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.

Last week Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz unveiled the proposed budget for the next fiscal year. The budget includes a record $550 million for Arlington Public Schools. It also includes raises for all Arlington County staff, including larger raises for public safety employees. And it grants more paid family leave as well as increases dependent care benefits.

The budget also includes the first of what is proposed to be three annual, and substantial, pay increases for County Board members. The goal is to increase the Board’s pay from about $57,000 to $90,000 by fiscal year 2023.

Last June the Board voted to raise the pay cap to that level, but was careful to remind us at the time that the vote did not actually increase their salaries. They suggested that just because they raised the cap, they may not raise their salaries all the way to the new cap.

While they are not raising the salaries to the new cap all at once, the Board is using the annual budget process to increase their pay without taking a separate vote on it. While the annual budget move was widely expected at the time, it is disappointing that the Board does not have the political courage to go on the record with an up or down vote on the raise itself.

Tonight, the County Board will vote on what tax rates to advertise in the lead up to an April 2nd public hearing. County Manager Schwartz suggested no tax rate increase. In the past, however, the Board has often advertised a higher rate than the County Manager’s proposal. While some Board Members would welcome more revenue to spend, advertising a higher rate is often done in the name of “flexibility.”

After increasing the tax rate by two cents last year and increasing spending by more than 6%, the Board may not even feint at going for more this time around. Tax revenue is already projected to be up by 4.6% in the Manager’s proposal. The average homeowner will already see their tax bill go up by 4.3%, or about $400 if you own the typical single-family home.

And we know that based on past practice of underestimating revenue, that revenue will almost certainly climb by as much as 2% higher than the current projection. When paired with the fact that the county regularly does not spend all it budgets, tens of millions of dollars will available to spend again this year in the annual closeout process. You can read more about it here or here or here.

While the Board has been engaging in the practices of carrying over a larger portion of these closeout funds to offset the next year’s spending, they should consider giving taxpayers a break on the front end. Tonight the Board should advertise a rate decrease of the two cents they charged us last year. If they cannot find just $200 of tax relief for the taxpayers in the budget, then they should put their plans to raise their own pay by more than $30,000 over the next three years back on the shelf.

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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