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The Right Note: Time for a New Spending Philosophy

Mark KellyThe 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.

Much attention has been paid to the big ticket projects the County Board has shuttered over the past year. Those fiscally responsible decisions will save taxpayers millions and millions of dollars.

How the Board treats spending our tax dollars on the smaller projects and how they meet their obligations to ongoing basic services is equally, if not more, important to our long term fiscal health.

The most recent case in point was the reminder that the County Board had authorized $350,000 for an “art installation” on the Four Mile Run Trail side of the wastewater treatment plant. It is a given there is nothing pretty about the facility. But the new art does little to change the view as you are walking, running or biking by on the trail.

Earlier this year, the Board voted to build a $17.6 million ART bus facility that, according to their own press release, “. . . will not be large enough to meet all the County’s projected needs for ART facilities. It can house neither the entire existing ART fleet, nor accommodate all of the buses that will expand the fleet over the next decade.”

With that in mind, why not wait until you could identify a plan to build an adequately-sized facility all at once? The savings to the taxpayer of $57,000 a year, hardly justifies a $17.6 million outlay that will not meet all of our needs. At that rate, the facility will pay for itself in 308 years.

Neither of these items are as attention-getting as a $1 million bus stop or a $500 million trolley. But, they are made by the same elected officials who use the same philosophy of spending our money. That philosophy has not really changed for a majority of the Board, despite the rejection of the vanity projects by the voters one year ago.

The voters have another choice of who they send to the Board on Nov. 3. And the Board itself also has a big decision on who the next permanent County Manager will be.

No doubt there is value in the institutional knowledge of someone who has worked in Arlington for years. However, with three new Board Members being elected in the last 12 months and a new auditing function coming online, a fresh perspective in the Manager’s office is warranted as well. There is real value to be found in taking away any bias toward the way it has been done.

I have long held the position the next Manager should live in Arlington and live with the consequences of their advice and decisions. More importantly, the next Manager’s philosophy should approach every budget line item by asking if we should spend this taxpayer dollar, and if so, will we get the most bang for our buck?

A fresh set of eyes with a comprehensive approach to getting the big and little budget decisions right would serve Arlington well.

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