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County Manager’s budget proposal focuses on employee compensation

Arlington County Mark Schwartz (file photo by Jay Westcott)

Most homeowners will be on the hook for higher property taxes under a budget proposal by Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz.

Schwartz’s proposed 2022-2023 budget would fund raises for county employee amid inflation and competition with other local jurisdictions. It would also provide more funding for schools and spend several million dollars on efforts intended to address climate change.

While Schwartz proposed a property tax rate that’s unchanged from 2021, a 5.8% rise in residential property assessments will result in an effective tax hike for most homeowners.

In all, the average homeowner will see a $505 rise in local taxes in fees compared to last year, including $388 in additional property taxes.

Tax and fee burden under proposed FY 2023 budget (via Arlington County)

The budget proposal focuses on attracting and retaining county employees through raises, bonuses and other actions. It includes larger raises for police, fire and other public safety employees, amid ongoing recruiting challenges.

From Schwartz’s presentation to the County Board on Saturday:

Increases to ongoing salaries:

  • 4.25% for general employees
  • 6.50% for public safety employees
  • 3.0% increase to the minimum and maximum of each grade/range

Other actions:

  • $1,600 gross one-time bonus
  • Funded job studies including administrative, parks programming, and library positions ($0.8 million)
  • $1.5 million for the first year of a multi-year effort to address pay compression
  • No premium increase for the self-insured health plan

The pay compression item is intended to address the issue of new hires sometimes making more than employees who have been with the county for awhile, due to increases in pay scales outpacing annual raises.

Other focuses of the budget include housing, climate change and schools, including:

  • An increase in funding earmarked to prevent evictions
  • $4.4 million in climate change initiatives, including up to 53 new electric vehicles for the county fleet and new EV charging infrastructure
  • A 8.7% increase in the budget transfer to Arlington Public Schools, for a total of $576 million

Under the budget proposal, Arlington’s funding for Metro will remain flat at $46.6 million. Covid-related initiatives, mostly from federal funds, include a $3.25 million tourism recovery grant.

The budget totals $1.47 million, a 5.5% increase over last year. Excluding the school transfer, the county government itself would have an operating budget of $894.1 million, a 3.6% year-over-year increase.

At $1.013 per every $100 in assessed value, Arlington’s property tax rate would be lower than the current rates for neighboring Alexandria ($1.11) and Fairfax County ($1.14). Both of those jurisdictions, which saw steeper growth in property assessments this year while the average home value remains below that of Arlington, will be selecting a new proposed tax rate over the next week or so.

Real estate tax and assessment comparisons (via Arlington County)

The County Board is set to vote on advertising a tax rate cap at its meeting tomorrow, then will hold a series of public hearings on the budget and the tax rate at the end of March before voting on a final budget and rate at its Saturday, April 23 meeting.

The full county press release about the proposed FY 2023 budget is below.

County Manager Mark Schwartz’s proposed FY 2023 budget begins to look beyond the COVID-19 pandemic with a focus on the County workforce, affordable housing, schools and the environment.

In all, the proposal details $1.47 billion in General Fund spending, a 5.5-percent increase over FY 2022. The budget is based on 3.4 percent growth in real estate assessments and 7 percent growth in overall tax revenue. The proposed budget includes no change to current property tax rates.

Although revenues are recovering, there is still uncertainty with some revenue sources, such as hotel taxes and non-tax revenue like parking meters, which Schwartz says the County will continue to monitor.

“After nearly two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, our community and County workforce have demonstrated resilience and our commitment to community services remains steadfast,” said County Manager Mark Schwartz. “As such, this budget prioritizes County services and programs important to our community, while investing in our workforce, who have gone without meaningful merit pay increases for two years.”

Investing in Community Priorities

The Proposed FY 2023 budget is the result of months of study, evaluation and input from the public on how best to invest available revenue.

Core investments in the Proposed Budget include:

  • Affordable housing: The budget focuses on continued eviction prevention and increasing housing support, with $14.3 million in housing grant support and adding $588,000 (for a total of $3.4 million) to permanent supportive housing. The budget also includes $23 million in federal funding for housing choice vouchers and $16.9 million for the Affordable Housing Investment Fund (AHIF).
  • Environment: The budget includes new investments of more than $4.4 million to execute energy and climate resilient programs to combat climate change. This includes $1 million for an Arlington CEP (Community Energy Plan) Action Fund to address opportunities to affect climate change. These investments could include additional electrification of County vehicles, energy efficiency projects, and the advancement of the Community Energy Plan.
  • Employee compensation: To improve retention and recruitment, this year’s budget includes merit increases of 4.25 percent for general employees and 6.5 percent for uniformed employees. The budget also includes a 3 percent increase to the minimum and maximum of pay grades and a one-time bonus of $1,600 gross. Funding is also included to begin the implementation of the collective bargaining ordinance.
  • Public safety: This will be the first full year of the Fire Department’s Kelly Day, which increased staffing levels to allow firefighters to work a 50-hour week schedule rather than a 56-hour week allowing us to remain competitive in the region. The budget also includes funding for the implementation of the Police Practices Group recommendations, including the continuation of the Community Oversight Board and crisis intervention support.
  • Schools: A transfer of $576 million from the County to Arlington Public Schools, an increase of $46 million compared to FY 2022.

Next Steps

After the Manager submits his proposed budget, the Arlington County Board will vote on an advertised tax rate on Tuesday, February 15. The Board will review the budget proposal and conduct a series of work sessions starting in early March. The County Board will hold a budget hearing on March 29th and a tax rate hearing on March 31st. You can participate in person or virtually. To sign up to speak, visit the County Board webpage. The final vote on the FY 2023 operating budget is scheduled for Saturday, April 23. The fiscal year begins July 1.

County Manager’s FY 2023 budget proposal (via Arlington County)

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