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The Right Note: Budget Dance Continues

by Mark Kelly — March 16, 2017 at 1:45 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.

At the last County Board meeting, John Vihstadt proposed that the County Manager outline possible budget cuts to avoid the maximum advertised tax increase. This “radical” idea was meant to ensure the average homeowner’s tax increase was capped at 4 percent instead of the maximum advertised 5 percent (when you combine assessment increases with the proposed tax rate increase).

In response, County Manager Mark Schwartz produced proposed $11.1 million in possible budget cuts this week.

Included in Mr. Schwartz’s statement about the cuts was an emphasis on maintaining the proposed increase in support for Metro. And, Schwartz warned Metro could receive even more.

This comes in the face of a report this week that Metro’s management decisions are once again under fire, this time for its failures regarding the SafeTrack project. According to The Washington Post report, “With better planning, GAO officials said, Metro could have identified opportunities to conduct work more efficiently, reduce disruptions for riders and local jurisdictions, or saved money.”

At some point, the people paying the bills for Metro need to stand up and call for a fundamental reorganization of the system. Arlington could lead the way.

Back to the proposed County Manager’s optional cuts. Many were for newly created positions – almost certainly selected to sound “bad.” No new school nurse, no new sheriff’s deputies, no new ethics attorney and even an existing mental health supervisor would be eliminated, to name a few.

The proposed cuts could also ding road paving, new street lights and even some library hours.

Finally, the proposal calls for the school budget to be reduced by a little over $5 million.

The County Manager’s “cuts” are designed to make taxpayers believe there are few desirable options when it comes to trimming the budget. This of course is not true as has been outlined in this space multiple times. Unfortunately, while Mr. Vihstadt was trying to help taxpayers by giving the County Board options, this exercise may have simply bolstered the Board’s move to raise the tax rate.

As the County continues to move through the budget process, Arlingtonians should keep this Arlington Magazine article on the difficulties homeowners face when dealing with zoning regulations in mind. While Arlington seems to be getting a little better with resolving permitting issues, including improvements to older homes, it points out how the County has not always made basic government services enough of a priority.

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