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County Board Approves New Budget

Arlington County BoardThe Arlington County Board has unanimously approved a new $1.09 billion budget that, as expected, raises real estate taxes by 3.5 cents.

The Board raised taxes slightly above the 3.2 cent increase recommended by County Manager Barbara Donnellan, citing the need to eliminate proposed cuts to the police and fire departments and the county’s child care office, and the need to increase funding to safety net programs and Arlington Public Schools.

Arlington’s tax rate will now increase to $1.006 per $100 of assessed value.

“The overall tax and fee burden for the average Arlington homeowner will increase 4.1% — or about $23 a month,” according to a county press release (below, after the jump). “The adopted tax rate is lower than the advertised rate of $1.021 per $100 of assessed value. (It is also lower than the proposed rates for all other Northern Virginia jurisdictions, which range from $1.038 to $1.33.)”

Additional funding for the budget came thanks to an improved financial outlook, which in turn boosts tax revenues.

“This allowed the Board to restore many proposed service reductions, while only increasing the tax rate three-tenths of a cent above what was included in the proposed budget,” the county said.

From the Arlington County press release:

The Arlington County Board today adopted a $1.09 billion General Fund Budget for Fiscal Year (FY) 2014, making modest changes to the overall magnitude of the draft budget presented earlier this year by County Manager Barbara Donnellan while restoring funding for many programs for which cuts had been proposed. (The proposed budget included 109 individual cuts across departments, totaling $9.3 million and 41 positions.)

“We heard from Arlingtonians that they want to preserve key services, restore proposed cuts to our police and fire departments and inspections of child care facilities; care for those most in need; do what it takes to keep our schools among the nation’s best, and increase our investments in affordable housing and capital maintenance,” said County Board Chairman J. Walter Tejada. “This budget builds on the Board’s direction to the Manager to sustain vital services while building for the future.”

The proposed elimination of local regulation of childcare providers will not take place, as the Board provided full funding for the continued operation of the office. The Police Department also received full funding to continue community policing, and retain the 7 officers that were to have been dropped under the proposed budget. The Fire Department will keep the 3 positions that were on the chopping block.

The Board added more than $1.0 million in new funding for safety net programs administered by the County and a range of non-profit organizations, and allocated funds for the County’s nature centers and tree canopy preservation. In its final action, the Board also added additional funding for Arlington Public Schools, which have experienced greater than anticipated enrollment growth during the school year.

The Board allocated available “one-time” funds to four major areas: $3 million to a budget stabilization fund (anticipating potential difficulties that could arise mid-year due to federal sequestration); $3 million to the Affordable Housing Investment Fund; $2 million for land acquisition; and $869,862 to a maintenance capital reserve for County-owned facilities and infrastructure.

All together, the Board added back $3.2 million in ongoing funding, and restored 29 positions. (The County workforce remains 32 FTEs below its high of 3822 in FY 2009.)

The Manager had proposed a 3.2-cent increase in the real estate tax rate; the final budget approved by the Board raised that by three-tenths of a cent, to 3.5 cents. (In February, the Board had advertised a maximum increase of 5 cents.) Other taxes, such as those for personal property, business tangible property, business license, and storm water remain unchanged. Fees for household solid waste disposal will go down slightly.

Tejada cautioned that sequestration, the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process and the sluggish pace of the nation’s economic recovery will continue to put pressure on the County budget for at least the next two years. Many of the funding restorations made by the Board this year, he said, were with one-time funds and may not be continued in the coming years.

“This is not a year in which we can do many new things,” said the Chairman. “We can, however, maintain the fundamental commitments that Arlington has made, especially in areas like public safety, affordable housing, the social safety net for our most vulnerable residents, our natural environment, and our schools. This budget reflects those values.”

The County’s financial picture improved since the Manager’s proposed budget was released in February, with modest increase in various revenue streams, Tejada noted. This allowed the Board to restore many proposed service reductions, while only increasing the tax rate three-tenths of a cent above what was included in the proposed budget.

The Board voted 5 to 0 to adopt the budget.

Budget details

The Board made a number of changes to the County Manager’s Proposed Budget after hearing from hundreds of County residents. The adopted FY 2014 General Fund Budget, which includes Schools funding, grows 3.7% over the FY 2013 Budget.

Increased funding for Arlington Public Schools

The total FY 2014 transfer to APS is $415.7 million, a 2.2% increase. This funding includes an increase in ongoing funds of $12.3 million and fully funds the cost of more than 1,000 new students as part of the real estate tax rate increase. In addition to the ongoing funding provided to Schools, $3.1 million in one-time funds from 2013 tax revenues are provided. The County Board has also set-aside a $6.6 million contingency fund to address community enhancements needed as part of Schools’ capacity projects and for joint use projects.

“Arlington’s public schools are among the best in the nation and one of our County’s greatest assets,” Tejada said. “The Board is committed to providing our schools with the support they need to ensure excellence as enrollment continues to grow.”

Board restores public safety and other cuts put forward by County Manager

The Board restored all cuts to the Fire Department and Police Department that had been proposed in the County Manager’s Proposed Budget, restoring three firefighting positions, at a cost of $402,934, and the reduction to the Police District Teams at a cost of $903,926. The Board also restored child care specialists, at a cost of $249,798 to ensure that inspections of childcare facilities continue. Other items restored by the Board include:

  • Nature Center Hours and Natural Resource Specialist ($124,910)
  • Funding for Teen & Youth Programs, including Woodbury Park Teen Club ($83,930)
  • Some funding for STAR to delay co-payment increase ($22,453)
  • Supported Employment and Education (restored $50,000 and added $66,000)
  • Funding for tree planting and watering ($62,804)
  • Funding to combat invasive plants ($100,000 in one-time funds)
  • Funding restored, increased for non-profits to meet increased need
  • The Board, citing increased need, restored one-time funding for many non-profit organizations that serve women, tenants, immigrants, seniors and others, and approved over $1.0 million in new funding for safety net and non-profit programs.

Increased funding for affordable housing

Affordable housing is one of our community’s top priorities. Noting the County’s high property values, the Board added $3 million in one-time funding to the Manager’s proposed $9.5 million for the County’s Affordable Housing Investment Fund (AHIF). The Board’s actions bring funding for AHIF to its highest levels. The Board also added $388,850 in one-time funding for Permanent Supportive Housing.

“Arlington is a leader in the region in creating and preserving affordable housing,” Tejada said. “There is a critical and growing need in our community for housing that is affordable to the teachers, firefighters, police officers, service workers and others who find themselves priced out of our County. The Board is committed to ongoing investments in our affordable housing stock.”

Maintenance and upgrades to County buildings, infrastructure, and open space

The Board added $869,862 in one-time funding for maintenance capital – money that will go toward working through a maintenance backlog for County facilities and infrastructure. The money will be used to repair County buildings and infrastructure, including parks and recreation areas.

The Board also added $2 million for land acquisition funding.

Employee compensation

The FY 2014 Budget includes funding for merit step increases for County employees.

Real Estate tax rate to rise by 3.5 cents

The real estate tax rate will rise by 3.5 cents, from $0.971 per $100 of assessed value (including the sanitary district tax) to $1.006 per $100 of assessed value. The overall tax and fee burden for the average Arlington homeowner will increase 4.1% — or about $23 a month.

The adopted tax rate is lower than the advertised rate of $1.021 per $100 of assessed value. (It is also lower than the proposed rates for all other Northern Virginia jurisdictions, which range from $1.038 to $1.33.)

The FY 2014 budget includes no increases for personal property tax, business tangible property, business and professional occupational licenses, water-sewer fee, dedicated stormwater tax, or commercial transportation tax rates. The household solid waste rate will also be slightly reduced from $293.92 to $293.76.

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