(Updated at 4:40 p.m.) Two days after the Arlington County Board voted to offset a one-cent tax rate cut by eliminating a pay raise for county employees, the Board has changed course.
County Board Chair Jay Fisette told ARLnow.com Friday afternoon that, after the Board met with representatives from the police and firefighter unions this morning, it decided to cut from other areas to make up the $6.6 million gap in the budget the tax cut will create.
The Arlington County Police Union, the Arlington Police Beneficiary Association and the Arlington Professional Firefighters and Paramedics Association (Local 2800) each released statements denouncing the Board’s decision to go against County Manager Barbara Donnellan’s recommendation to keep the property tax rate at 2014′s level of $1.006 per $100 in assessed value — and to pay for it by eliminating pay raises in favor of a “modest” 1 percent Cost of Living Adjustment and a one-time $500 employee bonus.
The decision was made in the days leading up to Wednesday’s budget mark-up, leading the police and firefighters to question the process and transparency of the Board’s budget process.
“Throughout the budgetary process that started in September 2013, there were no discussions by the County Board that indicated that step increases would be eliminated,” Local 2800 said in a statement. “Only now, six days before the vote, have we been informed… We understand that there needs to be a balance and restraint in the current economic times but there also needs to be transparency.”
The APBA said the cut in step increases would have hit twice as hard because the county changed employees’ healthcare plans this year, resulting in increases in premiums as high as 7 percent for some employees.
“Not only is this budget cut targeting employees in one of the most expensive places to live in the U.S., it also was made at the 11th hour, outside of Arlington’s well-accepted and long-established budget process and after the last opportunity for public comment,” the APBA said in a statement.
“It is the opinion of the APBA and Union that this last minute decision is politically motivated as a newly elected County Board Member was just sworn into office,” APBA member Jim Tuomey said in a separate email. “We feel this is a last minute effort for the County Board to try and ‘win over’ the voters by saving a penny on the real estate tax rate at the expense of all County employees and we have no opportunity to be heard at future work sessions with the budget adoption next Tuesday night.”
Fisette said the Board unanimously decided to cut the tax rate “a few weeks ago,” before the April 8 special election that saw John Vihstadt became the first non-Democrat elected to the Board since 1999 by a 57-41 percent margin over Democrat Alan Howze.
The decision to do away with the step increase came as a shock to the employees because it hadn’t been mentioned in any public hearings or meetings. Moreover, Fisette said, it’s rare that the Board goes away from the county manager’s recommendations on compensation. It’s particularly rare that the Board lowers salaries or cuts pay raises, Fisette said. (more…)
The County Board last night directed the County Manager to reduce the tax rate in its Fiscal Year 2015 budget from $1.006 per every $100 in assessed value to $0.996.
That penny corresponds to about $6.6 million in reduced revenue for the county. However, the tax and fee burden on the average Arlington taxpayer will still rise about 4.6 percent, thanks to an increase in property assessments and increases in solid waste and water-sewer fees.
The county plans to use the additional tax revenue on a variety of projects, but much of it will go to Arlington Public Schools and to a “modest” 1 percent cost-of-living adjustment and $500 bonus for county employees.
“The Board’s action provides $432.2 million to the Schools, an increase in base funding of $19.6 million, or 4.7% more than FY 2014, the county said in a press release. “With this budget, Arlington’s support of our students now exceeds $19,000 per pupil — more than any other school district in the region.”
The Board also funded three new School Resource Officers and $8 million for school construction. Other non-school projects the Board committed to funding yesterday include $200,000 in tourism marketing, $1.6 million for the county’s high-speed fiber optic network for businesses, $52,000 for a new sexual assault hotline, $72,606 for a mental health coordinator, $700,000 for costs associated with the opening of the new year-round homeless shelter early next year, and $300,000 for plowing snow from bike trails.
“The Board had to make some tough decisions,” County Board Chair Jay Fisette said in a statement. “In order to give some break to homeowners who have seen their assessments rise, we limited the growth of the County budget, launched no new major initiatives and focused on funding schools and maintaining our core services and existing infrastructure.”
The $200,00 for tourism came at the request of the county’s hotel businesses, which were doubly hurt by a quarter-cent drop in the Transient Occupancy Tax and the lack of business in the fall during the government shutdown.
“I’ve got to thank you for this,” County Manager Barbara Donnellan told the Board. “With the vacancies in the fall, I met with people in the hospitality industry and they were telling me, ‘It’s terrible, we’re going to have to lay people off.’”
At the end of the meeting, new Board member John Vihstadt made a motion to halt all funding that would directly or indirectly go to funding the planned streetcar network along Columbia Pike and in Crystal City for 2014 and 2015. The measure failed 2-3, with Vihstadt joined by Libby Garvey in voting for the motion.
The County Board will officially vote on the budget on Tuesday. The county’s press release on the budget decisions, after the jump.
Arlington Has Highest Tax Burden for the Poor — Arlington County has the highest tax burden for low income people in the D.C. area, according to a new study. In response, County Board Chair Jay Fisette suggested that the higher taxes go to providing more services, like affordable housing and better public schools, compared to other jurisdictions. [WAMU]
Op-Ed: Lower The Tax Rate — Local fiscal watchdog Wayne Kubicki says that the the County Board should reduce the property tax rate by 1.5 cents by utilizing part of the $37.1 million in unspent funds left over from Fiscal Year 2014. Kubicki suggests calling the tax rate reduction a “Vihstadt Dividend.” [InsideNoVa]
National Issues Didn’t Help Dems in Local Race — Democratic County Board candidate Alan Howze and his allies tried to corner opponent John Vihstadt on issues like Medicaid and his past support of Republican candidates. But it didn’t work, and Vihstadt was elected in a virtual landslide, the first non-Democrat on the County Board in 15 years. Concludes “Our Man in Arlington” columnist Charlie Clark: “Superimposing state and national ideological issue tests on genuine local disputes won’t trump voter focus on the individual candidates’ qualifications and clarity of message.” [Falls Church News-Press]
Venture Fund Founder on Crystal City — Paul Singh, founder of the new $50 million Crystal Tech Fund, which will focus its investments on post-seed stage tech companies, talked to a reporter about why he chose to locate the fund in Crystal City. He said Crystal City is an “attractive” location for tech company founders because of Metro access and airport proximity, along with “great restaurants and great living environments.” [Washington Post]
National Airport Cab Fares May Rise – The cost of taking a cab from Reagan National Airport may rise starting in September. The Board of Directors of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority is considering raising the dispatch fee for cabs picking up passengers from $2.50 to $3 per trip. The board is also considering a requirement that all cabs accept credit cards. [InsideNoVa]
Flickr pool photo by Dennis Dimick
(Updated at 10:35 a.m.) One would expect that most demonstrations outside IRS headquarters in D.C. involve calls for lower taxes. This afternoon, however, congressional candidate Del. Patrick Hope (D) held a press conference outside the IRS to call for higher taxes on the wealthiest Americans.
Hope, who’s one of 10 Democratic candidates running for the congressional seat of the retiring Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), said he supports the budget put forth by the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which raises taxes on Americans making more than $250,000 per year and creates a new, higher tax bracket for those making more than $1 million. It would also close corporate tax loopholes and tax individuals making more than $100 million annually at 48 percent.
The budget also would eliminate the tax difference between long-term capital gains income and regular income from salaries and wages. It also would reverse the effects of the sequester, which would mean more jobs for federal workers. Hope circulated a petition trying to draw support for what he calls the “Millionaire’s Tax,” and said he gathered 33,000 signatures.
A tax hike on the wealthy “solves our revenue problem very simply, by bringing in more revenue,” Hope said. “Our future is at stake in the upcoming Congress. Will we pass a grand bargain that cuts our social safety net? Or will we close the loopholes and demand the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans pay their fair share? That’s what the 2014 election will be about all over the United States — and that is where we have our biggest differences in our primary in the 8th District.”
The higher tax rate could hit residents of the district Hope seeks to represent particularly hard. Arlington has consistently ranked among the five richest counties in America in recent years, even landing at No. 1 by some metrics. Hope’s campaign, however, argues that a relatively small number of Arlington residents are in the very high income bracket that would be impacted by the Millionaire’s Tax.
Hope, a resident of Arlington’s Buckingham neighborhood, also released his tax returns and called upon his opponents in the June 10 congressional primary to do the same. Hope, who works as a healthcare attorney in addition to his part-time duties as a member of the Virginia House of Delegates, earned $231,197 last year — $197,621 from work as a lobbyist for a nonprofit healthcare association, $28,176 from the Commonwealth of Virginia and $5,400 from Johns Hopkins University. He paid $38,645 in federal taxes, or 16.7 percent.
“Transparency is something that is very important in politics,” Hope said. “The people we seek to represent deserve to know everything about us.”
Lubber Run Neighbors Rally Against Housing Proposal — Those who live around the Lubber Run Community Center showed up to the Saturday Arlington County Board meeting to rally against a proposal to use the public land around the community center for affordable housing or a new school. The residents also asked the Board to approve a renovation to the community center. [Sun Gazette]
Board Approves Expanded ‘Technology Zones’ — The County Board on Saturday approved an expansion of its program of reduced business license taxes for technology businesses in certain “technology zones.” About 5-10 businesses per year are expected to qualify for the tax incentives. [Arlington County]
Avg. Single Family Home Price Tops $900,000 — The average sale price of a single family home in Arlington hit $913,677 in March. That’s up 11.7 percent year-over-year. The average townhouse sale price, meanwhile, was $449,202 and the average condo was $515,000. [Sun Gazette]
Arlington Educators Honored — Two Arlington educators, Glebe Elementary principal Jamie Borg and Kenmore Middle School teacher Cassidy Nolen, are among the recipients of the Washington Post’s annual education awards. [Washington Post]
Air Force Research Office to Remain in Arlington — After considering a move to Dayton, Ohio, the Air Force has decided to keep its Office of Scientific Research in Arlington. The decision was made after Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, and Rep. Jim Moran, pressed the Air Force to abandon the relocation proposal. The office employs about 170 people. [PR Newswire, Dayton Business Journal]
Arlington Runner Wins Marine Corp 17.75K – Arlington’s Kelly Swain was the top female finisher at the Marine Corps 17.75K race in Prince William County over the weekend. Swain, 28, finished the 11.03 mile event in 1:14:02. The 17.75K is a precursor to the Marine Corps Marathon, which starts and ends in Arlington. The sold-out race will take place this year on Oct. 26. [Army Times]
Flickr pool photo by J. Sonderman
Torrez Murder Trial Begins — The murder trial of Jorge Torrez, the ex-Marine accused of killing Navy petty officer Amanda Jean Snell on Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, has gotten underway. Torrez is already serving multiple life sentences after being convicted in Arlington of rape and numerous other charges. [Washington Post]
Anti-Streetcar Group Blasts County Study — The group Arlingtonians for Sensible Transit has released a list of the “top 15 reasons” a county-funded study on the costs and benefits of a streetcar system is “another waste of taxpayers’ money.” AST says the study is biased and lacking in original research. [Arlingtonians for Sensible Transit]
Arlington Named One of the Worst Rental Investments — Those who invest in rental properties in Arlington only receive a 5 percent return on their investment, making it No. 11 on the list of worst markets for returns for landlords. That’s according to a list compiled by the firm RealtyTrac. [Washington Business Journal]
Authors to Speak at Central Library — Acclaimed authors Ann Beattie and Richard Ford will speak at Arlington Central Library this month as part of the annual Arlington Reads initiative. The Arlington Reads theme this year is “Dazed and Confused: Two Great Writers on Boomer Angst.” Beattie will speak at Central Library (1015 N. Quincy Street) on April 10 and Ford will speak on April 24. [Arlington County]
Civic Federation Calls for Tax Cut – The Arlington County Civic Federation voted yesterday to recommend a 3-cent or more cut in the county’s property tax rate. The rate currently stands at $1.006 per $100 in assessed value. One civic federation delegate said the group’s vote sends a message to county government: “Rein it in a little bit.” [InsideNoVa]
Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) hosted an information briefing this morning on how low-income residents can file their taxes for free.
At the new Arlington Mill Community Center, Moran spoke briefly to a crowd of representatives from local nonprofits like Offender Aid and Restoration, AHC and from staffers at Arlington’s Department of Human Services, extolling the benefits of FreeFile, the free tax filing available to those who make $58,000 a year or less.
“The FreeFile program is a terrific example of how government and private businesses work together to help families take control of their finances,” Moran told the crowd of about 30. “Seventy percent of taxpayers in this country are eligible to file taxes for free.”
After Moran spoke, representatives from the IRS and the Intuit Tax Freedom Project walked those in attendance — at least two of whom wanted to electronically file their taxes on the spot — through the process. The talk was focused on not only saving low-income families money when filing, but making sure they understand potential refund money they’re entitled to.
“The Earned Income Tax Credit is the No. 1 poverty-fighting instrument in the world,” IRS Senior Tax Specialist Loren Johnson said.
Moran told ARLnow.com after his talk that despite the substantial average wealth of his constituents, he is still focused on making sure the financially struggling residents of the 8th Congressional District are as informed as possible two weeks before the April 15 filing deadline.
“We have thousands of people eligible for free filing who work hard, and they ought to be able to keep as much of their income as the law allows,” Moran said. “The representatives of the organizations here can now interpret what they learned to their constituents.”
If you haven’t already, it’s time to get down to business and start filling out those forms. Luckily, if you have any last-minute tax questions, local tax guru Bobby Grohs is back today to offer some free advice.
Grohs, a Certified Public Accountant and University of Maryland grad, started Arlington-based Tax Matters LLC in 1998. He specializes in “comprehensive tax and consulting services for clients ranging from individual taxpayers, small businesses and nonprofits located throughout the greater Washington metropolitan area.”
Grohs will be answering you questions in the comment section until 3:00 p.m. If you’d like to reach him after the discussion is over, head to the Tax Matters website, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 703-593-7391.
Please note that Mr. Grohs may not be able to answer every question asked.
Also, please note that in addition to our normal comment policy, we ask that questions and comments be of a civil tone. We welcome tough questions and critical comments, but anything of a mean-spirited nature will be removed.
The views and opinions expressed in the comments are those of their respective authors and not necessarily those of ARLnow.com.
Opinions Split at Tax Hearing — The Arlington County Board’s public tax hearing last night was relatively short, about 30 minutes. Among the fewer than 10 speakers, opinions were split between those who want taxes to remain the same and those who want the tax rate to be lowered. [InsideNoVa]
GMU Pepper Spray Suspect Identified — The man who pepper sprayed a George Mason University law professor at the school’s Arlington campus on Wednesday has been identified as 31-year-old Jonathan Pendleton of Alexandria. The professor has been identified as economist and blogger Tyler Cowen. Pendleton left threatening comments on Cowen’s blog before the attack. [Huffington Post]
Arlington’s Population Grows — New U.S. Census figures indicate that Arlington’s population increased 3,631 last fiscal year. The county’s population, according to the Census Bureau, stands at 224,906 as of July 1, 2013. The Washington region as a whole ranked fifth for population growth among U.S. metropolitan regions. [Washington Post]
James Schlesinger Dies — Former defense and energy secretary James Schlesinger has died at the age of 85. Schlesinger was an Arlington resident. [Bloomberg]
Flickr pool photo by Joseph Gruber
The hearing will start at 7:00 p.m. at the Arlington County Board offices at 2100 Clarendon Blvd. Residents can sign up to be one of the speakers commenting on the tax rate at the hearing.
County Manager Barbara Donnellan has proposed holding the property tax rate steady at $1.006 for every $100 in assessed value. Because the County Board advertised no change to the tax rate, it can now only set a tax rate at or below the current rate.
Nonetheless, numerous groups and individuals believe that the county should spend more on affordable housing, the social safety net and other priorities — spending that would require either cuts elsewhere or higher taxes. At the same time, some say the tax rate should be lowered.
Currently, technology firms located in the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor, Crystal City, Columbia Pike and Shirlington only have to pay 50 percent or less of the county’s standard business license tax rate, 36-cent per $100 of gross receipts. For tech companies with between 500 and 999 employees, the rate is 14 cents. For tech companies with more than 1,000 employees, it falls farther to 10 cents.
Tech companies located along the Pike or in Shirlington have no minimum for the amount of employees to qualify for the reduced tax rate. However, in the R-B Corridor and Crystal City — the county’s two “Downtown Technology Zones” — tech firms must have at least 100 employees to pay the 18-cent rate. The County Board could approve waiving the minimum at its meeting this Saturday.
In addition, the Board will vote on whether to expand the parameters for a technology company to qualify for the tax breaks. The ordinance lists a broad range of eligible businesses, but since it was last updated seven years ago, firms in new sectors — the main one being social media — have been left out.
“The fundamentals of the local real estate market have changed,” the staff report, prepared by Arlington Economic Development, states. “Today tenants may choose among more available spaces and sites than ever before. Large deals may come about, but more often an assortment of small and medium deals is required to fill buildings. In many cases, the smaller firms have the most growth potential. They are expanding in a variety of digital economy and creative enterprises such as e-democracy, social media and healthcare data services.”
AED said there have been 12 instances where a tech company that was ineligible for the Technology Zone tax breaks did not choose Arlington to locate. Ten of those instances, the company was smaller than 100 employees.
If the changes are approved, the savings for tech companies in the R-B corridor would amount to approximately $2.25 per square foot of rent for office space, AED estimates.
“While this may not change a business decision on its own, it could be effective in combination with other forms of assistance the County and Commonwealth may provide, or it may help close the gap in rent or other expenses between Arlington and another jurisdiction,” the staff report reads. “AED estimates that — with the proposed changes in place — between five and 10 companies per year may qualify for this incentive.”
Flickr pool photo by Ddimick
Arlington County Manager Barbara Donnellan released her mid-year review of Fiscal Year 2014 earlier this week, and it’s generally good news for the county.
County staff is projecting that Arlington will collect $20.8 million more in taxes than originally budgeted for, led by a $23.4 million increase in real estate tax revenue. Another bright spot an additional $3 million from personal property taxes. The increases are due to higher-than-expected real estate assessments and strong new car sales and used car values, according to Donnellan.
Some county revenue is lower than expected, however. Sales taxes are projected to be down $2.6 million, hotel taxes are down $2.1 million, fines are down $2 million and cigarette and communication taxes are both down $300,000.
Donnellan’s memo to the County Board blames the federal government shutdown for the lower sales and hotel tax revenue. The decrease in fines is largely due to “parking ticket revenue declines.”
Given additional savings found in county expenditures, Arlington estimates it has an additional $27.6 million available. Of that, $9.6 million will be transferred to Arlington Public Schools, $12.3 million is to be used as one-time funding in Donnellan’s proposed FY 2015 budget, and $5.7 million is unallocated.
The one-time funding included in Donnellan’s budget includes:
- $2.8 million — Affordable Housing Investment Fund
- $3 million — Paving
- $1 million — Facilities maintenance
- $1 million — Parks maintenance
- $1 million — Transportation maintenance
- $1.5 million — Technology capital investment
- $1.5 million — Park lands acquisition
Public hearings on the new county budget are scheduled for March 25 and 27. The new fiscal year starts July 1.
Arlington County will review the big jump in commercial real estate assessments in Clarendon first reported by ARLnow.com last week.
The county said Friday evening that it will take a look at “all commercial real property assessments with a 50% or greater increase from calendar year 2013.”
There are nearly 90 such properties, including Rien Tong restaurant (3131 Wilson Blvd), which saw its assessment increase 197 percent, and Spider Kelly’s (3171 Wilson Blvd), which saw its property valuation increase 83 percent.
The assessments are updated annually and used to calculate county property taxes.
“A small number of commercial property owners did see substantially increased assessments, and this review is meant to correct any mistakes that may have been made,” said county finance director Michelle Cowan, in a press release, below.
Arlington County has begun a review of all commercial real property assessments with a 50% or greater increase from calendar year 2013, including several parcels in the Clarendon area that saw significant increases.
The review will affect fewer than 90 properties, of approximately 3,300 total commercial parcels. Both the original assessments, and the underlying data for each of the affected properties, will be re-examined to determine whether the assessment should be sustained or changed.
“A small number of commercial property owners did see substantially increased assessments, and this review is meant to correct any mistakes that may have been made,” said Dept. of Management and Finance Director Michelle Cowan. “We want to ensure fair and equitable assessments for all property owners.”
Arlington’s Real Estate Assessment office is mailing letters to property owners of all properties whose assessments increased 50% or more. Upon conclusion of the administrative review by the County, property owners will still have the ability to appeal their assessment through the Board of Equalization. It is anticipated that the County’s administrative review will take 30-45 days.
Overall, commercial assessments, which include office buildings, apartments, hotels and retail, grew 5.4 percent over CY 2013, primarily fueled by new construction and strength in apartment properties due to rising rents. The specific parcels that were questioned in the Clarendon area fall into the general commercial category class, which includes retail and other types of properties, excluding office buildings and apartments. The general commercial assessment category increased by 12.4 percent over CY 2013.
Assessments for most commercial properties are based on an income approach and evaluate how much income a property would produce if it were rented as an apartment, store, factory, etc. This approach considers operating expenses, taxes, insurance, maintenance costs, and the profits most people would expect from the rental. The net income after operational costs, plus a capitalization rate, determines the assessment value. It is not based on the profitability of a particular business; rather the assessment value is based on the rents and expenses of the property and building in which the business is located.
Long-time businesses, which have not been renovated or sold recently, saw their assessments increase by double digit or even triple digit percentages. The rise in assessments could mean the owners will be forced to pay tens of thousands in additional county taxes this year, barring a successful appeal.
The biggest increase spotted by ARLnow.com was that of Rien Tong Restaurant (3131 Wilson Blvd). The Asian eatery, located across from the Clarendon Metro station, saw its assessment jump from $559,900 to $1,667,600, a nearly 200 percent increase that would result in an extra $12,528 in taxes.
The assessment for Kabob Bazaar (3133 Wilson Blvd), directly adjacent to Rien Tong in a nearly identical storefront, also increased but not as dramatically. The restaurant’s assessment increased from $635,500 to $840,700, a 32 percent rise.
The biggest tax increase as a result of higher assessments goes to Spider Kelly’s (3171 Wilson Blvd), which saw its property valuation increase 83 percent to $5.1 million. The added tax yearly bill: $26,428.
With the exception of Revolution Cycles (2727 Wilson Blvd), which had its building assessment increase 64 percent to $3.8 million, and Azure Day Spa (2420 Wilson Blvd), which increased 55 percent to $1.9 million, the businesses impacted were primarily Clarendon restaurants.
Other big increases include Eventide (39 percent), Clarendon Ballroom (50 percent), Hard Times Cafe and Delhi Club (50 percent), Boccato Gelato (71 percent), Whitlow’s (24 percent), Faccia Luna and Boulevard Woodgrill (56 percent). By comparison, the Clarendon Whole Foods store at 2700 Wilson Blvd saw no increase in its assessment.
Several restaurant owners contacted ARLnow.com about the higher assessments.
“There’s some funny business going on here,” one said, on the condition of anonymity. “This is a money grab, pure and simple.”
Arlington County Director of Communications Diana Sun says that the businesses in question are typically assessed based on a method that takes a look at the income generated by each property. That, however, can’t fully explain the increases.
“Clearly there were some that just look like an anomaly,” she said.
Sun encouraged business owners who think their assessments this year were unjust to file an administrative appeal before the March 3 deadline. Such an appeal could result in a new inspection of the property and a lower assessment. After March 3, or after an unsatisfactory result from an administrative appeal, any appeals must be filed with the county’s Board of Equalization.
The unknowns involved in filing an appeal still have some business owners on edge.
“I have to hire a lawyer now,” one told ARLnow.com “I’m pretty pissed off about it.”
That means that the tax rate can only go down or remain the same ($1.006 for every $100 in assessed value) in the Board’s budget, which will be crafted over the next two months before final approval on April 22.
Two residential fees, meanwhile — the water-sewer rate and the household solid waste rate — are proposed to increase 3.4 and 2.4 percent respectively in County Manager Barbara Donnellan’s budget, which will be used as a jumping off point by the Board.
In all, thanks to a 5.9 percent increase in residential property assessments, the total tax and fee burden on the average Arlington household is expected to increase by $368, or 5.3 percent, to $7,371 if the Board follows Donnellan’s proposal to hold the real estate tax rate steady.