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The Right Note: Aquatics Center Subsidies & Fees Still An Open Question

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.

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.

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Learn about the new assessment of Arlington’s urban tree canopy and the many ecological and social benefits trees provide. Staff from the Green Infrastructure Center (GIC) will share study results and compare canopy cover for different areas of Arlington.The webinar will include assessments of ecosystem services such as stormwater mitigation, air quality, carbon uptake, and urban heat islands. For background on Arlington trees see the “Tree Benefits: Growing Arlington’s Urban Forest” presentation at http://www.gicinc.org/PDFs/Presentation_TreeBenefits_Arlington.pdf.

Please register in advance to assure your place at the webinar, https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/29543206508863839.

About the Arlington County Civic Federation: The Arlington County Civic Federation (“ACCF”) is a not-for-profit corporation which provides a forum for civic groups to discuss, debate, inform, advocate and provide oversight on important community issues, on a non-partisan basis. Its members include over ninety civic groups representing a broad cross-section of the community. Communications, resolutions and feedback are regularly provided to the Arlington County Government.

The next meeting is on Tuesday, February 21,2023 at 7 pm. This meeting is open to the public and will be hybrid, in-person and virtually through Zoom. Part of the agenda will be a discussion and vote on a resolution “To Restore Public Confidence in Arlington County’s Governance”. For more information on ACCF and this meeting, go to https://www.civfed.org/.

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