The Right Note is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.
On Saturday the County Board met and slashed parking permits for some residents while paving the way to move forward on the county and school budgets.
The County Board resisted the urge to raise the real estate tax rate, but only because residential assessments went up by 5.6% over last year, which means the average Arlington homeowner will already pay $382 more in taxes this year in a addition to the new proposed stormwater tax. This residential increase offsets a drop in commercial assessments. The Board is also counting on a new round of federal COVID spending to backfill local needs.
One of the budget savings proposed is eliminating 56 currently vacant positions. Many residents may push back at the decision not to fill 10 police officer positions as well as cuts to 9-1-1 dispatching. There were 16 carjackings in Arlington in 2020 after just three the past two years.
Arlingtonians will also see the proposed schools budget later this week, but the county budget documents suggest they will not see a significant revenue boost. With enrollment down by 10% over projections for the current school year, it will be interesting to see whether APS will assume that those students will return. We do know that according to Superintendent Durán’s most recent presentation, Arlington is operating with a projected $6 million surplus for the current school year even after paying for COVID mitigation measures.
The schools do face a very real challenge of a lost year of learning. Not every student fell behind, but many did. Hopefully the superintendent and School Board use the current circumstances to not only evaluate the needs created by virtual learning, but how to come back better when it comes to preparing our students academically.
The new parking permit program cuts permits from four to two for people who have a driveway. It does not matter how many cars can practically use the driveway. It does not matter how many people of driving age who are related to each other live in the house.
While this is unlikely to create a hardship for a lot of families, it gives no flexibility to families who have a retired parent living with them or an adult children home from college or working while living at home. County Board member Libby Garvey was particularly dismissive of these concerns. Her response was that kids coming home from college in the future probably wouldn’t have cars. Speaking from personal experience, many of them do in fact have cars and now they may have no place to park them.
The County Board should at the very least consider an amendment to the plan that allows a family to apply for additional permits in certain situations before the changes go into effect on July 1st.
Mark Kelly is a long-time Arlington resident, former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.