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County Manager’s Budget Includes No Tax Rate Increase

by ARLnow.com | February 21, 2014 at 11:50 am | 1,660 views | No Comments

County Manager Barbara Donnellan presents her FY 2014 budget on Feb. 20, 2013Arlington County Manager Barbara Donnellan’s new proposed budget will hold tax rates steady, but would still result in a higher tax bill for residents.

Donnellan is proposing no increase in real estate and stormwater management tax rates, which impact homeowners. The combined tax rate would remain $1.006 for every $100 in assessed value.

There will be modest increases in waste collection and water and sewer fees, plus a $0.25 increase in ART bus fares and a $0.50 increase in some STAR fares.

With Arlington residential property assessments rising 5.9 percent this year (5.3 percent for single family homes), homeowners will pay more in taxes under Donnellan’s budget, despite tax rates holding steady. The average Arlington household will pay $7,371 in county taxes and fees, a $368 or 5.3 percent increase over last year.

Arlington’s general fund spending would increase $28.4 million, or 2.6 percent, to $1.12 billion under Donnellan’s budget. That includes $687.7 million for county government operations, a $11.9 million or 1.8 percent increase, and $432.2 million for Arlington Public Schools, a $19.6 million or 4.7 percent increase.

Among the areas of higher spending proposed by Donnellan are:

  • $5.2 million for county employee salary increases
  • $600,000 for a half year of operations of the new Homeless Services Center
  • An additional $3.5 million for street paving, bringing the total paving funding to $11.1 million
  • A 7.5 percent increase in the county’s health care costs
  • A 1 percent increase in grants to nonprofits from the Department of Human Services
  • Three additional School Resource Officers
  • Additional funding for streetlights and traffic engineering
  • A dedicated “principal planner” for Crystal City

Other budget priorities identified by Donnellan include investments in encouraging cybersecurity companies to move to Arlington; technology investments like a “pay by cell” parking system; and growing the county’s “BizLaunch” business assistance program.

Affordable housing investments accounts for $34.3 million in local tax dollars — 5.1 percent of the county’s general fund budget (excluding schools). That includes contributions to the Affordable Housing Investment Fund, housing grants and funding for the rapid re-housing program.

Despite this year’s snowy winter, there is no change proposed for the county’s snow removal budget. Donnellan, however, said that the county is studying whether changes are necessary to the county’s snow removal operation.

Donnellan will present her proposed budget at Saturday’s County Board meeting. The County Board will begin holding work sessions on the budget next week. Public hearings on the budget and tax rates are scheduled for March 25 and 27. Final budget adoption is scheduled for April 22.

Following budget adoption, from May to July, Arlington will go through its Capital Improvement Plan process, where spending plans for major projects, like the Columbia Pike streetcar, are set.

Your Tax Questions, Answered

by ARLnow.com | February 18, 2014 at 1:00 pm | 1,610 views | No Comments

Bobby Grohs CPAWe’re now less than two months away from the April 15 IRS tax filing deadline.

If you want to get a head start on your taxes, instead of waiting until the minute, Bobby Grohs — who does our taxes — is back again to give some free tax-related advice.

A Certified Public Accountant and University of Maryland grad, Grohs 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 info@mytaxmatters.com or call 703-593-7391.

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Ebbin’s Paper Check Tax Refund Bill Advancing Through GA

by Ethan Rothstein | January 28, 2014 at 11:30 am | 582 views | No Comments

State Sen. Adam EbbinA bill restoring Virginians’ ability to receive their tax refunds in paper check form could be on its way to pass the General Assembly this session.

The legislation, introduced by Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-30), passed the state Senate Jan. 20 by a unanimous 38-0 vote — the Senate is missing two votes until new Lt. Governor Ralph Northam and Attorney General’s Mark Herring’s seats are filled via special election — and is waiting to be considered by the House of Delegates Finance Committee.

As of January 2013, the state started only doling out tax rebates via direct deposit or a debit card, which comes with associated costs, like ATM and transaction fees. The Senate Finance Committee voted to abolish the debit card option altogether if the bill is signed into law.

“Taxpayers deserve the convenience of receiving their refunds in the form they prefer,” Ebbin said in a press release after the bill passed the Senate. “By contrast, the debit card system was fraught with fees and was not consumer-friendly. Taxpayers were even charged for withdrawing funds from an in-network ATM. I’m glad the Senate recognizes the need for reform.”

The bill states that, if the taxpayer doesn’t indicate which payment method he prefers between direct deposit and a mailed check, a check will be mailed to the provided address. If the bill passes, it would go into effect for taxes collected this year, meaning taxes filed by April 15, 2015.

File photo

Arlington Property Values Up 5.8 Percent

by ARLnow.com | January 22, 2014 at 1:00 pm | 1,988 views | No Comments

Arlington County real estate assessmentProperty values in Arlington rose significantly over the past year despite high office vacancy rates.

Arlington County said today that its overall 2014 real estate assessments rose 5.8 percent. The growth was “fueled primarily by strength in the residential market, as well as new construction of commercial properties,” the county said.

The assessments for residential properties — single-family homes, condos and townhouses — rose 5.3 percent, to an average of $552,700.

Commercial real estate assessments were the biggest surprise, rising 5.4 percent over Calendar Year 2013. County staff projected in November that commercial assessments would be flat.

In addition to new construction, the county said that apartment and retail properties helped lead the growth in the commercial sector. Apartment assessments rose 4.8 percent while general commercial properties (retail) increased more than 10 percent. Office property values “rose slightly.”

Last year, residential property assessments increased 1 percent while commercial property assessments declined by 0.5 percent.

With real estate assessments up 5.8 percent this year, over the 2.6 percent projection, the county should get some welcome wiggle room for its upcoming Fiscal Year 2015 budget. This fall county staff projected a $20-25 million budget gap. The county says it still expects to face a budget gap, but didn’t list any specific projections.

“We are grateful that Arlington continues to show resilience and stability, despite ongoing tensions in the larger economy,” said Arlington County Manager Barbara Donnellan, in a press release. “I am pleased the budget gap is narrowed, but we still face expenditure pressures for both County and Schools.”

The County Board instructed Donnellan to come up with a budget that does not raise tax rates. The higher assessments, however, will serve as a defacto tax hike if rates remain the same — $1.006 per $100 of assessed value.

The county press release says rising school enrollment in particular is putting pressure on county finances.

Arlington also faces a number of expenditure pressures, especially to support aging County infrastructure and Arlington’s population growth. For Fiscal Year (FY) 2015, the pressures include health care, retirement costs, new facilities and contractual cost increases, including Metro. Meanwhile, the County continues to invest in current and new infrastructure to maintain the high quality of services that are important to the long-term sustainability of the County.

Arlington’s largest expense is Arlington Public Schools, which represents approximately 45.6% of local tax revenue, and an investment of more than $18,000 per student. Continued year-over-year growth in school enrollment has put pressure on School facilities and educational costs.

As revenue is again expected to be less than projected expenditures, both the County and Schools will need to determine their priorities within these fiscal constraints. The County Manager and School Superintendent will present their proposed budgets to the County Board and School Board in late February. The County Board will set the real estate tax rate in April.

The real estate assessments were mailed today to property owners and are expected to be available online at 11:00 p.m.

Ask Me (Almost) Anything: Tax Tips for Early Birds

by ARLnow.com | January 15, 2014 at 1:00 pm | 1,388 views | No Comments

Bobby Grohs CPAWant to get a head start on your taxes rather than wait until the last minute?

It’s a good decision — by getting started now can avoid some headaches as the April 15 IRS tax filing deadline approaches.

For those early birds out there, local tax guru Bobby Grohs is back to dispense free tax-related advice.

A Certified Public Accountant and University of Maryland grad, Grohs 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 info@mytaxmatters.com or call 703-593-7391.

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Volunteer Opportunities: The Holidays and Beyond

by Katie Pyzyk | December 12, 2013 at 12:00 pm | 730 views | No Comments

Volunteer Arlington logoDuring the holiday season, the need for volunteers is especially high, but it continues beyond the holidays as well.

There’s an immediate need for people to help this week with sorting and distributing donated coats, or next week with distributing donated children’s holiday gifts. In the coming months, people are asked to help out with tasks like income tax preparation.

Numerous opportunities can be found on the Volunteer Arlington website, such as the following:

  • Children’s Gift Distribution — Volunteers have already sorted most of the donated children’s gifts for the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree holiday program, but help is needed for distributing the items. Distribution takes place next Wednesday, December 18. Volunteers must be at least 13 years old, and those between the ages of 13 and 16 must be accompanied by an adult. Contact Luisa Slay at 703-979-3380 or online.
  • Coat Drive Distribution — Nauck Community Services Center has collected hundreds of coats and had them cleaned, and now volunteers are needed from 7:00-9:00 p.m. this Friday, December 13, to help sort the items. Volunteers are also needed from 8:00-10:00 a.m. this Saturday, November 14, to help neighbors in need pick out the perfect coat for themselves and family members. Contact Bri Sheffey at 703-229-5650 or online.
  • Ship Bicycles to Africa — Bikes for the World is looking for people to help load hundreds of donated bikes and bike parts into 40 foot shipping containers. The items are used for health, education and jobs programs in Africa. Training will be provided. A number of dates are available over the next few months. Contact Yvette Hess at 703-740-7856 or online.
  • Income Tax Assistance — Volunteers are requested by the DC EITC Campaign for helping people with income tax preparation early next year. A number of positions exist, including tax preparer, client coordinator, greeter and savings promoter. Training will take place in January and helpers must pass an IRS volunteer test. Shifts vary throughout the 2014 tax season. Contact Elizabeth Rosenberg at 202-547-7773 or online.
  • Tutor Young Adults — Helpers are needed for assisting students in trying to earn their high school diplomas. Communities in Schools of Northern Virginia requests tutors to work on-site at a local high school to assist students with English, reading, science or math. A commitment of 2-10 hours per week is required. All tutors must be 18 or older and have a high school diploma. Volunteers must also complete a background check. Contact Daphne Charles at 703-228-8694 or online.

Increased Efficiency Earns County Rare Kudos from Taxpayers Association

by ARLnow.com | December 10, 2013 at 11:45 am | 492 views | No Comments

County Manager Barbara Donnellan discusses her proposed budget in 2011The Arlington County Taxpayers Association doesn’t usually have nice things to say about the county’s spending habits. But on at least one metric the group has some plaudits to share.

The county’s Department of Management and Finance recently released its Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for Fiscal Year 2013, which ended June 30, 2013. In broad terms it looks like county spending is continuing its inexorable rise: “Total expenditures increased from $745.8 million in FY 2004 to $1,122 million in FY 2013, 50.5%, an annual average of 5.1%,” ACTA reported.

Also on the rise: the county’s indebtedness, which now stands at $4,082 per capital for general bonded debt, a 62 percent increase from FY 2004.

But operational efficiency — as determined by looking at the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) county and school employees per 1,000 residents or students — is improving at the same time. For county government, there were 18.68 FTE per 1,000 residents in FY 2004 and only 17.05 FTE per 1,000 residents in FY 2013. Arlington Public Schools were a similar story, with 186.02 FTEs per 1,000 students in 2004, and 177.79 FTEs per 1,000 students in 2013.

The increased efficiency is made possible by increases in the county population and the student body, but ACTA credits County Manager Barbara Donnellan and APS Superintendent Dr. Patrick Murphy with running a tight ship, so to speak.

“While there is still too much local government in Arlington County, and too high taxes, the numbers above show some numbers such as the efficiency ones are moving in the right direction,” ACTA wrote in a blog post. “Kudos to the Manager and staff for keeping the FY 2012 to FY 2013 increase in total expenditures to less than the inflation rate. Also to the Manager, especially, and the Superintendent for increasing operational efficiency.”

Donnellan and Murphy will present their proposed FY 2015 budgets in the first quarter of 2014.

Board to Manager: Assume No Tax Rate Hike

by Katie Pyzyk | November 20, 2013 at 1:35 pm | 745 views | No Comments

County Board discusses FY 2015 budget on 11/19/13Budget cuts could be coming next year as county officials try to figure out a way to balance the county’s budget without raising taxes.

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.

Morning Notes

by ARLnow.com | September 4, 2013 at 8:45 am | 1,427 views | No Comments

Lyon Village rabbit (Flickr pool photo by jordanhiggins)

Arlington Trail Counters — Arlington has “the region’s most extensive bike and pedestrian tracking system,” with nearly 30 sensors on trails and sidewalks. According to sensor data, two thirds of trail users are bicyclists. [Washington Post]

Ebbin Prostitution Bill in Limbo — A bill sponsored by state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D), that would allow a prostitution conviction to be expunged if it’s proven the dependent was forced to work as a prostitute, got a cool reception from the Virginia State Crime Commission. The commission took no action on the bill, which was held over from the 2013 General Assembly session for possible consideration next year.  [Associated Press]

Amazon Now Charging Sales Tax in Va. — Amazon.com is now collecting the 5.3 percent state sales tax from customers in Virginia. The change went in effect on Sunday. [Richmond Times-Dispatch]

Flickr pool photo by jordanhiggins

Morning Notes

by ARLnow.com | August 21, 2013 at 9:00 am | 1,338 views | No Comments

Trolley Pub in Clarendon (photo by N ARLINGTON ST)

Real Estate Tax Delinquencies Rise — The number of real estate tax delinquencies in Arlington rose slightly this year, compared to one year prior. A total of 407 taxpayers missed the June 15 real estate tax deadline this year, compared to 387 last year. Those who miss the June 15 deadline are subject to a 10 percent penalty plus accumulating interest. [Sun Gazette]

Comic-Making Exhibit at Artisphere — Starting today through Nov. 3, comic book artists will be taking up residency in Artisphere for the creation of a new comic. On Thursday evenings and Saturday afternoons, the public can watch the artists at work, and try their hand at their own comic creations. [DC Conspiracy, Ode Street Tribune]

Lt. Gov. Debate at GMU Arlington Campus — A debate between the Republican and Democratic candidate for Virginia lieutenant governor will be held at Founders Hall on George Mason University’s Arlington campus next month. E.W. Jackson (R) will be debate Ralph Northam (D) starting at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 24.

Flickr pool photo by N ARLINGTON ST

Morning Notes

by ARLnow.com | August 16, 2013 at 9:15 am | 1,165 views | No Comments

Rosslyn at sunset, as seen from Roosevelt Island (photo courtesy Brendan P. Childs)

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

Virginia Sales Tax Holiday Starts Today

by ARLnow.com | August 2, 2013 at 2:00 pm | 881 views | No Comments

Pens, markers, pencils and other school/office suppliesVirginia’s annual back-to-school sales tax holiday starts today (Friday).

From Aug. 2-4, certain school supplies, clothing and footwear will be exempt from Virginia’s 6 percent sales tax. As in years past, the exemption only applies to school supplies priced $20 or less and clothing and shoes priced $100 or less.

A complete list of qualifying items is available on the Virginia Department of Taxation website.

Moran Introduces Bill to Help Localities Collect Delinquent Taxes

by Ethan Rothstein | July 23, 2013 at 9:30 am | 580 views | No Comments

Rep. Jim Moran's panel discussion on gun violence at Washington-Lee high schoolRep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) introduced a bill Monday that would allow localities like Arlington to recoup unpaid taxes with help from the federal government.

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.

Morning Notes

by ARLnow.com | July 1, 2013 at 9:00 am | 2,067 views | No Comments

The Ellipse fountain in Ballston (Flickr pool photo by Eschweik

New Laws, Sales Tax Hike Takes Effect in Va. — Today, July 1, a number of new laws take effect in Virginia. Among them: a new law cracking down on texting and driving, the decriminalization of unmarried cohabitation, and an increase in the sales tax in Northern Virginia from 5 to 6 percent. [WTOP]

NSF Buildings to Be Sold, Redeveloped — Changes may be on the way for the two office buildings in Ballston being vacated by the National Science Foundation in 2017. One of the building is being offered for sale, while the other is being considered for a conversion to apartments or a hotel, according to the Washington Business Journal.

Challenge to Va. Gay Marriage Law Considered — The law barring same-sex marriage in Virginia may face legal challenges in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision on the Defense of Marriage Act, according to several local elected officials. [Sun Gazette]

Wayne Street Apartments to be Renovated — The Wayne Street Apartments on 2nd Street S. in Penrose have been acquired by developer Penzance. The company plans to renovate the aging complex, raise rents and incorporate the complex into the Myerton community apartment across the street. [Globe St.]

Flickr pool photo by Eschweik

Morning Poll: Restaurant Tax to Hit 10 Percent

by ARLnow.com | June 24, 2013 at 10:35 am | 2,701 views | No Comments

Dish from Masala Express restaurant in Lyon ParkThe total tax you pay for meals at restaurants (and prepared meals at grocery stores) will increase from 9 percent to 10 percent starting next Monday, July 1.

As the Sun Gazette reports, the higher rate is due to a 1 percent increase in the state sales tax — a tax hike that’s earmarked for transportation projects. In all, half of the 10 percent tax will go to the state, while the other half will go the Arlington County.

Arlington’s restaurant tax revenue includes 4 percent for the county meals tax and 1 percent for the county’s share of the sales tax.

While a 1 percent tax hike is relatively tiny, there may be a psychological impact from the tax line on your check hitting the double digit mark. Will you be less likely to go out to eat once the total tax on meals hits 10 percent?
 

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