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The Right Note: Audits and Bonds

by Mark Kelly June 14, 2018 at 3:45 pm 0

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.

The County Board this week will vote on the new work plan for the County Auditor. The Auditor is proposing to look at county procurement practices, the use of Economic Development Incentive Funds and the operation of Business Improvement Districts.

The new work plan is certainly more aggressive than the old work plan, and we should be cautiously optimistic about the final work product on these issues. At the same time, we should continue to ask why the County Board is so hesitant to move even faster. If this process is a priority, they should fund it like one.

Speaking of watching where our taxpayer dollars are going, the County Manager delivered a warning to the School Board to keep their proposals for the next 10-year Capital Improvement Plan in check. The Manager said the county would need to trim $45-55 million from its side of the plan over the next five years based on a draft proposal for the schools, something the Board seems unwilling to do at this time.

If the County Board is looking for where to cut, here is a suggestion: look to the $46.75 million for “ongoing maintenance programs” in the proposed 2018 bond referenda items.

Why is ongoing maintenance included in an infrastructure investment plan in the first place? Maintenance should be a part of the annual operating budget.

It is like taking a mortgage out on your home, then refinancing and adding to your debt to pay for the house to be repainted or to put in a new dishwasher. Most homeowners rightly budget for ongoing maintenance rather than take on more long-term debt. Arlington County should do the same.

Knowing the County Board would never consider taking the entire $46.75 million out of the bond request, here is a proposed compromise: leave the $21.36 million in the bond to pay for road paving over the next two years, then figure out a way to pay for the remaining $25.39 million in maintenance without adding to our debt.

Not only is it basic common sense, but the Board would be wise to look for ways to keep its long-term obligations in check now so as not to threaten the 10 percent debt service threshold down the road.

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