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Peter’s Take: The Way Forward on FY 2016 Budgets

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 RousselotThe county manager and the Arlington Public Schools superintendent have released their proposed budgets. The County Board also advertised a proposed tax rate for calendar year 2015 that could be as much as 1.5 cents higher than the current rate.

Some of the major issues impacting the ability of citizens to participate effectively in public discussions about these budgets are the county’s funding level of APS and the real estate tax rate.

County Funding of APS

Under the “revenue sharing principles” adopted by both Boards in January:

The amount of the transfer to APS will initially be based upon the same percent of local tax revenue transferred to APS in the County’s last adopted budget. As budget deliberations continue, additional ongoing funding for critical needs identified by APS, including enrollment growth, will be a top funding priority.

Superintendent Patrick Murphy’s proposed budget identifies what the superintendent says are critical needs, which would cost $13.6 million more than the amount of shared revenue to which the county manager’s proposed budget commits. In addition, the superintendent’s budget identifies a set of specific APS budget cuts that are the ones the superintendent recommends if the County fails to provide APS with any additional revenue.

Citizens should participate in a constructive debate about whether the particular set of proposed cuts the Superintendent recommends are the best way in which to make up the identified $13.6 million shortfall. But, the Superintendent should be commended for proposing:

  • a specific set of cuts with dollars attached, and
  • a budget that reverses the growth trend in per-pupil expenditures

As I have written previously, the “percent of local tax revenue transferred to APS in the County’s last adopted budget” was too low. For that reason, combined with APS’s projected explosive enrollment growth, the county should provide the entire additional $13.6 million to APS.

The County Manager’s proposed budget fails to identify, specifically, the dollar savings that could be achieved by cutting particular programs or services.

The County Board should direct the county manager to identify for the Board’s and the public’s consideration at least one — and preferably more than one — set of cuts in county programs and services that could be made in order to make up the $13.6 million APS shortfall.

Real Estate Tax Rate

Property tax bills will rise in CY 2015 even if the County Board adopts the same property tax rate as last year’s.

The County Board should direct the County Manager to identify for the Board’s and the public’s consideration at least one — and preferably more than one — set of cuts in County programs and services that could be made if the Board votes to cut the real estate tax rate by 1.5 cents.

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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