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The Right Note: What’s Next?

by Ethan Rothstein January 1, 2015 at 3:00 pm 0

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.

Mark Kelly2014 certainly was an interesting year in Arlington, especially on the political front.

A Republican-turned-Independent won not one, but two elections. The budget-busting project that was the centerpiece of those two elections was then reluctantly canceled by the County Board.

Where do we go from here? Politically, what does this mean for the Garvey-Vihstadt alliance formed to stop the Columbia Pike trolley? Will Walter Tejada run for re-election, and, if so, what impact will being the lone holdout for the trolley project have on his prospects — including whether he will draw primary opposition?

The overriding question left for County budget watchdogs is whether the end of the trolley will spark a new era in fiscal responsibility or whether it was a one-time event?

The recent Signature Theater bailout was offset by the announcement that the Artisphere was slated to be closed in 2015. The Artisphere and its always suspect business plan was never going to stand on its own two feet despite repeated assurances from County Board members to the contrary. Hopefully Board Members will follow the County Manager’s recommendation to close it.

Then came the reminder the County was going to use our tax dollars to pay $350,000 to stick plastic in the water treatment plant fence next year. This is a drop in the bucket when it comes to money that could be better spent elsewhere, but certainly symbolic of too many Board priorities.

Speaking of priorities, will the aquatics center move forward in 2015 or will the Board give the controversial project longer to sit on the sidelines? And, when we go to taxpayers for bond approvals on major projects like this, should we require the Board to put them on the ballot as a separate question?

This leads to the next question for 2015, will an independent audit function ever truly get off the ground? Is it too much to ask that the County Board have an auditor who reports directly to them, rather than having findings filtered by the County Manager? Shouldn’t these spending decisions be subject to the highest level of scrutiny?

And when it comes to making spending decisions, will the Board look at the revenue estimating process? This process consistently underestimates revenue in order to give the County Board an excuse to collect more of our tax dollars and spend those dollars in the annual closeout process.

This morning at the annual Jan. 1 meeting, incoming Board Chair Mary Hynes said “Arlington stands at a crossroads.” She called on her colleagues to address the challenges that face us, among other things including rising school enrollment and vacant office space.

After the Macbook Air story over the summer, will the schools budget draw closer scrutiny from watchdogs next spring particularly as they are looking to meet new capacity needs?

Will the County Board solve the problem of the office vacancy rate by finding ways to make Arlington more business friendly from permitting processes to taxes instead of creating another task force or commission to talk about it?

In her speech Hynes also said we are “always better when we listen to each other.” Too often in the past that meant only listening to those who agreed with those in control of the Board. After voters spoke out this year at the ballot box, hope springs eternal that this time it will be different.

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

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