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Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.
By Howard Solodky
Much has been said recently about Arlington County’s Neighborhood Conservation (NC) program that pays for neighborhood infrastructure projects such as sidewalks, streetlamps and traffic safety improvements. Because of misconceptions and rumors about the program and its overlooked public benefits, some have even suggested the program be terminated, while others have simply advanced unfounded criticisms. It’s time to set the record straight.
The Neighborhood Conservation Advisory Committee (NCAC), formed in 1977, administers the program with the valuable help of county staff. Representatives from most of the county’s civic associations participate on the NCAC and review and recommend action on projects proposed for their respective neighborhoods. This “bottom up” approach has resulted in the completion of missing link sidewalks, traffic flow enhancements and other pedestrian and commuter safety projects that would otherwise go unidentified.
County bonds fund the projects, with awards made through a rigorous, but fair, “points” process managed by the NCAC. The program has completed hundreds of neighborhood improvement projects and demand remains high. Notwithstanding that, the 2019-2028 Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) cut NC funding from $12 million to $5 million for 2019-2020 and then to $4 million for the following two-year cycle.
Recent criticism falls into two categories: Lack of equity; and cost effectiveness.
Lack of equity. Allegations of unfair distribution of NC projects among Arlington’s roughly 60 neighborhoods have arisen because some neighborhoods don’t participate in the program. The reality is that more than 85 percent of Arlington’s civic associations are active on the NCAC, and projects are not concentrated disproportionately in any particular neighborhood. One look at a map showing the dollar amounts and location of projects over the past 17 years reveals widespread geographic distribution. Three of the top five neighborhood beneficiaries, measured by dollars spent, are in south Arlington.
Length and cost of process. While, historically, the time elapsed from project approval to completion could take five years or more, that is no longer the case. Through right-sizing county design and engineering staff assigned to the program, the time from County Board approval to project completion now averages roughly two and one-half years, similar to the time it takes to design, engineer and complete a typical county transportation project.
Another factor contributing to length of process is the county’s aging, and in some cases inadequate, infrastructure. With limited bond proceeds available to the NC program, and infrastructure repairs and improvements needed in many neighborhoods, only a fraction of the qualified NC projects can be funded each year. The rest must wait in line. Terminating or reducing the NC program won’t solve this problem; only more financial resources will.
Alleged cost overruns are also often cited, even though close to 90 percent of NC projects are completed within budget. Moreover, 15 years ago, if the NCAC approved the construction of a sidewalk along a neighborhood street, the program would only pay for the cost of the actual sidewalk. Today, because of state and local legal requirements, a “simple” sidewalk project also entails costs for site control and management, storm water management, water mains and meters and potentially for underground utility conduit repair or replacement. The county requires that those costs be borne by the NC program, rather than by the Department of Environmental Services (DES) that has historically paid for those items. These “cost overruns” are, in fact, hidden savings for the budgets of various DES departments.
The 2019-2028 CIP required that the County Manager form a Neighborhood Conservation and Community Infrastructure Working Group to review and make recommendations regarding the NC program. That Working Group might want to consider how to:
- Account for and share within DES the numerous costs that have been imposed on the program;
- Discuss with DES staff and the County Board how to shorten their project review and approval processes; and
- Reach out to neighborhoods that do not participate actively to more effectively educate them on the benefits of the NC program.
The future of the NC program is uncertain during this period of budgetary belt-tightening. Decision-makers need to move beyond the unsupported criticisms of the program, gain a better understanding of the hidden benefits realized from an all-volunteer program that identifies needed infrastructure repairs and improvements before that infrastructure breaks down, and fairly apportion among the divisions of DES the costs associated with NC capital projects. These steps can help preserve the scope and vitality of a valuable, community-based, neighborhood improvement program.
Howard Solodky is a tax attorney who recently retired from the law firm of Womble Bond Dickinson (US) LLP, and is the Old Glebe Civic Association’s representative on the NCAC.
A new group set to study potential reforms for the county’s “Neighborhood Conservation” program will soon start its work, with the broad goal of evaluating the program’s efficacy after it endured some deep cuts this year.
The county is now recruiting members for a working group on the subject, after staff sketched out their plans for the new committee to the County Board last Tuesday (Sept. 25).
The program, which lets communities lobby for money to complete modest improvement projects like new sidewalks or landscaping, has earned its fair share of critics over the years. Projects funded through the program have often been plagued by cost overruns, and the pace of its evaluation process has slowed dramatically, leading to some calls to end the program in its entirety.
The Board even slashed $23 million from its budget when setting a new Capital Improvement Plan in July, in order to cope with an increasingly challenging budget picture. The program’s supporters argued that amounted to effectively killing Neighborhood Conservation by starving it of funding.
But, in a concession to its backers, the Board also agreed to a year-long study of how the program is working to see how it might be reformed or otherwise reconstituted.
A draft charge for the working group presented to the Board calls for it to examine a variety of questions, with one more important than most: “are the goals and objectives of the NC program still valid in today’s environment, and are they being achieved?”
County Manager Mark Schwartz is planning on appointing one community member and a staffer from the county’s planning department to co-chair the group. Then, the rest of the group will include members from the following:
- Neighborhood Conservation Advisory Committees
- Parks and Recreation Commission
- Transportation Commission
- Neighborhood Complete Streets Commission
- Environment and Energy Conservation Commission
- Civic Federation
- Planning Commission
- Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development, Neighborhood Conservation team
- Department of Environmental Services, engineering bureau
- Department of Parks and Recreation, park development team
The group will also include two “at-large” members from the community.
The new group’s charge also calls for it to examine the cause of “unanticipated cost increases” for Neighborhood Conservation projects, which are often triggered by “unforeseen needs to address failing infrastructure incidental to the scope and implementation” of the projects.
The committee is also set to study whether the program’s funding is distributed “equitably” to projects around the county. A frequent criticism leveled at the program is that wealthier, older communities tended to benefit the most, as the process of lobbying for a project’s inclusion in the program could be quite time consuming, and most accessible to people already highly involved in civic life.
“Some parts of the county are way more involved and they communicate a lot more readily than others,” Board member Libby Garvey said. “There are a lot of voices we don’t hear, and they might live in communities that have a real need, but we don’t hear from them for a variety of reasons.”
That’s why county planner Anthony Fusarelli assured the Board that “we want to make sure the perspectives brought to bear in this effort are diverse and capture those viewpoints.”
Fusarelli added that the group will likely begin meeting by December, with plans to deliver a final report to the Board in the fall or winter of 2019.
As for projects already in the queue for Neighborhood Conservation funding, Schwartz says the county fully plans to move ahead in working on those in the meantime.
“We’ll reassess that, probably about a year from now, to see if adjustments need to be made,” Schwartz said.
Amid concerns about deep cuts on the way for the Neighborhood Conservation program, the County Board is kicking off a new effort to identify some potential reforms.
The Board decided Tuesday (July 10) to direct County Manager Mark Schwartz to draw up a process for studying the program in more depth over the next two years or so, in order to better understand how it can become more efficient and see where it might overlap with other county efforts.
“By adopting this, we’re saying, no, we’re not looking for a slow, or any kind of, death [for the program],” said Board member Erik Gutshall. “But we’re taking a moment here to hit the reset button and double down on the program, to invest the time and staff resources to study remaking the program to meet its original goals.”
Neighborhood Conservation was formed in 1964 as a way for communities to lobby for money to complete modest infrastructure projects, like new sidewalks or landscaping, but Schwartz targeted it for hefty cuts in his proposed 10-year Capital Improvement Plan.
In all, the program is set to lose $24 million over the next decade, leaving $36 million in its coffers to finish out existing projects selected for funding between now and 2028. Some civic association leaders have charged that such a steep cut amounts to killing the program in its entirety.
Tuesday’s decision by the Board essentially represents a middle ground between those two positions. The county’s tight financial position means it likely won’t be able to avoid some steep cuts to the program, but Board members also believe they can pursue some changes to Neighborhood Conservation to ensure its long-term viability.
“Hopefully, this keeps faith with the communities, while at the same time acknowledging the reality that the program has had some challenges,” said Board member John Vihstadt.
Vihstadt hopes the review of the program will provide a “holistic, countywide perspective,” including whether the county might be better served by directing Neighborhood Conservation funding to its “Complete Streets” program instead.
Schwartz is set to establish a working group and lay out a timeline for a review process by Sept. 30, with the ultimate goal of having results in hand by the time the Board reviews its next CIP in 2020.
In the near term, Board Chair Katie Cristol suggested sending a smidge more money to the program as “a show of faith.” County staff managed to earn an unexpected $1 million in state funding for some construction at one of Arlington’s group homes for adults with disabilities, and Cristol suggested using the savings to fund one additional Neighborhood Conservation project.
Yet the Board has plenty of other pressing needs left unaddressed by a challenging CIP, and Cristol’s colleagues didn’t immediately sign off on such a change.
The Board is set to finalize the CIP when it reconvenes Saturday (July 14).
Supporters of Arlington’s Neighborhood Conservation program are warning county leaders that the steep budget cuts they’re contemplating could effectively kill it.
County Manager Mark Schwartz is proposing slashing $24 million from the program’s funding over the next 10 years as part of his new Capital Improvement Plan, dropping its coffers down to $36 million through 2028.
Neighborhood Conservation has long helped dole out money for modest community improvements, like new sidewalks or landscaping, yet the county’s grim budget picture convinced Schwartz to target it for some hefty cuts. That prompted several community activists and managers of the program to lobby the County Board to restore that funding at a public hearing last Wednesday (June 27).
“This is almost a death knell for Neighborhood Conservation,” said Bill Braswell, a former chair of the county’s Neighborhood Conservation Advisory Committee. “All the interest in it will dissipate, and it will take forever to get started again.”
County staff say that these proposed cuts would mean that projects already in line for funding will still move ahead, but any new applications from neighborhoods will go on the back burner. Accordingly, Phil Klingelhofer, deputy vice chair of the program’s advisory committee, believes that such a delay would mean that any “neighborhood with a recently proposed project should expect to wait 15 to 30 years for a project to come to the top for current funding.”
“If you decide to accept this… we recognize this is really the end of the program, and at that point, you should take the final step and end the program permanently,” Klingelhofer said.
For some in the community, that doesn’t sound like such a bad idea. Some activists have started arguing that the program has outlived its usefulness, including columnist Peter Rousselot, who points out that it can already take five or 10 years for a project to move through the Neighborhood Conservation process.
County Board member John Vihstadt has similar concerns about the program’s efficacy, noting that those delays are often driven by “quality control or monitoring issues” with the county switching contractors for some projects two or three times each. That’s why he sees this CIP process has a chance to reform the program, and “mend it, not end it.”
“Things are not good right now, and we’re looking at what we’re going to do,” Vihstadt told ARLnow. “If we’re going to fund the program, it needs to be modified and reformed.”
Braswell and Klingelhofer both told the Board at the hearing that they’d be willing to study ways to make the program run more efficiently, particularly if the alternative is steep funding cuts.
Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.
In the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) he unveiled last week, County Manager Mark Schwartz proposed cutting the funding of the Neighborhood Conservation Program (NC) from $60 million in the last CIP to $36 million in the new CIP.
The NC program should be ended because it cannot be reformed.
Why the NC program should be ended
The safety of pedestrians and need for safe, walkable streets continues to grow more acute in our neighborhoods, but the NC program cannot meet these critical needs. The NC program has insoluble problems in at least two key areas: equity and timeliness.
NC’s principal inequities arise because tens of thousands of Arlington residents are denied critical neighborhood infrastructure improvements because they are:
- Living in areas lacking a properly functioning civic association
- Required to have a County Board-approved NC Plan documenting all potential projects
- Lacking consistent NC volunteer representatives to complete projects
But, Arlington cannot mandate that any — let alone every — civic association function properly.
The NC program’s labor-intensive volunteer requirements, including monthly meeting attendance — often for years — to gain “funding points,” and outreach and notification efforts, mean a complete NC project “process” can take anywhere from five to 10 years. If an association’s volunteer NC rep fails to attend meetings, a project can lose its place in the funding line.
A former member described her NC experience to me this way:
“[I]t is a crazy incentive system where the only way you can even get your project considered — even if you have an organized civic association (CA) — is to attend and get points for attending every meeting… Then the arguments were literally a well-organized CA with a plan that took a couple of years to do with dedicated resources from the county… vs. a couple of neighbors who don’t want a sidewalk… or a sign or a light or a something. There is no framework… to guide the conversations prior to it getting to the Neighborhood Conservation Advisory Committee (NCAC), so the NCAC becomes the breeding ground for chaos.”
But, Arlington cannot mandate that residents volunteer for any activity, including the NC process.
What should replace the NC program
In 2007-2008, county staff began assembling Neighborhood Infrastructure Plans (NIPs) to identify missing critical infrastructure: curb, gutter and sidewalk, storm drains, etc. Revised and updated NIPs can provide the tools needed to prioritize critical infrastructure projects, and rotate among neighborhoods to allow greater and fairer access to funding.
A revised and updated Complete Streets Program is one alternative funding recipient for street-related infrastructure. An alternative to the current NC process could include:
- High priority areas, schools and urban Metro corridors could be addressed by engineers and county staff first
- For missing links, neighborhoods could propose sidewalks directly to staff for analysis and priority
For park beautification:
A reformed Department of Parks and Recreation could allocate small sums annually and equitably so that neighborhoods could spend on their parks as they decide. Neighborhoods could request to withdraw funds for small improvements like flowers or trees or benches.
Arlington County should take complete control from the NC over the new construction or restoration of neighborhood infrastructure.
The county then should proceed to use its new extensive public engagement process to deal directly and fairly with neighborhood residents regarding neighborhood conservation projects.
Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.
Last week, ARLnow.com reported that the Neighborhood Advisory Conservation Committee voted to suspend its spring funding round.
NC’s financial crisis provides yet another occasion to reconsider the program. The safety of pedestrians and need for safe, walkable streets continues to grow more acute in our urbanizing neighborhoods.
As I have written previously, the NC program should be phased out entirely.
NC has problems in at least three key areas: equity, timeliness and cost.
Equity. NC’s principal inequities arise because tens of thousands of Arlington residents are denied timely and critical neighborhood infrastructure improvements and access to the NC Program’s roughly $12 million bi-annual budget because they are:
- Living in areas lacking a properly functioning civic association.
- Required to have a County-Board approved NC Plan documenting all potential projects.
- Lacking consistent NC volunteer representatives to complete projects.
Timeliness. The NC program’s labor-intensive volunteer requirements, including monthly meeting attendance — often for years — to gain “funding points,” and outreach and notification efforts, mean a complete NC project “process” can take anywhere from five to 10 years. If an association’s volunteer NC rep fails to attend meetings, a project can lose its place in the funding line.
Project engineering, always in short supply, further delays project funding. A recent status report for funded NC projects shows only 4 completed projects, with 36 still in process.
Cost. As I mentioned previously, project delays and unnecessary add-ons like street lights (which Dominion will install at no charge) and components like curbs, gutters and sidewalks (which sometimes are unnecessary), make projects more expensive.
Many commenters on last week’s ARLnow.com article on NC offered horror stories about how improperly functioning civic associations cripple the NC program. But, Arlington cannot mandate that any — let alone every — civic association function properly. Nor can Arlington mandate that residents volunteer for any activity, including the NC. Thus, the NC program cannot be fixed.
The County should not allocate further bonding authority to the NC program. Instead, the County Board should direct staff to phase out the NC Program entirely over the next two years, and re-allocate current NC Program bond funding.
In 2007-2008, County staff began assembling Neighborhood Infrastructure Plans to identify missing critical infrastructure: curb, gutter and sidewalk, storm drains, etc. Revised and updated NIPs can provide the tools needed to prioritize critical infrastructure projects and rotate among neighborhoods to allow greater and fairer access to funding. We cannot leave this job to NC’s volunteer patchwork quilt.
A revised and updated Neighborhood Complete Streets Program is one alternative funding recipient for street-related infrastructure.
An alternative to the current NC process could include:
- High priority areas, schools and urban Metro corridors could be addressed by engineers and County staff first.
- For missing links, neighborhoods could propose sidewalks directly to staff for analysis and priority.
For park beautification:
A reformed department of parks and recreation could allocate small sums annually and equitably so that neighborhoods could spend on their parks as they decide. Neighborhoods could request to withdraw funds for small improvements like flowers or trees, accumulate for a small amenity, or bundle their allocated share to apply to one neighborhood park in need of the most attention.
Finally, it’s important that the County commit to a robust, thoroughly updated civic engagement process for all projects across all departments.
On July 19, the County Board approved another extension of the Neighborhood Conservation Program (NC Program). But, this program no longer can function effectively.
Arlington’s NC Program had a noble objective:
When the program was created in 1964, the goal was to empower residents by having them come together to discuss and share ideas for improving their neighborhoods.
Though nothing could sound more idyllic or representative of the “Arlington Way,” the way NC actually works in practice undermines its lofty goals. NC has problems in three key areas: equity, timeliness and cost.
Equity. NC’s principal inequity — a crippling one — arises because tens of thousands of Arlington residents are being denied timely neighborhood infrastructure improvements since they live in areas lacking a properly functioning civic association. (Belonging to a civic association is an NC requirement.)
Many civic associations have modest memberships, representing just a fraction of the community’s population. Most are operated by a handful of volunteers. Quite a few lack functioning, updated websites, and still fewer are capable of producing anything approaching a newsletter. Newsletters distributed to the highest possible percentage of community members are the surest means of effective communication.
Simply put, too few civic associations are truly functional. Many are run by a few people with little knowledge of or consent from those living within the association’s boundaries. Arlington County cannot mandate that every civic association function properly.
Residents without a fully functioning civic association are barred from tapping the NC Program’s roughly $12 million annual budget.
Timeliness. The NC program’s labor-intensive requirements, which include monthly meeting attendance–often for years–to gain “funding points,” and repeated outreach and notification efforts, mean the complete NC “process” can take anywhere from 5 to 10 years. If an association’s NC rep fails to attend meetings, a project can lose its place in the funding line.
Project engineering, always in short supply, further delays project funding. The current status report for funded NC projects shows only 4 completed projects, with 36 still in process.
Cost. Typically, delays make projects more expensive. Earlier this decade, the cap for NC projects was $250,000. Then, it grew to $500,000. In the most recent funding round, improvements to Nelly Custis Park clocked in at almost $800,000.
NC rules also add to costs. For example, NC street projects must contain curb, gutter and sidewalk components, whether or not a sidewalk is needed or desired. With flexible spending caps, expensive add-ons like lighting are common–even though Dominion will install new lights at no charge.
It’s time to provide a more equitable, timely and cost-effective way to provide critical infrastructure to neighborhoods. Back in 2007-2008, County staff began assembling Neighborhood Infrastructure Plans (NIPs) to identify missing critical infrastructure: curb, gutter and sidewalk, storm drains, etc. County staff has the tools needed to prioritize critical infrastructure projects and rotate among neighborhoods to allow greater and fairer access to funding.
Over the next two years, the County Board should direct staff to phase out the NC Program entirely and re-allocate current NC Program funds.
The Neighborhood Complete Streets Program is one alternative funding recipient. A more flexible Missing Links Program could be another.
The goal should be to fund critical infrastructure equitably, efficiently and in a way far superior to what is possible under the NC Program.
Four projects aimed at improving pedestrian safety, removing invasive plants and more are likely to be approved at this Saturday’s regular Arlington County Board meeting.
The final four projects funded by the 2012 Neighborhood Conservation bond, approved in June by the Neighborhood Conservation Advisory Committee, will receive a total of $2,540,175 if the Board approves them. About $1.3 million of those funds would come from the 2012 bond, while about $1.2 million is expected come from the bond referendum on the ballot on Nov. 4.
The four projects up for approval:
- Pedestrian safety and street improvements for the intersections of N. Vacation Lane with N. Stuart and N. Utah Streets in Donaldson Run. Improvements include replacing a yield sign with a stop sign at the northeast corner of N. Stuart Street, replacing sidewalks on N. Utah Street and curb extensions at both intersections. Total cost: $608,749.
- Street improvements for N. Quintana Street between Washington Boulevard and 19th Street N. in East Falls Church. This includes constructing curbs and gutters on both sides of the road and installing a 5-foot-wide sidewalk on the east side on the street. Total cost: $756,581.
- Park improvements for Oakland Park at 3701 Wilson Blvd. in Ballston-Virginia Square. This project is meant to give the park a complete upgrade, bringing features up to Americans with Disabilities Act standards and adding new site furnishings, ornamental plantings and wood decking. Total cost: $798,845.
- Removing invasive plants from Lucky Run Stream in Fairlington-Shirlington. The project calls for creating a “pollinator habitat between the stream bank and bike trail” and creating buffers with trees on either side of the stream. Total cost: $376,000.
The four projects were selected from a pool of 26 applications from neighborhoods around the county because they scored the highest on the NCAC’s points system, which is explained in the county staff’s report.
The county also has produced a five-minute video, embedded above, in honor of the Neighborhood Conservation Program’s 50th anniversary.
“When it was created in 1964, the goal was to empower residents by having them come together to discuss and share ideas for improving their neighborhoods,” the narrator says. The video includes interviews from NCAC Chair Bill Braswell and other committee members. “Over the years, the program has moved from beautification efforts to focus more on infrastructure needs… The program enables residents to identify and plan projects in their own neighborhoods.”
The Neighborhood Conservation Advisory Committee is recommending that the County Board approve five new street improvement projects when it meets this weekend.
The total cost of the projects — which are expected to improve the appearance and safety of the streetscape — is estimated at $2.8 million. Of the five projects, all but one are in North Arlington.
The Neighborhood Conservation program allows neighborhoods to compete with one another to receive funding for public improvements requested by residents. The five projects expected to receive funding over the weekend include:
- Beautification plus pedestrian safety improvements with raised medians on Yorktown Blvd between Little Falls Road and 30th Street N., near Yorktown High School. ($202,599)
- Street improvements including sidewalk, curb, gutter and street lighting in Glencarlyn, on 4th Street S. between Lexington and Kensington Streets and on Lexington Street between 3rd and 4th Streets. ($653,033)
- Street improvements including sidewalk, curb, gutter and street lighting in Ashton Heights, on N. Piedmont Street from 5th to 6th Streets. ($519,345)
- Beautification plus pedestrian safety improvements with curb and median extensions in Tara Leeway Heights, on N. Patrick Henry Drive from 18th to 20th Streets. ($717,897)
- Street improvements including sidewalk, curb, and gutter in Leeway, on N. Illinois Street from 22nd Street to Lee Highway. ($716,692)
The last round of Neighborhood Conservation projects included street, park and sign improvements in six different neighborhoods. This time around, the committee passed over proposed park projects in Penrose, Arlington Forest and Boulevard Manor; pedestrian safety projects in Westover Village, Waverly Hills and Claremont; and street improvement projects in Williamsburg and Maywood.
The informal, relationships-based advocacy at the core of the “Arlington Way” makes it harder for nonprofits led by and serving people of color to receive county funding, Arlington County Board Chair Katie Cristol says.
She tells ARLnow these concerns were raised by leaders of color, and she is working on a resolution — that could be voted on by the County Board this month — to change the status quo. The resolution will incorporate recommendations made by a small group of leaders representing local nonprofits.
At the top of their list is a fairly simple concept: a formal application process. Right now, Cristol says, the county uses an “ad hoc” process that doesn’t “live up to our values of transparency and access.”
Meanwhile, a decades-old, community-based program that identifies small infrastructure improvements is confronting a longstanding criticism — which leadership says is backed up by fresh data — of favoring projects in wealthier, whiter neighborhoods.
Community leaders presented updates on these efforts to the Arlington County Board last month. The moves are part of the county’s work to apply its 2019 equity resolution to policy-making and the newest contribution to the Board’s ongoing discussion of problems with the “Arlington Way,” the moniker given to the public process that informs policy-making.
The process often rewards those who are most civically active, connected and vocal about a given issue. But not always: it also frustrates those who follow the civic engagement playbook only to have the Board vote the other way.
“We heard some truthful feedback about how the ‘Arlington Way’ — for the many things it has achieved and its, at times, positive contributions to the community — also has some real downsides,” Cristol said in the Dec. 20, 2022 meeting. “It has been a way of doing things that lacked transparency and access, has prioritized relationships over fairness, and at times, it feels like it is reflective of predetermined outcomes.”
As part of the annual budget, the county awards grants of up to $50,000 or $100,000 for nonprofits serving low- and moderate-income residents, such as employment programs for people with disabilities, after-school programming for immigrant youth and financial planning assistance for families at risk of homelessness.
Leaders of local organizations say the county needs to do a better job of publicizing when funding is available and helping grassroots groups with the application process.
“This part was important for us, particularly for smaller organizations who don’t necessarily have the bandwidth or knowledge in the grant-making cycle that other larger organizations have,” said Cicely Whitfield, the chief program officer for the homeless shelter Bridges to Independence.
This could involve providing clearer deadlines and technical assistance, as well as feedback and workshop opportunities for nonprofits that are denied funding so they can apply successfully.
The group says the county should defer to organizations, which have a better sense of what the community needs, and ask for input on applications from people who would benefit.
Board Member Libby Garvey supported the changes but warned they could be controversial.
“There’s that saying, ‘I’m here from the government and I’m here to help you,’ and that’s supposed to be scary. It’s really because what it often means is, ‘I’m here from the government and I’m here to tell you what you need.'”
The sentiment applies to the Arlington Way, she says.
“We may find a little reaction from this, that ‘This is not the Arlington Way,'” she said. “We’re going to have to figure out ways to bring along everyone and explain… ‘This is going to be better and here’s why.’ We’re going to have work to do with the other part of the community that maybe is usually included.”
There is a three-decade-old program where the county acts on needs identified by residents: the Arlington Neighborhood Conservation Program, now known as the Arlington Neighborhoods Program (ANP).
The downside of this program is that it has “equity liabilities,” County Board Member Takis Karantonis said.
He said the model works for “community members who could afford to go to the meetings, who could afford to make a methodical evaluation of the state of sidewalks, or lack of sidewalks, or lack of public lighting… and fight for funding in a competitive but orderly manner.”
Although not a new criticism, ANP Chair Kathy Reeder provided the County Board with new data suggesting the program has disadvantaged less wealthy, more diverse neighborhoods.
Early voting got off to a muted start today (Thursday) at the Arlington County government headquarters in Courthouse.
“We had a line of five voters when we opened at 8 a.m.,” Director of Elections Gretchen Reinemeyer told ARLnow. “We’ve had 72 voters as of 11 a.m. Flow is slow but steady. The first day of voting last year we processed around 400 voters. We might be slightly under that today.”
Through Nov. 4, registered voters in Arlington can cast their ballots at the county’s election offices for Arlington County Board, School Board and Virginia’s 8th Congressional district, as well as six local bond referenda totaling $510 million.
One seat on the Arlington School Board is open once member Barbara Kanninen steps down. Bethany Sutton, who has the endorsement of the Arlington County Democratic Committee, and Vell Rives, her independent challenger, are competing for the position.
The bonds, if approved, would fund some of the next 10 years’ worth of capital projects for the county and Arlington Public Schools. If needed, the Arlington County Board can reallocate approved bond funds to other projects within the same bucket, such as transportation or parks.
Though interest rates have been rising, the county says it typically gets lower rates, relatively speaking, thanks to its high credit rating.
“Arlington currently holds AAA general obligation bond ratings from the three major bond rating agencies,” the county website says. “These strong ratings allow the County to borrow at very low interest rates, resulting in lower costs to Arlington taxpayers.”
The planned bonds are as follows.
Metro & Transportation ($52.63 million)
- Paying Arlington County’s share of Metro’s capital improvement program: $42.6 million
- Paving local streets and roads, $7.2 million
- Conducting maintenance on local vehicle and pedestrian bridges, $1.5 million
- Improving street lighting, $1.1 million
- Replacing intelligent transportation system devices, $200,000
- Addressing missing links in curbs and gutters, $100,000
Parks and Recreation ($22.46 million)
- Parks maintenance capital and master planning projects, $10.8 million
- Additional funding for the completed renovations at Jennie Dean Park, $4.4 million
- Initial planning and designs for the Arlington Boathouse, $2.9 million
- Arlington’s Natural Resiliency program, which conserves natural resources makes upgrades at parks to prevent destructive flooding, $2 million
- Funding for the Emerging Uses program, which responds to “emerging recreational activities and casual use spaces,” $2 million
- Maintenance of synthetic turf fields, $300,000
Community Infrastructure ($53.3 million)
- Courthouse and Arlington County Police Department building upgrades, $13.1 million
- Facilities design and construction, $12.7 million
- Courthouse renovations and infrastructure, $12 million
- Fire station replacements and additions, $7.4 million
- Neighborhood Conservation projects, $5 million
- Facilities maintenance capital, $3.1 million
Arlington Public Schools ($165 million)
- Career Center expansion project, $135.97 million
- Improvements to kitchens and secure entrances, $12.24 million
- Major infrastructure projects, $16.8 million
Stormwater ($39.76 million)
- Spout Run Watershed, $13.26 million
- Langston Blvd and Sycamore Street culverts, $6.75 million
- Torreyson Run Watershed, $5.95 million
- Other capacity improvement projects, $8 million
Water Quality Improvements
- Gulf Branch Stream, $2.75 million
- Sparrow Pond Watershed, $1.275 million
- Other water quality improvements, $1.75 million
Utilities ($177.36 million)
- Meeting more stringent environmental regulations at the Water Pollution Control Plant, and increasing capacity there to meet Arlington’s growing population and development, $159.5 million
- Improving the Washington Aqueduct system, $15 million
- Improving gravity transmission mains, $2.9 million
The deadline to register to vote this year is Oct. 18. Voters can check their registration status online through the State Dept. of Elections.
Those planning to vote on Election Day may have a change in their polling location. Arlington County is sending out mailers with their district and polling place information for the General Election.