We were reminded this week that Arlington County still has no concrete estimates when it comes to operating costs or potential user fees for the new aquatics center. The study to determine those costs only began in earnest only after the Board voted to move forward with the project. It was not completed before they voted to move forward with construction, and will not be completed until sometime in 2019.
There are two things to watch for here. In the near term, we will find out whether the results of the study produce costs in line with the estimates provided by county staff last fall. In the long term, we will see whether the actual costs outpace the new estimates.
The million-dollar bus stop woke up the community to the escalating costs of the streetcar. The failure of the county to meet expectations on the taxpayer subsidy for the Artisphere ultimately doomed that project. Unlike the Artisphere, Arlington will not be able to divest itself from the new pool complex. If costs outpace estimates, either taxpayers will be on the hook or user fees will increase dramatically. Neither would be a popular outcome.
John Vihstadt raised the operating cost issue last November and voted against moving forward then. One plausible explanation for the other four Board members who supported the project is a total lack of confidence that a dollar figure produced from further study would not far exceed the $1.1 million annual subsidy found in the staff estimates. They certainly did not want any public pressure to account for higher ongoing costs before committing $60 million to the project.
The bottom line is that this work should have been completed before the initial vote last November so the Board could have taken this information into account. Surely it should have been done by this summer when the Board took the final vote to break ground on the project.
This is not the way the county should do business when it comes to making long-term budget commitments.