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The Right Note: A Good Reason to Change the Way We Bond

Mark Kelly

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.

It appears Arlington County is throwing a lifeline to the mothballed aquatics center at Long Bridge Park by floating the idea of a partnership with Alexandria. The pool project went on the shelf after the funding from a bond increase in 2012 still could not cover the projected bid.

Arlington not only needs a partner to cover the construction costs, but also what could be as much as a $4.3 million annual operating deficit.

The last round of bond funding included authorization for $42.5 million of the $79.3 million, at the time, projected to be needed to construct the facility. Many critics in 2012 called for such a large bond sum to be voted on separately from other parks and recreation funding. But the bond passed comfortably under the heading of “Local Parks and Recreation” not “$42.5 million for aquatics center.”

The County Board then issued $10-12 million in bonds to cover anticipated construction costs in 2013. We are paying interest on those bonds but the money is sitting idle.

Fast forward to today. Arlington Republicans are circulating a petition to call on the county to stop future bundling of bonds issues.

Specifically, the petition calls “on the Arlington County Board to commit to presenting stand alone bond referenda for projects that would represent more than 50% of the amount of the bond referendum dollar amount or authorize $25M or more in total project spending.”

Simply put, if the Arlington County Board committed to this course of action moving forward, they would have to let the funding for big ticket projects rise or fall solely on their own merit.

It still would be a tall order to defeat a bond question in Arlington. One could argue that all projects would still pass and move forward, particularly if they secured a positive recommendation on the Democrats’ sample ballot.

However, in the case of a project without widespread public support, it would require the County Board to at the very least debate its merits. Voters could decide if $80 million was too much to pay for a new swimming complex or not. That really is not too much to ask of our elected officials when it is our tax dollars that have to pay for it.

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