Arlington, VA

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.

On the County Board agenda this past week was the County Manager’s recommendations on closeout spending for this year. The manager recommended that $16.5 million be set aside to offset next year’s budget.

This is certainly better than spending all of it now and causing tax rates to go even higher next year. However, the proposal still falls short of where we need to be.

The county manager is already previewing that he will ask County Board members for a tax rate increase in 2019. It will be necessary, he says, to address the $78 million “shortfall” for next year.

The schools are slated to receive $10 million to spend now in the closeout process. This money should be set aside to address a shortfall next year they project could be as much as $43 million.

The manager opted to recommend an increase in the county reserves from 5 percent to 5.5 percent. There is no demonstrable need to do so. Once again, millions more in revenue came in during the last fiscal year than was projected.

This was totally predictable, as it happens year after year. Just as the county does not spend its entire budget, year after year. In other words, next year’s budget “crunch” will also not be as dire as the county manager is predicting — just like it wasn’t this year. So, the $6.4 million added to the reserves should instead be set aside for next year.

Finally, the county manager recommended he receive a $2 million contingency fund to spend as he sees fit. Included as examples of items the manager could spend this money on is an airport noise study and a parking permit study.

It goes without saying that these are not emergencies, particularly if the budget is really “crunched.” There is no reason the County Board cannot approve these expenditures in a supplemental fashion. The County Board should reject this slush fund and set it aside for next year.

With all of this in mind, the County Board should modify the manager’s proposal. In total, $34.9 million from this year’s closeout funding should be used to pay for next year’s budget. That would cut the “gap” nearly in half without raising the tax rate one penny or making any cuts.

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