All five members of the Arlington County Board were on hand last night for the ARLnow event at the Celtic House on Columbia Pike. It was a pleasure to share the forum with fellow columnists Peter Rousselot and Larry Roberts to discuss issues facing the county.
If you missed it, here are a few of the points I made to the questions our panel received:
- The decision to stop the streetcar project is still a good one. It would have done nothing to improve traffic on the Pike at a massive cost to the taxpayers.
- Using the influence of our seat on the WMATA Board to fundamentally reform Metro should be our highest transit priority.
- Parents and teachers need to stop buying into the notion that increasing class sizes by just 1-2 pupils will somehow destroy their children’s education. It is a step that may be required to get through the short-term as we address the capacity crunch in the county.
- Without dramatic increases in taxpayer subsidies or dramatic increases in density, the county will always be fighting a losing battle to make housing more affordable. Arlington has a limited amount of prime real estate available, and the laws of supply and demand will continue to prevail.
- Few people, especially those with children, are going to walk to a new Long Bridge aquatics center. Supporters should eliminate it from their talking points in support of the project.
I did miss an opportunity during the aquatics center discussion to make a pitch for reforming the way bonds voted on in Arlington. Big projects like the aquatics center should be voted on as stand alone questions, not tucked into other bond projects.
As you might imagine, because of the time constraints, we did not get to all of the possible topics suggested to us by the staff at ARLnow.
What should the County Board have done on taxes? After the average out-of-pocket costs for taxpayers has increased $1,113 the past five years, the County Board should have taken a more aggressive approach to reducing the tax rate than just a half-cent reduction. The excess revenue spent every year during the closeout process proves there is room to provide tax relief without cutting any fat, let alone muscle in the budget. A two cent reduction in the rate this year would have simply reduced the funds available at closeout time this year by about $10.5 million over what the Board approved.
Does Arlington have a crime problem? No. But public safety is one of the big three in terms of core services along with education and infrastructure (includes transportation). It should always be treated as one of our highest priorities and given the resources law enforcement needs.
How should Arlington plan to handle infrastructure needs for an increased population over the long term? From potholes to sewer lines, investing in ongoing maintenance of and improvements to our existing infrastructure should always trump new “shiny object” projects.