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by Mark Kelly — January 29, 2015 at 12:15 pm 710 0

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Mark KellyWe may never know the content of the conversation between Jay Fisette and Mary Hynes that caused them to ultimately arrive at their votes to cancel the Columbia Pike trolley. However, it looks like the Board may still be split 3-2.

By all accounts, Democrat Libby Garvey should be up for Board Chair or Vice Chair. She was elected in a 2012 special election when Mary Hynes last chaired the Board. Hynes was followed in the middle seat by Tejada, then Fisette. Yet, Garvey was passed over this year to give those spots to Hynes and Tejada.

With Tejada’s announcement yesterday that he would not seek re-election, it is possible the move was a final nod to his service from his colleagues. It certainly explains why he remained defiant over his trolley vote. But, it is worth watching whether Democrats will ever accept Garvey back into the fold.

It is also worth noting that the father of the trolley, Chris Zimmerman, has remained strangely silent on its demise. Maybe Zimmerman saw the writing on the wall before he left the Board a year ago. He certainly was astute enough to jump off the Metro Board before it began a series of drastic rate hikes and service reductions.

Speaking of considering your political future, next week’s meeting of Arlington Democrats may see Hynes announce her electoral intentions for 2015. Her reversal on the trolley points to another run, particularly since Tejada’s pending departure opens up a seat for ambitious Democrats looking to run.

One Republican relayed to me recently that he thought it would be tough for a non-Democrat to win another race in Arlington without the trolley and the aquatics center to run against. My response: three of the same people who thought those projects were a good idea are still there — at least for the rest of this year. So, the penchant for putting the taxpayers on the hook for vanity projects still holds a majority on the Board. Voters were satisfied with the Vihstadt test run on the Board and elected him to a full term. They may be ready for another independent voice.

The County Board agreed to a revenue sharing agreement with the School Board. It reads like a lot of common sense, but it is not groundbreaking. Schools, public safety, roads and other basic infrastructure needs are the key spending priorities for any local budget. At around $22,000 per child, when you don’t “exclude” certain spending, maybe we ought to focus more time talking about how the schools are spending the dollars they already receive.

And finally, if you live near Reagan National Airport, you watched the County narrow a portion of S. Eads Street from two lanes in each direction to one. If the Board’s goal was to create more traffic congestion during rush hour and cause drivers to consider making use of neighborhood streets instead of a more major thoroughfare, then congratulations are in order.

Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

by Mark Kelly — January 22, 2015 at 1:45 pm 691 0

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Mark KellyUnless the County Board acts to lower the tax rate, and they should, the average homeowner’s bill will increase by $270 this year.

Think it is not much to complain about?

Just three years ago the average single-family residence was valued at $519,400. Today it is $579,800. The average out of pocket increase over that time is slated to come in at $550.

What does $550 a year mean to a family? Here is one example. If a young family had a child in 2012 and could save that amount every year, they could save over $10,000 to pay for college with moderate interest.

Unsurprisingly, the County’s press release announcing a $270 increased average residential tax bill noted the so-called budget gap to cover projected expenditures. This is what we could call the “we know it seems like a lot, but we actually need more” gambit. It is the same line we hear every year.

We start hearing about the gap during the budget guidance process in November. It is reinforced when property tax assessments come out. Then, in every public statement about the fiscal year budget process.

The gap is what the County Board relies on to sway residents to believe they need to pay more for county services. More to bailout the Signature Theatre. More to pay for the next boondoggle project like the Artisphere or trolley.

The gap is also what the County Board uses to say they made “tough budget decisions.”

It is actually quite audacious to talk about a projected funding gap during the same Board meeting you are spending the previous year’s surplus. But, the Board did just that again in November.

The County admitted once again that revenues came in higher than estimated last year — $31.8 million higher. This is in addition to millions that were not actually spent, even though they were projected to be spent.

In other words, there was no funding gap last year because all of the projections were wrong — even with expenditures going out the door for the trolley and Artisphere. They were wrong in such a way that caused us to ultimately spend and pay more, not less. This is just like every year in recent memory. You can go to county website and search “closeout” for every year for proof we never really have a funding gap.

Now that we have cleared some of the shiny objects out of the budget, it is time for a serious County Board candidate to emerge who wants to dig even deeper into County revenue and spending. County residents deserve someone who will shed light on the revenue estimating process and help put an end to the myth of the funding gap.

In the meantime, maybe the question for County Board members during the budget process this spring should be, how much of the $550 annual tax bill you have tacked on the past three years do you actually need?

Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

by Mark Kelly — January 15, 2015 at 1:00 pm 1,074 0

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Mark KellyDel. Rip Sullivan filed a bill to create a non-partisan redistricting process to draw the lines for representation in Richmond and Washington. The corresponding article here at ARLnow said it was a “long-shot” in the Republican-controlled General Assembly.

In reality, this bill is a long-shot under any party’s control in the General Assembly.

Back in 2011, Senate Democrats drew district lines that could only be explained by one thing — holding on to their tenuous majority. A non-partisan plan recommendation at the time would have created a single Senate district out of Arlington. In fact, Arlington is almost exactly the population of a Virginia Senate district according to the last census.

Instead, Senate Democrats carved Arlington into three districts, using the heavily Democratic tilt of the County to offset precincts all the way out to Loudon County to our West and Mount Vernon to our South.

How political is the process? At the time, Democrat Sen. Janet Howell “miraculously” found her announced opponent’s house drawn into the neighboring Senate district. This certainly did not happen by accident.

Ultimately, the Senate Democrats’ plan did not work as they lost most of the close contests in 2011, and then the outright majority earlier this year.

In the House, Sullivan’s predecessor Bob Brink was one of a handful of Democrats to vote for the Republican redistricting plan. Why? The 48th District was adjusted from the original Republican proposal to make it lean even more Democratic than it was before. Sullivan’s own special election results against a credible Republican challenger showed just how valuable Brink’s move was politically.

The larger point is the right to draw political boundaries has been determined by elections since the founding of our nation. While it may give an advantage to one political party over another for a short period of time, it has never led to a single political party shutting out another for long. The party out of control complains about “gerrymandering,” and then draws the lines to what they think will be their own political advantage when they are back in control. Often, they find themselves out of control a decade later under the new lines.

While voters when polled often say they favor non-partisan redistricting, just like they do with campaign finance reform, it is simply not an issue on which more than a handful of people make voting decisions. Redistricting reform makes for good talking points, press releases and news stories, but little else.

Delegate Sullivan’s constituents would be better served if he spent his time and energy working across the aisle on legislation that matters to their everyday lives.

Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

by Mark Kelly — January 8, 2015 at 2:00 pm 521 0

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Mark KellyLast Thursday, incoming County Board Chair Mary Hynes likened Arlington to a “Company Town” in reference to the federal government and its influence over our local economy. While the federal government does not provide all of the jobs, own all of the housing or run all of the stores, the concept Hynes referred to is something many of us have said for some time.

The federal government and its impact on Arlington is a constant. Washington, D.C., is the seat of power for our nation. It not only spends our tax dollars — federal tax revenue in the past fiscal year set a new record — but it attracts all of the lobbying shops, trade associations and law firms seeking to influence the spending of that money. And, it draws millions of tourists to our area.

Without the federal government, the spending decisions our County Board would have been forced to make during the economic downturn would have been more like those in the rest of the country. Despite a slowdown in revenue and fewer square feet of office space being leased by the government, Arlington still saw spending climb each and every year.

Yet, you would often hear the Board take credit for Arlington’s relatively unaffected economic status because of its own sound planning or prudent management. They rarely, if ever, credited the federal government as the reason for our overall economic stability.

The County Board has long been able to ignore a real review of what policies would make Arlington a better place to do business because they could rely on the old adage that in real estate it is all about location, location, location. With a 21.4 percent office vacancy rate — a rate that has been steadily rising — it looks like the old way of doing things cannot continue. It is particularly important to Arlington taxpayers moving forward because such a high percentage of Arlington’s tax revenue currently comes from the commercial property tax.

Yes, the impacts of BRAC closures did not help. No, it made no sense to move thousands of workers away from a Metro stop in Crystal City out to the Mark Center in Alexandria. But, we cannot reverse that decision now, and the Board has known it was coming for years.

Arlington will continue to get its fair share of tenants, both federal and non-federal, but our ability to compete effectively is an open question. Arlington needs to hang an open for business sign on its door.

We should not spend months or even years simply talking about it on a task force that leads to one or two cosmetic changes. That means taking real action as quickly as possible to address the needs of the business community, from tax rates or tax incentive, to zoning revisions, to streamlining permitting, to site plan negotiations.

Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

by Ethan Rothstein — January 1, 2015 at 3:00 pm 598 0

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Mark Kelly2014 certainly was an interesting year in Arlington, especially on the political front.

A Republican-turned-Independent won not one, but two elections. The budget-busting project that was the centerpiece of those two elections was then reluctantly canceled by the County Board.

Where do we go from here? Politically, what does this mean for the Garvey-Vihstadt alliance formed to stop the Columbia Pike trolley? Will Walter Tejada run for re-election, and, if so, what impact will being the lone holdout for the trolley project have on his prospects — including whether he will draw primary opposition?

The overriding question left for County budget watchdogs is whether the end of the trolley will spark a new era in fiscal responsibility or whether it was a one-time event?

The recent Signature Theater bailout was offset by the announcement that the Artisphere was slated to be closed in 2015. The Artisphere and its always suspect business plan was never going to stand on its own two feet despite repeated assurances from County Board members to the contrary. Hopefully Board Members will follow the County Manager’s recommendation to close it.

Then came the reminder the County was going to use our tax dollars to pay $350,000 to stick plastic in the water treatment plant fence next year. This is a drop in the bucket when it comes to money that could be better spent elsewhere, but certainly symbolic of too many Board priorities.

Speaking of priorities, will the aquatics center move forward in 2015 or will the Board give the controversial project longer to sit on the sidelines? And, when we go to taxpayers for bond approvals on major projects like this, should we require the Board to put them on the ballot as a separate question?

This leads to the next question for 2015, will an independent audit function ever truly get off the ground? Is it too much to ask that the County Board have an auditor who reports directly to them, rather than having findings filtered by the County Manager? Shouldn’t these spending decisions be subject to the highest level of scrutiny?

And when it comes to making spending decisions, will the Board look at the revenue estimating process? This process consistently underestimates revenue in order to give the County Board an excuse to collect more of our tax dollars and spend those dollars in the annual closeout process.

This morning at the annual Jan. 1 meeting, incoming Board Chair Mary Hynes said “Arlington stands at a crossroads.” She called on her colleagues to address the challenges that face us, among other things including rising school enrollment and vacant office space.

After the Macbook Air story over the summer, will the schools budget draw closer scrutiny from watchdogs next spring particularly as they are looking to meet new capacity needs?

Will the County Board solve the problem of the office vacancy rate by finding ways to make Arlington more business friendly from permitting processes to taxes instead of creating another task force or commission to talk about it?

In her speech Hynes also said we are “always better when we listen to each other.” Too often in the past that meant only listening to those who agreed with those in control of the Board. After voters spoke out this year at the ballot box, hope springs eternal that this time it will be different.

Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

by Mark Kelly — December 18, 2014 at 2:00 pm 707 0

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Mark KellyAt last Saturday’s County Board meeting, Walter Tejada lashed out at the decision to derail the Columbia Pike trolley project.

In his lengthy diatribe, Tejada extolled the virtues of planning by Arlington County. One would think based on the tenor of Mr. Tejada’s comments that all the projects Arlington County embarks on turn out well — even the ones that have substantial opposition during the planning process.

Then on Wednesday, County Manager Barbara Donnellan recommended the closure of the Artisphere. While millions were already poured into the project, this decision will stop the ongoing millions in annual taxpayer subsidies to an arts center that was supposed to be self-sufficient by now. Once again, it appears Arlington leaders are bowing to realities many of us saw coming before a single tax dollar was wasted on a project.

Yet, just 18 months ago, then-Chairman Walter Tejada had this to say about the Artisphere:

“The Artisphere is an ongoing investment in Arlington’s future,” he said. “It’s helping to building our arts and cultural community. This is a proven and documented economic development strategy that attracts the young, educated demographic who are the workforce for the technology and innovation sectors.”

“Artisphere is on its way,” he concluded. “We expect the Artisphere to become a self-sustaining organization.”

The Artisphere was a planning failure that could have been avoided had the County Board heeded the warnings of fiscal watchdogs at the time.

Now comes Wednesday’s decision to bail out the Signature Theater — again. In a disappointing 5-0 vote, the County Board forgave $411,000 in past due utility and lease payments and will not charge the theater anything for its $90,000 per year lease for the next 19 years. This move comes on top of a smaller $250,000 bailout 18 months ago. Total forgiveness of obligations due to Arlington County under the original Arlington Way planning process for Signature will be $2.371 million over 20 years — a pretty nice Christmas gift for the theater.

The Board also refinanced the theater’s loan at a rate of 1 percent per year in exchange for United Bank forgiving $2.7 million due to them. These new loan terms are a pretty good deal for the theater considering the Board on Saturday refinanced other County debt at 2.52 percent.

Last night as debate was wrapping up, Tejada and Chairman Fisette emphasized what was being done for Signature was not a “gift,” it was a “loan.” You could make the argument that initial planning had failed and cutting a deal to bail out Signature should be done, but saying it was only a loan does not make it so. Just like claiming the Columbia Pike trolley was a good idea that deserved to go forward because it had been planned for 15 years did not make it so.

Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

by Mark Kelly — December 11, 2014 at 1:30 pm 398 0

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Mark KellyGov. Terry McAuliffe’s office recently announced that he has closed 228 economic development deals since January. This is a carryover from a similar push by the McDonnell administration to bring jobs to Virginia.

In a report by the Watchdog, the latest deal merely shifted jobs from one Virginia county to another. Regardless of the quality of all the deals, bringing business to Virginia is a laudable goal. This is especially true as Virginia must adjust to a federal government that will not go back to 2009 stimulus spending levels any time soon — if ever.

The question is should Virginia’s priority be to play let’s make a deal, or should we improve the baseline for our business climate?

According to the Tax Foundation, Virginia ranks 27th in overall business tax climate. Virginia ranked 23rd in 2012. Virginia’s elected officials have not done anything to make us significantly less competitive, but we are now in the bottom half of states rather than the top.

Governor McAuliffe issued a lengthy report outlining what he wanted to do to increase economic growth in 2015. It purports to outline a “New Virginia Economy” and is chock full of buzz words.

Included is a small section to “right size regulations” — though it is short on specifics and seems short on any real regulatory reforms. What is not in the report under any of the “goals & strategies” is making Virginia the number one business tax climate. The section mentioning taxes highlights that we are better than average by some measures — hardly a real selling point.

When competing with Maryland for businesses looking to locate in the greater Washington, DC area, Virginia is still ahead when it comes to the tax climate. But, if we want to truly compete nationally, we have to do more on the fundamental tax issues because every state competing for businesses is offering incentives like those currently being handed out by Governor McAuliffe.

Making Virginia number one for its business tax climate would be a real opportunity for the governor to work with the Republican-controlled General Assembly over the next three years. Unfortunately, it does not look like it will be a priority.

Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

by Mark Kelly — December 4, 2014 at 12:15 pm 587 0

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Mark Kelly

Earlier this week, a story appeared here on ARLnow posing a question of whether the County Board should require developers to make a contribution to schools as one of the community benefits required for additional density.

Though the exact number varies from year to year, roughly 46 cents of every tax dollar in Arlington goes to the school system per a loosely defined revenue sharing agreement. One could argue developers could do more for schools, but for each additional tax dollar generated by new development, the schools already receive a significant ongoing, rather than one-time, benefit.

This ongoing property tax revenue benefit works this way except for the two areas operating under a Tax Increment Financing District (TIF). Arlington currently has two TIFs in Crystal City and along Columbia Pike — not coincidentally in the areas that would have been impacted by the now-cancelled streetcar system.

When there is a TIF in place, a percentage of future tax revenue is set aside to be used in the areas covered by the TIF. In other words, those tax revenues are no longer shared with the schools, or the rest of the general budget, in the same way as they are throughout the rest of the county.

For the Crystal City TIF, 33 percent of additional revenue moving forward from January 2011 will stay in Crystal City to pay for infrastructure. Along Columbia Pike, 25 percent of additional revenue will be used for affordable housing on the Pike.

By taking these revenues off the table for decades into the future, it builds in an automatic squeeze on the schools budget, in addition to reducing money available for roads, parks, public safety and other services. And, if past history is any indicator, the solution will be for the County Board to come to the taxpayers throughout the county and tell us they have no choice but to raise all of our taxes again.

Now that the streetcar project has been tabled, it is time for the County Board to revisit the the two TIFs. The Board should eliminate them altogether and fund any needs through the regular budget and bonding processes. A less desirable option is to debate a reduction in the percentages that were originally calculated with the streetcar in mind.

Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

by Mark Kelly — November 20, 2014 at 1:45 pm 803 0

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Mark KellyThe Arlington streetcar is no more. It came just one year after the father of the project, Chris Zimmerman, announced he was resigning. Even the most hopeful of opponents found themselves surprised at the announcement on Tuesday.

Over the course of nearly a decade, a small vocal minority became a silent majority, which became a voting majority against the project. After losing two elections in a row, two of the Board members finally acknowledged public sentiment. Walter Tejada ignored the election results and voted to keep moving forward on the project.

The streetcar project was emblematic of the way the County Board has made decisions in recent memory. When you only talk to people who largely agree with you, you get a feedback loop that too often ignores public sentiment. See also the Artisphere and aquatics center.

Arlingtonians are generally willing to pay more than their fair share of taxes, but now the Board knows they have their limits. Arlingtonians should turn their attention to smaller ticket items in the budget and should hold the Board to account for how they make spending decisions in general. As we dig in further, I think we will find that too often, our elected officials chase a shiny object rather than focus on core services.

So, while defeating a half-a-billion dollar project is good for taxpayers, it is time to get that independent audit function up and running to find savings elsewhere in the budget. We certainly should not be buying the argument that times are tight when Arlington’s per capita spending is $4,623 — or $461 more than our similarly situated neighbor — Alexandria.

On Tuesday, the County Board completed the annual closeout process where they made over $240 million in spending decisions. Included in that process was approval to spend an additional $28.5 million in underestimated real estate tax revenue and $4.2 million in extra personal property tax revenue.

Once again, the revenue estimates on which County Board members based annual budget decisions were way off. Real estate taxes ran 4.7 percent ahead of initial estimates, even with the rate decrease we received in April.

So, it is of little consolation when the Board offered budget guidance Tuesday that would hold tax rates steady. If not a tax rate cut, maybe it is time for a County Board member to call for an annual rebate process. For instance, if real estate revenues ran more than 1 percent ahead of budget, the excess would automatically be rebated to taxpayers rather than spent.

If we start to limit the revenue the Board has available to spend, it will force them to make better budget decisions. A rebate may be a bold proposal for Arlington, but now is the time for bold.

Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

by Mark Kelly — November 13, 2014 at 1:30 pm 585 0

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Mark KellyOn Tuesday, the Arlington County Board will give its annual budget guidance to the County Manager.

First, and probably most importantly, this guidance is almost always ignored when it comes to building the final budget. It is a jumping off point to the six-month budget building process. The Board will not be bound by what it says now when it comes to taxes or spending levels.

As we enter budget season, we hear a lot of terminology thrown around. One of my favorites is “shortfall.”

It does not mean what you think it means. We do not have shortfalls in Arlington. Our spending goes up every year — every single year in recent memory. And nearly every year, it goes up faster than the rate of inflation plus population growth — a standard measure for whether your government is spending a higher percentage of your income each year than it needs to maintain current levels of service.

Think our schools have shortfalls? Not really. Case in point, Arlington schools shook the couch cushions and found enough to buy MacBook Air computers for every 9th grader at three high schools this summer, all from unspent funds.

At the end of every year, the County Board also has tens of millions in extra tax revenue available to spend on non-budgeted items in what is known as the closeout process. The schools get a cut of the closeout money every year as well. This process will also take place at Tuesday’s meeting, but the report outlining how much it will be was still not available online.

Since this revenue underestimation of revenue happens every year, one might think the County Manager would adjust her estimating process. But, she doesn’t. A working theory is that the County likes for projected revenues to create so-called “shortfalls” in order to increase public pressure to raise taxes.

The Board did trim the property tax rate by one penny per hundred dollars in assessed values in the spring. But, our real tax bill still went up by $324 on average this year.

Based on initial estimates reported in the Washington Post, the average single family tax bill is slated to go up by 8 percent next year, or $440, if the tax rate remains the same. It never sounds like too much each year, but it adds up over time.

It is time to stop the annual rite of passage of public relations maneuvers that keep raising our taxes far faster than is warranted. We should see guidance to trim the tax rate again next spring. And, we should start the discussion of permanent guidance to the County Manager to cap revenue and spending growth at the rate of inflation plus population.

Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

by Mark Kelly — November 6, 2014 at 2:00 pm 1,621 0

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Mark KellyAccording to Inside Nova, Kip Malinosky, Chairman of the Arlington Democrats said he was going to try and “reverse engineer” Tuesday’s County Board loss. Malinosky told ARLnow, “…people are obviously unsatisfied about something… ”

“Something?” Not that I am opposed to allowing the Arlington Democrats to waste their time on a reverse engineering project, but I can make it simple for them: Tell the County Board to stop doing things a majority of voters oppose.

John Vihstadt is the voice of the majority in Arlington when it comes to big-ticket spending items. It used to be a quiet voice, but now it has spoken. Twice. Overwhelmingly.

By back of the envelope estimates, more than one out of every three Warner voters ignored the Democrats’ sample ballot to vote for Vihstadt. This after Democrats spun the special election result as merely being the by-product of a lower turnout.

The Board has spun, advertised, paid for friendly studies, lectured, cajoled, and decried opposition on the streetcar. It has not worked. We are not buying it. They have lost the argument. Unfortunately for the voters, the current makeup of the Board still has the votes to move forward — at least for another year.

And, it sounds like they have every intention of moving forward. This paragraph from yesterday’s ARLnow story seems to sum up just how oblivious the current trio of streetcar supporters is:

Tejada also obliquely referred to Garvey and Vihstadt’s rhetoric as “divisive,” saying many of the Board’s critics are “condensing” the issues into “sound bites.” He said he looked forward to “continue to inform details to the community, particularly factual information that it took quite a long time to get to.”

Just because someone opposes you, does not mean they are being divisive. Just because it took you a long time to make a bad decision does not mean it should not be reversed.

The streetcar trio can stay in its bubble and talk only to their supporters, or they can take the vote on Tuesday for what it was. If the Board does not reverse course before next November, we will probably be reading another story about how the “dominant” political party in the county is trying to “reverse engineer” another loss.

Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

by Mark Kelly — October 23, 2014 at 1:00 pm 891 0

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Mark KellyThe Washington, D.C., streetcar is finally up and running in a limited, testing phase. According to this Washington Post story on the new line, it is not going so well.

It seems the first cars “running east of Union Station, have snarled traffic and been in two minor accidents.”

If you have ever driven on Columbia Pike during rush hour, you know traffic conditions will not be any better in Arlington with fixed rail cars running in the same lane as cars and buses.

Second, buses in D.C. are facing significant delays behind the streetcars, and are having to go around the streetcars to stay on schedule.

According to County plans, the Arlington streetcars will only supplement bus service, meaning our buses along the Pike will likely also have to navigate around the light rail. And, in not so good news for Arlington commuters, the streetcars may actually be even slower than buses at getting you to work. This does not include the time it takes you to get to the Pentagon if you need to catch a bus, as the the line will not go directly there.

Third, while D.C. planned to charge $1 or more per ride, “DDOT has determined that fares will not be collected at the start of revenue service.”

D.C. needs to entice riders since ridership is already projected to be “underwhelming” according to the story. Not that D.C. could charge a fare yet, they still don’t have the system in place to do so.

We were told that people would naturally want to ride the new streetcars along Columbia Pike, but communities across the country are having issues with paid ridership. The very real possibility exists that Arlingtonians will not only have to subsidize some portion of each ride forever, we may get to foot the whole bill (at least during a “rider attraction” phase). Of course, instituting a charge for a previously “free” service becomes more difficult later.

The bottom line is we can look across the river at what not to do. Supporters will probably say we can learn from their mistakes, but similar problems continue wherever this transit experiment has been tried.

Fortunately for us, we have only wasted a small percentage of the total cost thus far. We can still stop it. Two Columbia Pike streetcar proponents are on the ballot next year. The results of the Nov. 4 election may intensify the pressure on them to have a change of heart before it’s too late.

Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

by Mark Kelly — October 16, 2014 at 12:45 pm 735 0

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Mark Kelly

If you have children in Arlington Public Schools and you have attended a back-to-school night for your elementary school student, you have probably heard about the way teachers are supposed to be grading students. A “C” grade is meeting expectations for grade level (See page 9). In other words, when a child brings home a report card full of C’s in Arlington, parents are supposed to feel encouraged about what their child is learning.

Superintendent Patrick Murphy received a “C” average from school staff in the latest APS community survey for his job performance. If he were back in elementary school, it sounds like school staff believe he is performing at grade level, but not exceeding it.

The schools did receive a “B” overall from school staff, with a similar grade coming from students. And, 90 percent of parents rated the schools as an “A” or “B”.

Why not higher scores?

Education is important to us. Arlington is full of overachievers when it comes to education. We rank at or near the top of lists of the most well-educated or most well-read. We are naturally tough graders.

The community has been willing to fund, if not overfund, our schools. The survey itself was fielded in the spring, which was before Murphy shook the couch cushions to find enough money left over from last year’s budget to buy MacBook Air computers for some students.

In fact, college-level tuition is available to Murphy and the School Board for each child, and Arlington’s tax revenue climbs consistently year over year. Murphy and the School Board are never faced with the really hard fiscal choices that faced so many school systems across America.

The future does not get easier for Mr. Murphy and the Board. APS is experiencing levels of enrollment which necessitates finding seats for new students; trailers continue to roll onto green spaces; and, we hear about unaccompanied minors from our southern border arriving in our schools. When you have to add seats, it means financing new school buildings and navigating controversial decisions about where those buildings will go.

But, what happens inside the classroom to educate our children is ultimately more important than what building they are in or where it is located. With more than adequate resources available in a highly educated community, expectations are going to be understandably high. We expect our schools to deliver for our students. And, in the Arlington Way, we will expect decisions to be made after extensive community input.

Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

by Mark Kelly — October 9, 2014 at 1:00 pm 604 0

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Mark KellyYesterday, InsideNova provided a trip down memory lane. Unless you were actively involved in Arlington County Board watching in 2008, you probably missed the acronym. Accessory dwelling units were indeed a hot topic at the time.

As the Arlington Way moved forward on the subject, people seemingly divided themselves into three camps.

Camp No. 1 wanted to increase the amount of affordable housing stock in the county and viewed ADUs as a prime opportunity to do so. Camp No. 2, the biggest and most vocal, wanted to stop the proliferation of living situations that were not in compliance with existing county ordinances, and they did not want to make it easier to create more. And, a smaller camp wanted to protect the private property rights of homeowners to use their homes as they see fit, without government interference.

After months of debate, the final proposal adopted by the County Board made creating ADUs so cost-prohibitive that virtually no one has taken advantage of the new ordinance — “less than a dozen” in total. As an aside, am I the only one who wonders if it’s less than a dozen why they cannot tell us if that means one or 11?

So, at the end of the day, camp three may have been the de facto winner. Some people with illegal units do not realize they are in violation of any ordinance. Some realize they are, but are just taking a chance it will never be enforced.

This outcome was predicted by many at the time, including the then-county manager. Unfortunately, telling the County Board anything related to a common-sense conclusion often falls on deaf ears.

The Newseum moved out of its Rosslyn space in large part because it was not conveniently located for foot traffic. The County Board unveiled grandiose plans for a self-sustaining Artisphere to take its place. Many told them the plan would not work as promised at the time it was passed. And, it didn’t.

The County Board has been given an early warning signal that the Columbia Pike trolley would create financial headaches when the $1 million bus stop came to light. The Board is charging ahead anyway. And, when traffic on the Pike becomes worse not better, Arlingtonians will be left with nothing to do but pay off the bonds and pay a higher tax rate to cover our annual subsidy to keep the line running.

So what is an ADU really? It is a perfect example of how our County Board makes many controversial policy decisions along the Arlington Way — a lot of talk resulting in a outcome that regularly does not achieve the promised results.

Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

by Mark Kelly — October 2, 2014 at 2:00 pm 617 0

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Mark KellyFour years ago, I ran against former Arlington County Board member Chris Zimmerman. In my first ever column, I took on one of his regular rants against Republicans.

What cannot stand is the notion that all, or even most, fiscal conservatives are anti-government.

In fact, we believe there is an appropriate role for each level of government. The most important of which, outside of self-government, is local government. It is where our tax dollars meet the asphalt. It is where our children attend school, our homes are kept safe, our water is dispensed, and our trash is collected. It is where we can most easily and directly petition our elected officials for assistance. And, at least theoretically, it should be the most responsive to changing community needs with the smallest amount of bureaucracy and red tape.

When Arlington County makes the claim it is a “world-class community,” we expect our government to operate that way. When we pay taxes, we expect results. Our streets should be well-maintained, not full of potholes. Public safety should not be a looming concern. If our schools spend $22,000 per child, we expect a quality education.

It is not too much to ask.

Unfortunately, for too long it seemed as though our one-party-ruled County Board did not have to pay any attention to the pesky fiscal conservatives — even when many from across the political spectrum shared our concerns.

A year after I wrote my first post, Mr. Zimmerman was on his way out as a Board Member. And, voters were given a choice between a fiscal conservative who wanted accountability for County spending decisions, or another Democrat who would simply vote for the status quo.

John Vihstadt won that special election overwhelmingly when voters were presented with that choice. Now, absentee ballots are already being cast for the Nov. 4 election for the full term of this County Board seat.

Since his election this Spring, Mr. Vihstadt has done what he said he would do, including unwavering opposition to the streetcar and holding the Board accountable by asking tough questions about all the big decisions. Mr. Vihstadt has truly been an independent vote and voice on the Arlington County Board. He deserves a full term to continue what he started.

Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

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