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Peter’s Take: Budget Guidance for Arlington’s County Manager

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter RousselotThis is the time that the Arlington County Board generally adopts guidelines for the County Manager to use in preparing the County’s operating budget for the next fiscal year. As a point of reference, you can review the guidelines the Board adopted last year here. ARLnow.com readers should review last year’s guidelines as context for this column.

As I have written in earlier columns, to accommodate the new normal of Arlington’s budget environment, Arlington needs to move now to the type of core services approach to budgeting used in other jurisdictions. Based on that reasoning, the budget guidelines the County Board should adopt this year ought to differ substantially from those it adopted last year.

Here are the guidelines that the County Board ought to provide to the County Manager in preparing the next Operating Budget:

“The County Board directs the County Manager to prepare an FY 2015 budget that realistically reflects current economic conditions. The County Board believes that Arlington faces substantial economic challenges, and will continue to face such challenges for the foreseeable future. A significant slowdown in the growth of federal government spending and troubling increases in commercial office vacancy rates are among these challenges.

“To accommodate this new normal in Arlington, the FY 2015 budget must give priority to spending on core government services such as the public schools, public safety, and maintenance of existing infrastructure. We must continue to ensure a safety net for those in need.

“In developing her Proposed FY15 Budget, the County Manager is directed to:

  1. Ensure that the budget provides for long-term financial sustainability.
  2. Present a balanced budget that eliminates any projected county revenue/expense shortfall using expense reductions to eliminate no less than 75 percent of any shortfall and tax increases to eliminate no more than 25 percent.
  3. Change the county/school revenue sharing allocation reflected in the FY 2013 budget (54.2 percent county/45.8 percent schools) by increasing the schools’ share from 45.8 percent to whatever higher percentage is needed to fund all reasonably anticipated enrollment increases, continue to raise achievement for all students and narrow achievement gaps between various groups of students, expand the FLES program to all elementary schools, and otherwise ensure that we are providing the best education we can afford.
  4. Preserve the County’s AAA/AAA bond ratings.
  5. Fully fund all debt, lease and other contractual commitments. Eliminate duplication and inefficiencies.”

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

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