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Peter’s Take: What the County Board Should Do in 2017

Peter RousselotPeter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

As 2017 looms, the Arlington County government’s best estimate (Profile 2016) is that Arlington will have 63,000 more residents in 2040 (283,000) than we have now (220,000).

That 29% population increase will require substantial investments in new or refurbished core public infrastructure. These investment requirements will extend well beyond the 2026 end date of our current Capital Improvement Plan (CIP).

Discussion

Arlington prides itself on planning. Writing in last week’s Progressive Voice column, Joseph Leitmann-Santa Cruz aptly recommended “a special emphasis on long range planning.” I agree.

Longer-term forecasts are subject to greater potential for error. But, flexible longer-term plans can be adjusted as new information becomes available. Flexible longer-term plans are better than no longer-term plans.

Here are 8 of the initiatives that the County Board should pursue in 2017:

FINANCE

  1. Longer-term financial modeling: Develop financial projections out to 2040 for both capital and operating budget spending, utilizing at least 3 assumptions: most likely case; optimistic case(s); pessimistic case(s). Publish the results and the assumptions. Invite community input, and publicize what the community says.
  2. Revise the CIP process: While retaining the current practice of formally adopting a new CIP every other year, develop and publish revised CIP projections in the “off” years (e.g., 2017) to show the impact of significant changes since the prior year’s CIP was adopted. Invite and publicize community feedback.
  3. To protect affordability, maintain stability in property tax rates.

GROWTH AND DEVELOPMENT

  1. Project-specific impact statements: As the Community Facilities Study Group recommended, prepare project-specific impact statements for each special-exception site plan development project. Reject the myth that Arlington lacks the legal power to require such statements.
  2. Revise Community Benefits Allocation: Link the allocation of “community benefits” to the demonstrable impacts on community services and infrastructure as revealed by the project specific impact statements. In all appropriate cases, community benefits should include compensation from the developer for the costs of incremental school enrollment directly attributable to the project.

SCHOOLS

  1. New Arlington high school: Collaborate with APS on APS’ existing plan to decide by October 2017 whether the next new Arlington HS should be a comprehensive HS or a choice HS. Our current CIP is based on the assumption that we will need 1300 new HS seats by 2026. However, if it were to turn out that our best population growth estimate suggests a need for 2000 new HS seats by 2032, how should that 2032 estimate impact our 2017 decision? What is the relative public demand for individual, specialized HS programs vs. comprehensive HS programs?
  2. Lower per-seat costs of new school construction: Jointly with APS, adopt appropriate revisions to the design standards and community review processes for constructing future new schools, utilizing a mandated specific percentage numerical target for per-seat cost-cutting (say, 25% less per-seat than recent new schools).

PARKS

  1. Adopt specific numerical targets for new parkland acquisition: To keep pace with population growth, formally commit to acquiring 3 acres per year for new parkland.

Conclusion

The Arlington County government should make greater use of longer-term planning. Arlington needs to demonstrate to the public that it has fiscally-sustainable plans to accommodate the substantial development and population growth that Arlington says will occur between now and 2040.

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

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