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The Right Note: More Transparency Please

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

The County Board is scheduled to vote on the budget and tax rates later today. Sadly, the budget documents have not been posted to the county website as of the writing of this column. At best, the public will have just a handful of hours to review the final FY 2022 budget before it is adopted.

If you do not believe mistakes can happen when a budget is adopted, an accidental pay raise for County Board members was published in the adopted materials last year. County staff rushed out to say it was not supposed to be there and that the pay raise was not funded by the budget itself.

Nonetheless, it is time for the County Board to adopt a 24 hour rule to vote on any matter. If the proposed final budget is not published 24 hours prior to the vote, it cannot be adopted. Nothing would stop an open amendment process where Board members made line item changes if last minute adjustments were necessary. A 72 hour rule would be better, but the way they are going about it now really only leaves open the possibility of critiquing the final product after it has already passed.

On Saturday, the County Board approved $2 million in Neighborhood Conservation projects which will be funded by borrowing. This program was created in 1964 to give neighborhoods the opportunity to recommend improvement projects to their elected officials. Sidewalks, curbs, streetlights, signs, and other beautification ideas can percolate all the way from an impromptu front porch coffee to fruition.

Anyone who has been through the process can tell you that the handful of projects that are ultimately funded often take years to get across the finish line. Judging by the dates on the  plans on record, many neighborhoods have given up on it altogether.

Contrast that the Arlington County Board’s recent decisions to grant County Manager Mark Schwartz $2 million each year as part of the closeout process to spend without County Board authorization.

That’s right: the Manager has an annual slush fund which is equivalent to projects that go through an exhaustive review process to benefit neighborhoods.

While some of us may prefer that 100% of closeout funds be allocated toward reducing the property tax burden, the County Board has largely ignored this plea for years. So for closeout 2021, maybe neighborhoods should ask the Board to take the $2 million County Manager slush fund and apply it to the next round of Neighborhood Conservation projects instead.

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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