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County Board Seeks Budget With Limited Spending Growth

by ARLnow.com November 30, 2011 at 4:26 pm 2,414 121 Comments

The Arlington County Board is asking County Manager Barbara Donnellan to draft a new budget that limits spending growth to below the rate of inflation.

The Board voted unanimously Tuesday night on budget guidance that seeks to limit growth of county government operations to 1 percent in financial year 2013, while allowing Donnellan to propose an additional .66 percent in spending on projects previously committed to by the Board. Board members asked that Donnellan protect public health and safety, maintain the county’s social safety net, and invest in affordable housing and environmental sustainability.

“In these uncertain economic times, the Board is committed to limiting spending growth, preserving the safety net for our community’s most vulnerable members, and fulfilling previous project plans,” County Board Chairman Chris Zimmerman said in a press release. “Our guidance to the County Manager reflects these priorities.”

The county said it’s only expecting “modest” revenue growth in FY 2013 — based on slightly higher real estate assessments — while facing higher costs for employee compensation, health care, facility maintenance, the county’s share of the Metro budget, debt service and schools. The county is anticipating spending growth at Arlington Public Schools, which is financially separate from county government, to be about 2.7 percent in FY 2013.

The budget guidance comes at a time when the rate of inflation is about 3.5 percent. Last year’s budget included 5.1 percent spending growth, but contained no tax rate increase.

Donnellan will now begin the process of gathering public input on the new budget. She will hold her first public budget meeting a week from today, on Wednesday, Dec. 7. The meeting will be held in the Central Library auditorium (1015 N. Quincy Street) at 7:00 p.m.

The Board is expected to pass a final budget in April 2012. The new financial year will start on July 1, 2012.

  • UnlimitedCustoms

    How about a decline in spending?

    • drax

      You do understand that a spending increase below the inflation rate is a decline in spending, right?

      • Burger

        Yes, but is there a problem with that?

        • drax

          No problem with it. Just explaining it to UnlimitedCustoms.

      • Grognak

        So that means there is no reason to raise taxes, right?

      • UnlimitedCustoms

        Nonsense. That is pure double speak.

        An increase is an increase. Whether or not it is above or below the fantasy inflation rate that is reported.

        • Grognak

          Too bad you did not. No, strike that, it keeps this running joke going, so thanks for that.

          • drax

            We all understand what inflation is, and how it affects real spending, etc. We can continue to play word games, or we can all acknowledge that a spending increase that is below inflation is an increase in nominal dollars, but not an increase in terms of government policy. The government is going to end up providing less in the value of its services because the price of the services has gone up (inflation) but spending will not rise at the same level.

          • Josh S

            drax, in case you hadn’t figured it out, you’re talking to a brick wall. The little comment about the “fantasy” inflation rate was a dead giveaway. Save your energy.

          • drax

            I know. People either don’t get it or pretend not to.

          • Burger

            Josh,

            the inflation rate is somewhat fantasy. It is a compilation of a multitude of consumer items like food, housing, medical costs, etc. But, it also includes things like computers, etc. How many times do you buy a computer every month?

            Second, to make the rate seem less – energy and food are stripped out every month. These two items happen to be the biggest ticket items in the average American’s monthly budget. And, if you have bought a loaf of bread or milk in the last two years, you would have seen an almost doubling of the cost of milk and bread or seen many process food, like Rice-a-Roni, keep the price the same by shrink the package (and hidden price increase)

            third, inflation rate is played with by changing out items in no. 1 or playing with the coefficient values applied to a particular item the comprises the inflation index.

            So, yes, the number is somewhat of “fantasy” but you don’t pay increases in costs with fantasy dollars.

          • drax

            I don’t buy a computer every month, but I do buy one. And that does affect how much cash I have to buy stuff in all the other months.

          • Josh S

            Well, yes, I agree that the official inflation statistic, like all economic statistics, has serious problems. Those problems are frustrating. But you gotta go with what you have. And yes, everyone knows that they are an estimate – inflation, in particular, has to be since prices of the millions and millions of things that people can buy vary in a disconnected way.

            So, in a discussion of budgets and property taxes and comparing numbers from year to year, if you just dismiss inflation as a fantasy, I think that’s not productive and sort of indicates an entrenched and closed-minded viewpoint. You’re sort of setting yourself up as being not willing to even begin to have the discussion. It’s just one of the basic assumptions that you kind of have to accept to have the discussion. I think.

          • Your premise is only true if wages keep up with inflation. This is not happening. Thus, your position at this time fails when applied to the citizen base. Real and nominal costs to citizens are going UP.

          • drax

            Um, wait – now you’re saying that workers experience an effective pay cut when wages don’t match inflation?

            NOW you get it?

            LOL.

          • drax

            SHOULD wages keep up with inflation, OB?

            Do you expect your wages to keep up with inflation?

          • NoVapologist

            The number of times you post appears to have become hyperinflationary.

          • Agree. But government can doing the same by increasing spending zero percent and cutting “services” that are not needed (some would say Artisphere, printing up No Smoking signs for parks, etc.). Cut spending instead by eliminating fat and pet projects.

        • CourthouseChris

          So your favorite rhetorical device is thus sticking your fingers in your ears and yelling “lalalalala I can’t hear you lalalalala”

    • Ivy

      And what would you like to cut? Police? Fire? Road repairs? Education? Sanitation? Or would you prefer Arlington to allow it’s neighborhoods to deteriorate on their own so businesses will move out and home values will decline?

  • Grognak

    Translation: Richmond is only giving us a lump of coal and a bag of sheet-metal screws this year.

    • Burger

      More likely they see the fact a good percent of county residents, aka government workers, had their pay frozen and it is slowly getting harder to get blood from a stone.

      • Grognak

        I will gladly take either, or both.

  • Homeowner

    Let me be the first to say, “Read my lips – no new (or higher) taxes!”

  • Elementary Math Teacher

    1.6 % increase means about $ 16 million TAX INCREASE. That is on top of the $50 million TAX INCREASE last year and the never-ending TAX INCREASES year after year after year.

    A tax collection system of more than $1 Billion a year.

    Board: “How much in taxes should we collect next year? Let’s ADD another $16 million in TAXES but we will call it a small budget increase rather than the TAX INCREASE that it is.”

    Thes-the-apologist: “Wow, the Board is great.”

    • drax

      No, it does not mean a tax increase. If the economy or property values are growing, and with it revenue, as they said it was estimated to do, no tax increase would be necessary. Do you not understand this basic fact?

      • Facts

        First, most property values have dropped in the last year. A quick look on Redfin will show this. Starting in late 2010, sale prices have gradually but steadily declined in Arlington.

        Second, if property “values” as determined by the County assessment office were to somehow rise, which means every homeowner pays more, that’s an increase in taxes owed, though not in the tax rate. It’s kind of shady when the same entity deciding how much your house is worth is the one that collects the taxes based on that value–and determines the rate of taxation. Talk about a conflict of interest.

        • brif

          I’m not sure about Facts’ facts. Average property values in arlington went up from 2010 to 2011.

          http://www.arlingtonva.us/departments/Communications/PressReleases/page79528.aspx

          • Facts

            That figure combines commercial and residential.

            I’m willing to consider the possibility that condo and TH prices have gone up; I really wouldn’t know. But I’m positive that prices on detached homes have gone down somewhat.

          • brif

            No, that figure does not combine commercial and residential.

            •Residential values up 1.4%
            •Commercial properties up 12%

          • Josh S

            He’s relying on Redfin, doesn’t consider commercial, or even townhouses or condos. I mean, come on. What possible shred of credibility could this guy have when it comes to having a conversation about property taxes?

        • Just the Facts

          Facts also gets another important fact wrong: the same entity does NOT decide how much your house is worth, set the rate and then collect taxes. The Dept. of Real Estate Assessments (administrative department) determines the value for tax purposes, the Treasurer (independent elected official) collects the taxes and the County Board (independent elected officials) sets the tax rate.

          Facts needs a new name….

      • Always Right

        Are the property values growing? Did Fannie and Freddie get shut down? Is the economy getting better with a debt we cannot pay?

    • drax

      Oh, dear, just noticed that you’re a math teacher. Scary.

      You should work on reading as well:

      “Last year’s budget included 5.1 percent spending growth, but contained no tax rate increase.”

      • Basic math

        Taxes and tax rate are two different things. Two different things.

        The Board starts with the amount of taxes they want and thereafter sets the rate to meet the amount of taxes they want to collect. It is not like the federal income tax — not like the federal income tax. Again, not like the federal income tax.

        Don’t be fooled by the propaganda the Board feeds to the public — drax is a goner.

        • drax

          Nobody said it was like the federal income tax.

          Unlike EMT, who gets the math wrong, you don’t even bother to do any math.

        • Josh S

          Yes, it makes perfect sense to say “the board starts with amount of taxes they want.” That’s absurd. Perhaps you meant to say they start with an estimate of what each department needs to continue providing the same level of services they did last year, plus any requests for additional services / projects / initiatives. Then the board would gather an estimate of revenues based on the current tax rate and compares the two. If spending is projected at more than revenue, then there is the lengthy discussion / process of determining whether to raise taxes or cut spending or some combination thereof.

          Fairly boring stuff, I know. It’s far more entertaining and provocative on an internet comment board to portray Zimmerman as some Dr. Evil, his pinkie at his mouth, while he shouts “Bring me one BILLION dollars!”

  • KalashniKEV

    GROWTH???

    Seriously?

    • drax

      It must really suck to see the Democrats on the board reduce spending, huh Kev? One less arrow in your quiver. It sucks when things keep going well in the county, doesn’t it?

      • Plunkitt of Clarendon Blvd

        Reduce spending by increasing spending…….what planet do you live on ??

        • drax

          The planet where real dollars aren’t the same as nominal dollars.

          • I’ve got a wallet full of dollars. If you take more of them from me in tax, my wallet is emptier. That is about as real as it gets. Call it a “decrease” because it is below inflation, but you are taking more money from me. In no uncertain terms, that is an increase.

          • Josh S

            But that’s not how the financial / budgetary world works. Inflation matters. To pick a very extreme example, if this were interwar Germany, you’d probably be just as happy burning your dollars for heat this year whereas you were using them to buy bread last year. If the government had only increased their tax collection by a few dollars in the meantime, yes, it would be a nominal increase but not a real increase since it wouldn’t have made any difference in terms of what you could do with those dollars.

          • Inflation only matters if pay inflates with inflation as well. Frozen wages. Higher costs of necessities due to inflation. MORE tax dollars taken. That’s pain and an INCREASE in cost to me. I don’t give a crap how some finance student wants to spin it. Real is real.

          • drax

            Actually, “real” dollars are inflation-adjusted.

            You do realize that, in REAL terms, if you were to not get a raise in salary, you’d actually be losing money to inflation. Right? You get that, right?

            So if your employer said “congratulation, Mr. Bush, you have done a fantastic job and deserve a raise for going above and beyond the call of duty, here’s an extra 1% in salary!” and the inflation rate was 2% for the year, you wouldn’t see a problem with that?

          • I know how it works drax. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist. You must be a politician, because you are as slippery as one. And I mean that complimentary.

          • drax

            No, OB, you clearly don’t know how it works.

          • drax

            I suppose you won’t be getting a COLA, and therefore no more extra dollars in your wallet, huh OB?

          • I’m not a federal employee, drax. If you want to address wage growth, here you go. It is below the ARLNow cited 3.5% inflation rate.

            http://www.advisorone.com/2011/01/28/employment-cost-index-sees-second-lowest-rise-in-n

          • drax

            Many non-federal employees get COLAs too, OB.

            Yes, wage growth is below inflation. But you’re the one here saying that inflation doesn’t matter, so why are you telling us that?

          • No. What I’m saying is you can’t make a comparision of tax increases to inflation increases without including a comparison to wage growth.

          • drax

            Yes, you can make exactly such a comparison.

          • No, drax, you can and do.

          • Plunkitt of Clarendon Blvd

            So you admit to living in “bizaro world”………it must be nice to live in a world of your own making that doesn’t have to conform to the realities that the rest of us have to put up with !!

          • drax

            I have to put up with the reality of inflation adjustments. You?

        • Ivy

          Reduce spending by increasing spending..LOL. Sounds like a GOP White House with a GOP Congress……isn’t that what we got for 8 years at the Federal level? I hope Arlington doesn’t do that!

      • Rick

        Taking away one arrow against the Arlington County Government is like taking a coffee bean from Starbucks.

        And I wouldn’t call the continuing homeless infestation of Ballston, Tikrit-inspired asphalt of Columbia Pike and Glebe Roads, or reckless disregard for State and Federal law enforcement guidelines as “going well”, drax.

        • KalashniKEV

          +1 to all of that, with one correction- Columbia Pike is not “Tikrit inspired” it’s “Bakara Market” inspired.

          • drax

            Wow, some potholes and few homeless people. Sheer hell.

          • SCer

            It’s funny coming from Kev who lives in Courthouse, Arlington’s own Jalalabad market, where you’re guaranteed to be harassed by (10 times as many) homeless people. I’ll take my “Bakara Market” inspired neighborhood to one where I’m constantly harassed by homeless, bikes get stolen outside the Metro station constantly, and one that will get worse once the new homeless shelter gets built.

          • drax

            I’ve lived here for years, go to Courthouse and other places alot, in the streets, and can’t remember the last time I was harrased by the homeless. Since Kev openly hates them, he probably overstates the case a little.

          • SCer

            Go to the CVS. You’ll be harassed on the way in and the way out. Also on the way up and down the escalator next to the CVS.

          • drax

            Been to the CVS many times. Never once harassed. In fact, I cannot think of a single time I’ve been harassed by the homeless in Arlington. And yes, I get out alot.

            Maybe you’re doing it wrong.

          • SCer

            Got harasssed for money just two days ago exiting the CVS. Went running with my wife past the CVS and Metro this weekend, wife got harassed for wearing running pants past the homeless dudes sitting on the steps outside the CVS. Also, have had a bike stolen from the bike rack at the Metro.

            Overall, I feel safer on Columbia Pike anyday than I do in Courthouse.

          • Josh S

            You don’t even have to compare us to hell. I’m sure residents of 90% of counties across the country would laugh in Kev and Rick’s faces if they tried to describe conditions in Arlington and especially Arlington government as bad.

        • drax

          Low tax rates, low unemployment, a growing economy, consistent favorable reports from residents, national awards, other things I can’t think of right now…yeah, Arlington is a hellhole.

          • Rick

            Since the three original points I made are clearly not enough, I’ll go on:

            -A “small business friendly in 2011” County board who took til the 2nd to last day of the 2nd to last month of the year to deregulate the massage business (whoop de do), and little else

            -Planning to bully out tenants and landowners in office building(s) to advance its own agenda

            -The second highest sales combined tax rate on food in the area (DC being #1)

            -The now-highest taxicab rate in the area

            -The “beautifying” of Columbia Pike (West of George Mason), the sewage plant etc with little actual benefit to the community

            -The constant belief that county staff is raising property values and “lowering” the property tax is good for the landowner, when in reality they still end up collecting more $$

            -The Car Tax

          • drax

            Yes, it’s sheer hell. Hope you can escape.

      • Zimmerman’s Hat

        They increased spending. You are clearly a Democrat.

  • Runaway Train

    It’s nice to see Zimmi in an actual suit!

    • Too bad

      it’s not a box instead.

      • Ed

        Like Giffords almost wound up in a box. This comment should be removed.

  • drax

    It’s funny how some people whine about an increase in spending that is below the inflation rate, calling it an increase – and then complain about taxes being too high because your property values are high despite tax rates being low.

    • Facts

      Here’s how it’s worked for the last 20 years in Arlington:

      The Board gives developers zoning exemptions on for increased height, increased density, and subdividing of residential plats. Never mind that the purpose of zoning is to ensure neighborhood continuity.

      Those exceptions mean a developer now sees, for example, a tiny rambler on a 7000 s.f. lot as worth much more than if that plat were not divisible; the developer can build two or three mcMansions there and sell each for 900K.

      So the real market value of a given piece of land is raised.

      And then the same County Board that gave the exemptions that led to the rise in market value of the land will now demand more taxes of that homeowner in the tiny rambler–even if he or she has no plans to sell.

      This is a racket.

      The only reason property values (and thus taxes) are so high in Arlington is the proliferation of these zoning exemptions.

      As a side note, these exemptions not only lead to higher taxes. They also allow the shrinking of the supply of economical single-family homes.

      • drax

        That is, of course, not the only reason values are going up. But who cares? Tax rates are the lowest in the region. This thing about “demanding more taxes” is bull. Again, tax rates are the lowest in the region.

        • Actually, PG and Mongomery Counties are significantly lower.

          • Oh, and the highest personal property tax rate in the region.

          • brif
          • Thank you brifdrax. Yes, the highest personal property (vehicle) tax rate in the region. The two MD counties have lower property (land) taxes than Arlington. It is true.

          • brif

            No, arlington’s personal property tax rate is not the highest in the region. While it is higher than PG and Montgomery counties, those jurisdictions have a local income tax. oh, and by the way, i’m not drax.

          • Then I’ve forgotten how to read a chart, brifdraxmehoodynaroo.

          • brif

            certainly a possibility.

          • Or the other possibility is you are going to propogate your generally left position regardless of published facts. Wait, we all know that already.

          • brif

            you’re the one taking a position in contradiction of published facts, not me.

          • SCer

            Dude, I’m looking at the chart. You’re right that personal property tax and property tax are higher. This is offset by the two MD counties imposing a 3.2% local tax. I think the article is saying that the aggregate taxes for Arlington are lower taking into account all taxes.

          • brifdrax has not properly read my claim, SCer. I don’t offer the position on all taxes. I point out two of them which he chose to ignore. After all, we are talking about the real estate tax rate in this thread and his claim of “lowest in the region” does not apply there. Nor does it apply to the personal property vehicle tax rate which is the highest.

          • brif

            No one in this thread ever claimed that arlington had the lowest personal property taxes in the region. Drax said tax rates were the lowest in the region, he or she never specifically said property tax rates were the lowest. fairfax and loudon counties have higher property tax rates than arlington.
            i think it’s interesting that in one thread you’re complaining about tax dollars in general and in this thread you specifically limit yourself to property taxes as a point of contention.

          • brifdrax, from your cited Examiner article:

            “County boards are unable to impose a restaurant tax or a local income tax, for example, and thus have been forced to rely on property taxes, which they can control.”

            The two tax rates I cite are the only two Arlington has any control over. So why would limiting myself to these in this discussion not apply?

          • SCer

            It seems like your basic argument is to cast the County as having high taxes in general, especially taking into account your other posts on other threads. It seems that this chart/data shows that Arlington has the lowest tax burden in the region. Granted, the personal property tax and property taxes are not lower, but the total tax burden is the lowest. I don’t see the value in looking at the individual taxes when tax burden is what actually affects residents of each jurisdiction.

          • brif

            i don’t understand, are you saying that your tax dollars going to arlington are more significant than your overall tax burden? i thought your primary concern was your wallet full of dollars. In any case the taxes arlington controls are lower than the taxes PG and montgomery counties control, not to mention the fact that arlington has better schools and less crime.

          • Well, more bank get robbed however! LOL

          • drax

            In NoVa, I meant. Because income taxes in Maryland are alot higher so it’s not a fair comparison.

          • Then, with that clarification, I would agree.

        • Facts

          But what does the rate matter if the municipality determines your property values are higher? It’s two different routes to the same result–more money out of the homeowner’s pocket.

          • drax

            You’re like a millionaire complaining that you pay more in taxes than a bum.

            You pay more in taxes because you are richer. You are a rich landowner.

            It sucks, yes, because it takes cash. I own a home in Arlington too. But jeez, that’s why we have the lowest tax rates in NoVa.

          • Actually, we pay the bum’s taxes too since he doesn’t pay ANY.

          • Josh S

            Nor does he have anything. Begrudging a bum while you climb under your down comforter at night and carve your 20 pound turkey and get in your Lexus to hop down to Starbucks so you can nonchalantly pay $4 for a cup of coffee is fairly Scroogelike.

          • drax

            So now you pay someone else’s taxes too? This is getting complicated.

          • drax

            I believe the term for the poor bum who is fortunate enough to pay less in taxes is “Lucky Ducky.”

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucky_duckies

            Hilariously satired in the cartoon “Tom the Dancing Bug.”

          • Sorry. The “bum” makes $30K a year but pays no federal income tax. (nearly half of the US are “bums” apparently when it comes to federal income tax). All I’m saying is, tax the “bum” something. There are a lot of “bums” who should pay something, and that would be significant money. I’m not saying it should be at the same rate as someone with a tag of “rich” on them. But, they should not pay 0%.

          • South Arlington

            A bunch of those 50% that don’t pay income tax are olds that aren’t paying tax on their social security bennies.

          • drax

            Fine, tax the bum something.

            Now, back on topic.

          • Zimmerman’s Hat

            If you were to require those who pay no income tax to pay some pittance, there would be no reason to increase the taxes on the wealthy. Who would be the scapegoat then for all the mismanagement problems?

          • Josh S

            But how would suggest property taxes be set? Grandfathered in? I bought this house in 1962 for $18,000 and that’s what I’m going to pay taxes on, by gum!? Meanwhile, it cost $5,000 for a policeman or a teacher in 1962 but they now cost $50,000. So the county is supposed to cut the police force or number of teachers by a factor of ten? Or if not, then the person who just bought a Clarendon condo for $600,000 is now paying way more towards the basic services that everyone enjoys?

            You can complain about rising property taxes all you want, but please propose a reasonable solution if you think the system is broken.

          • Facts

            Fair enough. I’d propose taxing actual income rather than assets. That way, the person with low income but a theoretically high-value asset that they don’t plan to sell (lest they be without a home) isn’t drained year after year. And a high-income person who doesn’t own property in the County (or owns property with lower value) will stay pay their share.

            I believe this could be done quite simply, based entirely on whatever one’s adjusted gross income was on their state return. We dispense with the County real-estate tax and bring in an income tax with marginal rates.

    • Yeah, real funny. Salaries are frozen. Necessities cost more. The goverment is taking more dollars from me in tax. Artisphere remains open. No reason to whine. (Eyes roll back into head.)

    • Burger

      Of course, last year the County spent 5.1% and “inflation” was only 3.5%, so even with an “alleged” below inflation increase in next year’s budget, the county board is still spending more than what they should strictly based on inflation.

      • Josh S

        What they “should?” Who determines what they “should?”

      • drax

        Yes. Last year. Now it’s this year.

    • Ivy

      What I don’t understand is why don’t they move???? If Arlington is so awful and they pay all this money in taxes..MOVE. Why do they live here????

      • Always Right

        The same reason the socialists live in America.

      • 4Arl

        Those that don’t think the county government is on a good path should just stop complaining and leave, right? Would you accept the folks in Richmond telling you to just move out of Virginia if you don’t agree with them?

        • If she doesn’t like the wonderful ability in the United States where you have some freedom to speak your mind for/against the government, I’m sure there is someplace on this earth where everyone will agree with the state and call each other commerade. Questioning decisions is the only way to ensure improvement, regardless of political stance.

  • This tree structure has broken down.

  • OX4

    Not to put too fine a point on it, but computers are one of the few commodities that actually *deflate,* if you hold performance constant.

    • OX4

      And why this comment was inserted into a random point in the thread I’ll never know.

      • drax

        Because you put too fine a point on it.

  • taxpayer

    What

  • taxpayer

    keyboard errors

  • Ivy

    For all those people who hate spending money, why don’t you move to another county? Better yet, why don’t you move to one of those wonderful low tax states like Mississippi? Don’t know about the rest of you, but I really enjoy the services I receive from the county.

  • blocked view

    Curtailing some of county’s pet projects – like “The Views” at Clarendon, where the “affordable housing” costs the taxpayer $666,000 per unit (more than a luxury condo). The savings would sure help cover basic expenses at the public schools – a true investment in Arlington’s future.

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