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.
John Vihstadt spoke regularly about hiring an independent auditor in the county government during his campaigns and throughout his brief tenure on the Board. The credit for originally identifying the need goes to the Arlington Civic Federation. The Civic Federation raised the idea back in 2011, calling for an independent “Inspector General.”
While candidates from the Republican and Green parties raised the issue in previous election cycles, the idea did not really seem to take hold until the infamous $1 million bus stop made national news. Along with the ongoing Artisphere subsidies, a $1 million dog park and an aquatics center price tag that seemed to be spiraling out of control, the need became apparent to the voters as well.
Enter Del. Patrick Hope. Delegate Hope’s bill would remove any doubt as to whether the County Board could hire a truly independent auditor who will not report to the county manager, but directly to the Board itself.
With its unanimous passage in the House of Delegates, it seems on track to become law. Delegate Hope deserves kudos for pushing the bill towards passage.
With this in mind, the Board should be building this office into its FY 2016 budget with the anticipation it will be approved. The Board should ensure the office is adequately staffed and has broad enough authority to examine county spending in a truly independent fashion.
It seems as though the Board or the county manager had been dragging their feet on hiring an internal auditor under the current staffing structure as approved last year. The position is still vacant. So, the Board should set a self-imposed deadline to have an independent auditor in place of not later than July 1.
The Board should also grant the office authority to examine how county staff estimates revenues. While the White House chronically over-estimates revenue growth to make projected federal deficits look smaller, the staff at Courthouse seem to chronically underestimate revenue growth to drive tax rates higher.
The Board and county manager like to say they are budgeting conservatively, but there is nothing conservative about creating “revenue shortfalls” on paper as an excuse to drive up taxes and spending.
Providing transparency and accountability from outside the normal chain of command in Arlington is a good idea with broad support from across the partisan spectrum. Provided the Hope bill passes the General Assembly, the Board should follow through on it promptly.
Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.