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This regularly-scheduled sponsored Q&A column is written by Eli Tucker, Arlington-based Realtor and Rosslyn resident. Please submit your questions to him via email for response in future columns. Enjoy!
Question: How much interest has there been in Trafalgar Flats and do you think it’s a good investment?
Answer: Twelve months ago I introduced a new condo building off of Columbia Pike, Trafalgar Flats, by Pillars Development Group. Now that they’re near completion, I stopped by to take a look at the progress and talk to Rick Snider, Pillars’ VP of Planning & Design.
Impressive Design, Upgraded Finishes
Trafalgar Flats owners will be pleasantly surprised with the quality of the finishes; everything is upgraded well beyond what one expects at this price point.
It’s a modern design without being over-the-top and includes nice touches, like heavier interior doors, most builders skip. Instead of using standard bucket-style recessed lighting, they chose LED lights that lay flat against the ceiling (pictured below) for a minimalist look I expect will become a trend.
Selling condos without a model isn’t easy so having 40% sold (33 of 78 units) already reinforces how starved Arlington is for new condos at a reasonable price (about half the cost of comparable units at Key & Nash).
To Pillars’ credit, their sales have been evenly distributed across each of the three types of units – Jr 1BR ($265k+), 1BR ($340k+), and 2BR/2BA ($475k+). I was particularly interested in how the Jr 1BR would sell because it’s a product that we don’t see much of around here; it turns out they made the right decision.
Trafalgar Flats will be complete, with a model unit, by the end of the year. Although that comes at the slowest time of the year for local real estate I expect the pace of sales to move quickly. I wouldn’t be surprised if they are sold out by March 2019, sooner if Amazon HQ2 announces their move to Arlington.
Investing Along Columbia Pike
Western Columbia Pike has a higher appreciation ceiling over the next 5-10 years than most Northern VA neighborhoods. It is primed for a shift in residential and commercial activity as the County’s Multimodal Street Improvement project reaches completion over the next few years, including improvements to underground utilities.
Just this year, major projects along western Columbia Pike have been announced or under construction including Trafalgar Flats, a new Pillars townhouse community, Centro Arlington (anchored by Harris Teeter), and Gilliam Place Apartments.
Thoughts From Pillars Development Executive
I spoke with Rick Snider, long-time Northern Virginia real estate Executive and VP of Planning & Design for Pillars, about Trafalgar Flats and his thoughts on development along Columbia Pike:
How did you choose this area over others to build TF? We were immediately attracted to this site when it came onto the market due to the ‘hole’ in the market relative to “For Sale” product versus “Rental”; we rightly anticipated that some nearby apartment renters would want to become new home owners, rather than purchase an older condo.
Are there other pockets of Northern Virginia or Arlington that you believe has similar appreciation potential? We like Columbia Pike and the market along it; we already have townhouse lots in planning nearby Trafalgar Flats to emphasize our interest in and commitment to this area, and are hopeful that our searches for additional land development opportunities in the area will be rewarded.
Where do you see Columbia Pike Development in three years and in seven years? When do you expect the biggest transition to take place along the Pike? The foundational change of course is found in the Multimodal Project which underscores Arlington County’s commitment to upgrade the infrastructure along this important corridor and to thereby not only improve existing residents’ quality of life, but also to attract additional developments like Trafalgar Flats, Centro Arlington and Gilliam Place.
Do you think Columbia Pike or Lee Highway will re-develop faster? If you had asked me this a couple of years ago, I would have weighed in on Lee Highway without hesitation, but I think that with the new developments underway and with the infrastructure improvements going in now and in the future that it becomes much more of a horse race; and I think that the price of housing, both for sale and rental, may well be the deciding factor that pushes the Pike ahead.
If you’d like a question answered in my weekly column, please send an email to [email protected]. To read any of my older posts, visit the blog section of my website at www.EliResidential.com. Call me directly at (703) 539-2529.
Eli Tucker is a licensed Realtor in Virginia, Washington DC, and Maryland with Real Living At Home, 2420 Wilson Blvd #101 Arlington, VA 22201, (202) 518-8781.
Work is progressing on the multiphase Columbia Pike utility undergrounding and streetscape improvement project.
The gas main relocation on Columbia Pike — between Four Mile Run and the Arlington/Fairfax line — is expected to be completed later this month, ending the pre-construction phase of the utility undergrounding that began in 2017. Northern Pipeline, Washington Gas’ contractor for the project, will coordinate with customers to change service over to the new gas mainline.
Drivers should expect traffic disruptions, lane closures, and possible left turn restrictions on Arlington’s western end of the Pike for the duration of the construction. This phase of the undergrounding project is expected to take three years to construct.
Three segments of the entire multimodal street project have already been completed. Another three construction segments have yet to begin, and the entire project is estimated to continue through 2021, according to Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services. Those three segments run from S. Wakefield Street to S. Oakland Street, from S. Garfield Street to S. Quinn Street, and from S. Orme Street to S. Joyce Street.
A DES press release stated that the work was intended to “make Columbia Pike a safer, more accessible route for all users.”
The $14.6 million construction contract, approved November 2017 by the County Board, also includes street improvements between Four Mile Run Bridge and S. Jefferson Street. Planned enhancements include wider sidewalks, upgraded traffic signals and street lights. Old water and sewer pipes will be replaced and overhead utilities will be buried.
An outdoor sculpture by Chicago-born Donald Lipski will be installed by Arlington’s Western Gateway, near Columbia Pike and South Jefferson Street, marking the entrance to Arlington from Fairfax County. Residents interested in email updates regarding the projects can sign up on the county’s project and planning website.
It has been four years since Arlington County and WMATA opened the infamous $1 million bus stop at the corner of Columbia Pike and Walter Reed Drive. So where are the rest of the upgraded transit stations planned for the Pike?
They’re coming, starting next year, the county says.
“The County Board approved $13.3 million for the planned 23 stations in Arlington’s FY 2017-2026 Capital Improvement Plan,” says a county webpage for the project. “Construction of the transit stations is expected to begin in 2018 and proceed in phases through 2021.”
“That schedule still holds,” Arlington Dept. of Environmental Services spokesman Eric Balliet confirmed to ARLnow.com on Monday. “Design of site-specific improvements for the first six stations is underway. Design and construction for the remaining stations will be coordinated with the County’s plans for Columbia Pike street improvements and utility undergrounding.”
The per-station cost is still pegged around $575,000, well under the cost of the original prototype station. Originally, the stations were planned to serve the Columbia Pike streetcar, but with that project’s cancellation the stations will now serve WMATA and ART buses.
County staff is expected to present proposed revisions to its Transit Development Plan for the Pike in the second quarter of this year, with possible improvements to bus service along the corridor.
Last night, after a two-hour discussion, the Arlington County Board voted 3-2 to approve a contract with HDR Engineering for $26 million for preliminary design and engineering work on the project. Fairfax County has committed to paying $3.2 million of the contract for their segment of the streetcar, from Bailey’s Crossroads to the Skyline neighborhood. The $26 million is 5.4 percent of the projected $481 million streetcar project.
The contract is the first step to Arlington’s goal of the system becoming operational in 2020. While the county has spent millions funding studies and surveys to prove the streetcar is the best transit system for the Pike’s future, this contract is the first going to actually laying the groundwork for the system itself.
“I believe that this decision is a major milestone to keeping us on track to start streetcar service in 2020,” County Board Chair Jay Fisette said at the meeting. “We think long-term. We make long-term decisions, we don’t think just about the next month or next election. We created a Columbia Pike plan over many years. Think about the Clarendon Sector Plan or the Rosslyn Sector Plan. How would you feel if you went through those years and years of meetings and then have someone change that plan? I think we need to have some integrity and recognize the engagement that we’ve had.”
HDR is the firm that designed the streetcar in the District’s H Street NE corridor, but has also designed streetcar or lightrail systems in New Orleans, Phoenix and is designing a 122-mile rail system in Denver, Colo. As part of the contract, there’s a $5 million clause for “optional work,” which includes helping the county with deciding how to actually construct the streetcar. The preliminary engineering and design is expected to take 18 months.
According to the staff presentation, the contract stipulated HDR provide:
- Studies of area surveys, traffic, utilities, soils, structures, environmental conditions and mitigation
- Achieving 30 percent design status for roadway work, track alignment, power, signals, stations and facilities
- Vehicle specifications
- Plans for property acquisition
- Updated construction cost estimates
- Technical support for outreach and coordination
Thirteen speakers addressed the County Board on the issue — 11 in favor, and two opposed — a somewhat muted turnout considering the divide the streetcar has generated in the Arlington community.
“We have waited for a very long time for this project,” said Juliet Hiznay, an Arlington Heights resident. “It occurs to me that sometimes one of the worst things government can do is delay decisions. I think we’ve seen that play out on the school side with the lack of comprehensive planning, and we’re really paying for it now.”
David DeCamp, a real estate developer and former Arlington Chamber of Commerce chairman, spoke in favor of the streetcar, saying it will fund future investments in schools and will be “great for all of Arlington.”
“Frankly,” he said, “it’s something that’s been promised to the developers who have built three or four beautiful properties on the Pike so far.”
Penrose resident Stefanie Pryor opposes the streetcar, but in acknowledging that it was likely to pass, said she hoped for an auditor to be included in the contract and direct stipulations to ensure the materials and cars used for the project are appropriate and functional.
“You get some nasty surprises with commercial off-the-shelf [vehicles] unless you put it explicitly in the contract,” she said.
Board members John Vihstadt and Libby Garvey, elected largely on platforms opposing the streetcar, both railed against the contract and the streetcar in general, with Garvey positing that the streetcar system would move fewer people and deliver a worse return on investment than an enhanced bus system.
“I would maintain that we are plunging ahead on something we are not really ready for that I don’t think is really justified,” she said. “We are spending all this time and effort and money on seven and a half miles of tracks and wires that can take us to where we can go now, but slower.” (more…)
(Updated at 3:55 p.m.) The county’s plan for “Super Stop” bus stops on Columbia Pike, which led to the much-maligned $1 million Super Stop at the corner of the Pike and S. Walter Reed Drive, has been scrapped in favor of a more affordable design.
The county announced this afternoon that the new plan calls for building the 23 additional transit centers along the Pike for about 40 percent less than the previous budget, dropping the total price from $20.9 million to $12.4 million. The cost of individual stations will be between $362,000 and $672,000.
The freshly-redesigned stops — which were designed by the county and a consultant — will feature six covered, concrete seats, as opposed to the Super Stop’s steel seats. The canopies, which on the Super Stop did little to keep out the elements, will be lowered in height from 13 feet to 10 feet and the angle reduced from 10 degrees to 1.5 degrees. The total canopy coverage will also increase from 243 to 295 square feet on standard transit centers. In addition, side windscreens will be added to enhance weather protection.
“Our goal was accountability, to pinpoint what went wrong in the project management on the Super Stop design, to account for how the money was spent and, going forward, to ensure the transit stations will be built effectively,” County Manager Barbara Donnellan said at a press conference held at the Arlington Mill Community Center on Columbia Pike. “Our new design firm has produced… a transit station with a price tag far below the Walter Reed prototype.”
The new stops, which the county is rebranding from “Super Stops” to “transit centers,” have a modular design, meaning each is built with standardized parts that can be added on to in order to create larger stations, as needed. A “single-size” station will cost $362,000, a “standard” transit center will cost $469,000, and an “extended” transit center — planned for the north side of the Pike at S. Glebe Road, for example — will cost about $672,000.
The county will soon issue a request for proposals, after which it will undergo a design phase, with hopes to start work on the first eight stops by FY 2017. The county will directly oversee construction, whereas WMATA was the construction lead on the original Super Stop — something Arlington officials blamed in part for project delays and high costs.
Donnellan said the review of why the Super Stop was so expensive and took too long to build isn’t finalized yet, but hopes to announce its findings within two months.
“I am disappointed the review is not done yet,” she said. “We are working really collaboratively with Metro to finalize the information. It’s sort of like a reconstruction of the information that’s been compiled over the last 10 years.”
The first eight stops to be built are expected to be on either sides of the Pike at S. Glebe Road, S. Oakland Street, S. Barton Street and S. Buchanan Street. As for the Walter Reed Super Stop, it won’t be torn down, said Transit Bureau Chief Stephen Del Giudice. Instead the county will “examine what can be done to improve its performance and weather protection.”
The county surveyed 732 individuals, 515 of whom were users of the Walter Reed stop, and used their input — largely complaints about the lack of weather protection — to design the new transit centers. The survey respondents all liked, however, the real-time information display and the “overall aesthetic” of the stop. Both elements have been incorporated into the new stops.
The county’s press release on the topic, after the jump.
(Updated at 2:20 p.m.) While the planned Columbia Pike streetcar has been making local headlines, Arlington County has been quietly moving forward with a project that’s bringing significant infrastructure improvements to the busy thoroughfare.
Arlington County’s Columbia Pike Multimodal Street Improvements Project seeks to implement “streetscape and related improvements for pedestrians, bicycles, transit, and vehicles along Arlington’s 3.5 mile Columbia Pike corridor.” The improvements include a completely reconstructed roadway, new left-turn lanes, planted medians, additional street trees, enhanced pedestrian crossings and so-called bicycle boulevards.
The $80 million project is currently in progress, and expected to run through 2018. About $72 million of the $80 million price tag coming from the county’s commercial tax-funded Transportation Capital Fund.
The turn lanes in particular are expected to “lessen delays and improve traffic flow,” said Bill Roberts, Transportation Program Manager for Arlington County. Meanwhile, the bike boulevards, which will run parallel to Pike along 9th and 12th Streets, will combine with planned 10-foot-wide shared bike and pedestrian sidewalks to make it easier for cyclists to traverse the Pike away from traffic. But residents might be happiest to learn about the roadway reconstruction.
The project will ultimately result in the reconstruction of the entire stretch of Columbia Pike from the Pentagon to Fairfax County. That should be welcome news for road users, who have been grumbling about the pockmarked state of portions of the Pike.
Currently, road crews are working on the stretch of Columbia Pike between S. Wakefield Street and Four Mile Run Drive. That work is expected to wrap up this fall, according to Roberts.
The stretch of road is in especially bad shape, Roberts said, thanks to runoff from multiple water main breaks, which seeped into the project area, and heavy bus traffic, which has caused depressions in the roadway, particularly around bus stops. Even with plans to reconstruct the roadway, Roberts said crews will be doing some temporary repaving in the westbound lanes in the next 2-3 weeks.
Following that work, the county expects to start road reconstruction between the Fairfax County line and Four Mile Run Drive. That portion of the project is slated to start in the spring of 2014 and end 24 months later, in the spring of 2016.
Next up after that is S. Wakefield Street to S. Oakland Street, and Walter Reed Drive to S. Scott Street. Those projects will happen concurrently between early 2015 and early 2017.
Project work has already been completed between S. Oakland Street and Walter Reed Drive.
The work is necessary, Roberts says, because the underlying roadbed has become uneven due to its age and the patchwork nature of previous roadwork. Some of the existing infrastructure along the Pike dates back to the 1920s and 1930s, while the Pike itself was first built in 1810.
“What we’re going to be doing is installing a consistent sub-base and a thicker layer of asphalt,” Roberts said. “We’re completely reconstructing the roadbed.”
While the road improvements will be the most visible part of the project, much of the funding will actually going to work well below the roadway. Aging and leak-prone 8-inch water and sewer pipes under the road will be replaced by new 12-inch pipes, and existing overhead utilities will be placed underground. The utilities are all being placed in the middle of the roadway, so that water main breaks or other utility work doesn’t disrupt the future streetcar.
The timeline for the final piece of the multimodal project — from Washington Boulevard to S. Joyce Street — is still up in the air. The county is currently in talks with the federal government about a land swap that would allow the county to “realign” Columbia Pike to make a straighter, more direct connection with S. Joyce Street. If all goes well, Roberts says that work could be completed in 2018.
The Multimodal Improvements are a necessary warm-up act for the ultimate construction of the planned Pike streetcar, but the project is being run independently of the streetcar project. County Board member Chris Zimmerman, who lives along the Pike, said that improvements to the Pike are necessary regardless of whether the streetcar gets built.
“We’re going to have big traffic challenges in the next few years on the Pike, streetcar or no,” he told ARLnow.com late last year. “It’s been a good road for a long time but it’s really old now. The street itself has to be upgraded.”
As of 9:30 a.m. on Monday, 27,586 Dominion customers were still without power, down from 59,000 at noon on Saturday. The company says it has 4,200 employees and contractors working to restore power to customers in all affected areas, but notes that the huge scale of the damage is making restoration a multi-day process.
“Many poles and cross arms need to be replaced, and other infrastructure needs to be rebuilt,” Dominion said in a press release.
Verizon says it’s working “around the clock” to restore phone, internet and TV service. According to spokesman Harry J. Mitchell:
As with most services in the immediate aftermath of the storms — a situation faced by more than a million residences and businesses throughout the Washington metropolitan area — Verizon has been making every effort to assess damages to its facilities and immediately had crews working to get services back online. However, due to extensive commercial power outages across the entire region, our crews have had to deal with a number of technical and mechanical challenges, in addition to storm damage such as downed poles and trees on our wires.
A power issue in one of our Arlington facilities has created several issues that we’re currently working through, including difficulty some callers are having when dialing 911 in Fairfax and Prince William counties. These counties’ 911 centers now are receiving most calls, and we continue to work diligently to restore full calling to them.
We’re working late hours — often around the clock — and bringing in additional technicians from other parts of our service area to assist in bringing service back as quickly as we possibly can. We appreciate customers’ continued patience as we work to restore services in the wake of one of the worst storms in recent memory.
Comcast, meanwhile, is also facing significant service issues in Arlington in the wake of the storm. Last night many Twitter users reported that their Comcast TV and internet service had gone out, despite it working earlier in the day. According to Comcast spokeswoman Aimee N. Metrick:
At this time it appears most issues are directly related to commercial power outages, and for the vast majority of people, service should be restored as power comes back on to their homes. However, given the severity of the winds and rain that arose from this storm, we are also seeing some more extensive damage caused by falling trees, poles and more that will take longer to repair.
We are working closely with state and local emergency personnel and power companies, and have employees working across the footprint to assess and repair damage in impacted areas once provided clearance that it’s safe to do so. We appreciate our customers’ patience and understanding, and will continue to work until service has been restored for all.
With temperatures again expected to climb into the 90s, Arlington County’s libraries and community centers are open today as cooling centers for those without power. Among the centers that will be open are:
- Aurora Hills Community and Senior Center (10am-3pm)
- Barcroft Sports and Fitness Center (8 am-10:30pm)
- Carver Community Center (9am-9pm)
- Charles Drew Community Center (3pm-9pm)
- Fairlington Community Center (8am-9pm)
- Gunston Community Center (2pm-9pm)
- Langston-Brown Community Center (9am-10pm)
- Lee Community Center (9:30am-6pm)
- Madison Community Center (9am-9pm)
- Thomas Jefferson Community Center (6am-10pm)
- Walter Reed Community Center (8am-10pm)
Arlington’s libraries — including Central, Aurora Hills, Glencarlyn, Shirlington, Westover — are scheduled to be open from 10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. today. Yesterday Central Library and Shirlington Branch Library stayed open until 11:00 p.m. to accommodate those who lost power. According to the library blog, some 600 people were crammed into Central Library yesterday afternoon. The fire department also set up a temporary spray park at Central Library to help kids cool off.
The Cherrydale and Columbia Pike libraries are closed today due to lack of power. Also closed is the Lubber Run Community Center, the Long Branch Nature Center, some schools and some summer camps. See a full list of county closures here.
Dogma Bakery in Shirlington (2772 S. Arlington Mill Drive) is remaining open until 9:00 tonight and welcoming pets and owners who need a cool place at which to hang out. Owner Sheila Raebel — whose own house is without power — says she has set up chairs and tables after finding out that other cooling centers weren’t necessarily welcoming pets.
“We had people who were asking about it,” she said. “We found out the county… doesn’t have a place for people with their pets to come when it’s really hot. There are a lot of dogs who are older and a lot of cats who can’t live in a place where it’s 85 degrees”
The store’s Lee Highway location is currently closed due to lack of power.
Flickr pool photo by ddimick
Arlington County is preparing to move forward with utility undergrounding and street improvements along Columbia Pike.
The County Board is expected to approve a contract for work along a section of the Pike at its meeting this Saturday, May 19. The $5.7 million contract would go to Sagres Construction Corporation, and includes work from S. Wakefield Street to Four Mile Run.
Utility underground is the first phase of the project, to be followed by a variety of additions and upgrades. Some of the improvements include new bus shelters, traffic signals, bike racks, ADA compliant ramps, street lights, trees and wider sidewalks. That stretch of Columbia Pike will also be resurfaced with a new layer of asphalt.
County staff has been working to ensure customers have access to all the buildings along the affected stretch of road, as well as to public transportation. Lane closures and traffic disruptions should be expected during construction, but will be during non-rush times. Night work is also possible, which could create some construction noise.
A Department of Environmental Services spokeswoman said assuming the board approves the contract on Saturday, work should begin in July. It will take about 15 months to complete. Project updates will be posted on the county’s website.
(Updated at 12:40 p.m.) The small grassy field in front of the new Penrose Square apartments on Columbia Pike will likely be transformed into a considerably less grassy, $2 million public plaza over the next year.
Over the weekend, the Arlington County Board will vote on whether to approve a construction contract and a public art contract for a “Penrose Square Public Plaza” at 2503 Columbia Pike. The 17,360 square foot plaza will be a central focus of the revitalized Columbia Pike “town center,” and will serve “as a meeting and gathering spot in the Corridor’s new urban fabric.”
The construction contract, worth some $1.6 million, will create “a tree-covered terrace with movable tables and chairs; an inner plaza with a water feature… an inscription of historical significance of the site; and a grass mound area shaded with trees for informal seating.” The water feature will be made sustainable “by collecting, treating and then reusing water from the fountain again to minimize daily water consumption.”
Yearly operating costs for the plaza are estimated at just above $100,000 per year, including $68,290 for grounds maintenance, $20,000 for fountain maintenance and $13,000 for utilities like water and electricity.
The plaza will also feature a public art installation. Dubbed “Echo,” the installation by artist Richard Deutsch will consist of two large granite slabs, each with a parabola carved out of one side. The slabs will be arranged so that someone at the end of one parabola will be able to clearly hear someone speaking at the other parabola, 30 feet away.
“The artwork is inspired by the significant role that Arlington’s Three Sisters Radio Towers, formerly located on the nearby Navy Annex property, played in the development of the nation’s trans-Atlantic communication capabilities,” the County Board report says. The sole-source contract to create the installation is worth $425,000.
Echo is expected to be installed in the spring of 2012. Construction on the plaza is expected to wrap up in the fall of 2012. A second construction phase — which will eventually extend the plaza into what is now the adjacent CVS parking lot — is also in the works.
As the D.C. City Council wrestles with funding for its planned streetcar system, one of the first visible signs of progress on Arlington’s planned Columbia Pike streetcar project will be appearing soon.
Late next month, a contractor is scheduled to start utility relocation work on Columbia Pike between South Wakefield Street and Four Mile Run Drive. While the $2.3 million project is ostensibly meant to improve aesthetics and infrastructure along the Pike by shifting above-ground utility lines below ground, it will also relocate existing underground utilities in anticipation of the planned streetcar line.
The work is expected to take about 15 months to complete. It’s being funded with money from the county, state and federal governments. The county board approved a contract with Alexandria-based construction firm Martin & Gass on Tuesday.
A second phase of the project is scheduled to begin in the fall of 2011. That phase “will focus on improving streets by building wider sidewalks, and adding trees and lighting,” according to a county press release.
Arlington residents can expect to pay an extra $277 on average in property taxes after the County Board approved a 1.5-cent tax increase for fiscal year 2018.
The tax hike, less than the Board’s advertised maximum raise of 2 cents, will help fund Arlington Public Schools and Metro. APS will receive an extra $23.3 million, while Metro will get more than $14 million more, meaning Arlington’s contribution to its operating budget will be $71 million a year.
“This budget is a compromise and a consensus of the Board, and reflects the values of this community,” said Board Chair Jay Fisette. “The Board agreed to a modest increase in the property tax rate — less than the [County] Manager recommended — because of the extraordinary funding needs of Metro and our public schools.”
Residents will see several fees increase too. The household solid waste rate will increase by $6.88 a year to $314.16 annually, while the water/sewer rate will increase to $13.62 per thousand gallons. The Residential Utility Tax will see a hike too, while a new $60 accessory homestay permit fee has been added for those who wish to use services like Airbnb to let others stay in their homes.
The Board also hold a public hearing in May on proposed fare increases for Arlington Transit (ART) and Specialized Transportation for Arlington Residents (STAR), the county’s transit service for the disabled. Board members said increases are consistent with Metrobus fare increases, and would help with rising operating costs.
Also included in the $1.5 billion is an extra $1.3 million for the county’s Affordable Housing Investment Fund, taking its total in the budget to just over $15 million. The County Board also approved hiring seven new sheriff’s deputies, three more emergency call takers and three police patrol officers. The sheriff hirings will be phased over several years.
Among other programs to receive extra funding were the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization and the Lee Highway Alliance. The latter had been slated for a budget cut alongside other programs, but last month supporters spoke against that plan.
The Board also provided $100,000 to fund groups that help assist undocumented County residents, families with mixed immigration status and refugees.
At its meeting Saturday, Board members also gave the green light to a 3.5 percent pay increase for all county employees, including themselves. Under the plan, Board members’ pay would rise to $53,282, with the chair’s pay at $59,610.
Board member John Vihstadt (I) tried to separate discussion of other county employees’ raises from talk of Board members’ increases, as he said it would make the talks more transparent.
“I just find it a little anomalous that at the very time we are going to be imposing a fairly sizable property tax increase, which I am voting for, that we’re able to find the money ourselves to help us cope with that increase, but the community doesn’t have such a luxury or advantage,” he said. “I oppose us giving ourselves our own pay raise like this.”
But other Board members objected, and questioned why that issue was raised so late in the game.
“There were so many other important things that we dealt with, and this is 100 percent political posturing that is disappointing to me,” Fisette said. The pay raises passed together with Vihstadt’s abstaining, and he promised to donate the extra money he will receive to charity.