Proposed Budget: Tax Hike, Police and Fire Cuts

by ARLnow.com February 21, 2013 at 1:35 pm 100 Comments

County Manager Barbara Donnellan presents her FY 2014 budget on Feb. 20, 2013Arlington County Manager Barbara Donnellan’s proposed FY 2014 budget will raise property taxes while cutting county jobs, including positions in the police and fire departments.

Facing a $35 million budget gap, Donnellan said she did her best to strike a balance between cuts and tax hikes, given the budget guidance given to her by the County Board.

“It is not an easy thing to recommend an increase in the property tax rate,” she said in a statement. “We have tried to maintain services that Arlingtonians hold dear and to respect the values of our community. To do that, we are forced to ask our community and our staff to contribute to closing this budget gap.”

Donnellan’s budget proposes a 3.2 cent tax hike, bringing the overall residential property tax rate to $1.003 for every $100 in assessed value. That represents an annual tax increase of about $262 for the average homeowner. That and other modest fee increases are expected to bring in an additional $13 million in revenue for the county.

As we previously reported, Donnellan’s budget would cut about 46 county government jobs.

Those will include 7 jobs in the police department and 3 jobs in the fire department, all of which will be cut by attrition. The police department would also see its district policing effort consolidated from 3 districts to 2. The fire department’s reserve “rover” staffing — extra personnel who fill in when a firefighter is not able to make it to work — will be reduced from 3 to 2 rovers per shift. One job will also be eliminated from the county’s 911 dispatch center.

County Board members Jay Fisette and Walter Tejada at a budget presentation on Feb. 20, 2013While all county departments are taking cuts, one of the hardest hit county departments under Donnellan’s budget is the Department of Human Services, with 15 proposed job cuts. Those cuts will reduce the number of school nurses in the county, reduce home aides for seniors and the disabled, reduce employment services for the mentally ill, and reduce inmate medical services at the county jail.

Donnellan said cuts were proposed where efficiencies could be found or where services were underutilized. She said the county is working to find new positions for employees whose jobs are set to be eliminated.

All told, the cuts are expected to save about $9.3 million per year. But with remaining employees working harder as a result of the various cuts, Donnellan is proposing $3.4 million in merit-based salary increases in FY 2014. The proposed budget also keeps existing county services largely in tact.

A library administrative aide will be eliminated, but library hours — previously a hot budget topic — will remain the same.

Artisphere will still be funded largely by county tax dollars. At the same time, however, the facility is being placed on notice, with half of its $1.8 million budget coming from one-time rather than on-going funding. Donnellan suggested that the money-losing cultural center could be on the chopping block next year.

County Manager Barbara Donnellan presents her FY 2014 budget on Feb. 20, 2013“I am assessing its performance and programming model,” she wrote in a note to the County Board. “The combination of one-time and ongoing funds will allow us to pursue a variety of options as we consider the future of the Artisphere.”

Local taxpayer funding for housing programs will remain a significant portion of the county budget — $32.3 million, or about 5 percent of the $661.5 million county operating budget. (Arlington Public Schools accounts for $411 million of the $1.073 billion overall proposed budget, up from $405.1 million of the $1.052 billion budget last year.)

Housing expenditures include $9.5 million for the Affordable Housing Investment Fund, $8 million for rental assistance, $5.2 million for real estate tax relief for the elderly and disabled, and $3.75 million for facilities and programs for the homeless.


Donnellan said increases in the budget were necessitated by new county facilities and increasing public school enrollment.

Once it opens, the new year-round homeless shelter and county office building in Courthouse is expected to cost as much as $2.5 million per year, with annual operating and maintenance costs of $1 million, homeless service expenses at $0.5 million, and debt service at $1 million. The new ConnectArlington fiber optic network will cost $800,000 annually when fully implemented. The new Arlington Mill Community Center accounts for $2.5 million in operating costs. And debt service for the soon-to-be-built Long Bridge Park Aquatics Facility comes to about $1.5 million for FY 2014.

While Arlington has previously enjoyed a windfall of new tax revenue thanks to increasing property values, property assessments were flat for the past year, and Donnellan warned that the lack of tax base growth could continue into FY 2015 and 2016, while new facilities and expenditures come online. Such a scenario could lead to additional spending cuts and tax hikes in the coming years, she warned.

Donnellan also cautioned that while her proposed budget does not call for any changes in funding levels for community-based nonprofits, such organizations are facing cuts in federal grant funding and might lobby the Board for additional county funds.

The Arlington County Board will hold a series of budget work sessions over the next month, before holding public budget hearings on March 26 and 28. Final budget adoption is scheduled for April 20.

Arlington Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Patrick Murphy is scheduled to unveil his proposed FY 2014 school budget next week.

  • novasteve

    Aren’t dems trying to tell people they don’t need guns because we have police, yet they go cut police while still pushing their magical swimming pools and choo choo train trolleys?

    • GoodOmens

      8/10 – you forgot to mention building homeless shelters in prime real estate tax generating locations.

    • Rhetoric over Facts

      Drama queen.

      7 jobs in the police department and 3 jobs in the fire department, all of which will be cut by attrition.

      10 jobs total – LOL.

      • b0rk

        Eh, keep reading…

        “As we previously reported, Donnellan’s budget would cut about 46 county government jobs.”

        • Jackson

          But only 10 from the “vital” police and fire departments. Read it again.

          • barticus

            To those people who are doing their job plus the work of the unfilled position, we say, “Carry on.”

  • Hee-Haw

    Great work. Cut emergency personnel, school nurses (even though you admit school enrollment is increasing), and other services positions, but hey, its ok for YOU to get a big raise.
    Maybe I should have bought a McMansion with 4 BR’s in fairfax instead…

    • drax

      Yeah, the raises and pool and dog parks and Artisphere and cuts for firefighters and nurses and mental health and tax increases do NOT mix well.

      There will be hearings on the budget, people. Show up. Don’t just snark here and then whine when you aren’t heard.

      • snarl

        fly like an eagle………

      • Mr.Freeze

        Where and when are the meetings? Can you post a link to the schedules?

      • lynne

        drax hit the nail on the head….all that money for a doggie pool while we cut police and fire services is insane. But all the Dems will fall in line and think this is all just great.

      • barticus

        @ Drax: Great point . The next meeting is tomorrow (Sat Feb 23) at 8:30 am.

    • truth in public service

      ACFD (and county taxpayers) are still paying for the $$$ paid, year-in and year-out, for all the workers comp claims that followed 9/11 and the county response.

      Injuries to ACFD bodies? Nil.
      Injuries for what was witnessed: very large. Workers comp.

  • speonjosh

    This comment thread will not be worth following, as the same folks will say the same things.

    • Repeat

      How will that be different from any other ArlNow comment thread?

    • DCBuff

      That would include you.

  • jackson

    I just won a bet with myself about who would be the first to post. But I thought you would have jumped on this:

    “Housing expenditures include $9.5 million for the Affordable Housing Investment Fund, $8 million for rental assistance, $5.2 million for real estate tax relief for the elderly and disabled, and $3.75 million for facilities and programs for the homeless.”

    The guns comment was out of (right) field.

    • Farva

      Yeah…I just lost a bet…to myself too!!!

  • ARL

    15 cut from DHS? That’s just pathetic. The most needy get the shaft.

  • bdog375

    Simple fix: axe the planned $80 million water park for crystal city.

    • Alex

      Where’s Zimmy?

      • Zimmerman

        You have reached the Zimster. I’m out riding the trolley. Please leave a message.

        • Autoexec.bat

          I laughed.

          • Tumblebum

            I laughed first. Oh wait, dratted time stamp. Well, I laughed louder.

  • Shannon

    Tax hikes? SERIOUSLY? Because the economy isn’t bad enough, and federal workers aren’t about to take a huge hit, so now let’s raise the taxes too!

    • HomegrownArlingtonian

      Seriously, do you have any clue about local governing & budgets? Or are you just upset that you have to pay taxes at all while living here? What’s unbelievable is your galling ignorance. This county has had a AAA rating for a long time, and ranks nationally as a top locale to live & work precisely because of how they have and do manage the place – responding responsibly/humanely to economic situations of all kinds over many, many years. CATCH A CLUE or LEAVE!

      • BBMS

        Triple-A but with a negative outlook on the most recent sales according to Moody’s. It’s not a bottomless well of good AAA news just sitting out there to tap in to.

        • CW

          Of course they have a negative outlook, they’re so moody…rimshot

        • HomegrownArlingtonian

          I’m glad someone has finally come along to point that out to Arlington. Guess you too can’t help ignoring Arlington’s proven, successful history of balanced/responsible/progressive governance when you so helpfully point out that the sky will fall. Thanks for the spelling correction.

  • Jeff

    “We have tried to maintain services that Arlingtonians hold dear and to respect the values of our community…”

    I hold dear police and fire protection much much much more than literally any other service the county provides.

    • SoArl

      Yes, yes, yes

      • G::TheNativeArlingtonian

        Make that a fourth, “yes” from this poster. Not that the ArlCtyBoard listen to their constituents.

    • Bluemontsince1961

      Right on, Jeff!

  • brendan

    strong democrat, but this is why i always either write-in or vote republican in local elections… absolutely horrendous local government. we’re spending roughly 12.5% of our annual operating budget, or about $400/resident, on an indoor lazy river? when all the high schools have or are getting brand new aquatics facilities? then raising taxes while cutting fire and police? what clowns.

    • another strong dem

      Ready to vote Republican.

      • Me Three

        Wow, I thought I was the only one. D all the way at the state level, regular R voter in County elections.

        Screw these clowns. Artisfail, choochoo to nowhere, $8 million pool by the airport–and then they give themselves raises AND cut cops and firefighters. Brilliant.

    • Bluemontsince1961

      Ain’t it the truth, Brendan! Gotta have that “viiiiiibrant” artisphere, aquatics center, etc. but basic services be damned. All that money could have gone to help maintain infrastructure, roads, pay the salaries of police, fire fighters, and emergency response personnel rather than cutting police and fire fighter positions. But hey, what do we “peons” know? Babs and the Fab Five know what is best for us!

    • speonjosh

      Er, no.

    • Swag

      I’m the same way. I like Democrats in my national government and Republicans in my local government.

    • Buddy

      I am the same..
      Strong Dem. for the most part, nationally.
      But will support Republicans for the local board.
      There is no balance in Arlington Co.
      These folks are ‘runaway’ crazy……with our money.

    • barticus

      I don’t believe this is a Dem or Rep issue. I think it’s an issue of arrogant, out-of-touch, long-time incumbents. Rather than pragmatism and bang-for-the-buck, the CB’s groupthink only worrys about orthodoxy and ideology.

      Arlington will consistently vote Dem unless given compelling reason to change. The CB is doing its best to provide just that.

  • BBMS

    It’s not clear from the article, but do the proposed cuts and extra taxes close gap entirely? Maybe it’s all in there in the math, but I’d prefer a summary.

  • Greg

    I’ve got something they can cut.

    Why do the Parks Department and School system both run after school programs? Nobody seems to understand why there are two competing programs.

    Suggestion, the Parks Department program should be eliminated and folded into the School system’s program.

    • DCBuff

      APS’s Extended Day program is a pay-for program, and my guess is the Parks program is as well, so how would eliminating either program save money?

      • Greg

        The 2013 budget indicates that the Parks Dept only recovers ~10% of its costs for running the program. I don’t know what the school system recovers, but I doubt they are identical programs in terms of costs.

        In any event, you are eliminating a service that appears to be redundant with another county service. Even if you kept all the teachers but were able to reduce admin staff through any synergies gained it would be worth it if you could keep a cop or two.

        • DCBuff

          Teachers are not involved in the APS Extended Day program. It is run with separate staff. I’m not sure if it is full cost recovery or not, however the costs are such that it clearly covers a large percentage of costs. And, APS has a separate budget from Parks.

          • Greg

            Your post is almost a non sequitor. I’m not sure what your point is.

            If someone can explain why there are two county programs that provide the same service, I’m all ears. But it looks to me that there are efficiencies that could be gained by combining the programs.

          • DCBuff

            Not a non sequitor, nor is it meant to answer fully your question. Rather, it corrects certain assumptions in your posts.

    • drax

      How does that save money though? The same number of kids would be served. Maybe it would be slightly more efficient.

  • UA

    You don’t give $3.4 million in raises when you have a budget deficit.

    Cut $9.5 million for the Affordable Housing Investment Fund and $8 million for rental assistance with the property tax increase and the problem is solved.

    • drax

      Anyone can just say “cut (whatever program I don’t like) and the problem is solved.” That just creates a new problem.

      • BBMS

        So you think nothing should ever be cut because it will always cause some kind of problem?

        • drax

          No, I don’t think nothing should ever be cut.

          I’m saying that walking into a discussion and saying “cut (whatever program I don’t like) and the problem is solved” is pointless and futile. Yeah, so? I want to cut something else. Let’s negotiate.

    • HomegrownArlingtonian

      You do as part of a responsible plan to cut $5.9 million of existing service jobs from the budget and shift that work to remaining employees. You might want to find a new place to live if you have no regard/understanding for affordable housing and it’s vital role in enriching communities, because this community’s strong & long history has consistently benefitted investing in affordable housing. Catch a broader clue, or go where your values are the mainstream… gated communities.

      • Marie Antoinette

        Wow! HomegrownArlingtonian, you are so tolerant!

      • ARLnowLuvR

        Im sick of your posts. I say cut these programs in half, at least. There are people that live in affordable housing across from me that walk to the 7-11 near (the former) Rays Hellburger to deal drugs and get their booze. Sit at Rhodeside grill and watch them sit at the bus stop across the street with their Mcdonalds or 7-11 cups full of booze. Or, walk to the bus stop and look at the trash and airplane bottles of liquor they leave behing. And, Im supposed to fund this? eff that. What about my car that happened to get keyed…the night I honked at one of them because they were sitting in the middle of the road. Coincidence? You are crazy. You cannot help these people. They have no incentive to change if you pay for them to live. And, they get other govt assistance to pay for food. So, that county 9.5mill/8mill is only half the story. Yes, this isnt everyone in affordable or subsidized housing, but from my experience there are a lot of people milking the county for all its worth. Ohhhh…dont get me started on the two bedroom apartments with 8, 10, 12 adults and children in them. And, the lady living in affordable housing that always has a car with nice, shiny chrome rims! Where do you think her priorities are? In eventually buying a house? hahhahahaha, yea, right.

        Please, do tell how this “community’s strong & long history has consistently benefitted investing in affordable housing”. Or, how it has a “vital role in enriching communities”.

      • Harry

        Creating a low barrier “wet” homeless shelter that will serve as a magnet for DC metro area homeless with chronic substance abuse problems is not affordable housing. Putting said shelter on some of the most expensive real estate on the planet is absolutely insane.

  • vc

    Cut Artisphere which has become a Salsa, Zydeco and Hip Hop venue, and fund Fire and Police which serves the whole County.

    • Bluemontsince1961

      Right on again!

    • BlueLoom

      Agreed. Why throw money this year at a failing cultural center, but tell them that if they don’t clean up their act it will be the last year. Just cut ’em off this year. If it’s a viable program, they should be able to get foundation funding. Don’t cut first responders, school nurses, affordable housing programs, etc. [NOTE: I’m a former Arlington Cmn for the Arts member. VERY disappointed in Artisphere.}

  • John Fontain

    The overall problem, as I see it, is that the County conducts its activities too extravagantly.

    We all have certain county services that we enjoy or value. A new dog park is great, so is a new pool. Some value the emergency responders, while others value public art. But the simple truth is that if we want it all, it can’t all be afforded if done extravagantly.

    So why can’t we build a new dogpark, but not spend over a million on it for unnecessary features the dogs won’t percieve or enjoy? Why can’t we have a new pool, but make it more like Fairfax’s Cub Run and save $50 million? Why can’t we revitalize and improve a community park, like Woodstock Park, but do so in a budget-conscious manner by resurfacing the basketball court rather than demolishing it and moving it to a new spot? Why can’t we build nice bus stops on Columbia Pike, but not spend as much per stop as it would cost to build a large, high-end single family home? Why can’t we have some public art, but not spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to “commission” two rock slabs with concave parabolas carved into them at Penrose Square? As you know, I could go on and on.

    It seems that almost every project that the County touches is carried out in the least cost-conscious way possible. And unfortunately, this has been going on long enough that County staff thinks that the amounts they spend are perfectly reasonable.

    That makes me wonder how much respect the County staff and board have for our hard-earned tax dollars. It also makes me wonder whether we’d be facing the budget problems we’re facing if our tax dollars were treated more preciously.

    Some of you may say, “well, the dog park is just one project – that won’t fix our budget problem.” True, but each and every expenditure adds up. As they say, mind the pennies and the dollars will take care of themselves.

    If I could ask for one thing, I’d ask that every County staff and board member think of each expenditure as follows: “If I were spending my own money on this project, would I spend this amount of money this way?”

    • drax

      “I’d ask that every County staff and board member think of each expenditure as follows: “If I were spending my own money on this project, would I spend this amount of money this way?” ”

      Careful, that could backfire badly.

      Better to say “if I were spending someone else’s money.” Which they are.

      • DCBuff

        The ArlCo board and staff view someone else’s money as their own. That is the problem.


    • Hee-Haw

      good post. its easier to spend other people’s money than your own.

    • John Fontain

      Sorry, I forgot to add:


      John Fontain
      An ARLnow loony who a “community notable” probably thinks isn’t worth listening to.

    • thrak

      Excellent post, John! I especially second the comment regarding Ffx’s Cub Run Rec center. I used to live near it and used it several times a week. If I recall correctly, tax dollars were used to build it but all on-going operating expenses come from user fees. The fitness facility was top-notch and reasonably priced. The pools and multip-purpose rooms were utilized just about every hour the place was open — great community resource!

    • Bluemontsince1961

      Well said, John Fontain!

    • SterlingHeart

      I thought the phrase was “penny wise and pound foolish”. Oh wait, this isn’t Britain, or is it? Cheerio!

    • Swag

      It’s a lot of design by committee and aggressive sales by contractors. And waaaay too many Democrats.

    • FarNorthArl

      “That makes me wonder how much respect the County staff and board have for our hard-earned tax dollars.”

      Many staff members don’t. Most of them don’t live in Arlington and couldn’t care less. Even the County Manager doesn’t live in Arlington. As far as the Board is concerned, well, they need to feel it at the ballot box. Unfortunately, most Dems will play along and elect and re-elect them, and they know that.

  • pdarl

    And they are gung ho for a $260 million streetcar on the pike. Sheesh.

    • drax

      Streetcar makes sense. It’s transportation and economic development.

  • vc

    Arlington County …so quick to praise our first responders after 9/11, so quick to cut funding and throwing them to the dogs ( 1.6 million to the dog park that is).

    • speonjosh

      9/11 was twelve years ago.
      Have there been cuts to fire and police since then? I don’t know myself.
      On the other hand, we have certainly seen quite a bit of extra bling thrown their way. Gotta be fighting the terrorism thingy. Terrorists! Bombs! Boo! Heavy equipment! High-tech! Cutting edge!
      The fire department has also gotten new buildings and new equipment. I am sure they deserve it and do not begrudge them.
      But the 9/11 link is stale, pandering, cheap, and undeserved.

      • vc

        “Extra bling” from Feds, not from County. 9/11 link is not undeserved, remember it was Arlington that was attacked, not DC. And daily, these brave men and women are willing to put themselves at risk for the benefit of us all.

    • snarl

      this is anecdotal, but i believe the police and fire departments have been taking it in the shorts for several years, not just this coming one

  • mike

    Drax above has it just right. Don’t just winge on the internet, write to the Board members, go to budget hearings, rouse all your friends and neighbors. If cutting police, fire and human services while hiring people to work on an as yet to be built streetcar (not to mention handing out raises to the top staff) doesn’t get people out then we deserve what we will end up getting.

    • drax

      And for the guy who inevitably can’t seem to read to the bottom – the hearings are March 26 and 28.

  • AC

    With all of the tax revenue and tourism dollars that the county of Arlington generates, there’s no excuse for such a significant budget deficit. I hope the final budget has a cover sheet that consists of Barbara Donnellan’s resignation.

  • Swag

    To be fair, every office–government or private–has some bloat that they could cut without affecting services. For the most part it sounds like that’s what they’re doing, though I think everyone would be a bit happier if they cut fewer DHS jobs and eased up on the raises a bit.

    • BBMS

      And I’m of the opinion that if Fire and Police have “bloat”, then we should allow ourselves to grow into it. I don’t believe it is any secret that the county’s policies are to attract more Arlington residents and to grow the private sector workforce in Arlington.

      Cutting public safety staffing levels with those two factors looming seems unconscionable.

  • CA

    Nothing like funding pet projects while increasing taxes. I’m guessing there aren’t term limits on the Board, right?

    • drax

      We don’t need term limits. We have terms.

  • Say What?!?

    Good thing we’ll have that pool. We can swim while the city burns. That’s if you don’t get mugged on the way there. Of course with the tax hikes, I may not be able to afford the membership fee for the pool…that I helped pay for…

  • Greg

    If this is what we really want from our government — less services for the poor, kids, elderly, etc., in exchange for things like dog parks, lazy rivers, and artisphere — then we need to ask ourselves if we are really County of progressives or just a bunch of spoiled brats.

    • Tr0jan

      You hit the spot Greg

    • drax

      Agree, Greg. Priorities.

  • bobbytiger

    “Modest fee increases . . . “. Paleeeze.

  • Tr0jan

    Get rid of Artisphere, we don’t see any return on that failure, why the county keeps on running a big funds eater?

  • Tr0jan

    Quoting Mike above: “Drax above has it just right. Don’t just winge on the internet, write to the Board members, go to budget hearings, rouse all your friends and neighbors. If cutting police, fire and human services while hiring people to work on an as yet to be built streetcar (not to mention handing out raises to the top staff) doesn’t get people out then we deserve what we will end up getting.”

  • The Bottom Line (for a few)

    Agree with me about Arlington’s spending or leave town on the next street car. Got it? Agree or leave, but under no circumstances should you voice an opinion that is not the party line.

  • FedUp

    “Those will include 7 jobs in the police department and 3 jobs in the fire department, all of which will be cut by attrition.”…………
    Heaven forbid; sound the alarms! We are losing 7 precious police positions! What ever will we do???

    Plllleeeease; they forgot to mention that all 7 of those positions will probably be from “specialty” positions that should not even exist in the first place, or are at the very least overstaffed, plus many older officers are nearing retirement age anyway. They are still hiring new police officers at record pace.

    These “specialty” positions include parades and events positions, motorpool, gunsmiths, training positions, horseback officers, motorcycle patrol, bicycle, K9, traffic enforcement (yes they actually have an officer along with dozens of support staff in the meter maid section), red light camera section, media relations, internal affairs, investigations, sting operations, ABC liaison, JTTF liaisons, gang unit, helicopter, etc, etc, etc.

    If we would stop fighting the unwinnable Drug War, maybe we would finally be able to afford a reasonable police force. Just sit in at a General District Court preliminary hearing at the court house off of Wilson Boulevard and you will see that around 90% of the cases are drug related. That is what is costing us so much money; as well as having too many officers behind desks, pushing paper, instead of being out on the streets where they should be.

    • Shaking My Head

      Really? You decided to lump parades, events, and PR positions with internal affairs, traffic enforcment, and terrorism response? You had the seed of a good point and then went out into the looniverse.

    • barticus

      Good point. Why would ACPD ever need Joint Terrorist Task Force liasons? What’s in Arlington that could possibly be a terrorist target?

  • Rachel Reynolds

    if we have a $350 million deficit — can the Columbia Pike Trolley and the budget would be balanced!


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