The Right Note: The Tax And Spend Cycle Endgame Is In Sight

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

Imagine you are building a new house. You live in Arlington, so you have a budget of $1 million. Your builder comes back to you and says for $1 million, you may have to cut a few things off your wish list.

Instead of marble tile in your bathrooms, you will have to go with another natural stone or maybe even ceramic. They are going to have to downgrade your hardwood floors and kitchen appliances slightly. And, you may only be able to finish half of the basement, so your media room may have to be a little bit smaller.

You may be disappointed you cannot get a little more for your money, but you take heart in the fact you still will have a brand new $1 million house to live in.

When the County Manager or County Board says they are making “difficult choices” in the budget, they are a lot like the person who can only get 98 percent of what they want in a new house.

To gain a dollars and cents perspective, let’s take a look back over the past three years.

Arlington’s total spending for FY 2015 was $1.479 billion.

The FY 2016 adopted budget was $1.486 billion, but the county actually spent $1.529 billion. The $41 million difference, or 2.7 percent spending increase, was accounted for in the budget closeout process.

For FY 2018, the County Manager proposed $1.604 billion. It looks like an increase of $125 million in just three years. However, the closeout process that would take place in November 2018 will move that number up by at least $25 million, not including the budget savings that will be available to spend. But the County Board essentially pretends every March that millions in excess revenue will not be available to spend in the closeout process every November, so this is nothing new.

As predicted, Arlingtonians flocked to the public hearing on Tuesday to oppose the County Manager’s “proposed cuts.” The County Board will now be able to say with a straight face, they heard from the community that the cuts — that were never going to happen anyway — are a non-starter.

Reining in the budget is just too difficult to do they will say. Property taxes must, therefore, must go up by the full 5 percent.

The cycle that began when the Board spent the FY 2016 closeout dollars last November will soon be complete.

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