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Peter’s Take: What the County Board Should Do in 2018

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

The Arlington County government’s best estimate is that Arlington will have 55,300 more residents in 2040 (278,100) than we have now (222,800). Where will they live? How well will Arlington serve them and at what cost?

Discussion

This 25 percent population increase will require many substantial investments in new or refurbished core public infrastructure. We should make those investments.

However, although Arlington is a wealthy community that can invest in many things, Arlington cannot afford to invest in every possible thing.

Arlington’s investment requirements extend well beyond the 2028 end date of the next- scheduled capital improvement plan.

In 2018, we should place a renewed emphasis on longer-term planning. We should evaluate alternative options using the best available longer-term financial modeling software. Longer-term forecasts are subject to greater potential for error. But, the solution is to be flexible, not to refuse to develop and publish the forecasts.

In this column, I’ll summarize some of the initiatives that the County should pursue in 2018:

Growth and Development

  1. Project-specific impact statements: As the Community Facilities Study Group recommended, Arlington should prepare project-specific impact statements for each special-exception site plan project. Anyone claiming that Arlington lacks the legal power to do this (e.g., the County Attorney) should be required to publish their detailed legal reasoning for review by independent legal experts.
  2. Broaden community benefits categories: Arlington should broaden the scope of the “community benefits” it asks developers to provide as part of applicable projects. Community benefits should include compensation for the costs of incremental school enrollment directly attributable to the project. Again, anyone claiming that Arlington lacks the legal authority to do this (e.g., the County Attorney) should be required to publish their detailed legal reasoning for review by independent legal experts.
  3. Parks: Many practices at the Department of Parks and Recreation need a complete makeover:
  • compliance with County environmental policies concerning maintenance and capital projects
  • stop installing new facilities until you can adequately maintain existing facilities
  • much larger budget for (a) maintaining existing facilities, (b) tree canopy retention and restoration and (c) land acquisition
  • civic engagement

Fiscal Responsibility

  1. Longer-term financial modeling: Develop financial projections out to 2040 for both capital and operating budget spending, utilizing at least three assumptions: most likely case; optimistic case(s); pessimistic case(s). Publish the results and assumptions. Setting priorities in the context of this kind of data-driven information regarding what the County (and APS) are likely to be able to afford is a vital part of longer-term planning.
  2. To protect affordability, maintain stability in property tax rates.

Openness and Transparency

  1. Open data portal: Arlington must pick up the pace to rectify the many serious shortcomings that residents already have identified in Arlington’s open data portal. Arlington has a lot to learn from the more effective and informative open data portals used in other jurisdictions like Montgomery County.
  2. Consent agenda: Relax the rules for the County Board’s public comment period to permit members of the public to speak on consent agenda items.

Conclusion

The Arlington County government should make greater use of longer-term planning. Arlington needs to demonstrate to the public that it has fiscally-sustainable longer-term plans to accommodate the substantial population growth and development that Arlington says will occur between now and 2040.

Next week, I’ll summarize more initiatives.

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