the more than 57,000 votes cast in the 2010 County Board election. In two of those special elections — 1993 and 1999 — low turnout helped to propel a Republican to victory over a Democrat.
O’Leary thinks tomorrow may see near-record low turnout, thanks in part to voter fatigue. Democrats voted in a primary in August, a general election in November, a caucus in January, and are now being asked to go to the polls yet again. Plus, there’s the issue of party unity.
“Some may still be nursing grudges as a result of the five dimensional recent Democratic primary (which evidenced a dismal turnout, even allowing for winter weather),” O’Leary noted. That opens up the opportunity for Clement or Kelly to pull out a surprise victory, if either can get enough voters to the polls.
Since 1990, no Democrat has received fewer than 9,143 votes in a County Board special election. At the same time, no Republican (or third party) has received more than 9,788 votes. As such, 10,000 may be the magic number for any of the three candidates.
The expected rush of residents paying their county taxes at the last minute didn’t happen as originally thought. County Treasurer Frank O’Leary predicted around 2,600 people would show up on Wednesday to pay their vehicle personal property tax and installment two of the county’s real estate tax in person, but the number was actually 2,201.
That day alone brought in almost $6.5 million for the county, making the total amount collected from walk-ins during the final week $30.7 million. Compare that with 2009, when 2,799 people showed up on the final day and paid nearly $11.8 million, with the final week totaling $35.8 million.
O’Leary notes that printing trouble last year caused the tax bills to be sent out 10 days late, so the deadline was extended by 10 days, to October 15. That made comparisons to 2010 invalid so 2009 numbers are used for comparisons instead. The 2009 numbers were also adjusted to take into consideration the new technology system this year.
Technology upgrades and an extra register made the process move smoothly. O’Leary also credits “alternative” payment methods such as online tax payments with making things easier.
He said, “My promise that no customer would wait more than six minutes for service was easily fulfilled.”
Overall, the number of people choosing to pay in person has declined by more than 1,200 people, or nearly 17%, since 2009. O’Leary also noticed that immigrants, who make up the majority of walk-in payments on the due date, didn’t arrive in the same volume as previous years.
Workers in the Treasurer’s Office plan to analyze information gathered by the new technology. O’Leary says it will help to better determine who pays, when, and how.
“Our tax party isn’t very popular any more,” Arlington County Treasurer Frank O’Leary said with a smile this afternoon, as residents trickled into the county government building in Courthouse (2100 Clarendon Blvd) to make last-minute tax payments. Thanks to a clockwork-like directing-and-collecting operation, some 25 county staffers strong, lines have remained relatively short on what is traditionally a very busy tax deadline day.
“A year ago, you would have had a sea of humanity here,” said O’Leary, who has served as Treasurer for 28 years. “So far, that’s not the case…. This is the lightest due date in my history.”
After handling about 1,600 in-person tax payments on Monday, and 1,800 payments on Tuesday, O’Leary guessed last night that his office would have to handle about 2,600 payments today. That, O’Leary says, now seems like an overestimation.
“The biggest story this year is there is no story,” he said. “We were surprised.”
“Ahh, it’s not like the old days,” one Treasurer’s office employee was overheard saying to a colleague.
O’Leary credited the work of employees from the Treasurers office and the Commissioner of Revenue’s office for keeping things moving. He also said that “alternative” payment methods he’s worked to put in place over the years — from online tax payments to instituting tax payments at banks — have also helped.
The biggest change from past years O’Leary has noticed is that immigrants — who make up the overwhelming majority of in-person taxpayers on the due date — aren’t here in the numbers of previous years.
Tax payment stations — including the usual Treasurers counter on the second floor and an “express” area set up on the first floor — will remain open until 5:00 tonight.
Election Day in Virginia — Voters are going to the polls in Virginia today to vote in a rare mid-August primary. In addition to the date, which was pushed back thanks to this year’s redistricting process, this year’s election is unique because it features “more Latino candidates on the ballot than ever before in General Assembly races… running for both Democratic and Republican nominations.” Arlington’s 51 polling places will be open from 6:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. today. [NBC Washington, Arlington County]
O’Leary Predicts High Turnout — Arlington County Treasurer and amateur election prognosticator Frank O’Leary believes that about 11,850 votes will be cast today, seven times the turnout of the 2007 primary. O’Leary based his projection on the number of absentee votes cast this year, which is higher than usual. [Sun Gazette]
Wedding Interrupted by Tow Truck — An Indian wedding procession in Ballston was interrupted over the weekend when the truck and trailer that transported the groom’s white horse to the area was towed from a parking lot. According to a witness, wedding organizers eventually talked the tow truck driver into dropping the truck. [ARLnow Forums]
Flickr pool photo by Philliefan99