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The Right Note: Our New County Manager

by Mark Kelly — February 4, 2016 at 1:30 pm 0

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.

In every press release, Arlington refers to itself as a “world-class residential, business and tourist location”. It ends the standard paragraph with “Arlington stands out as one of America’s preeminent places to live, visit and do business.” It is easy to find support for that statement and fault with it, depending on who you talk to in Arlington.

Our main economic engine, the federal government, is not going out of business any time soon. The question is, will Arlington put itself in a position to maximize the health of our economy to withstand any BRAC-like changes in the future? And, will it do it by empowering businesses to grow rather than by taxpayer-funded shiny objects like streetcars, swimming pools and gondolas?

Now that Mark Schwartz* is our County Manager, I hope he will accept the challenge to look at every aspect of Arlington’s budget and ongoing day-to-day operations. If he takes a reform-minded approach rather than embracing the status quo, we will all be better off for it.

Over the next two weeks Schwartz and his team will put the finishing touches on the Manager’s proposed budget.

If you read the Budget Guidance from the County Board, it does represent a fairly fiscally responsible path forward. No tax rate increase. Consider tax rate cuts if revenues exceed 2.4% in growth. Present options for program reductions or eliminations as well as for the elimination of duplication and inefficiencies, including partnerships with the school system.

The Board has been known to ignore its own guidance before, and could very well do it again, but this is a good place to start.

The Manager should also put in the FY 2017 budget proposal parameters for closeout spending. What projects does he support spending extra revenue on or would he support giving that money back to the taxpayers? By doing so, the closeout process would be subject to the same scrutiny in public budget hearings as every other line item in the budget.

Finally, the Manager should also give a detailed report on the revenue estimating process. As noted in this column multiple times, revenues in recent history have without fail been underestimated when the budget is passed. This is what gives the Board the opportunity to spend tens of millions each year in the closeout process.

Speaking of the Budget, A Word on Bikes

When it comes to the Bikeshare program in the region, it seems few people care deeply about it as an issue. But the ones who do have extremely strong opinions on it, on both sides. Whether you’re for it or against it, one thing is for sure, eventually it’s cheaper to buy every Bikeshare member their own bike and lock.

*Last week I failed to properly proofread my column and referred to Mark Schwartz as “Michael”. For those who missed the correction, my apologies again for the error.

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