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The Right Note: It’s Budget Week

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 KellyEach year, somewhere around the time in between when your federal and state taxes are due here in Virginia, the Arlington County Board passes its budget. While the final vote will be on Tuesday, many of the decisions will be made at tonight’s final work session where the Board will “mark-up” the budget with the county manager.

Unlike Congress, Arlington is bound by law to pass a budget that is balanced. Many of us are unhappy with the resulting tax increase we pay each and every year, and we may argue our debt levels need to see some additional scrutiny. But, at least our Board must be prepared for the consequences of a vote to raise taxes in order to pay for any additional spending and debt service they propose.

One item in particular to watch on Tuesday, is whether the Board will adopt the recommendation of the county manager, and most fiscal watchdogs, to end the failed Artisphere experiment. It was a prime example of over-promising and under-delivering on an unneeded vanity project.

We will also know whether the Board will raise our taxes, just not as much, by slightly lowering our tax rate again. Will they vote to raise our taxes by holding the rate level? Or, will they completely reverse course from last year and raise our taxes even more than anticipated by passing the rate as advertised?

A safe bet is the Board will hold the rates level. Based on the fact that once again very few showed up to protest the tax rate increase at the late March public hearing, most Arlingtonians seem resigned to believe they have little real say in the decision.

One of the handful of those who spoke at the hearing did remind the Board that many Arlingtonians find that their incomes are simply not rising as fast as their taxes. And, of course that many in Arlington are retired and on fixed incomes. His larger point was that too many Arlingtonians who have owned their homes for years are finding the taxes increasingly difficult to pay.

In his remarks, he also called for a cap on real estate taxes for long-time Arlington residents. It is an interesting idea that merits a second look, particularly for those aging in place on fixed incomes.

And finally, the Board’s Saturday agenda includes a proposal to reduce the penalty if a real estate tax bill is paid less than 30 days after its due. This proposal to lower the penalty for those who pay within 30 days from 10 percent to 5 percent makes sense. Provide an incentive to pay on time but also a grace period of sorts for those who may have missed the deadline for what could be a very good reason.

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

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