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The Right Note: New Year’s Tradition on Tap

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.

Tomorrow, the Arlington County Board members will renew the annual tradition of previewing their priorities for the year. Unfortunately, the speeches can often be compared to a New Year’s resolution to go to the gym.

Before the speeches begin, the Board will need to elect a new Chairman. In recent history, the Vice Chairman has moved up to the center chair. But last year, Walter Tejada served in that role before announcing his retirement.

Theoretically, it would be Libby Garvey’s “turn” as she has not chaired the Board in any of her first three full years. But Garvey’s rocky relationship with the Arlington Democrats makes it far from a sure thing, particularly if there is an aspiring challenger waiting in the wings to run in the June primary.

As a fan of the occasional political drama, here’s hoping we have a surprise tomorrow and John Vihstadt is elected Chairman. Think the Democrats would never do it? David Foster pulled it off as a Republican with four other Democrats on the School Board.

What four things can you expect to hear about for sure from the Board?

Spending reform. As the Board wrapped up 2015, Vihstadt and Garvey called for reforms in the closeout spending process where tens of millions is spent with little public input late each year. It is unlikely their desire to change that process has gone away, nor should it.

Reducing the commercial vacancy rate. It may be a new year, but it is the same old story on this subject. The Board pats itself on the back for spending money on economic development, but has done little to change any underlying policies in the county to attract businesses.

Affordable housing. This issue rose to the top as candidates sought to replace Hynes and Tejada. Housing is expensive, and the Board has been unable to do anything to repel market forces in the county. Real estate principles aside, we are likely to hear how optimistic this new Board is on the subject.

School capacity. You cannot run for office in Arlington without talking about how challenging it is to meet the needs of our schools. Yes, our schools are a core function of local government. Yes, we have a capacity problem. But, having nearly $22,000 to spend per child means they are challenges we are able to meet.

Here are two things you shouldn’t hear, but might.

Everything that’s wrong in Arlington is not our fault. This familiar refrain from some on the Board all-too-often blames Washington and Richmond — usually Republicans — for county woes. With two newcomers to the Board, hopefully they will strike a new tone.

We had to/have to make tough choices. Year after year revenues and expenditures rise in Arlington. Our Board does not know what tough choices really look like, unless you count whether to try and spend $80 million on an aquatics center or half-a-billion on a streetcar.

And there is one thing you are unlikely to hear tomorrow.

Your taxes are going down.

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