The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.
Stockton, California is proceeding in bankruptcy. It is a cautionary tale of a local government who thought the goose would continue to lay golden eggs and allowed themselves to spend more than prudence dictated.
Stockton is about 50 percent larger in population than Arlington and it is the largest city to go bankrupt. Stockton’s debt at the time of filing for Chapter 9 protection was $500 million, approximately half of Arlington’s current debt load. Jefferson County, Alabama is already working through the largest municipal bankruptcy filing in history with approximately $4.2 billion in debt.
What Arlington has compared to other municipalities is the seat of the federal government as its next door neighbor. Arlington was therefore largely shielded from the effects felt in many places during the recession. While the County is not increasing spending at the rate of the last decade, our county officials have actually plowed full speed ahead on capital expenditures and show no desire to slow down.
The County spent $1 million on one dog park while harassing a business owner who wanted to beautify another one for free. The County spent millions on the Artisphere which has not lived up to any of the promises made when the Board agreed to fund the project. Voters approved a parks bond that funded an aquatics center which may cost taxpayers $79 million to construct. And, the boondoggle trolley project, which will almost certainly cost well over the current $250 million price tag, is coming to the Pike.
The current symbol of spending excess in Arlington is the $1 million bus stop on Columbia Pike — a precursor to the trolley project. The price tag is so outrageous that even CNN ran a story on it this week. The County Manager said they would “reassess” these “super stops” before moving forward, but the plan all along was for each of the 24 stops to cost over $850,000 on average.
The County Board should reassess the need for an independent office of Inspector General to audit all county expenditures. The Board has resisted the idea raised first by the Civic Federation consistently, but do we really believe the same county staff that oversaw the projects to begin with will produce an independent analysis? With a billion dollars and climbing in debt, it is time for the Board to embrace this measure of transparency and accountability.
Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.