Arlington County Board Approves New Budget That Holds Property Tax Rate Steady

The majority of Arlington homeowners will face higher property taxes, after the County Board approved a budget that holds the property tax rate steady.

The Fiscal Year 2022 budget includes $1.4 billion in spending, a 3.5% increase from last year’s budget. Of that, $530 million will go to Arlington Public Schools, which will pass its final budget next month.

Earlier this year County Manager Mark Schwartz proposed a budget that would have only boosted spending by 1.4%, calling it a “transition budget” appropriate for the challenges presented by the pandemic.

The new county budget includes millions in additional expenditures, thanks to higher-than-expected business tax revenue and an expected $46 million in federal funding for Arlington’s local COVID-19 response from the American Rescue Plan, to be split between this year’s and next year’s budgets.

Among the additions, according to a County Board report posted the same day as Tuesday’s meeting:

Increasing the bonus for employees to approximately $900/net ($2,653,965); Fully replenishing the Stabilization Reserve that was utilized to balance the FY 2021 and FY 2022 budgets ($7,841,608); Funding technical support for financial/human resources system ($240,000); Increasing funding for Libraries to support materials collection ($100,000); Supporting tree pruning by shifting cycle from 17 to 9.5 years ($200,000); Providing funding for a vehicle for the Urban Forester position ($55,000); Restoring outreach program recruitment funding for Police Department ($187,350); Funding the purchase and installation of 13 charging stations for electric vehicles to prepare for increase in electric vehicle purchases in the upcoming year ($250,000) and providing supplemental funding of $33,000 to increase the number of electric vehicles purchased in FY 2022 (6 additional vehicles); Funding the County Manager’s Contingent ($2,500,000); Increasing funding for the Affordable Housing Investment Fund, bringing the total in the FY 2022 budget to $16.9 million ($7.9 million one-time and $9.0 million in ongoing); Restoring $2.6 million of PAYG funding, adding $2.0 million for facility renovations, and funding the installation of gender-neutral restroom signage in County facilities ($145,000); Funding Arts Resiliency grants ($50,000); Provide additional support for the Restorative Arlington initiative ($50,000); Maintaining alternative COVID eligibility criteria for existing recipients of housing grants ($1,036,512); Providing additional funding for the airport noise study ($50,000); Arlington Public Schools (APS): one-time funding requests for Summer School Incentive Payments ($605,000) and costs of opening Cardinal Elementary School ($882,940) and the Education Center ($750,000); Funding an analysis of the budget based on Equity Metrics ($50,000); Expanding access to early voting on two Sundays in advance of the November election ($50,000); Providing a one percent salary increase for all employees and shifting pay ranges by one percent for public safety and five percent for general employees ($2,420,332); Funding 1.0 permanent and 3.0 temporary FTEs for the Fire Department’s implementation of the Emergency Triage, Treat, and Transport (ET3) program with costs covered by program revenue ($270,000); Increasing funding to the Lee Highway Alliance by $25,000 to match total FY 2021 funding of $85,500; Purchasing additional databases for small businesses to assist with pandemic recovery ($40,000); Funding redaction software for the body worn camera program for the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office ($33,500); Funding to support prevailing wage administration ($168,600); Funding an additional Urban Forester position for the Department of Parks and Recreation ($105,000); Restoring funding for the Virginia Cooperative Extension ($63,682) and Northern Virginia Conservation Trust ($90,159); Funding additional Police Practices Group recommendations ($90,000); Adding a fifth Court Clerk (1.0 FTE) and an additional Land Records position (1.0 FTE) to the Circuit Court ($87,416); Restoring previous one-time funding with ongoing support to Arlington Independent Media ($70,000); Restoring funding for an Administrative Assistant position in the County Board Office ($90,000); Reducing client’s income contribution towards rent from 40% to 30% for the Housing Grants Program ($487,713)

The budget also includes $2.8 million for some one-time Arlington Public School projects.

“After a lengthy public review process that included work sessions, public hearings, input from residents, employees, boards and commissions, and updated revenue forecasts based on the third quarter update, the County Board, after deliberations, has approved a balanced budget for FY 2022,” says the Board report. “The budget continues funding for core County services and Arlington Public Schools; it provides additional funding for a variety of critical County programs and one-time APS costs related to opening Cardinal Elementary and the Ed Center, summer school incentive payments, and virtual school in the fall.”

The budget maintains the current base real estate tax rate at $1.013 per $100 in assessed property value, a de facto tax hike with residential property assessments up 5.6%. Assessments on commercial property, including office buildings, slumped 1.4% this year.

There was little additional discussion as the Board voted on the numerous individual budget items.

At a recent tax rate hearing, a few people called for the Board to lower the property tax rate, as Loudoun County is doing and Fairfax County is considering, “to provide relief to homeowners hit by rising assessments.” The real estate tax is expected to generate just over $800 million in revenue in Fiscal Year 2022, which starts July 1.

The Board also voted last night to raise the stormwater tax by $0.004 per $100 of assessed value to support stormwater improvements, and to slightly decrease the annual Household Solid Waste Rate from $319.03 to $318.61.

Other highlights of the new budget including affordable housing funding and housing grants; grants for small businesses affected by the pandemic; implementing recommended policing changes, including funding a civilian mental health crisis response team; electric vehicle charging stations and county fleet purchases; raises and bonuses for county employees; and the opening of the new Long Bridge Park Aquatics and Fitness Center and Lubber Run Community Center.

The full county press release about the budget is below, after the jump.

The Arlington County Board voted 5-0 Tuesday, April 20, to adopt a $1.4 billion balanced General Fund Budget for Fiscal Year 2022. The Adopted Budget leaves the base real estate tax rate at $1.013 per $100 of assessed property value while investing in ongoing COVID-19 pandemic relief efforts, housing affordability, sustainability and effective changes towards improved crisis response and equity, among other priorities.

“This budget represents a bridge from the public health and economic challenges we face from the pandemic to the recovery ahead,” said Matt de Ferranti, Chair of the Arlington County Board. “This budget is not only financially strong but also reflects our commitment to a future that is committed to racial and economic equity.”

More than a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, the County continues to feel the economic impacts, entering the FY 2022 budget process with a $26 million budget shortfall due to falling revenue and heavy impacts on the County’s commercial and business properties.

The adopted budget sets aside $17.5 million in a COVID-19 contingency fund from the federal American Rescue Plan for vaccine distribution, testing and contact tracing, emergency rental assistance and eviction prevention, emergency service needs and food assistance, personal protective equipment and cleaning, and support for the County’s business community.

Investing in Community Priorities

The County Board approved funding in FY 2022 that makes strategic investments in areas that have long been community priorities.

Housing Assistance and Affordable Housing Supply: This budget reinforces our commitment to equity, focusing on eviction prevention and direct housing support, reducing clients’ income contribution towards rent from 40% to 30% for the Housing Grants Program ($487,713).  Together with the one-time funding maintaining the COVID eligibility criteria, the total FY 2022 funding for Housing Grants totals $14.2 million and adds $592,000 to permanent supportive housing. The budget also includes $21 million in housing choice vouchers and $16.9 million for the Affordable Housing Investment Fund (AHIF). It also extends the payment waiver for AHIF loans through Dec. 31, 2021.  A total of $5.0 million of the $17.5 million FY 2022 COVID contingent is allocated for eviction prevention work that may not be covered by direct assistance from the state or other funding sources.

Economic Recovery and Hunger: The budget continues a commitment to economic recovery. For Arlington’s small business community, funding is set aside through a COVID contingency for a follow-up program from last year’s GRANT program with Arlington Economic Development. Funding to address the economic impact of COVID is also included for food security through the COVID contingency for food and a new Food Security Coordinator position.

Police Practices Group: Approximately $1.5 million dollars is included to address recommendations from the Police Practice Group.  This includes $125,000 for an auditor/monitor position as part of the hybrid model for a civilian review board and $574,000 for an enhanced mental health crisis response program in the Department of Human Services to pay for a physician’s assistant, nurse, clinician, transport van and operating supplies.  The budget also includes six unsworn officers for parking enforcement, traffic direction, and safety.

Climate Change and Sustainability: The budget invests in our goals for a sustainable community.  Specifically, the budget includes $250,000 toward the design, purchase and installation of 13 charging stations for electric vehicles and provides supplemental funding of $33,000 to double the number of electric vehicles purchased in FY 2022. Additionally, the Board directed the County Manager to develop a recommendation to coordinate a “whole of government” approach to achieving Arlington’s Climate Change and Sustainability goals, including sustainability practices and developments, short-term strategies and more.

Facilities: The budget includes funding for the opening of the Long Bridge Aquatics & Fitness Facility using funding from Boeing for operating costs and the new Lubber Run Community Center ($973K offset by $600K in community center staff savings).

Arlington Public Schools (APS): The budget provides one-time funding of $2.8 million for Summer School Incentive Payments, costs of opening Cardinal Elementary School and the Education Center and operating a distance learning program in the fall. The total FY 2022 transfer to the Arlington Public Schools from the County is $529.9 million, an overall 1% increase compared to FY 2021.

Investing in Stormwater

The adopted budget also increases the dedicated stormwater tax to 1.7 cents per $100 of assessed value from 1.3 cents. This is the first time in a decade that the stormwater tax has been increased. The funds generated by that tax can only be used for stormwater-related purposes.

The rate increase brings the total stormwater program budget for FY 2022 to $15.1 million. The County has been engaged in a multi-year effort to upgrade, repair and replace Arlington’s stormwater infrastructure to reduce flooding and property damage and to comply with increasingly stringent state and federal stormwater quality regulations.

Arlington voters approved a $50.84 million bond referenda in November 2020 to fund near-term projected needs for stormwater infrastructure improvements. The stormwater tax rate increase will fund the debt service on bonds for:

  • Cardinal Elementary School underground stormwater detention facility, in collaboration with Arlington Public Schools
  • Spout Run watershed capacity improvements
  • Lubber Run watershed capacity improvements
  • Ballston Pond watershed retrofit
  • Four Mile Run dredging, in collaboration with the City of Alexandria
  • Dumbarton culverts

“As our community continues to evolve and mature in terms of infrastructure, we must continue to invest in our systems, rebuilding structures as needed, improving the sustainability of our watersheds, and becoming a flood resistant and flood resilient community,” said de Ferranti. “This modest increase will provide our residents with the necessary improvements and upgrades that will not only comply with new federal and state regulations, but also provide our community with greater protection from the devastating impacts of recent storms.”

Investments in County Employee Workforce

Noting that County employees had worked very hard during the past year and did not receive increases in the FY 2021 budget due to the pandemic, the Board voted to issue a one-time approximately $900 net bonus ($1,450 gross) for employees as well as a 1% increase in the new budget year. The budget also includes increasing the lowest base pay/living wage from $15 to $17 per hour, adjusting the wage scale upward, and adding Juneteenth as a County holiday.

The Board held the budget and tax rate hearings virtually, with dozens of residents participating. Hundreds of comments on the budget were made part of the public record and considered by the Board during its deliberations. The new fiscal year begins on July 1, 2021.