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County Board Approves 1.5-Cent Property Tax Hike

Arlington residents can expect to pay an extra $277 on average in property taxes after the County Board approved a 1.5-cent tax increase for fiscal year 2018.

The tax hike, less than the Board’s advertised maximum raise of 2 cents, will help fund Arlington Public Schools and Metro. APS will receive an extra $23.3 million, while Metro will get more than $14 million more, meaning Arlington’s contribution to its operating budget will be $71 million a year.

“This budget is a compromise and a consensus of the Board, and reflects the values of this community,” said Board Chair Jay Fisette. “The Board agreed to a modest increase in the property tax rate — less than the [County] Manager recommended — because of the extraordinary funding needs of Metro and our public schools.”

Residents will see several fees increase too. The household solid waste rate will increase by $6.88 a year to $314.16 annually, while the water/sewer rate will increase to $13.62 per thousand gallons. The Residential Utility Tax will see a hike too, while a new $60 accessory homestay permit fee has been added for those who wish to use services like Airbnb to let others stay in their homes.

The Board also hold a public hearing in May on proposed fare increases for Arlington Transit (ART) and Specialized Transportation for Arlington Residents (STAR), the county’s transit service for the disabled. Board members said increases are consistent with Metrobus fare increases, and would help with rising operating costs.

Also included in the $1.5 billion is an extra $1.3 million for the county’s Affordable Housing Investment Fund, taking its total in the budget to just over $15 million. The County Board also approved hiring seven new sheriff’s deputies, three more emergency call takers and three police patrol officers. The sheriff hirings will be phased over several years.

Among other programs to receive extra funding were the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization and the Lee Highway Alliance. The latter had been slated for a budget cut alongside other programs, but last month supporters spoke against that plan.

The Board also provided $100,000 to fund groups that help assist undocumented County residents, families with mixed immigration status and refugees.

At its meeting Saturday, Board members also gave the green light to a 3.5 percent pay increase for all county employees, including themselves. Under the plan, Board members’ pay would rise to $53,282, with the chair’s pay at $59,610.

Board member John Vihstadt (I) tried to separate discussion of other county employees’ raises from talk of Board members’ increases, as he said it would make the talks more transparent.

“I just find it a little anomalous that at the very time we are going to be imposing a fairly sizable property tax increase, which I am voting for, that we’re able to find the money ourselves to help us cope with that increase, but the community doesn’t have such a luxury or advantage,” he said. “I oppose us giving ourselves our own pay raise like this.”

But other Board members objected, and questioned why that issue was raised so late in the game.

“There were so many other important things that we dealt with, and this is 100 percent political posturing that is disappointing to me,” Fisette said. The pay raises passed together with Vihstadt’s abstaining, and he promised to donate the extra money he will receive to charity.

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