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The Right Note: It’s Budget Week

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

After months of laying the groundwork to increase spending and raise taxes, Board members are set to increase the tax rate by two cents on top of rising assessments. The bottom line for the average Arlington homeowner is we will pay 5% more this year, roughly $400. As a bonus, it is retroactive to January 1st.

The Board could have worked harder to keep that tax increase lower. They didn’t. Despite the line that it gets easier budget wise next year, do not hold your breath that the tax and spending spree will slow down.

As noted in this space last week, the Board is slated to give the DEA an $11.5 million subsidy to stay in Arlington. According to the Sun Gazette, this item will be pulled from the consent agenda to be debated by the Board.

After all the hullaballoo over giving $23 million to Amazon out of the increased tax revenue the retailer is slated to generate, it is quite interesting that the Board attempted to slide the DEA subsidy under the radar. Maybe someone with a microphone will answer the question of what the net benefit to the county will be to keep the agency here.

Speaking of under the radar, as of writing this column, there is still no report available that outlines the compensation plan for county staff. Earlier this year, the Board quickly and quietly approved pay raises for the county manager, county attorney, clerk and auditor with no debate or public notice.

There is no doubt that Arlington’s elected officials and county staff operate in one of the most resource rich communities in the country. The unwillingness of county residents hold the County Board responsible for tax increases at the ballot box allows county officials to redefine what constitutes difficult budget choices and to pay for shiny objects (see Artisphere). It allows them to borrow money for routine infrastructure maintenance, much of which has been put off for too long. Last November, the County Board even granted the County Manager a $2 million slush fund to spend as he sees fit.

Where is the Board Member or county employee who asks “how could we build a budget that spends less?” Where is the commitment to identifying potential savings a thorough and expedited review of programs through a more robust County Auditor’s office?

Unfortunately, the answer to both questions seems to be “nowhere in sight.”

Mark Kelly is a 19-year Arlington resident, former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

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