Arlington, VA

The Arlington County Board today adopted a budget for the coronavirus era.

Gone is the good budget year and the idea of expanding programs and services. In its place is a focus on preventing service reductions while supporting the most vulnerable members of the community.

The adopted Fiscal Year 2021 budget leaves the property tax rate where it was, which means a tax increase for the average homeowner, given rising property values. Following County Manager Mark Schwartz’s recommendations, it largely maintains service levels from the current budget, while providing just over $10 million in coronavirus-related relief for residents, small businesses, nonprofits and county employees.

The opening of two major new facilities — the Lubber Run Community Center and Long Bridge Park Aquatics Center — will be delayed at least a year. County employees won’t get raises, a hiring freeze will remain in effect, and the county will tap into some of its budget reserves to prevent further cuts.

More from a press release:

The Arlington County Board today adopted a $1.3 billion balanced General Fund Budget for Fiscal Year 2021 that reflects the novel coronavirus’s impact on County revenues and priorities and includes no increase in the tax rate for Calendar Year 2020.

“In just three short months, our budget priorities have been upended,” Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey said, “and we know that the budget we adopted today will likely need revision in the coming months. Our focus in the coming year will be on supporting residents and small businesses hit hard by the economic fallout of the pandemic, preserving essential services and maintaining a strong financial foundation.”

Noting the uncertainty surrounding revenues and expenditures in FY 2021, The Board approved a $10.2 million contingent fund that includes $2.7 million for housing grants, permanent supportive housing, emergency food assistance, and other emergency needs and $7.5 million to assist small businesses and nonprofits, aid service delivery recovery, provide employee support, and offset any further revenue loss.

The budget reflects an estimated loss of $56 million in anticipated revenue in FY 2021, resulting in a loss of $34 million for County government and $21.6 million for Arlington Public Schools. The projected losses are in sales, meal, business license and transient occupancy taxes, Parks & Recreation fees, development fees, parking meter & parking ticket revenue, and more.

The Board voted 4 to 0 to adopt the budget, with no increase in the Calendar Year 2020 tax rate. The tax rate will remain at $1.026 (including the sanitary district tax) per $100 of assessed real estate value. Because assessments increased, the average homeowner, with a home valued at $686,300 will see an increase in the taxes and fees they pay the County, up from $9,023 in FY 2020 to $9,399 in FY 2021.

The budget maintains current levels of service, foregoes salary increases for all staff, continues a hiring freeze put in place in March, places many projects on hold, delays the opening of the Lubber Run Community Center and Long Bridge Park Fitness & Aquatics Center until Fiscal Year 2022 and uses $4.0 million in funds from the Stabilization Reserve to close the gap between revenues and expenditures.

$524.6 million will be transferred to Arlington Public Schools for its FY 2021 Budget, a slight increase over the FY 2020 ongoing funding level.

Also left on the cutting room floor in the new county budget were a series of new programs and staff positions:

  • Traffic Control Officers to assist with traffic enforcement
  • Courthouse library expansion
  • Online marriage license portal
  • Foster care housing pilot program
  • New planners, arborist, real estate appraiser, and other positions
  • Library collection expansion
  • Additional support for Housing Arlington initiative
  • Additional tree maintenance

The county noted in its press release that dozens of residents participated in virtual budget sessions and the Board received hundreds of comments on the budget, which were made part of the public record.

Moving forward, the Board instructed Schwartz “to develop a plan in the early months of Calendar Year 2021 that would identify, quantify and develop strategies to address food insecurity in Arlington, with an emphasis on child hunger.”

Schwartz was also asked to make progress on the potential launch of a curbside food waste collection service, “in keeping with the County’s 2015 Zero Waste Resolution’s goal of diverting 90 percent of solid waste from landfills and incineration.”

With the county’s budget and the Arlington Public Schools transfer now set, the School Board is scheduled to adopt its FY 2021 budget next Thursday, May 7.

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