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Peter’s Take: Putting the ‘Community’ Back in Community Infrastructure

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.

One of the four bond referenda on the November 6 ballot is the so-called “community infrastructure” bond valued at roughly $37 million.

What’s in this bond?

This bond is a grab bag containing a wide variety of seemingly unrelated projects.

The largest dollar components are:

  • $14 million for construction of Fire Station 8,
  • $8 million for facilities maintenance capital improvements (including design and construction of roofs, electrical and heating/cooling systems and other facilities infrastructure) in county libraries, community and recreation centers, and other county buildings.

This bond’s proceeds also will fund:

  • the Nauck Town Square project,
  • assessments, renovations & improvements to other government facilities,
  • Neighborhood Conservation projects and other County infrastructure projects. (The Neighborhood Conservation Program provides funding for a variety of neighborhood-identified capital improvement projects including street improvements (sidewalk, curb and gutter, drainage, paving), traffic management and pedestrian enhancements, park improvements, street lighting, recreational facilities, landscaping, and beautification.)

Enhancing the community’s role

I plan to vote for this bond.

But, the next time around, the County needs a new approach that enhances the role of the community in deciding what community infrastructure investments to make.

Community infrastructure investments should be designed to benefit the community. The community, not the County government, should have the greater say in deciding which community infrastructure investments to make. The community should be extensively consulted at every important stage as to what its priorities are for spending our limited tax dollars.

Discussing how much money is available to spend

Community consultation should begin by sharing and discussing with the community important long-term financial planning information that will determine the total dollars available for all kinds of investments including community infrastructure.

The Arlington County government should develop multi-year financial projections for both capital and operating budget spending, utilizing at least three assumptions: most likely case; optimistic case(s); pessimistic case(s). The results and assumptions should be published and shared with the community.

The community should help to set priorities, including the total amount of money the community would like to spend on community infrastructure.

Capital vs. operating funding

Best municipal financing practices suggest that it is inappropriate to use bond financing to pay for assets with expected useful lives that are significantly shorter than the repayment schedules of the bond proceeds used to purchase those assets. Yet, with respect to a substantial number of the community infrastructure assets that form part of this bond, the assets proposed for purchase have much shorter useful lives than the related bond repayment schedules.

Next time around, we should use operating not capital dollars to pay for assets with these shorter useful lives.

Example of flood mitigation

In several recent columns, I have explained why the county government needs to increase its investments in community infrastructure designed to protect its residents against flood damage.

In Arlington’s Waverly Hills neighborhood, three flood mitigation projects previously included in earlier versions of Arlington’s Capital Improvement Plan were dropped from that plan due to lack of funds.

The community should be given an opportunity to weigh in on whether to increase expenditures for flood mitigation and, if necessary, what other community infrastructure projects should be cut to enable such an increase. 

Conclusion

The community should have a greater say regarding community infrastructure spending. The community should be provided with more of the information it needs to make informed decisions.

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