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The Right Note: The New Year, Part 2

by Mark Kelly January 12, 2017 at 1:15 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.

The fireworks from the January 3 County Board kick-off meeting were generated by the partisan efforts of the three lowest vote-getters on the Board during the Vice Chairman election. The remainder of the meeting went to script, except for the little noticed move to make it harder for Arlingtonians to request a public hearing on an agenda item.

As with every year, each Board member also made remarks outlining their thoughts for the upcoming year. You can find links to all five here. And the speeches could be summed up like this: “We have a tough job, but take heart, we’re doing it pretty well.”

While re-reading the rather predictable speeches, I began to ask: what would a majority of Board members say in their speeches if they were being completely honest with the people?

“Projecting the future is hard.”

Just ask the local meteorologist. Or ask the county staff which never gets the revenue projections right (the underestimates fuel the annual year-end spending spree). Or you can ask the School Board who for years operated under the projections that school enrollment before having to pivot and face rising projections. The truth is enrollment was almost certainly never going to get as low, and may not get as high, as projected.

The bottom line: the Board should let projections inform decisions, but they should never be the only thing that informs the decisions.

“We cannot exactly account for how every dollar of the County’s budget is spent.”

John Vihstadt has asked county staff for a detailed accounting of payments to all of the county’s consultants and contractors. So far, it sounds like staff is balking at putting a spreadsheet together for him.

“But we sure enjoy spending as much as we can get away with.”

Every year the Board points to budget shortfalls but still manages to increase spending, increase revenue and spend all of the hefty year-end surplus. And they come up with shiny object projects like a Georgetown gondola as new priorities while Metro continues to flounder.

“Regardless of the initiatives we point to, we will not solve the affordable housing issue.”

Board members talk about it every year as a priority, and every year fight a losing battle because they are up against immovable market forces. But hey, the Board did pass overly restrictive rules on accessory dwelling units and Airbnb.

“We plan to blame the Trump Administration for everything that goes wrong the next four years. And if a Republican is elected Governor of Virginia, some of it will be their fault too.”

Some on the Board have already hinted at this move. It almost certainly will happen.

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