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County Board quadruples threshold for projects needing a vote to $1M

Construction workers at Oakland Park in 2019 (file photo)

Arlington County, like the rest of us, is realizing $250,000 does not get you as far as it used to.

With inflation, gone are the days that a construction contract of any significance could realistically come in under that sum, the threshold for a project that requires Arlington County Board approval. Gone too are the days that most professional services contracts, for things like engineering work, would cost under $80,000.

So, on Saturday, the Board adjusted for inflation — and then some — greenlighting a new threshold of $1 million for capital construction contracts and professional services. Contracts under this sum will no longer need Board review and approval.

“Establishing a higher threshold corrects for these cost increases and provides some
insulation against future inflationary pressures, which is prudent given the infrequent nature of these threshold adjustments,” a county report says.

The two thresholds were last set in 2000 and since then, the impacts of inflation in the D.C. area construction market “have been particularly acute,” the report says.

“While different construction market indices reflect varying degrees of inflation, they consistently support that $250,000 in the year 2000 more closely approximates $500,000 [to] $600,000 in 2023,” it said.

Although $1 million is a higher threshold even after adjusting for inflation, the county says it is reasonable.

“The proposed $1 million threshold would still be the lowest among major counties and cities in the Northern Virginia region and among the lowest in the D.C. metro area,” per the report.

How much a contract has to cost in the region for a governing body to need to sign off on it (via Arlington County)

In fact, of all the 70 road, sewer and park projects between 2015 and 2022 that received bids — dubbed invitation to bid or ITB projects — none were under $250,000, the county says.

The majority, 62%, were more than $1 million — the kind of capital construction projects that “also tend to be those with the most complexity and public interest and impact,” the report said.

The cost of various proposed bids in Arlington (via Arlington County)

The Gazette Leader newspaper, however, lamented this as a loss for those seeking a more transparent government.

“The proposal likely will add more fuel to the fire among critics of the government like the Arlington County Civic Federation, which has contended that the government is failing the public on the transparency front,” editor Scott McCaffrey wrote.

The county has a different take, saying projects under $1 million are largely “minor renovations and smaller maintenance projects.” That includes minor sidewalk or park improvements, such as those recently undertaken at Towers Park Playground, Oakland Park and Edison Park.

These projects can generate public interest but, the report says, the county has existing engagement processes to respond to such interest.

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