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The Right Note: Kicking Off the Year, Part 1

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 Jan. 2, the County Board held its organizational meeting for 2019 with speeches from each County Board member outlining their priorities for the year. Today, I will focus on the remarks from our current Chairman Christian Dorsey as well as our outgoing Chair Katey Cristol.

Christian Dorsey was elected to take the center seat as chairman for 2019. Early in his remarks, Dorsey did what was expected, set the stage for why a tax rate increase would be necessary, primarily blaming a “depressed” tax base, primarily because of a low commercial vacancy rate.

To translate for people who do not follow county budgets, our “depressed” tax base continues to produce tens of millions of dollars in additional revenue each and every year.

Nevertheless, desired county spending continues to outpace our growing revenue. The county, Dorsey said, would practice austerity to make up for this gap. Austerity is a word that makes one think the county will take extreme steps to reduce spending, but that is unlikely. What is extremely likely is that the county will not reduce spending enough to avoid a tax rate increase.

Dorsey did move on to the theme for his year as chairman. The word for the year was clearly “equity.” Dorsey argued we needed to put our words and commitment to equity into practice for all Arlingtonians. Unfortunately, Dorsey did not lay out exactly what success would look like a year from now on this front.

Cristol, who should get some sort of credit for working the word “crystalized” into her speech, offered two constructive suggestions to compliment what Chairman Dorsey had to say.

First, she suggested reforming our zoning code to increase the types of housing that could be available to meet our long term needs for people of all income levels. Those reforms should also include making it easier and cheaper to make your way through the permitting and construction process.

Cristol also suggested that the county use data to measure the progress it makes in all of its goals, particularly when it comes to equity.

A data-driven approach is 100 percent in line with the transparency and accountability that is promised by our County Board. It also fits right in with the time of year we are in where we are thinking about our resolutions and goals for the new year. If you have gone through the planning process with your business, you know this: if it’s not measurable, it’s not a real goal.

I look forward to how Cristol works with county staff to turn this idea into reality.

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