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Aquatics Center Takes Center Stage at CIP Hearing

(Updated at 1:20 p.m.) Opponents and supporters of the planned Long Bridge Park aquatics and fitness center spoke out at Tuesday’s Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) hearing.

County Manager Barbara Donnellan’s proposed FY 2013-2022 CIP describes the center as a “one-of-a-kind recreational, fitness, and competition asset [that] will provide long-term value to our community and attract people regionally to the unique combination of assets that is Arlington — to work, to play, to live.”

While supporters say Arlington County “can afford… world-class facilities” like the aquatics center (see statement from Nathaniel Giddings, after the jump), detractors — like fiscal watchdog Wayne Kubicki and GOP County Board candidate Matt Wavro — say that the county actually can’t afford such “vanity projects.”

Kubicki, chair of the Arlington County Civic Federation’s Revenues and Expenditures Committee, said in a statement (excerpt below) that the aquatics center will impose a long-term fiscal burden on taxpayers, who are already faced with a rising county budget.

Donnellan has proposed including $42.5 million worth of the aquatic center’s $70+ million cost included in a larger park bond, to be considered by county voters in November. The Civic Federation has called for the aquatics center to appear on the ballot as a separate bond item.

Kubicki made the following personal remarks to the County Board at Tuesday’s hearing.

The CIP projects 3% annual revenue growth for FY14 through 16….

Combining just the operating costs for new items such as Arlington Mill ($3.3M) and the Silver Line (our first year cost is $1.7M), and increased debt service costs, our FY14 budget already needs over $14M in growth – before increasing anything.

Funding the proposed CIP will necessitate major revenue growth, well over 3%, and unlike the past two fiscal years, where the burden of increased spending fell mostly on our commercial sector, the next several years will more heavily fall on homeowners. Commercial assessments are very unlikely to jump a third straight year.

There is one prime candidate for controlling some of this – the Long Bridge pools building, with its $73M price tag.

With our admittedly deteriorating infrastructure, and pressing school capital & operating needs if enrollment growth continues, coupled with uncertain future revenues and the over $7M in annual operating subsidies for the two streetcar lines upcoming, is Long Bridge really a priority? Can it seriously be called a “need”?

Combining proposed debt service, including the $20M interim non-bond borrowing, with its projected operating subsidy, Long Bridge’s annual cost is nearly $7M per year. That’s over one cent on the current tax rate- for one single building, that most residents will never use, and that many would have trouble finding, even if you gave them a map.

The Long Bridge project raises the term “vanity project” to a new level, and fiscally has the potential to be the Artisphere on steroids.

If Long Bridge is on the fall ballot, it should be as a separate, stand-alone referendum, with nothing else attached to it, as the Civic Federation strongly recommended to you. The fiscal ramifications of this project deserve separate discussion and a separate vote.

Matt Wavro, Republican candidate for County Board, said that the funds proposed for the aquatics center should instead be used for neighborhood projects and for the maintenance of existing recreational facilities. (Excerpt of his remarks, after the jump.)

Good Evening. My name is Matt Wavro. I live in Crystal City and am happy to be a neighbor to Long Bridge Park.

In the State of the County Arlingtonians heard from County Board Chairman Mary Hynes that “We have depended on a growing federal government, [and] we all know it could change, Federal spending could decline significantly. We need to be prepared.”

And just yesterday morning we heard from an Arlington based company Politico that “Lockheed Martin is likely to notify the ’vast majority’ of its 123,000 workers that they’re at risk of being laid off.” The story went on to inform us that “Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest defense contractor and a bellwether of the industry, won’t be alone. Other defense contractors have also signaled they’re considering sending out notices before November.”

Given our dependence on Federal spending and the potential negative ramifications of sequestration, this CIP is the time and place to refocus our fiscal plans so that we better invest in our neighborhoods throughout the County instead of embarking on large spending projects that could impair our ability to address the challenges that we all agree will have a negative impact on the fiscal situation of our community.

This CIP Plan puts our local government on a continuing path of significant and sustained increases in revenues collected from our community. What does that mean the average Arlingtonian?

That means the required additional revenues described in this CIP will require increases to the already high tax burden on homeowners and a concurrent increase in rents as the underlying costs of property taxes rise for proprietors of rental properties. That means tax and rent increases for the next ten years.

Instead of the flexibility that the members of the County Board talked about during the budget process, a distinct lack of flexibility is available to our community in this CIP. Residents will have to face significant tax increases through increased assessments or increased tax rates to meet the assumptions of the plan and the factors that determine our ability to keep our AAA bond rating.

The solution I propose is to reduce the total debt burden in the CIP allocated to the Aquatic center and repurpose the balance we can afford to make significant investments in our neighborhoods.

Instead of spending $50 Million on an Aquatics Center, we should focus these bond funds on projects that can more broadly address quality of life issues in our neighborhoods by increasing Neighborhood Conservation Fund Funding.

Instead of spending $50 Million on an Aquatics Center that will charge expensive user-fees to residents and non-residents who want to access what is purported to be a public project, we should improve access to the county’s most used recreation assets and fund additional synthetic turf conversion projects at the front end of the 10 year program.

I propose that we repurpose the funds included in the CIP for a very expensive aquatics center to projects and purposes that serve the entire community and start to make the appropriate investments in our community before reductions in federal spending and possible sequestration that could reduce the fiscal flexibility for our community so much so that we are locked into vanity projects that prevent investments in our neighborhoods that directly affect resident’s quality of life throughout the entire community.

If the board moves forward to include the Aquatics Center as part of the bonds on the Fall ballot, I urge the County Board to follow the recommendation of the Civic Federation and make it a clean and direct referendum without any attachments.

Nathaniel Giddings, a representative of the Friends of Long Bridge Park group, said Arlington residents “deserve… having [the aquatics and fitness center] right next-door.” The following is an excerpt of his statement to the County Board.

My name is Nathaniel Giddings. I am an Arlington County resident and a frequent user of Long Bridge Park. I am here on behalf of the Friends of Long Bridge Park. I am also an attorney with Hausfeld LLP, which is assisting the Friends obtain 501(c)(3) status.

I would first like to thank the County Manager for recommending the construction of Phase 2 – the aquatics and fitness facility – of Long Bridge Park. This recommendation recognizes that the County can afford the proposed, world-class facilities and that Arlington’s citizens, in fact, deserve, having these types of facilities right next-door.

At a minimum, this Board should adopt the Manager’s recommendation and include the proposed funds for the Park in the bond referendum this November.

In addition, the Friends urge this Board to support the full vision for the Park. This Board should adopt, as part of this CIP, the ten-year plan for the completion of these remaining Park features.

As the Board can see, many of this County’s constituents support completion of the Park. You will hear from many more of them tonight.

Not only do we have the support of those here tonight, but I would also like to present the Board with the signatures of 2,250 individuals who support Completing and Connecting the Park.

In short, there is overwhelming community support for the completion of the Park, the County can afford to complete the Park – including the future phases – and the citizens of this County should have the opportunity to vote, in November’s bond referendum, for the funds necessary to construct the aquatics and fitness facility at Long Bridge Park.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

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