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by Mark Kelly — December 18, 2014 at 2:00 pm 661 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.

by Mark Kelly — September 25, 2014 at 1:30 pm 569 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

Last night, Arlington Republicans passed recommendations on the bond questions Arlingtonians will see on the ballot this year.

In terms of dollars and cents, voters will be asked to approve just over $218 million in new debt on Nov. 4. That is roughly $1,000 for every man, woman and child in Arlington — plus interest. It is part of a $2.7 billion, 10-year spending plan on infrastructure projects.

For further perspective, in FY 2015 we will pay $60.7 million to service our current debt obligations. That is roughly 9 percent of our general fund budget.

Republicans recommended a “no” vote on the parks bond. With the aquatics center in an indefinite holding pattern, there are millions of unallocated dollars that were passed by voters under the guise of “parks and recreation.” The Board may have them earmarked for a pool, but this currently available bond authority can be used for the 2014 projects.

Once the Board sorts out the new plans for the pool complex, they can come back to the voters and ask them to approve the final amount. The Board could even try a novel concept, a straight up or down vote on the pool, rather than lumping it in with other “parks and recreation” projects.

Arlington Republicans recommended a “yes” vote on the other three bond measures — each recommendation coming with reservations.

We have a capacity problem in our schools that must be addressed, but a $105.78 million blank check to the School Board is disconcerting to many. Parents and local neighborhoods are feeling left out of the planning process. And, with millions just lying around to buy MacBook Airs for students, many are questioning the way our schools put their budgets together.

The Metro and transportation bond is a lot like “parks and recreation.” Voters vote for it in large part because they support Arlington’s commitment to the Metro. The other transportation projects have often proven questionable. The County Board’s transportation priorities and funding streams should be under a microscope as the Board just approved a $26 million contract for the Columbia Pike trolley. A better way to do transportation bonding would be to approve the Metro bond separately, so that the other transportation projects included could be evaluated on their own merits.

The community infrastructure bond will fund things like 911 communications — certainly tough to vote against. But one could ask why at least some of these items could not be paid for out of the millions in annual closeout funds available to the Board, rather than added to our indebtedness?

Arlingtonians would be well-served to educate themselves on how the County plans to spend their tax dollars and arrive at their own conclusions on the merits of these bonds. They should also consider asking County Board members why controversial projects are often lumped in with other bonds rather than standing on their own merits.

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

by Mark Kelly — September 18, 2014 at 1:00 pm 748 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

ARLnow reported yesterday that the Arlington County Board will consider a $26 million contract for the planning and construction management of the Columbia Pike streetcar project. It is another sign that the current Board has no intention of changing course unless voters toss them out.

Here are some questions that need to be answered before the Board votes to award this contract:

Why are we sending $26 million to the same company who handled planning and construction management for the D.C. streetcar project? While it may be operational later this fall, the first two and a half miles of a proposed 22-mile system in DC has repeatedly been delayed.

Should we rely on this company to have learned from multiple false starts, broken promises and bad PR? In other words, how do we know they will get it right this time?

What is the proposed timeline for completion? Are there penalties in the contract for failing to meet a timeline or incentives for meeting it? What about incentives for meeting the projected budget?

Is there a way for the County Board to buy out the contract without paying the full $26 million if the Board opts to scrap the project later — say if the 2015 elections produce an anti-trolley majority?

If this $26 million contract is for 30 percent of the design, what does that mean the ultimate design costs will be? Does anyone know or are they willing to tell us?

And a slightly more tongue-in-cheek question may be, should this move by the pro-trolley majority be considered an in-kind contribution to the Vihstadt re-election campaign? Injecting a contract of this size into the public discourse just six weeks from Election Day is certainly curious timing.

Speaking of Vihstadt, one thing is for sure: both he and Libby Garvey will come to Tuesday night’s meeting armed with these and many more serious questions about the contract. If you have questions you believe should be answered about moving forward with this contract, feel free to email your Board members. You can find their email addresses here: http://countyboard.arlingtonva.us/county-board-members/.

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

by Mark Kelly — September 11, 2014 at 3:45 pm 522 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 KellyMy story of Sept. 11 was in no way heroic or unique. But, like most Arlingtonians who lived here that day, it is still vividly etched in my mind.

My wife and I boarded a plane bound for Washington early on the morning of Sept. 11 after spending a long weekend in Florida. Little did I know that hundreds of my fellow Americans were doing the same, but they would never land safely back on the ground.

When our wheels touched down at Reagan National that morning, the first plane had struck the World Trade Center in New York. As we deplaned and went to catch a cab to the office on Capitol Hill, the second plane struck the second tower.

Capitol Hill was buzzing with the news when we arrived. Soon, I learned of what had happened in New York, and like so many of us watched the television in disbelief.

Not long after arriving at my office just across the street from the Capitol, there were reports of an explosion at the Pentagon which turned out to be terrorists flying American Airlines Flight #77 into the building. My wife looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, “they are coming here next.”

As we evacuated our office, the beautiful blue sky was soon filled with the sounds of fighter jets that had been scrambled to DC as well as black smoke billowing from the Pentagon.

When we learned later that United Airlines Flight #93 had gone down in Pennsylvania, we had no doubt that it was en route back to the Washington area. I cannot help but think that those passengers may have saved my life.

A few hours later, we caught a ride with a friend back across the Potomac to our condo in Pentagon City. The next morning, a thin layer of soot covered my car and the smell of smoke still lingered in the air. It was a chilling reminder of what had happened and the loss so many families were feeling just 24 hours after starting their Tuesday like normal.

The hill beside our building became a makeshift memorial, as people would gather each evening to look down on the Pentagon and the huge American flag draped near the devastation that took place there. People would gather, watch, cry and pray.

Thirteen years ago we were attacked because we were Americans. In the attacks, 2,977 died and thousands more were injured. In response, we saw America rally in remarkable ways as a nation.

When we visit the Pentagon Memorial or when I drive by the piece of steel from ground zero at Arlington County Fire Station 5, I remember. I do not know how we will commemorate Sept. 11 50 years from now, but I know it will still be worth remembering.

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

by Mark Kelly — September 4, 2014 at 1:30 pm 606 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

Yesterday’s report that Arlington County policy may leave First Amendment protesters subject to arbitrarily enforced rules should give us all pause.

The actual wording of the special events policy would apply to “one or more persons” with even just the “propensity to attract a crowd.” The remedy for police, presumably, would be to tell a small group or individual to go home or face a fine of indeterminate size.

As reported here in ARLnow, some sort of administrative language from county staff is supposed to be forthcoming to clarify the policy. Those holding up signs outside of a political event they disagree with may not be subject to its enforcement. In the the meantime, county staff’s current policy toward its enforcement is effectively “trust us,” according to yesterday’s report.

The reality is the policy as written could conceivably give the county the ability to decide on a case-by-case basis whether it applies and to which group — or even a single individual. It opens the door for county staff to make that determination based on the content of the speech. Imagine, for example, the county staff or Arlington Police Department gets a call from an angry Board Member whose event is being protested.

Giving the Board the benefit of the doubt, let’s assume it was not their intent to prohibit concerned citizens from peacefully or spontaneously protesting. Hopefully, Board members will have county staff recommendations on the policy by the time of the September Board meeting.

But, it should have never been passed without more specific clarifying language. As written, it may take more than a county staff clarification to effectively protect Arlingtonians from potential abuses. The Board itself should probably re-address the issue.

Next time, maybe someone will stop and think about what wording of a policy actually means before they pass it. There should be no question as to whether diversity of political opinion will be welcome in Arlington.

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

by Mark Kelly — August 28, 2014 at 1:15 pm 663 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

ARLnow.com asked its readers this week to opine on whether or not riders on the new trolley line should have to pay for the ride — assuming the line is built that is.

When I took online the poll, just 54 percent of 1,000 respondents said “no” to subsidizing riders. 46 percent voted to subsidize it temporarily or permanently. While not a scientific poll, 46 percent seemed high based on the reasons we are told that new rapid transit buses on Columbia Pike are not the solution.

On top of that list of main selling points is that more people will WANT to ride the trolley who do not currently pay to take the bus. If people will gladly give up the frustrations of driving their car in favor of a shiny new trolley, why would we need to provide monetary incentives to entice them to do it?

Apparently, 46 percent of ARLnow readers are not convinced that if we build it, they will come. In fact, the more interesting question may have been, would you ride the trolley without a free fare?

Granted, this is an academic discussion for now. The notion of making the trolley a free ride came about from a debate about light rail in Virginia Beach. But, with ridership not meeting projections virtually everywhere across the U.S. this experiment has been tried, rest assured the thought of reduced or no fares has crossed someone’s mind in Arlington.

If we are going to give a preference to trolley riders, why not make the Metro free? Or bus rides free? Or at least, we could knock a $1 off of all those fares as well.

We do now live in a county that seems to be on a path to buy every child in Arlington’s schools a Macbook Air — or maybe just an iPad. Our budgets are so comfortably padded that we are apparently paying for this year’s Macbook Air purchase with money that was just lying around at APS unused.

Compared to the half-billion price tag to get the complete trolley line installed, the fare subsidy would really only be chump change. Of course, there’s an applicable old saying about government spending that goes something like this, “the problem is, sooner or later, you run out of other people’s money.”

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

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