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by Mark Kelly — April 16, 2015 at 1:00 pm 467 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 KellyEach year, somewhere around the time in between when your federal and state taxes are due here in Virginia, the Arlington County Board passes its budget. While the final vote will be on Tuesday, many of the decisions will be made at tonight’s final work session where the Board will “mark-up” the budget with the county manager.

Unlike Congress, Arlington is bound by law to pass a budget that is balanced. Many of us are unhappy with the resulting tax increase we pay each and every year, and we may argue our debt levels need to see some additional scrutiny. But, at least our Board must be prepared for the consequences of a vote to raise taxes in order to pay for any additional spending and debt service they propose.

One item in particular to watch on Tuesday, is whether the Board will adopt the recommendation of the county manager, and most fiscal watchdogs, to end the failed Artisphere experiment. It was a prime example of over-promising and under-delivering on an unneeded vanity project.

We will also know whether the Board will raise our taxes, just not as much, by slightly lowering our tax rate again. Will they vote to raise our taxes by holding the rate level? Or, will they completely reverse course from last year and raise our taxes even more than anticipated by passing the rate as advertised?

A safe bet is the Board will hold the rates level. Based on the fact that once again very few showed up to protest the tax rate increase at the late March public hearing, most Arlingtonians seem resigned to believe they have little real say in the decision.

One of the handful of those who spoke at the hearing did remind the Board that many Arlingtonians find that their incomes are simply not rising as fast as their taxes. And, of course that many in Arlington are retired and on fixed incomes. His larger point was that too many Arlingtonians who have owned their homes for years are finding the taxes increasingly difficult to pay.

In his remarks, he also called for a cap on real estate taxes for long-time Arlington residents. It is an interesting idea that merits a second look, particularly for those aging in place on fixed incomes.

And finally, the Board’s Saturday agenda includes a proposal to reduce the penalty if a real estate tax bill is paid less than 30 days after its due. This proposal to lower the penalty for those who pay within 30 days from 10 percent to 5 percent makes sense. Provide an incentive to pay on time but also a grace period of sorts for those who may have missed the deadline for what could be a very good reason.

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

by Mark Kelly — April 9, 2015 at 12:45 pm 1,031 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 KellyVirginia ranked 12th for Economic Outlook when compared to the other 49 states in the latest “Rich States, Poor States” study released by the American Legislative Exchange Council. It does not sound too bad — holding on to a spot in the top 25 percent of the nation.

The study looks at 15 factors, from labor policies to tax rates that historically predict economic success. But, it looks like we may be headed in the wrong direction in the Commonwealth.

Last year, Virginia ranked 11th. The year before Governor McAuliffe took office, we were fifth.

The governor can take some of the responsibility for the decline. So too can the Democrats who controlled the Virginia Senate from the 2007 elections until the resignation of Sen. Puckett last year. But, Republicans have firmly held sway over the House of Delegates for some time and shared in the policy-making decisions that brought us to this point.

Some may discount this ranking because ALEC is known as a conservative organization. So, how do we fare in other rankings for comparison?

In Forbes latest ranking, Virginia took the fourth spot overall in best states to do business. However, if you look at the portion of the ranking called “Growth Prospects” we ranked 33rd.

CNBC ranked us in a tie for eighth, but down three spots from the year before.

Chief Executive ranked us at 11th, down four spots from the year before.

Virginia is by no means in dire straits, but the trendline in these rankings should concern us. Our governor and General Assembly certainly have work to do if our goal is to be No. 1.

In the Chief Executive study, one CEO was quoted as saying, “Virginia has a significant level of local taxes, particularly in jurisdictions in Northern Virginia that constantly nick away at profitability. While the state tax structure is low, the business property taxes, taxes on gross business income and other related taxes of the local jurisdictions eat away at [revenue].”

Arlington Board Members have publicly recognized the fact that we cannot count on federal government spending to fuel future local economic growth. The proximity to our nation’s capital will always be our home court advantage but new businesses do take note of how our local taxing decisions impact their bottom line.

It is past time to make Arlington a more inviting place for businesses to locate. First step for the Board, ignore the calls for a property tax rate increase. Next step, get rid of the BPOL.

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

by Mark Kelly — April 2, 2015 at 1:00 pm 982 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 KellyCounty leaders agree: they want to to decrease the office vacancy rates in Arlington. One way to start, abolish the BPOL tax.

What is the BPOL? BPOL stands for Business, Professional and Occupational License, and it is also known as a “business privilege tax” or “gross receipts tax.”

Why is it a prime candidate for abolishment? Because it is a tax for the privilege of operating your business in Arlington. The taxes are based on your gross receipts, not your profits. The lower your profit margin, the more the tax hurts your bottom line.

If you look at the website or listen to a proponent of keeping the tax, you have probably seen the bullet points that show how much you pay. Nothing is due under $10,000; $30 up to $50,000 and $50 up to $100,000. It is only those over $100,000 who pay more, depending on what type of business you run.

This looks somewhat fair to the naked eye until you remember the tax is on every dollar you bring into your business regardless of your expenses. It is truly a tax only an accountant or County Board member could love.

In the 2013 campaign, both Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Ken Cuccinelli said they could support eliminating the authority for the tax in Richmond. But, Arlington could do it on its own. And after the fiasco of the almost, not quite, sort of, elimination of the car tax, it would be better to let localities figure their own way out of the BPOL if they so choose.

Proponents of keeping the tax are primarily concerned about keeping the revenue stream. Last fall, the county treasurer pegged it at $60 million.

Arlington could absorb the revenue “loss” by phasing it out over a period of three years. As has been pointed out multiple times, Arlington collects more than it budgets for in tax revenue each and every year. The County Board could simply designate a portion of the close out funds for the next three years to cover the phase out without raising a single dollar in new taxes from elsewhere.

And, if it truly is a priority to hang an “open for business” sign on Arlington’s front door, then this is a tangible place to start. Bringing more businesses to Arlington would have positive revenue effects not measured by the Treasurer. Presumably, more workers each day would be buying sales-taxed lunches and dinners. It stands to reason that commercial property values, and the corresponding tax revenues, would go higher as the demand for space increases as well.

Board members could quickly give Arlington a competitive advantage on our neighbors in Northern Virginia. And, they would not need a task force or listening session to figure it out.

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

by Mark Kelly — March 26, 2015 at 12:45 pm 720 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 KellyA few years back I went to the Arlington County tax rate hearing to listen to the comments of my fellow citizens. So few showed up to comment on the rate that the Arlington County Board actually took a recess while it waited to see if anyone else would come to speak.

If memory serves, all but one of the handful who did come asked the Board not to raise the rate.

Some would argue this shows most Arlingtonians like the level of taxes they pay and are always willing to pay more. Many more of us would argue that in the years immediately pre-Vihstadt, we had given up hope the Board would do anything but raise our annual out-of-pocket costs.

Last month, the Board voted unanimously to advertise a higher rate. If you do not show up tonight and ask for the Board to reject its advertised rate, they may just feel like you are OK with paying even more.

We need to get to the bottom of it

A deaf man with limited English proficiency was held for six weeks in the Arlington County jail last year for allegedly stealing an iPad. He eventually entered into a plea deal for time served.

He claims he was denied access to a proper interpreter, was not aware of why he was arrested for 24 hours, was given medical care without his consent, and frequently missed meals because the system in place at the jail requires inmates to hear. The Sheriff’s Department is not commenting on the specifics of the claims, but does note that services for the hearing impaired are offered.

It is safe to say that it is too early to assign any guilt or blame based on what we know so far. But, these allegations are serious and deserve a thorough review by county officials.

What will this survey really tell us?

Arlington announced it will be conducting another survey to assess the satisfaction with government services. The 2012 Survey claimed that 89 percent of residents were generally satisfied with the services provided. Of course, the 2014 elections spoke very differently.

Digging into the 2012 results, you can find more specific data. What policy makers should note are the areas where residents think they are doing a less than satisfactory job. In 2012, it was roads and traffic.

Forty-eight percent of Arlingtonians who took the survey did not rate the maintenance of county streets as satisfactory or very satisfactory. Fifty percent said they were less than satisfied with traffic management. By comparison, the next worst scoring area was code enforcement at 32 percent who were not satisfied.

It will be interesting in 2015 to see if the county learned anything from the last survey and improved specific areas local residents believed to be lacking.

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

by Mark Kelly — March 19, 2015 at 1:45 pm 1,026 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 KellyFor years, Republicans in Arlington have spoken out against wasteful spending projects and the need for more transparency and accountability from our local government. Things have taken a turn for the better in the past year.

Tax rates were lowered — albeit just a little. The aquatics center was put on hold. The trolley projected ended — it looks like other communities are rethinking their plans as well. And, soon subsidies for the ill-conceived Artisphere are slated come to an end as well.

This week, Gov. Terry McAuliffe cleared the way for the county to hire an independent auditor to take a deeper look at our spending. With any excuse removed that Arlington lacked the authority to make this change, the Arlington County Board should move to establish this office immediately. Doing so would mark a great end to a year of positive change.

Recently, outgoing Board Member Walter Tejada made a rather tone-deaf speech to Arlington Democrats with his insights on how Arlington is faring. It is safe to assume his call for “progressive and Democratic values” was targeted to the base in his own party. But, after voters rejected the path Arlington’s elected officials were taking us, such a speech demonstrates why it was time for a change in leadership.

It also harkens back to one of his former colleagues, Chris Zimmerman. Zimmerman was famous for making speeches about Arlington’s success being dependent on “progressive” values. The speeches always deride Republicans as those who are simply opposed to any government.

Mr. Tejada intimated that we are allowing “. . . ourselves to become a new Arlington of rich, entitled people, lacking in compassion, empathy and a sense of community, viscerally opposed to government of any kind, opposed to everything in alleged overspending on every front?”

This line of thinking shows a complete lack of understanding of the overwhelming majority of Republicans. Republicans believe government decisions are best made closest to the voters. Local governments, we believe, have a tremendous role to play in our everyday lives. Schools, roads, safety, and infrastructure decisions are best made closest to home.

Sure, Republicans are also the party that puts a strong emphasis on making these decisions in a fiscally responsible manner. We oppose waste. We think taxes should remain as low as possible to meet our needs.

What Arlington Democrats discovered last fall is that a growing number of Arlingtonians agree with Republicans on how our local government is spending our money. Mr. Tejada may not like it, but if he really was that passionate about his positions, maybe he would be running again instead of retiring.

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

by Mark Kelly — March 12, 2015 at 12:45 pm 659 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 week, Sweet Briar College, located about 12 miles north of Lynchburg, made national news. It was not for academic or athletic success, but for announcing it would close its doors after 114 years.

The private, liberal arts women’s college with 760 students continued to see declining enrollment and annual operating losses. The tuition and fees alone were nearly $35,000 annually, but according to reports, that rate was being discounted nearly 60 percent on average. Even with the heavily discounted rates, Sweet Briar could not attract enough new students to fill the gap. The school was increasingly relying on an endowment where a majority of the funds were restricted to specific uses.

Sweet Briar College may be an outlier, but the evidence suggests it is the symptom of something much bigger. Sweet Briar is not alone among small private colleges in feeling economic pressures. According to this Washington Post story, the average tuition discount is 4 percent and enrollment is down at “half of small private colleges and regional public colleges.”

The average total annual cost for private four year colleges is $42,419. Twenty years ago, that number was $26,487. And, while public universities are still more affordable, their tuition costs are rising at faster rates over the past 20 years than their private counterparts.

At the same time, median family incomes that are simply not keeping up with rising college costs. So, as parents and students look at costs that could potentially reach $70,000 per year — see Georgetown in D.C. – they have to ask themselves if it is really worth it. Forty million Americans have student loan debt. Total student loan debt is $1.2 trillion, an all-time high.

The question for lawmakers in Richmond is, will Sweet Briar’s closure inspire them to take a fresh look at the future of higher education here in the Commonwealth?

Virginia already has guaranteed admission agreements. This helps students keep total four-year costs down by allowing them to complete their first two years at community college. But, is there an increased role for community colleges?

Can we encourage public-private partnerships in Virginia where more degree programs are created to fulfill industry needs? Along these lines, should Richmond lobby Washington to break up the current accreditation system? Shouldn’t we consider allowing each state to establish its own, giving Virginia more flexibility to create innovative education solutions.

Are there other good ideas out there that simply do not rely on increasing student loans or a federal mandate requiring taxpayers to pay for two years of community college, or worse: requiring us to bail out the growing mountain of student loan debt?

A college education is still the key to better job opportunities. But, parents and students should not feel trapped by the current higher education system that is piling up debt on future generations.

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

by Mark Kelly — March 5, 2015 at 2:00 pm 635 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 KellyStories abound about the results of the new federal school nutrition standards. Since their implementation, usage of the program is down, food waste is up, and many students simply go home hungry at the end of the day.

It is not that the health of our children is not an important concern. But, the point of the school lunch program at its inception was to feed kids who do not have enough to eat at home.

The larger argument about the wisdom or practicality of these standards is for another time and forum. One issue surrounding them did rise to the surface again recently. Can kids have “bake sales” during school hours to raise money for their various causes?

Yes, the new school nutrition standards have rules about bake sales. Cookies, brownies, donuts and pizza do not meet the standards. Therefore, they are prohibited from being sold at school.

There is an exception. Each state may allow them, but they have to set rules for doing so. Otherwise, students would be left to sell whole grain, sugar-free, and taste-free muffins to raise money for band uniforms and field trips.

For some reason, Virginia’s State Board of Education had not set forward any rules. So, it led to a debate in the Virginia General Assembly on a bill to determine how many each school could have in a given year.

Maybe in Arlington where the median income is over $100,000, most of us are simply OK with writing a check to cover the extras the school budget does not. But, not every school district is so lucky. And, banning the bake sale takes away the opportunity for kids to learn lessons about working for money in order get things they want or need or to be able to donate that money to a charitable cause.

One Republican Senator said her kids gravitated toward unhealthy foods and therefore she would not support any exceptions for fundraisers. Of course her kids do. Unhealthy food tastes good. Many of us like a good slice of pizza, a Saturday morning donut, or a good bowl of ice cream.

But as a parent, it is our responsibility to teach our kids to eat right. The purchase of a giant chocolate chip cookie at school one afternoon will not dramatically alter a child’s eating habits. Neither will prohibiting it.

The bill to allow bake sales passed the Senate with 17 Senators voting “no” and one voting “present.” I am not sure which is worse, that 17 Senators thought bake sales should be prohibited or one who could not seem to make up their mind.

The bill to free the bake sale now awaits Gov. Terey McAuliffe’s signature. His wife is a proponent of the nutrition standards, so it will be interesting to see if he signs it.

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

by Mark Kelly — February 26, 2015 at 2:30 pm 833 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 KellyAfter campaigning last fall on his work to cut the tax rate by 1 cent, John Vihstadt voted to advertise a rate for 2015 that is 1.5 cents higher than last year. The voters could have rightly anticipated a 4-1 vote with Vihstadt voting no.

With the increase in assessments, the average homeowner is slated to see a tax increase of $266 on the real estate rate without a rate increase. If the Board adopts the rate increase, it would tack on an additional $87.

Some may ask, is 97 cents a day more too much to pay for everything we have in Arlington? A fair argument if we had not wasted so much money on boondoggle projects.

And, it ignores the fact that the average homeowner saw a $256 increase in 2010, $66 increase in 2011, $155 increase in 2012, $234 in 2013 and $223 in 2014. That would total $1,287 in annual tax increases in six years.

Think of it another way: cumulatively, the average homeowner will have paid an additional $3,987 from the six years of increases over 2009 tax levels if a rate increase goes into effect in April.

Sure, the Board does not have to implement a higher tax rate, but they have made no case that they need the extra money.

This leads to the second point. The County Board gave guidance to the County Manager to present a balanced budget that did not raise the tax rate. Something Ms. Donnellan managed to do with relative ease.

Yet, by advertising a higher rate, the Board has once again ignored its own guidance. Board Chair Hynes acknowledged this fact, but said the Board unanimously wanted more flexibility. That is code for, if we think you will allow us to take more of your money, we would be happy to spend it.

While the case can easily be made for another tax rate cut, the likely outcome is that the Board will reshuffle some priorities and leave the rate unchanged. They can claim they made some “tough choices” and in the end “saved” the taxpayers some money by not raising the rate.

But, none of the current Board members will face the voters again until 2016. Hynes and Tejada will not face them again at all. After the unanimous vote to advertise the higher rate, you just never know.

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

by Mark Kelly — February 19, 2015 at 1:30 pm 616 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

(Updated at 3:30 p.m.) On Saturday, the Arlington County Board will determine the maximum tax rate for real estate, vehicles, and business improvement service districts in Ballston, Crystal City and Rosslyn. The final rate will not be determined until April, and you can have your say at a hearing in March, but this Saturday the Board will set the cap.

If you have never dug into a County Manager’s report, you could count yourself lucky. In this case, Attachment II of the report on the property tax rate provides a decade’s worth of history. Including 2015, the average homeowner’s annual tax bill has increased by $1,676 over the past 10 years.

If the current tax rate does not change, the average residential tax bill will go up $281 this year over last — the largest increase since 2006.

Today, the Manager sent out a press release indicating she would recommend no tax rate increase which is in line with the Board’s guidance to “present a balanced budget that assumes no increase in tax rates.” The Board can accept or ignore her recommendation to keep rates level. Best bet is the Board will not raise the rate. Whatever the Board decides, however, it will not impact Ms. Donnellan’s checkbook as she does not live in Arlington.

Two years ago, Patch reported on the salary for county employees. Roughly 1 in 10 earned $100,000 or more. In most places in America, this would be an above average sum. Not here in Arlington. So, it’s not surprising that a majority of county employees live outside of Arlington.

However, there is no reason that top county staff, most importantly the county manager, should not be required to live in Arlington. When Ms. Donnellan makes recommendations to the Board on what tax rates will be or any other important issue, it should be with a more personal perspective. That applies to the school superintendent as well — who already lives in Arlington voluntarily.

For the rest of county staff, the Board could use some objective income level as a standard to require residency, say 125 percent of the median income for the county, and phase-in the requirement for them as well. It would make an excellent addition to the budget.

Correction: The original version of the column said the average salary for a county employee was “north of $100,000.” That was an incorrect reading of the original Patch story. I regret the error

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

by Mark Kelly — February 12, 2015 at 1:45 pm 686 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 KellyJohn Vihstadt spoke regularly about hiring an independent auditor in the county government during his campaigns and throughout his brief tenure on the Board. The credit for originally identifying the need goes to the Arlington Civic Federation. The Civic Federation raised the idea back in 2011, calling for an independent “Inspector General.”

While candidates from the Republican and Green parties raised the issue in previous election cycles, the idea did not really seem to take hold until the infamous $1 million bus stop made national news. Along with the ongoing Artisphere subsidies, a $1 million dog park and an aquatics center price tag that seemed to be spiraling out of control, the need became apparent to the voters as well.

Enter Del. Patrick Hope. Delegate Hope’s bill would remove any doubt as to whether the County Board could hire a truly independent auditor who will not report to the county manager, but directly to the Board itself.

With its unanimous passage in the House of Delegates, it seems on track to become law. Delegate Hope deserves kudos for pushing the bill towards passage.

With this in mind, the Board should be building this office into its FY 2016 budget with the anticipation it will be approved. The Board should ensure the office is adequately staffed and has broad enough authority to examine county spending in a truly independent fashion.

It seems as though the Board or the county manager had been dragging their feet on hiring an internal auditor under the current staffing structure as approved last year. The position is still vacant. So, the Board should set a self-imposed deadline to have an independent auditor in place of not later than July 1.

The Board should also grant the office authority to examine how county staff estimates revenues. While the White House chronically over-estimates revenue growth to make projected federal deficits look smaller, the staff at Courthouse seem to chronically underestimate revenue growth to drive tax rates higher.

The Board and county manager like to say they are budgeting conservatively, but there is nothing conservative about creating “revenue shortfalls” on paper as an excuse to drive up taxes and spending.

Providing transparency and accountability from outside the normal chain of command in Arlington is a good idea with broad support from across the partisan spectrum. Provided the Hope bill passes the General Assembly, the Board should follow through on it promptly.

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

by Mark Kelly — February 5, 2015 at 1:00 pm 688 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 KellyAcross America, there is a move to encourage states to call for a Constitutional Convention. That debate has moved to our General Assembly in Richmond.

Article V of the U.S. Constitution states in part:

The Congress, whenever two-thirds of both houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose amendments to this Constitution, or, on the application of the legislatures of two thirds of the several states, shall call a convention for proposing amendments, . . .

This means a minimum of 34 states would be required to petition Congress to set a date and venue for new Constitutional Convention. Any proposed amendments would then need to be ratified by 38 states.

Much of the beauty of our Constitution is in its simplicity, both in length and wording. Its 4,000 plus words have rarely been amended since it was drafted in 1787. By comparison, the European Constitution contains over 156,000 words, the King James Bible contains over 780,000 words, and the tax code and regulations are over 4 million words and counting. Nothing about the tax code or regulations can be argued to be simple or straightforward.

Amending the Constitution is serious business, which is why our Founding Fathers had the wisdom to make it difficult. In fact, our Constitution has never been amended as a result of a Constitutional Convention subsequent to its ratification.

Proponents, who tend to be on the conservative side of the political spectrum, are pushing for a balanced budget amendment and limitations on executive power, among other things. Their fiercest opposition also seems to be among conservatives who do not want to open up the Constitution to mischief by states that would send liberal contingents to a convention. And if my email inbox is any indication, both the proponents and critics are extremely passionate about their positions.

Whatever your view, there really seems to be no path to finding 34 states to petition for an Article V convention — at least not in the near future.

At the same time, a public debate about how, when and why to amend the Constitution is a healthy thing. If nothing else, maybe it has caused Virginia, birthplace of its primary author, to take a second look at the Constitution and to think about what it would mean to amend it. Hopefully more than a few teachers viewed it as an opportunity to use current events to study one of the best foundational documents ever written.

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

by Mark Kelly — January 29, 2015 at 12:15 pm 775 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.

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