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Board Sets Maximum Tax Rate for 2011

Primary reporting for this article was provided by Barry Skidmore of People Powered Arlington.

Property taxes are going up, and on Saturday residents got a preview of just how high rates may go.

Arlington’s advertised property tax rate has been set at 96.5 cents per $100 in assessed value, a nine cent increase from last year. The Arlington County Board unanimously approved the rate during a budget meeting Saturday morning.

The advertised rate represents the highest rate the county can decide to tax for the 2011 fiscal year, which actually begins on June 1, 2010. The FY 2011 tax rate will be set by the board in April.

Although Acting County Manager Barbara Donnellan has proposed a tax rate of 94.2 cents – a 6.7 cent increase – board members said the higher advertised rate will give the county flexibility to meet unexpected budget shortfalls. The county is currently facing a $65 million deficit for FY 2011.

“This rate provides us the flexibility we need to address the unknowns presented since our budget guidance was provided in the fall – primarily the uncertain state budget cuts and Metro demands that we may face,” said Arlington County Board Chairman Jay Fisette.

“I have worked on a lot of these [budgets]” added board member Christopher Zimmerman. “I don’t think I have ever seen this degree of uncertainty.”

Many members of the community, including representatives from the police union, the Community Services Board, and the Alliance for Housing Solutions asked the board consider an even higher tax rate ceiling. However, county board member Mary Hynes said the approved rate, plus potential increases in various county fees and service charges, should give the board enough room to maneuver.

The board voted to advertise the following proposed fee increases, which could raise $3.4 million if adopted in April:

  • Increase in the residential solid waste fee
  • Increase in the motor vehicle decal fee
  • Increase fines for parking tickets
  • $8 per-sport, per-season fee for county sports leagues

In addition to tax and fee hikes, Donnellan’s proposed budget also includes a number of cuts in county services.

“We are facing more uncertainty in this fiscal year than in past fiscal years and, unfortunately, the uncertainty is heading in the direction of more cuts,” said board member Barbara Favola.

“It has not been the best of times, nor the worst of times, but they certainly have been interesting and challenging times,” Donnellan said when she laid out the budget. “There is a constituency in this community, for every item I have cut… I know that.”

“Now the work begins, as we scour the budget, engage the community and do what we are required to do – produce a balanced budget in April,” said board member Fisette. “We are committed to find the balance of the service quality that we have come to expect with the burden on taxpayers.”

The public will be able to speak out about the budget at hearings on Tuesday, March 23 and Wednesday, March 24. A hearing on taxes and fees will take place on March 25. All three hearings will begin at 7:00 p.m. in the County Board Room at 2100 Clarendon Blvd.

A board meeting featuring a discussion of the county’s snow removal effort is scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 23 at 3:00 p.m.

Barry Skidmore is a three-year resident of Arlington County. He is actively involved in local urban policy and transportation issues. Read his blog at http://peoplepoweredarlington.blogspot.com.

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