A soon as possible after it takes office on Jan. 1, the new County Board needs to make a series of important decisions regarding recommendations in the final report submitted by the Community Facilities Study Group (CFSG). As explained below, these decisions involve both substance and process.
The CFSG highlighted five pressing community challenges:
- A scarcity of land for public facilities — Just 2.2 square miles of Arlington’s 26 square miles are public land owned by the County or APS. That public land is needed for schools, fire stations, community centers, storage and maintenance facilities and more.
- Changing demographics — Arlington’s population is projected to grow from 216,700 today to 283,000 in 2040. School enrollment is expected to exceed 30,000 students by 2024.
- A threatened commercial tax base — A shrinking federal presence, shifts in the way businesses use office space, and a competitive regional market have combined to push office vacancy rates to a historic high in Arlington.
- Strategic facility planning and priority setting — The County needs a clear and open structure for setting priorities among competing needs.
- Revamping the community dialogue — To reach all members of our community, Arlington needs to make participation easier, earlier, and more meaningful.
In accepting the CFSG report, the current County and School Boards directed their staffs to present initial responses no later than Feb. 2016, followed by community feedback and formal staff recommendations due by Sept. 2016. Under the current schedule, both Boards then are supposed to “reconvene” with the CFSG by the end of 2016.
One of the most important issues the new County Board needs to address ASAP is the conflict between the current schedule to review the CFSG report and the traditional schedule to adopt Arlington’s next 10-year capital improvement plan (CIP). Under past practice, the next CIP is due for adoption in summer 2016.
But, the current County Board has just approved a timetable for review of the CFSG report that strongly suggests that the new County Board will not be ready to address the last two of the five pressing community challenges identified by the CFSG — priorities and transparency — until well after the new County Board actually has adopted the next CIP.
It is incongruous that the new County Board actually would make major decisions regarding what is likely to be a $3 billion, 10-year capital improvement plan without first agreeing upon and then utilizing, the types of priorities recommended by the CFSG.
To enable setting priorities, the new County Board should design a transparent 2016 CIP process that mandates:
- financial modeling of appropriate alternative development scenarios, and
- alternative capital cost assumptions for individual major capital projects.