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The Right Note: Board Watching

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column by published on Thursdays. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of

Mark Kelly

Every year since I moved to Arlington in 2000, the County Board has passed a budget that effectively raised our taxes, either through increased rates or in effect, by not offsetting appraisal increases with tax rate decreases. And, every year in recent memory, the county’s press staff sends out a statement claiming it’s not really that bad.

This year’s press release said the tax increase will only cost the average homeowner $23 more per month. Over the past five years, the increases cited in those press releases total $73.50 per month. So, it now costs the average homeowner $882 more per year to live in Arlington than it did in 2008. In case you were wondering, this is only a small bite compared to what the Board has done in the revenue raising department since 2000.

If you rent, you have not escaped this cost as your landlord has most certainly passed some or all of these taxes on to you.

My favorite argument heard from at least one board member is that we should be glad to pay more property taxes because our houses are worth more. Of course, unless you sell your house, you will not recognize the gain. We actually have to pay the taxes from our incomes. I don’t know about you, but my income has not doubled since I moved into my home while my property taxes have.

The tax increase passed unanimously on Saturday. Then on Tuesday, county staff disclosed that the federal government pegged the price tag of the Columbia Pike trolley project at $310 million — nearly 25 percent over what we were told. The federal estimate said the project could cost as much as $402 million. Of course, when the federal government is estimating, we can safely assume to bet on the high side.

This price tag does not come as a surprise to those following the issue closely. It demonstrates the need for increased and independent accountability in how the Board spends our money.

As I wrote recently, it is time to revisit the idea of opening an office for an independent inspector general. With the under-estimated trolley cost, Artisphere cost overruns, and the $1 million bus stop, the perception that Arlingtonians are not getting straight answers is growing. In response, the County Manager announced she was reorganizing the internal auditing functions instead of bringing in a true independent perspective. With a $1 billion plus budget and $1 billion plus in debt, it is time to do more than an internal staff shuffle.

There was some good news from the April County Board actions. The Board agreed to treat food trucks like any other motor vehicle and allow them to park for two hours in parking spaces. While many communities have moved to impose additional restrictions on food trucks, this common sense move in favor of promoting both increased dining choices for consumers and opportunities for small businesses was a good one.

Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

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