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The Right Note: Six Questions for the Next Budget Roundtable

The 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.

Arlington is hosting community discussions around the county through the end of the month where up to 25 county residents can offer input into the budget process each time.

If you cannot make a forum, the county is seeking input online. (As of the time I submitted this piece, there had been no ideas submitted on the website, so you could be one of the first.)

When you click through to the online input page, the first question you will be greeted with is: “To what extent do you believe Arlington residents and businesses would be willing to pay more for services or programs through taxes or fees?”

According to the county, the average household pays $8,582 in taxes and fees now. Maybe the better question is, do you feel like the county is giving you what you pay for?

To be fair, the other prompted question is: “What, if any, services or programs, could be reduced, if necessary?”

With the desire for input in mind, here are six questions that county staff should answer during the roundtables:

1) Do you consider slowing the projected growth rate of spending in a program to be a reduction or cut, even if spending actually goes up year over year?

2) What specifically in the formula used to forecast revenue causes the county to underestimate tax collections each and every year?

3) With reserves more than adequately funded, why is that excess tax revenue not returned immediately to taxpayers?

4) In addition to extra tax revenue, the closeout process spends tens of millions of dollars each year. Many Arlingtonians feel like the county treats the closeout process like a slush fund. Why does nothing on the county’s Budget Fact Sheet talk about the closeout process?

5) While school enrollment continues to go up, it is not up as much as projected when Arlington Public Schools created its budget. Last year, enrollment was projected to increase by 1,176 students in the budget, but only increased by 914 students. This year, enrollment was projected to increase by 1,124 students, but has only increased by 789 students. Does the county work with APS to ensure money saved from the lower actual enrollment is reallocated to next year’s budget to ease the burden on county taxpayers?

6) The county’s closeout process occurs after the enrollment figures are known, but always allocates additional money to APS. Does the county require any accountability measures or evaluate additional budget needs before allocating money to the schools each year in the closeout process?

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