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The Right Note: Planning Now to Move Forward

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

We are all feeling the effects of this extended mandatory coronavirus isolation.

It may be as simple as a canceled birthday party or missing the senior year of a spring high school sport. Some may have lost a job or fear losing a job. You or someone you know may be sick. Or you may have experienced the tragic loss of life of someone close to you from COVID-19.

Our elected leaders here in Arlington are dealing with all of the practical effects of governing through uncertainty. They are tackling the “must do” items that come with an unprecedented public health emergency.

Now we are seeing some encouraging signs that mitigation is working and the rate of spread is slowing, even with ramped-up testing. Over the past week, the University of Washington model dramatically reduced the time for Virginia to reach peak hospital usage from May 17 to April 20.

In other words, we may be seeing some of the first signs of light at the end of the tunnel. This reminds us that we need our leaders to find a path forward after the crisis has lifted.

Our government structure in America is set up to make local government the most important in assessing and addressing the immediate needs of the people it serves. While it may be awhile before we are fully back to normal, hopefully our local leaders are keeping one eye on what’s next.

We are in the middle of an interrupted annual budget season in Arlington. Yesterday, County Manager Mark Schwartz presented a revised budget to the County Board that would reportedly reduce spending by $56 million. Here are five suggestions as they continue to make plans for moving forward past this crisis.

Plan for the best case scenario first. If we are able to begin to resume normalcy on May 1 or May 15 or June 1, then what would that look like in Arlington?

  1. Scrub the county budget again to remove any more “nice to have” items that can wait for one, two or even five years. Arlingtonians have come to appreciate the essentials in life over the past three weeks, we are ok if the government does the same.
  2. Give individuals and businesses a substantial property tax rate cut to help our local economy get back on its feet faster. A rate cut of ten cents for one year would make a real difference.
  3. Dip into the rainy day funds to pay for things we need now. We set this money aside for an emergency. A once-in-a-century pandemic should qualify.
  4. Put forward a plan to bring down our long term debt to revenue ratio by 10 to 20 percent, so that we have some breathing room to protect our bond rating moving forward.

Finally, please take a positive and hopeful approach as you plan. Do not waste time pointing fingers or attempting to assign political blame in these uncertain times. Just get the job done for the people you serve.

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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