83°Clear

Morning Poll: Libraries vs. Taxes

by ARLnow.com March 22, 2011 at 7:57 am 1,746 174 Comments

Tonight at 7:00 p.m. the Arlington County Board will hold a hearing on its FY 2012 budget.

Although Arlington will benefit from rising property values this year in the form of higher tax collections, the Board still must make tough choices when it comes to deciding what to fund and how to fund it.

County Manager Barbara Donnellan has recommended keeping real estate taxes steady at 95.8 cents per $100 in assessed value, following a year in which the rate jumped 8.3 cents. The Board gave itself the flexibility of raising that rate slightly by advertising a 96.8 cent rate.

Meanwhile, various groups have been asking the board to increase funding their local priorities, from affordable housing to parks to helping the homeless. One group that has been particularly vocal is supporters of Arlington’s public libraries, who want to see a restoration of the library hours and materials funding after they were cut last year.

If you had to choose between a small property tax increase and a restoration of library funds, or no tax increase and no restoration of funds, which would you choose?


  • Lou

    C. No tax money to the trolley

    • Overgrown Bush

      Second that!

      • Lifelong Resident

        Third that!

        • Too Easy

          I want the trolley , traffic on the pike blows

  • AJ

    If you had to choose between a small property tax increase and a restoration of library hours, which would you choose?

    is this phrased properly? it seems you can’t extend hours without raising taxes. this isn’t an either/or scenario.

    me, I’d rather do neither.

    • Right, that is phrased incorrectly. I will change.

  • Lacy Forest

    I’m considering your quiz a false choice. What expenditures were increased at the same time library hours were being cut? Arts funding? Parks funding? Homeless services funding? How much of the library hours could be reinstated for the cost of a dog park, or a slight decrease in arts community funding? I believe, and I have no financial interest in this, that after public safety and basic infrastructure, education (including libraries) is your next funding priority.

    • This is a theoretical question, not a real-life scenario.

      • Burger

        I disagree. When crafting a budget in tight financial times, you start with funding existing priorities like library hours and materials before expanding services to artsphere and the like.

        • local

          You can’t disagree that it’s just a theoretical question. Yes, it’s a false choice, but we all know that already. It’s just an internet poll.

          • Burger

            I understand that. My point was more to the fact the county board should never have put cutting library hours on the table in light of other expanding services. It was theoretical just at 50,000 feet where this question is at 10,000.

          • local

            Yes, it was a good point and worth bringing up.

          • Lifelong Resident

            Totally with you on that, Burger.

  • loveslibraries

    Arlington’s library system is fabulous – easily one of the best to which I’ve had access. I can live with the reduced hours as they currently stand (most of the branches are still open fairly late compared to other public library systems), but the reduction in materials acquisition – particularly the moratorium on music purchases – has been sad to live with.

    • You raise a good point. This is not just about hours. I’m going to modify the poll a bit to include that dimension.

    • Jim

      then you can give them a donation to keep operating… so the county can develop user fees. What % of the population actually uses the library on a regular basis anyways.

      • South ARL Guy

        Agreed. I’d like to see the break down of what percentage of tax payers use the libraries consistently (i.e. at least once per month). Further, I’d like to see what the per-tax payer cost is per day/month/year or whatever… to fund the library system. I’ve lived in Richmond, Winchester, Fairfax County, etc… and never have I seen such a small geographic location crammed full of libraries. I’d rather see an extra fire fighter or police officer employed or a pot hole fixed and the County’s infrastructure upgraded than further bloating the Arlington’s library system. Last time I was in the Central Library, all I did was see swaths of homeless sleeping. Eww. Heck, even take that extra money and fund some baths for the homeless. At least then they can take better care of themselves before their afternoon library nap. (said in jest… for those of you who are sarcasm averse)

  • TuesdaysChild

    Agreed. False choice. The choice should be to reduce the total number of arlington county employees. Starting with the current Board members…

    • Of course, I’m sure cutting some undetermined part of the budget would be preferable for many people. But this is a question of prioritizing a specific service versus a specific tax.

  • charlie

    we should never cut educational stuff like libraries and planetariums — they are investments.

    i voted, in the poll, for a tax increase. But I’d rather see a true thorough review of our WHOLE budget — I can cut some stuff elsewhere. Like our subsidy of ZIPCARS and the free on street parking they get…

  • hateslibraries

    We live in a very prosperous area (Clarendon) yet have a terrible library system. The hours are way too limited (10am – 5pm… really?). The book selection is terrible. How can the library justify buying ONE popular new release book for the entire system? Waiting 4+ weeks for a book is not cutting it. Having lived in areas with much lower tax rates, it’s sad how little Arlington cares about properly funding the library system.

    • Daniel

      So you actually like libraries with proper funding/ Your username is a bit of a misnomer.

      Step up and submit a comment to the board….I’m sure there are more like you and you’re all sitting on your hands.

    • loveslibraries

      Please share an example of one popular title having been purchased for the whole system. Usually a dozen or so copies of popular titles are purchased – in fact, the catalog is showing 25 copies of James Patterson’s latest release, “Toys.” It’s possible that the catalog has a single copy as a placeholder record for the title until the additional copies arrive and are put into circulation, so be sure to check back.

    • OddNumber

      hateslibraries – I would encourage you to visit the central library in Ballston. It is just 1.5 mi from the library location you are visiting, but you will find much better hours and selection.

      Regarding selection, I have had some long waits for new books as well, but I don’t think it is unreasonable given the great services offered overall.

    • Jim

      then buy the book… if you live in Clarendon, you can afford to buy a book. get over yourself.

  • Bender

    To say that they will “raise taxes” is misleading. If we are going to talk about budget limitations and cuts, it is more accurate (and honest) to say that the choice is between cutting the budgets of individual citizens (who do not have the ability to arbitrarily make their employers pay them more) versus cutting the billion-dollar budget of a rich county.

    I say make government make do with less before making the people make do with less. Government is a hell of a lot richer than I am.

    • local

      Government is richer than you are?

      That’s a nonsensical comparison. Government isn’t a person and doesn’t make money. It provides services, including some that you depend on, and I doubt you’re being taxed to the poorhouse. So let’s focus on reasonable tax rates vs. reasonable services, and not make unreasonable comparisons.

      • John Fontain

        Bender’s position is not nonsensical, its actually a very intelligent and insightful perspective that most people don’t “get”.

        As Mary Meeker said regarding government spending in the fantastic “USA Inc.” article in Business Week, “Simply off-loading expenses from the government onto the citizenry doesn’t constitute a solution, since we are the government.”

        http://www.businessweek.com/print/magazine/content/11_10/b4218000828880.htm

        Bender is correct. Either we cut our personal budgets to increase the County’s budget or we leave our personal budget’s intact and don’t increase the County’s budget. I, for one, think the County should figure out how to do more with less so that we can keep our personal budgets from being reduced. If people feel strongly enough about the libraries receiving additional funding, there is nothing stopping them from making a personal donation to the library. It’s the old “put your money where your mouth is.”

        • Lou

          Same thing we have had to do to keep the Planetarium going. Dig into our own pockets and put up the money. It’s not the preferred way to go about it, but I hope it sends a message to the county. These are priorities many of us want addressed by the budget.

        • local

          Again – it’s totally nonsensical. By this logic, you could say “let’s cut the government budget to zero and we’d all be better off.” But we can’t all buy our own fire and police services and build our own roads. Some of our money is better spent ourselves, but some is better spent on government.

          • John Fontain

            You are misunderstanding my point. I don’t believe we should cut government spending to zero (or anywhere close to that) and I agree that the cost of many, many things should be shared. I believe the point I was trying to make is like an inoculation, it either takes or it doesn’t (you either “get it” or you never will). But one last try: Raising taxes doesn’t create money out of thin air. It takes from our personal budgets to increase the government budget. Each household could pay an extra $100 a year in taxes and we could much better fund the libraries, or we could keep that money in our personal budgets and each go buy 5 to 10 books of our personal liking from a bookstore. Both ways accomplish the desire to have reading material, but is funding the public resource directly always the best solution?

          • mehoo

            I know you don’t want to cut taxes to zero – that’s why I noted that Bender’s logic could lead to that.

            Yes, thanks for letting me know that taxes don’t come out of thin air. I pay them too.

            All I’m saying is that there are better ways of deciding what taxes should be than Bender’s idea. And I think your analysis is more like mine than his.

            As for libraries – yes, we could all pay $10 in taxes, or pay hundreds to buy our own books. Sounds like libraries win that cost-benefit analysis (bookstores lose though).

          • CW

            You seem to be neglecting the concepts of network effects and increasing returns to scale, yet you allude directly to it. For your hypothetical $100, you could purchase 5-10 books to read once and put on a shelf forever, or you could fund a library system that allows you to check out and read many, many more titles in that same time period. This is the whole concept upon which governments are based.

          • John Fontain

            You assume both that the person wants to read more than 5 to 10 books per year and that the government would ensure that everyones’ desired titles would be available. Neither is necessarily true. Also, private purchases could be donated after reading, which would allow donor to benefit from reading the titles they wanted and also having access to titles other donors donated. To say things are always done best by government isn’t necessarily true, and back to the original point, they don’t come at a cost of nothing.

          • CW

            “Also, private purchases could be donated after reading, which would allow donor to benefit from reading the titles they wanted and also having access to titles other donors donated.”

            Wait, you’re joking, right?

            Let me follow your logical path:

            1) Taxes should not be raised for libraries.
            2) Instead, each person could have $100, say, to buy books.
            3) Then, when they are done reading those books, they could
            4) Get together with other people, who also presumably spent their $100 on books
            5) And share books with them.

            So you’re saying that we should use our tax savings from not funding the library to start a library? ROTFLMAO.

          • Burger

            He is right. What you are missing is that to buy $100 in books from the citizenry will result in taxing the citizenry more than $100 due to natural inefficiencies that arise in the tax system. More likely to buy $100 in books for the library would cost $110 in taxes. You’ll lose some tax revenue due to paying the tax collector, you’ll have some of the population try to evade the tax increase or fight the tax increase via contesting a real estate assessment, you’ll also leak revenue at the purchase stage.

            So his point is exactly on target, whether the county with a large wealth position should be taking from the poorer taxpayer. There is certainly need for taxes to support services but there is a line that is draw over where an individual wants that line draw for the level of services. To me basic library services are more important like being open past 5 pm so I can get there after work v. spending money on an art sphere or a jazzed up dog park or 10k for local communities to buy trees which I view as extraneous given the limited resources and federal salary freeze means lower individual tax home pay buy increased taxes.

          • CW

            Burger – your argument is well-articulated and yclear, and you make it clear that it’s your opinion. I respect that. However, I still don’t agree with it.

            Two things:

            1) While say it really is $110 in taxes to get $100 worth of books, the network effect is still that people get access to more than $100 worth of books each.

            2) You state that the county may leak revenue at the purchase stage. It’s true that there are inefficiencies, but it also leads to another good point, which is that the county likely has massive purchasing power and is thus able to get the books for a better price than an individual could.

          • local

            Well, come on, John, we can’t know every single little detail about who wants to read how many books per year.

            The libraries are popular. That should be enough.

          • local

            Burger:

            Still alot cheaper to pay $110 in taxes than buy all your books yourself.

            And you run into “inefficiencies” buying things yourself too. You don’t buy books wholesale.

          • Josh S

            You can buy 5-10 books for yourself, but the library buys 5-10 books for everyone to use. So it’s not exactly the clear cut comparison that you think it is.

          • Allan

            Buy the books from your local bookstore and keep employing people (who pay taxes) and keep the business alive (that also pays taxes; then donate when you’re done with them and you have a “win-win” for everyone.

            Simple, but effective. No more bookstores closing, a few less unemployed people, doesn’t raise the taxes of the individuals, and keeps the existing tax base from the employer intact.

          • local

            Good idea. Donate them where? Where will they be stored? If you are buying a book – and then everyone else is reading the one you donated – how does that help bookstores any more than if a library does it?

            You’re basically describing a library.

  • Arlwhenever

    The HOT lanes suit expense and wasted County Manager severance, bonus and moving expenses could easily have funded the library hours. Take the reserves that funded these wasteful expenditures out of the base and fund library hours accordingly. Libraries are muchly about kids, and their intellectual growth and education; yet this issue and may others have been dictated by the power mongering, addled-brained yuppie, street-car wannabe enabled bicyclists who have come to dominate politics in Arlington County.

    • South ARL Guy

      When the students in the schools are done reading the several hundred classics that are surely plentiful (that the rest of us read and learned from just fine), if they still have an appetite for reading (which often they don’t between class work, sports, clubs, and social activities), and if the school libraries don’t offer the books they need, and if they haven’t already downloaded a digital version since many kids these days don’t bother with paper anything, then we can discuss the …say $1000 or so for the entire library system that we might possibly need to buy a handful of books for the handful of students who have other books they are interested in reading. And that’s assuming they come from less affluent background where their parents haven’t supported their desire to read by purchasing them additional books. And that’s only reference additional funding for material costs. In regards to additional hours, if there is any one group who might be able to make the mid-day or early afternoon hours it is the student age group who get out of school mid afternoon.

      Let’s not make this argument the old political, “but it’s for the kids!” argument. In the current budget climate, the “kids” i.e. adults who like libraries, can get by under the status quo just fine. If that is insufficient, then as has been said before, donate your time, money, or books to support the system and get those who share your passion to do the same.

  • Overgrown Bush

    I would rather see library funding appropriate. However, I voted for not raising taxes. The whole budget needs to be scrutinized. NO MORE TAXES! I pay enough.

    • local

      How much is “enough” though? Is there a chart I can look it up on?

      • Overgrown Bush

        You know damn well there is no chart, Mr. Baiter.

        “Enough” is likely dependant upon each person and their situation. I know how much tax I pay. I also think I have a pretty good feel for the benefits I get from paying taxes, both direct and indirect. Based upon that information, I feel I pay in much more than I get back directly and indirectly. By that measure, I pay too much tax.

        • local

          Of course I know. So how do you know what’s “enough?” It’s not baiting, it’s a question. It’s a hard one, I know. I don’t claim to know the answer any better than you do.

          So your measure is “if you feel like it’s too much, it’s too much” then pretty much everybody’s taxes are too high, huh? Not a very good measure.

          • Overgrown Bush

            No. Just mine. You may feel strongly about funding some things not currently being funded and may feel you have to pay more. That is your opinion.

          • local

            That’s fine, as long as you and I both understand that you’re just picking a number out of the air.

        • Thes

          Most of our Arlington taxes don’t go to services we personally use. Most of our taxes go to schools that children (who generally don’t pay any property taxes) use, or social services that poor people (who generally don’t pay any property taxes) use. Part of the purpose of government is to keep us from looking like a 3rd World country with starving uneducated children begging in the streets. Arlington seems to be handling that very well.

          • Overgrown Bush

            Thes, these are the indirect benefits I speak of. While I have not had the police or fire department respond to my house I realize I get a benefit from having them properly funded. While I don’t currently have children in public school, I realize the benefit to the society I live in from having a good school system. Measuring the cost and appropriateness of these indirect benefits would require me to have a more in-depth knowledge of the budgets and spending in each of those areas. That is why it is subjective. I feel I pay in more than I use, or I get in indirect benefit. If I were in agreement with all aspects of where tax money gets spent I suppose I’d maybe think I pay an appropriate amount. But, I think I pay too much.

          • local

            First you admit you don’t have enough information, then you still say you pay too much.

  • BallstonDude

    Who’s going tonight? Lots of people here are against local tax hikes. I’ll be there.

  • Bianca

    Hey Hateslibraries–

    What system are you talking about? Central library is open until 9 p.m. most days–Monday-Thursday. And it’s also open weekends. And the branches are sometimes open until 9 on some days.

    The real question is why is there a library in Cherrydale, which is about a single mile from Central. My guess is the politicians are afraid of riling a very prosperous community that likes it’s little boutique library. Nice status symbol. There are plenty of neighborhoods, particularly in south Arlington that would love a nice boutique library.

    • Bianca

      If you’re talking about the tiny library at the County Government Building, that one has special reduced hours. All the rest have a lot more hours.

  • Arlington, Northside

    Some of the “Neighborhood Enhancement” projects should have been cut before they cut the library hours. Do we really need $20K+ signs announceing what neighborhood you are entering? That is something the developer should have put in 40-80 years ago and the neighborhood associations should be expected to keep up, not the county.

    • Virginia^2

      These things or something else?

      http://www.arlingtonva.us/departments/Communications/PressReleases/page80212.aspx

      I personally am struggling to wrap my head around how the county plans to spend over $700k on Kirkwood Rd – most of it was JUST paved after some stream work, with a long section of new sidewalk, months ago. I run on Kirkwood every other day and it seems fine, or at least passable, unless I’m missing something.

      • local

        It’s the Neighborhood Conservation process. Click on the link in the news release to understand it.

  • Arrrrrlington

    Hows about we cut back on low income housing and supporting the homeless in order to fund these libraries and schools. This will discourage unwelcome characters from coming to Arrrrlington, as well as make housing more affordable for the middle class.

    In addition, the improved libraries and schools will provide more educational resources and internet access for those who want to improve themselves and get off the streets instead of free riding off the hard earned money of others.

    • local

      You mean like all those cheap-ass moochers who borrow books at libraries instead of buying them?

      • bookmobile

        +100

    • Josh S

      This ignorant, misinformed, anti-social steaming pile of **** is a perfect example of why America is on the wrong path…..

      • Arrrrrlington

        Apparently you haven’t seen Rebecca Black’s “Friday”. It’s a much better example of why this country is going to s—.

        How do my comments make me anti social? I stand by them by the way. Ignorant and misinformed are also poor descriptions of myself as an individual. SMH.

  • Southeast Jerome

    I feel like the library hours are sufficient for the most part. Having utilized the Central Library numerous times for study purposes – I think Arlington has it pretty good, especially compared to Fairfax County.

    Also, half the people at the library are homeless people being creepy in the bathrooms.

    • Josh S

      “Half?” Jesus, those bathrooms must be pretty crowded…..

  • OddNumber

    Overall I feel like the library system is doing quite well under the current funding. Obviously the system isn’t completely restrained financially given the upgrades they have made recently to the catalog and the selection of e-resources. I do think funding educational resources is important, but would it really harm Arlington if they re-instated funding levels over time as property values increase?

    I would think Arlington County would need to strongly justify increasing taxes again when property values are beginning to rebound. What additional services are they going to provide if the additional tax is collected?

  • James

    Is there a convenient online location where I can see a breakdown of the tax burden in Arlington County (on residents, not businesses) versus other metropolitan area counties? I for one feel that I pay much lower taxes than I did when I lived in Montgomery County, years and years ago…although hard to tell since the property I live in now is much more expensive than the one I lived in at the time.

    Like many, I always generally feel like I pay too much in taxes. But who LIKES to pay taxes?

    My gut feeling is that the tax burden on residents in Arlington is not disastrously onerous relative to our neighbors but I might be totally wrong.

    • local

      According to this blog (no source listed, I think she just called around) Arlington’s property tax rate is the lowest in NoVa. That’s consistent with what I’ve seen elsewhere.

      http://www.trulia.com/blog/ritu/2011/02/northern_virginia_real_estate_tax_rate_as_of_2010

      • John Fontain

        the rate, but not necessarily the actual tax.

        • Josh S

          The rate is all the government can control. Also, it’s the only logical way to compare across jurisdictions, which is what the original poster was asking for.

          • John Fontain

            We will have to agree to disagree, as I believe the logical way to compare tax burdens is the actual tax paid per household.

          • local

            But if you are wealthier, you should pay more tax, so the rate makes sense. A millionaire pays more than a janitor in income tax too, but you wouldn’t say they should pay the same.

          • John Fontain

            “But if you are wealthier, you should pay more tax”

            I agree. But the original point that Local was trying to make was that we pay less taxes as evidenced by our “low” tax rate for real estate. The truth is that we actually pay much more in total tax per household because our significantly higher property values more than offset the marginally smaller tax rate.

          • local

            No, the point I was trying to make is that people who live in big expensive houses shouldn’t whine about pay more in property taxes because they live in big expensive houses.

            We pay more because we are better off.

          • James

            OP here. I am fully aware of the residential property tax rates. What I am looking for is the tax burden, expressed as a percentage of income perhaps. Raw dollars mean just as little as the tax rate does by itself.

          • bookmobile

            One could take the total local residential property tax revenue collected by jurisdiction and divide it by the number of households in that year’s Census, for example. Would an aggregated index like that would be relevant?

          • local

            Well, the property tax is a percentage of property value. That makes the rate relevant. If you want it compared to income, you could get that somewhere, but it would probably correlate the same, since people with higher incomes generally own more valuable homes.

            If it didn’t correlate, it might be a good argument for funding our localities with something other than the property tax.

        • Southeast Jerome

          well thats because you live in an very expensive area, so your property is worth a lot.you can always move to montana, no one is holding a gun to your head

        • Thes

          Arlingtonians are richer and own more valuable homes than most people in Virginia. Therefore even though we pay fewer taxes than we would anywhere else.

          By way of example, let’s compare a schoolteacher in Prince William County, whose home is worth, say $100,000 to a law firm partner in Arlington whose home is worth $1,000,000. The rate in Prince William is 1.27, and the rate in Arlington is .97. So the schoolteacher pays $1,270 in property taxes and the law partner pays $9,700. But if the law partner sells his home and moves to Prince William to a home of the same value, he will pay $12,700. And if the schoolteacher moves to Arlington she will not be able to afford to buy so much as a one-bedroom condo and so she will not pay any property taxes directly.

          • John Fontain

            “But if the law partner sells his home and moves to Prince William to a home of the same value, he will pay $12,700”

            I don’t think this is a fair comparison. It would be more fair to compare what the law partner would pay in PW taxes if he moved from Arlington to a similar home in PW. The similar home in PW would cost half as much as it does here, of course, so despite the higher tax rate in PW, the partner would pay much less in total taxes.

          • local

            So why doesn’t everyone just move to PW?

          • John Fontain

            Because their libraries aren’t as nice. 😉

          • local

            😆

          • Arlington, Northside

            And the PW home will appriciate at a much smaller rate with a much smaller cost basis, thus the PW House will not make you as wealthy as the Arlington House. Our tax RATE is low in Arlington, that does not mean I think it can be raised, or that they can’t work to lower it. But come on, we should be happy that our wealth is taxed lower than the wealth of neighboring jurisdictions, and not try to say we have this huge burden compared to them, we don’t.

          • Lou

            Not that it matters much, but the properties out in Prince William and Loudoun are going to appreciate at a higher percentage rate than Arlington. Arlington’s value is already priced-in and we are tight up against the curve. Any changes are in small percentages. There’s much more elasticity out in the ‘burbs.

          • Bob

            And for the foreseeable future he would be earning, on average, far less in PW than in Arlington.

          • Overgrown Bush

            Well, I’m not sure you are up on the area real estate either. Try to find a home in Prince William for $100K. While Prince William may not be a good example of where the rich live, there are some very expensive homes there as well. Maybe you should make your comparison to Fairfax County, which is probably richer than Arlington in terms of home values.

    • CW

      Comparison to Montgomery is apples and oranges to some extent because of the personal property tax (as all the people with MD plates parked in my garage are acutely aware). Just something to keep in mind. Of course, if you don’t have a car/boat/whatever then you make out pretty well!

    • Thes

      Not only are Arlingtonians taxed at a lower rate than most Virginians, Virginians are taxed at a lower rate than most Americans. And most Americans are taxed at a lower rate than most other people around the world.

      It is also true that most Arlingtonians are wealthier, receive more income and buy more things than most people in Virginia, the USA or the world. Therefore the total amount of taxes paid by Arlingtonians is greater than most people, even though it’s a smaller burden on us.

      In sum, Arlingtonians pay much less in taxes than we would if we possessed the same income and wealth almost anywhere else in the world.

      • local

        Doesn’t stop the whining.

  • 4Arl

    For several years, many have tried to make the argument that cutting services or raising tax burdens on the average household were not the only choices. This point has gone unheeded by the board and management. I think a more specific case needs to be made. So I’ll throw out an idea, feel free to take this to the board this evening: The county pension contributions are embedded in all department budgets, and account for up to 36% of salary costs, but that hides the boost to the highly paid. It’s time to cap the management take. Arlington should eliminate pension spiking due to promotion. Also, cap the salary that counts toward the high 3 to a reasonable level, say the max salary for a police officer I, $75K. Any takers?

    • Overgrown Bush

      No. Your idea. You make the pitch to the Board yourself.

    • Southeast Jerome

      max salary for a police officer at 75K? I mean, thats pretty good money but not for higher ups and some of the detectives…some of them work 80 hours a week….

  • KarenS

    The County Board’s 1-cent tax increase ($5.7 million) is to pay for their gifts to their special interest group friends in return for votes. Simple as that.

    • local

      Who are these special interests and what are they getting?

  • South Arlington

    Like what? Which special interest groups specifically are receiving the $5.7 million? It’s simple, right?

  • FedUp

    Get rid of some of the dead weight (non performing bureaucrats) in the County government and use the savings to restore library hours.

    • local

      Which ones are dead weight and non-performing?

      It’s so easy to just throw out “solutions” and not take responsibility for them.

  • Seriously disappointed in the poll. Really, Arlington is so anti-tax that a small increase just bugs everyone, even for a service that makes the community so much better? People are attracted to Arlington for it’s great schools, low-crime, and good services (including libraries). These are services that cost money. Honestly we’re very under-taxed in Virginia compared to other states.

    • John Fontain

      “People are attracted to Arlington for it’s great schools, low-crime, and good services (including libraries).”

      I’ve personally never had anyone tell me that they moved to Arlington because of the good libraries.

      “Honestly we’re very under-taxed in Virginia compared to other states.”

      Or are the other states very over-taxed compared to Virginia?

      • local

        Nice cherry-picking. Libraries are just one of the many things that make Arlington great. I’m sure you don’t want to close them.

        • John Fontain

          No, I definitely don’t want them closed. I just haven’t heard anyone say they moved to Arlington for the libraries or for any of the other “great services” provided by the government.

          • local

            I moved here, and stayed here, in part due to the services. You’ve never heard of anyone say they chose a place to live because of good schools, for instance?

            Yes, libraries are a tiny part of that, but the point is that they are a part of it.

  • John Fontain

    Since this post has created so much discussion of larger tax/budget issues, I’ll share the following from the County’s financial statements:

    Average County tax per household: $6,070. Obviously, some households pay much more, while many pay much less (or, in many cases, hardly anything).

    County debt per household: $12,650. If we wanted to be a debt free county, each family would have to cough up $12,650 from our personal bank accounts to pay for our share of previous spending that was beyond our collective means. Again, many lower income households would likely have to cough up significantly less than this average to pay for “their share,” so you folks with nice white collar jobs would likely have to cough up alot more than this amount.

    How about this for a budget proposal – let’s have a referendum on whether to increase County spending on everyone’s personal favorite government “freebies”, but let’s tie it to a requirement that we each have to cough up our share of the County debt and pay it off first. I’d love to see how serious folks are about keeping what they perceive as their “free” government cheese.

    • local

      Thanks for the numbers, but they don’t enlighten enough.

      For instance, debt per household – so? We don’t have to pay that off in one year, nor do we all pay the same (as you noted), and you didn’t included business taxes, which are about half the county’s budget I think.

      Throwing some numbers out without context doesn’t help. Are these unusually high?

      As for “free government cheese” please stop. Nobody thinks things are free just because we have different priorities than you. Don’t patronize.

    • CW

      Do you have a mortgage? If so, you should cough up and pay up your debt, because we all know that debt has no place in civilized society, you freeloading, freebie-accepting mortgage-bank cheese-eater. Gosh.

      • John Fontain

        If there was an award for pulling great straw men out of a hat, you’d win for sure. Seriously, purposefully misconstruing others’ points doesn’t lead to a meaningful discussion.

        • local

          Me? If you think someone has offered a strawman, correct it.

          • John Fontain

            No, CW’s statement “we all know that debt has no place in civilized society, you freeloading, freebie-accepting mortgage-bank cheese-eater.”

          • local

            Okay, well, sometimes I wonder. Since you don’t make any attempt to say what level of debt is reasonable…

          • CW

            I typed a response to this but then it disappeared into the ether after I clicked submite. Oh well – it was just along the lines of all the other people explaining that debt isn’t a bad thing.

        • CW

          Uh, how is that a strawman? It’s an extension of YOUR own logic. YOU are the one arguing that individuals ARE the government, and that individual budgets really are the same thing as the government budget. You cited articles above making that point. So, taking your logic, government debt is individual citizen debt, correct? They are analogous using your line of reasoning. Thus how can it be OK for citizens to leverage the buying power of debt that is available to them, yet improper for the government (which you argue is just a bunch of citizens’ budgets) to do so as well?

          • John Fontain

            I did not say it is improper for governments to borrow money. It is often needed for large expenditures whose benefits will last many years. But borrowing has to be within the debtor’s ability to repay and shouldn’t be done just because it can. Remember, the biggest problem with debt is that it has to be paid back. Borrowing today is spending tomorrow’s income before you have it. All too often, governments spend and borrow more than the taxpayers can afford and the amounts creep up each year and the repayment obligation compounds. Borrowing in a personal capacity is good when you are certain of a positive return on the capital deployed. It is not good when you are borrowing to pay for your day to day operating costs, as is more commonly becoming the case for municipalities.

          • local

            We all agree that debt should be reasonable and within the debtor’s ability to repay.

            You haven’t shown us that Arlington’s debt is unreasonable though.

      • Paul Grignon

        Without debt, there would be no money.

        Watch “Money as debt”

        • Southeast Jerome

          And without debt – there would be MILLIONS of unemployed people…. just think about the millions of people that work in jobs created by debt. The debt panic is just scare tactics from tea partiers.

    • Josh S

      Yeah, echoing others. I expect the vast majority of county debt has to do with capital investments. No one, not governments, not individuals, not businesses, expects to pay off capital investments the same year they were made. Once the school or fire station or road is built, the county and its residents get benefits from it that are theoretically equal or greater to the debt service payments for them. Just like with your personal home or car.

      • John Fontain

        “I expect the vast majority of county debt has to do with capital investments”

        How much of it does?

    • Southeast Jerome

      And for John Fontain, theres nothing “wrong” with having debt. Almost every single publicly traded company has millions of dollars in debt outstanding. Have you ever taken a corporate finance class? I dont get the whole freak out over the amount of debt Arlington (and to an even larger extent the US Govt) has.

      Do you not have a mortgage? Do you not have a car payment? Get real as most people dont have thousands of dollars sitting idle to make upfront purchases. Your logic is totally flawed and flat out wrong.

      • John Fontain

        “Your logic is totally flawed and flat out wrong.”

        It would be helpful if you explained your reasoning, rather than stating only your conclusion.

        “I dont get the whole freak out over the amount of debt Arlington (and to an even larger extent the US Govt) has.”

        US Gov’t debt per taxpayer: $128,000 (and growing). It doesn’t bother you that your share of Federal debt is $128,000?

        • local

          You’re throwing out numbers without context again. Raw numbers aren’t helpful. Debt should be compared to total personal income, or on a national scale, to GDP.

        • Southeast Jerome

          No John, it does not bother me at all. Considering the US Government can borrow for 2 years at 0.65%, I think thats quite affordable. Clearly there is a demand for US Government debt considering it is the reserve currency of the entire world.

          • John Fontain

            I notice you declined to support your conclusion that “Your logic is totally flawed and flat out wrong.”

            With regard to your reference to borrowing costs, it’s not the current low rates that you should be thinking about it’s the principal balance we have to repay and the fact that the deeper into debt we go, the less likely our borrowing costs are to remain manageable.

            And the current US average borrowing cost is about four times what you quoted.

        • CW

          So would you go berserk if a single taxpayer took out a $128k mortgage? Or a $100k mortgage and a $30k car loan? Or went to business school/med school/law school at $75k a year?…

          • John Fontain

            You’ll find that people are more likely to be willing to engage you if you cut out the over the top straw man arguments. If one borrows $128,000 for a house, their personal balance sheet presumably has a debit for PP&E in an equal or greater amount than the credit for the related debt obligation. Their is a big difference between that situation and having $128,000 in debt for entitlement spending or defense spending (i.e., no offsetting asset to show for your debt). Do you disagree?

          • CW

            I guess some people consider national security, avoidance of anarchy in the streets, disaster response, etc. to be assets, albeit non-physical ones.

          • John Fontain

            That’s the problem. You and I know they aren’t assets, they are operating expenses. We currently spend about twice as much nationally as we bring in in tax revenues. Unless everyone agrees to pay TWICE as much in taxes (are you willing to do so?), we’ve got a spending problem, not a taxing problem.

          • CW

            Also, as Thes pointed out below, many of the debt-funded expenditures are capital investments. I’d like them to be a higher percentage of total spending, myself, because I’m a big believer in infrastructure, but still…

          • local

            But John, defense spending is just as important. It’s not an asset in the way your house is, but it protects our assets. It’s exactly why we need government. The government itself is the asset that we all own with that debt – the roads, the police and army that protect us, etc. That’s the asset.

            We all agree that government debt shouldn’t get out of control. But you can’t really compare private and government debt like that.

      • CW

        Careful, Jerome. You’re clearly making an uneducated strawman argument. It’s just a coincidence that you and I both happened to come up with the same bad, illogical argument – it clearly has no grounding in reality. 😛

        • Southeast Jerome

          is it just me, or does it seem like John Fontain is related to our friend Steve?

          • CW

            Easy now…anybody got a light?

          • local

            (cough cough)

    • Thes

      Having the County be debt-free would be bad financial management and unfair to the taxpayers. Many County expenditures, like many corporate expenditures and many household expenditures, are capital expenditures whose benefits (including economic benefits) are received over time. For example, roads are built in one year and then they generate commerce and tax revenue over the next 40-500 years. Rather than saddle the taxpayers who happen to live in Arlington the year the road is built with the entire cost, it makes sense to tax the people who *benefit* from the road (i.e. future generations) with the cost of paying off the loan.

      This is why corporate bonds exist. Huge, successful companies like AT&T, Home Depot and Disney go into “debt” even though they continue to make great profits and make money for their shareholders. Those shareholders are happy their companies have borrowed money in the past to make investments that are paying off today.

    • Thes

      Oh, you know what, if we’re going to consider County debt per household, let’s also consider County assets per household. These values are not assessed, but Arlington is, for example, probably the largest landowner in Arlington (VDOT is the largest landowner in Virginia, by the way). Let’s just say ballpark that Arlington owns 500 acres of land (that would be about 3% of the total land area of the County). A conservative estimate of the value of 500 acres of land in Arlington is well over $1 billion. Per household that just about balances out the debt load. That’s not counting buildings and improvements, of course. Probably at least a half billion there.

      • John Fontain

        I don’t dispute that Arlington County’s balance sheet has assets as defined under GASB GAAP. In the practical (non GAAP) sense they are not assets because they don’t provide a future economic benefit. In other words, you are going to get income from a traffic light or a light pole and you won’t be able to sell these to pay off our debt. Even worse, in a practical sense much of the county’s “assets” are actually liabilities because they will require an outflow of funds to maintain them with no future economic benefit in return.

        • Toucan Sam

          Thes is correct, the real property assets the County has are worth tons. Your light pole example is poor, because those don’t amount to squat and the electric utility owns most of them anyway. But land, that is another matter. Wouldn’t that be a hoot if the County started auctioning off some of its land? How about the part of the Thomas Jefferson community center parkland that no one uses? Chunks of Bluemont Park? Tuckahoe Park? Stratford Park next to H.B. Woodlawn? Oh heck, let’s sell half of huge Barcroft Park to the highest bidder! Then we’ll have no debt and live happily ever after!

  • Jerry

    Special Interests/ Try the poverty pimps who will appear tonight. Another budget. Same problems. Also the bloated non-profits and the consultants. Same problems, no solutions, year after tear.

    • local

      Name some please.

  • mark

    How about – a Cherrydale fire station that’s so far cost $17.5 million with no end in sight? Fire Department is moving an EMS unite from Fire Station 4 (Ballston-VA Square) to Cherrydale. Duh. County had no problem giving the Koons Auto Empire $5.5 million in a 1/2 acre land swap so Koons could build a parking garage

    • local

      I wouldn’t call the ridiculous and stupid saga of the Cherrydale Fire Station “no problem.”

  • Terri

    How about this from the last County Board meeting (Consent Agenda Item 19). Founder’s Square developer promises to pay $6.6 million to build a new Mosaic Park. County Board gives developer’s architect $490,000 for design services.

    • ashton333

      This was a de facto no interest loan to the developer, paid for by taxpayers. The $490,000 will eventually have to be repaid by the Founder’s Square developer. Nice.

    • local

      Um, so you’re complaining that the County is paying 490k (actually, just loaning it, according to ashton333) to get a $6.6 million public park? Sounds like a great deal to me.

      • businessperson

        Can I get a no-interest loan from the County to pay my subcontractors? I promise I will repay the County, someday. This is the kind of sleazy behavior that’s become usual and customary in Arlington.

        • local

          If you promise to build a park that is worth more than 12 times the value of the loan that everyone can use, yes, you can have it.

          As for “sleazy” I don’t know the details of this arrangement – but do you?

          • Bethany Ash Hts

            Agenda Item 19, look it up. Will the developer ever pay back this loan? If so, when? Mosaic Park was supposed to be a deal whereby the developer paid for the park in return for greatly increased bonus density. Get your facts straight before you run your mouth, Zimmerlocal.

          • local

            Excuse me, Bethany, but I said I didn’t have the details. Don’t be a jackass about it.

            I don’t care if it’s a loan or an outright gift. We’re getting a $6.6 million park for $490,000. Sounds like a good deal to me.

          • Larry

            No, County Board allowed the Founder’s Square developer a lot of bonus density in return for a $6.6 million contribution to build a better Mosaic Park. Except the developer isn’t spending his own money. County Board is giving him our money, starting with $490,000 for architectural services. This entire Founder’s Square deal smells to high heaven.

          • Pesos

            The Simpsons had an episode similar to this idea…building a monorail…didn’t work out as well.

  • Parent

    How about a school system that pays a fortune for consultants who never seem to solve serious problems – drop-out rate for one?

  • Norm

    How about rewarding the poverty pimps appointed to all the County’s committees, boards, and commissions who earn $200,000 a year for keeping teh homeless homeless?

    • Thes

      Who is paid to serve on any of the County’s committee’s, boards or commissions? Those are all volunteer positions.

      • Dan

        Don’t know about the other boards, but the people who sit on the Board of Appeals for Real Estate assessments get I believe $40,000 per year so you are wrong about that.

        • Thes

          Fair enough. I wasn’t including the boards that the Circuit Court appoints pursuant to state law. The County bodies the County Board appoints are volunteers. I wonder if Norm thinks we should get rid of that $40,000 payment, by the way…

          • Dan

            I don’t know who Norm is and I believe that the members of the Real Estate Assessment Board are appointed by the county board.

          • Thes

            Norm is the person my post is in response to and who provides the entire context for my post. Notice the indentations here. The point of my post is that Norm is wrong that we can balance the budget by cutting the people who earn $200,000 per year for keeping the housing homeless. Because even if one board has members who make $40,000 that’s nearly the same thing as if all of these did. Pointing out technical errors does not help advance the discussion. Nor does claiming you have no idea what is posted 3 entries above your response. Then again, I’m not sure advancing the discussion was what you were trying to do.

  • CivFed Guy

    Why do you think that there was a resolution brought to the Civic Federation this month to put an end to the charade ‘community benefit’ rip offs by developers?

  • Diana

    NO TAX INCREASE. With property values where they are today in Arlington, there shouldn’t be a need to increase the property tax rate further. Definitely not. There should be plenty of revenue flowing in as it is.

    • Thes

      Diana, what are the County’s needs, then?

  • Curious462

    What does the library cost us? Something like $60 per resident per year? That’s a pretty good deal. Less than a Netflix membership, even.

    • John Fontain

      If your figure of $60 per resident is correct, then the average family with two kids pays $240 a year for library.

      Why is that a “pretty good deal?” How does that compare to what others pay for their libraries? Couldn’t an average family buy all the books they want for that price on line or at a local bookstore? I’m not suggesting we cut libraries, I’m just trying to make sure we are critically thinking about what we spend. It’s easy to take every government expenditure, compute it on a per resident basis and conclude that that singular cost is, in and of itself, not material. The problem comes when you start to add up all the costs for everything else and realize that the total cost per person is a lot.

      • Bob

        It’s better than a “pretty good deal.” Let’s say that you are a moderately literate adult, read one book per month, and use the Arlington Public Library system. By using the library, a person individually saves a couple hundred dollars each year by not having to purchase those same books on Amazon, BN.com or at a local bookstore. Also realize that the library has rare and out-of-print books that you just can’t get your hands on privately or that you can only get at a prohibitive cost. And that’s just books. The savings achieved by borrowing from the Library’s vast music and movies collection makes the $60 figure low by any reasonable standard.

        • John Fontain

          Does the average person read one book a month? I highly doubt it. Sounds like you are basing the value of the library based on the alternative cost for heavy users. And you are also not addressing whether our cost is reasonable compared to what other jurisdictions pay for their libraries.

          • Bob

            The point is that it takes relatively little usage of the libraries for an average Arlington resident to receive value in excess of the average tax paid per resident. Of course, in any year, some residents will enjoy the libraries and receive more value from them than others. But the same logic applies to our public schools. Although all property owners pay property taxes, only some of us have children that attend those schools and directly benefit from their services.

            As to whether the cost of the Arlington library system is reasonable compared with other jurisdictions, that merits study. But do you have any evidence to suggest that what we pay in Arlington for our libraries is unreasonable?

  • Dems for a Better Board

    The County should fix its real estate assessment office before embarking on any more real estate tax increases. Last year that office was reported to be about 7 years behind in updating its assessment database. Who was responsible for that office? Mark Schwartz. What happened to Mark Schwartz? He was promoted to Deputy Manager.

    And we note that this year Jay Fisette’s assessment was lowered even though he made major improvements to his property in 2010. Did Jay (or anyone else on the Board) question this outcome? Take some of the waste and mismanagement out of this government and you can restore library cuts without the threat of new taxes.

  • Chuck

    Someone going to the meeting tonight needs to ask a most relevant question: what is the total amount of the library budget, compared to the overall budget of the county, as a whole. My understanding is that it is about 1 percent of the county budget. No one can cough up another part of the county budget to help out?

    • John Fontain

      That sounds like the logic many spouses employ. Day 1, purchase a shirt. Day 2, purchase a sweater. Day 3, purchase sunglasses. Each day, if questioned about the spending, refer solely to the cost of that day’s purchase and say “but it was only XX dollars” without any consideration given to the cumulative cost of every other day’s purchases.

  • Sue

    I think we should stop building new things and take care of what we have. We could pay for hundreds of librarians, natural resource managers, maintenance on Lubber Run Ampitheater, etc with just a tiny bit of what we’ve spent on the Artisphere, and what is planned for Arlington Mill, North Tract, and that silly trolley.

    Count me as a yes on library hours.

    • South ARL Guy

      I agree with Sue that this County’s Board is so easily distracted by new improvements that it forgets to spend money to properly maintain and upgrade what they’ve already bought to ensure it lasts far into the future. And accountability within the ranks of the County employees to ensure we limit the dead weight should be a priority. Match that with competitive salaries and reasonable benefits to ensure we have competent and hardworking civil servants would go a long way towards a more lean and efficient County.

      I can’t say I support the extra library hours though. Sorry Sue 😉

  • The new online system was a total waste of money. I can’t see any new features whatsosever, and you STILL can’t login with an alternate login like an email address.

  • Put Donnellan on a Bicycle

    How about the $243,000 gift to the bicycle sharing corporation? Also on the County Board’s consent agenda last meeting.

  • SeanO

    I think the poll is incomplete. I think a polling option should be to be able to raise taxes & restore services which are of a higher priority than libraries.

×

Subscribe to our mailing list