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The Right Note: County Manager Proposes Level Tax Rate

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

Mark Kelly

(Updated at 3:30 p.m.) On Saturday, the Arlington County Board will determine the maximum tax rate for real estate, vehicles, and business improvement service districts in Ballston, Crystal City and Rosslyn. The final rate will not be determined until April, and you can have your say at a hearing in March, but this Saturday the Board will set the cap.

If you have never dug into a County Manager’s report, you could count yourself lucky. In this case, Attachment II of the report on the property tax rate provides a decade’s worth of history. Including 2015, the average homeowner’s annual tax bill has increased by $1,676 over the past 10 years.

If the current tax rate does not change, the average residential tax bill will go up $281 this year over last — the largest increase since 2006.

Today, the Manager sent out a press release indicating she would recommend no tax rate increase which is in line with the Board’s guidance to “present a balanced budget that assumes no increase in tax rates.” The Board can accept or ignore her recommendation to keep rates level. Best bet is the Board will not raise the rate. Whatever the Board decides, however, it will not impact Ms. Donnellan’s checkbook as she does not live in Arlington.

Two years ago, Patch reported on the salary for county employees. Roughly 1 in 10 earned $100,000 or more. In most places in America, this would be an above average sum. Not here in Arlington. So, it’s not surprising that a majority of county employees live outside of Arlington.

However, there is no reason that top county staff, most importantly the county manager, should not be required to live in Arlington. When Ms. Donnellan makes recommendations to the Board on what tax rates will be or any other important issue, it should be with a more personal perspective. That applies to the school superintendent as well — who already lives in Arlington voluntarily.

For the rest of county staff, the Board could use some objective income level as a standard to require residency, say 125 percent of the median income for the county, and phase-in the requirement for them as well. It would make an excellent addition to the budget.

Correction: The original version of the column said the average salary for a county employee was “north of $100,000.” That was an incorrect reading of the original Patch story. I regret the error

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

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