County Board floats 2.5 cent tax hike, exceeding staff’s proposal amid APS budget concerns

Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey (via Arlington County/YouTube)

The Arlington County Board is considering a potential property tax hike that could be even higher than what County Manager Mark Schwartz proposed.

Board members yesterday (Tuesday) voted 5-0 to advertise hearings on a maximum property tax rate of $1.038 per $100 of assessed value, a 2.5 cent increase from 2023. That is 1 cent higher than the increase of 1.5 cents that Schwartz proposed in his $1.62 billion budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2025.

County Board Chair Libby Garvey said she hopes to whittle down the possible tax hike during upcoming budget discussions. She introduced the motion to add a penny because Arlington Public Schools still does not know how much state funding it will receive.

In the worst-case scenario, Garvey said APS could have a substantial budget shortfall in the upcoming fiscal year.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty this year when it comes to budgeting,” Garvey said in a statement. “I’m very concerned about our schools and whether the state will do the right thing and provide the level of expected funding — or if the state will leave APS short millions on top of the cuts already made. Hopefully, the state will come through, and this extra penny will not be needed.”

Schwartz’s proposed budget already includes $10 million in additional funding to APS to help close a projected $30-35 million budget gap. Superintendent Francisco Durán is scheduled to present APS’s proposed 2025 budget tomorrow (Thursday).

If adopted in April, a 2.5-cent increase would cause the typical Arlington homeowner to pay an additional $472 in taxes, based on the average home value of $824,700, per a county press release. That’s in addition to rising fees for stormwater management, waste collection and other services.

In total, the average Arlington homeowner would see their total fees and taxes increase by $582 if the Board adopts the 2.5-cent tax rate increase, the county says.

Arlington County held its property tax rate steady during the pandemic, though rising property assessments caused the average homeowner to pay some 4-5% more annually anyway.

Board members noted that a higher advertised tax rate will allow for more flexibility in discussions about funding for housing, mental health and public safety, with a focus on the county’s detention facility.

“I think there’s just too much unknown at this particular moment for us to box ourselves in,” said Board member Maureen Coffey.

The Board can still choose to adopt a lower rate, but not a higher one.

Rising taxes and property values are also expected to put upward pressure on rents, as apartment assessments are expected to increase by an average of 6.6%, or $215 per unit.

The proposed $1.62 billion budget would eliminate 33 county staff positions — many that are currently vacant — in various departments, saving about $10 million, according to Schwartz. The budget includes a 4.75% salary increase for all non-union county employees.

There is also additional funding for teen programs intended to help combat the teen opioid crisis, mental health and substance abuse programs, affordable housing and eviction prevention and environmental initiatives.

Arlington’s police and fire unions have called for further tax increases to fund raises for first responders and reverse staffing declines, particularly in the police department.

The Board will conduct a series of budget work sessions in March, followed by a pair of public hearings on the budget and the tax rate on April 2 and 4, respectively. The final budget adoption vote is scheduled for Saturday, April 20.