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The Right Note: What Will 2021 Hold?

The Right Note is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

The County Board has issued guidance for the Fiscal Year 2022 budget and left all options on the table.

In other words, property owners should prepare for their real estate taxes to go up. The Board also began to lay the groundwork for a tax on plastic bags and cigarettes. This will all be done in the name of COVID-19.

However, the Board is prioritizing funding to do two things that are completely unrelated to fighting the impacts of the virus.

First, Board Members signaled they going to fund Rank Choice Voting in local elections. The question is of course, why? Outside of John Vihstadt’s wins in 2014, Democrats have not seen a race where their candidate fell below 60% let alone 50% in recent memory. This is something that is not only unnecessary, but at the very least could be shelved until a better budget year.

Second, the Board intends to take advantage of a new state law that allows them to prepare to enter into collective bargaining with public employees. While the Board did not put a price tag on this optional item, it is just the tip of the iceberg on additional costs to the county budget moving forward. It will also give future Arlington elected officials less flexibility in the face of a budget crunch like the one we are facing now.

Arlingtonians will have their chance to listen to a presentation by County Manager Mark Schwartz on December 9th. It is the next step in the process wherein the County Board will convince us we have to raise taxes to pay for a “scaled back” budget. But it is clear that not all budget priorities for next year are urgent.

Tax increases and interesting spending priorities are not the only controversial issues to look forward to in 2021. The County Board intends to vote to restrict the ability of homeowners to obtain parking permits. The Planning Commission will receive a presentation at its meeting tonight.

And, the School Board will vote this week on the first changes to elementary school boundaries. The School Board will hold a public hearing tonight which you can watch online.

The public is obviously focused on how COVID-19 is impacting them. These times demand restraint and caution from our elected officials, so we should watch what they are doing closely.

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

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