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The Right Note: Delaying the Hospital Expansion?

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

The Arlington Planning Commission is recommending that the County Board delay consideration of the Virginia Hospital Center’s planned expansion, due largely to pushback from neighbors.

Arlington’s long history of community involvement is a good one. Taking neighborhood concerns into consideration, particularly when it comes to mitigating traffic volume around the hospital, is not without merit. The Planning Commission, however, wants to send the hospital back to the drawing board largely for aesthetics, asking that they move some of the taller buildings to a different location in the plans to create less of a “wall” between the hospital and the neighboring single family homes.

While the Metro corridor has a natural step down effect from large buildings into residential neighborhoods, the hospital has long been established in the middle of single family homes. And these neighbors moved into the area with the full knowledge that Arlington’s only hospital was there.

Our population continues to grow as the County Board adds more density to our major corridors. In addition to impacts on schools, it means our healthcare needs will grow as well. Allowing the hospital to expand will add 101 beds to that capacity right here in our community and meet the needs for the next decade or so.

The hospital already adds upwards of $50 million a year in community benefit, according to the Chamber of Commerce. The proposed expansion will add not only short-term construction jobs but permanent jobs for doctors, nurses, clinical professionals and many other support staff here in Arlington.

As the County Board knows from its own projects, construction delays add to construction costs.  This is an important factor in favor of quick approval of this project, particularly in the face of healthcare costs that are already growing faster than inflation.

Virginia Hospital Center is an asset to Arlington. It is needed to meet our healthcare needs and it provides good jobs. That is why there is little doubt that the Board intends to ultimately approve this project, and almost just as certainly additional expansion will be needed in the future. With all of this in mind, they should move forward as quickly as they can rather than causing an extensive delay.

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The Right Note: Election Season Kickoff

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Leaving the annual Civic Federation candidate forum Tuesday evening, I was already writing this column in my head. It was going to be heavy with criticism about the format.

Delegates were essentially allowed to race to the microphone and form a line to ask questions. With two-minute answers for each candidate, only four questions were asked of each of the three panels.

As a result, County Board candidates were asked two questions about elections: one on access to in-person absentee voting and one on election security. This might have been more appropriate for the Electoral Board or the Registrar, but on Tuesday it made up 50 percent of the Q & A for the position that determines how our local tax dollars are raised and spent.

For School Board, one question was asked about the tree canopy and another about the cost of facility rentals. No question was asked about renaming Washington-Lee High School, though Audrey Clement brought up the issue. Little time was spent on classroom performance or per-pupil spending. (And no one took me up on my suggestion of asking whether or not elementary school students should be assigned homework.)

This is nothing new. Having been through two Civic Federation forums as a candidate myself, I came to expect the non-traditional questions from delegates. Once I was asked simply why I liked living in Arlington.

As I thought about the forum more, my stance on the format began to change. Sure, we may have gotten to more of the “big issues” had questions been submitted in advance so the moderator could have asked the two most popular ones before turning it over to the delegates. Or, each answer could have been shortened to 60 or 90 seconds to allow for more questions from the delegates.

At the same time, if you want to know where the candidates stand on the big issues, you can read their websites or go to one of the many civic association forums on the calendar between now and Election Day. And you should go listen to the candidates in person, after all, local government is the most important government to our everyday lives.

But there is no doubt, they have those talking points down. What makes the Civic Federation forum unique is you never know what will be asked. The way a candidate answers those non-standard questions gives us a little insight into how a candidate thinks when pushed off their regular talking points. And it reminds the candidates that voters have many different issues that rise to the top of their lists when it comes to what’s most important to them.

So the Civic Federation should keep letting delegates ask the questions. It works for you.

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The Right Note: Corey Stewart and Katie Cristol Agree

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Straight from the “headlines you never thought you would read” category, at a recent forum for Northern Virginia elected leaders, Stewart and Cristol agreed that more money was needed for roads. But, they did not exactly see eye-to-eye on what to do about it.

Cristol supported another round of tax increases to pay for it, backing a plan that failed to get through the General Assembly. It would increase the tax on the sale of a home, about $250 in taxes for a $500,000 house and increase taxes on hotel rooms.

Stewart reminded everyone that new tax dollars were already earmarked for roads, but were diverted to transit as part of the recent Metro funding deal. He would not commit to supporting another new tax increase to pay for it this time around.

There is another option.

As a result of the new federal tax law, Virginia is projected to run a revenue surplus of $500 million a year until 2024. There is a push underway to return at least some of this money to the taxpayers. Gov. Ralph Northam wants to focus on a refundable tax credit. Republicans want to focus on conforming the Virginia code to the structure of the new federal tax law, ensuring middle class taxpayers in Virginia fully benefit from the new tax code.

The General Assembly could also set aside a portion of surplus funds available after any tax reform to go toward road projects. It is a little surprising Cristol is not actively championing this idea since we know the Arlington County Board generally uses most, if not all, of our surplus tax revenue to pay for new spending projects. Then again, the idea of new sources of tax revenue may have been too difficult for Cristol to pass up.

In other news, oddsmakers now favor Washington, D.C. or Northern Virginia as the top two likely destinations for Amazon HQ2. If it lands in Arlington, expect real estate values to make a significant jump and provide a substantial tax revenue boost to the county. But how much will Arlington send back out the door as part of the incentive package necessary to land the online giant? And would there be enough left over for us to see a cut in our tax rate?

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The Right Note: Metro’s Biggest Problem With Its Union Contract

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

After two years of working without a contract, a recent arbitration decision set the terms of employment for nearly two-thirds of all Metro employees through 2020. Union members get a small raise retroactive to 2017. In exchange, they will have to pay a higher percentage of their health care costs moving forward. On net, that means labor costs will go up over $60 million through 2020 and WMATA will look to Arlington, among other jurisdictions, to fill in that gap.

The issue that will have the biggest impact on the long term health of the transit agency is pensions. The second largest union has agreed to move to a defined contribution plan for new hires. The largest union refuses to do so.

The arbitration panel punted on the issue this time around. They also refused to cap the use of overtime in the pension calculations. It was a financially irresponsible decision in the face of a $3 billion unfunded pension liability.

Under the terms of the contractual arrangement, both sides are bound to go to arbitration when talks break down. WMATA, which already faces difficulties firing employees, has no real leverage to push for these pension changes as long as the union continues to balk.

Riders and taxpayers in subsidizing jurisdictions will end up shouldering the burden in the near term. Over the long run, the agency cannot sustain the union’s retirement demands. This failure by the arbitrators to address the pension issue now is another reminder that it is probably time to consider a major structural overhaul.

In anticipation of recent repairs, Metro warned riders on affected lines to avoid the system unless they had no other options. More and more, riders are leaving and not coming back. Now that Arlington has a voting member of the Metro Board, we should hear regularly from Christian Dorsey on what reforms he will push for in order to stop kicking the can down the road.

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The Right Note: Thinking About the School Board

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

This week’s announcement by Arlington Public Schools about their compliance with the new Virginia law on recess reminded me that voters do have a choice in the School Board race in November. Audrey Clement and Barbara Kanninen will debate in September, so here are eight things Civic Federation members should consider asking about.

College is becoming prohibitively expensive for many. The economy still needs people in skilled trades which can provide good careers. What more should Arlington be doing to prepare students who do not want to go on to a traditional four-year college?

Our school enrollment is increasing and new buildings are being built, under what circumstances would you support increasing the student to teacher ratio to meet enrollment within budget constraints?

If county revenues suddenly became flat, where would you look first for budget savings? Have you considered ways that administrative staff and expenses could be scaled back to ensure cuts were not made in the classroom?

This year as part of the budget process, Superintendent Patrick Murphy reported per pupil spending would be $19,235 for the 2019 school year for the anticipated enrollment of 28,027 students. But when you divide $636.7 million by 28,027 students, you arrive at $22,717 per projected student. Why does Arlington report per-pupil spending this way and shouldn’t we be honest with county residents about the total actual cost rather than relying on a manufactured formula that pegs the number nearly $3,500 lower?

Assuming the School Board had not decided to engage in a name change process for Washington-Lee, what could staff have spent their time on to improve educational outcomes and what could the money that will be needed to change the name have been spent on? As the name change process moves forward, do you support naming it after a person or do you think we should stop naming schools after people altogether?

Some in the county have suggested that increasing diversity should be a higher priority when it comes to school boundary changes. What do you think the top three considerations should be?

Many studies show that homework at younger ages has no academic benefit to students, so would you support a proposal to ban homework county-wide for all elementary school students? What about through the seventh grade?

Currently the county builds in snow days and multiple teacher in-service and conference days into the calendar. Would you support ending the school year for all students not later than June 10 unless too many snow days were accumulated?

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The Right Note: Eight Things To Ask a Board Member This Month

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

It’s August, and in keeping with tradition, there is no County Board meeting for your elected representatives to prepare for this month. So here are eight things to ask your Board Member when you see them out and about:

1) Would you vote to turn yourself into a full-time lawmaking body, and if so, what will taxpayers see in return? In the past, Libby Garvey has proposed a massive raise for County Board Members to bring the salaries in line with median income in Arlington, but other Board Members have passed on the idea so far.

2) Why didn’t you have a firmer grasp on ongoing operating costs for the new aquatics center before breaking ground on the project? And the follow up question is, would you vote to increase the subsidy or increase fees to cover any shortfalls?

3) Would you support removing ongoing maintenance from future bond requests? With our annual debt service ratio dangerously close to the 10 percent cap bond rating agencies look at, shouldn’t we leave room for future needs without having to resort to a big tax increase and pay for maintenance as we go? And would you commit to supporting a separate up or down vote on borrowing for any project over $25 million? If not, what about $50 million?

4) Where do you draw the line on incentives for new businesses looking to locate in Arlington? Since Board Members say the incentives they offered Amazon for their new headquarters are confidential, it would be nice to know if they have a line they will not cross.

5) What changes can you support to ensure all existing businesses in Arlington have an incentive to stay? Zoning, permitting and the gross receipts tax known as BPOL are all open for reform.

6) Speaking of zoning, would you support steps to make the construction of new housing more affordable in Arlington? Affordable housing, as was noted by a recent Sun Gazette piece, has been an issue for half a century in our county. The permitting and zoning process would be a good place to start.

7) Would you vote to double the capacity of the County Auditor’s office in 2019? At the rate we are going, the auditor may only be able to evaluate the total budget about once every 25 years which is hardly an effective avenue for reform.

8) If you could snap your fingers tomorrow and make three specific changes to our laws or budget line items, what would they be and why would they make the most impact on the community? You might receive platitudes or nebulous initiatives if you ask this question, but hopefully they would be able to advocate for concrete changes.

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The Right Note: Aquatics Center Subsidies & Fees Still An Open Question

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

We were reminded this week that Arlington County still has no concrete estimates when it comes to operating costs or potential user fees for the new aquatics center. The study to determine those costs only began in earnest only after the Board voted to move forward with the project. It was not completed before they voted to move forward with construction, and will not be completed until sometime in 2019.

There are two things to watch for here. In the near term, we will find out whether the results of the study produce costs in line with the estimates provided by county staff last fall. In the long term, we will see whether the actual costs outpace the new estimates.

The million-dollar bus stop woke up the community to the escalating costs of the streetcar. The failure of the county to meet expectations on the taxpayer subsidy for the Artisphere ultimately doomed that project. Unlike the Artisphere, Arlington will not be able to divest itself from the new pool complex. If costs outpace estimates, either taxpayers will be on the hook or user fees will increase dramatically. Neither would be a popular outcome.

John Vihstadt raised the operating cost issue last November and voted against moving forward then. One plausible explanation for the other four Board members who supported the project is a total lack of confidence that a dollar figure produced from further study would not far exceed the $1.1 million annual subsidy found in the staff estimates. They certainly did not want any public pressure to account for higher ongoing costs before committing $60 million to the project.

The bottom line is that this work should have been completed before the initial vote last November so the Board could have taken this information into account. Surely it should have been done by this summer when the Board took the final vote to break ground on the project.

This is not the way the county should do business when it comes to making long-term budget commitments.

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The Right Note: Childcare Plan Still Needs More Detail

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

The County Board this week agreed to move forward with their Child Care Initiative action plan.

Of course, it did not take an action plan to tell any of us with kids that it is expensive to take care of them in Arlington. Whether it’s full-time child care, part-time, pre-school or even babysitting the costs add up on top of already expensive mortgages or rent payments. And anecdotally, you probably know parents who have still been scrambling to find care for an infant just days before going back to work.

But what does that mean the county government should do about it?

First, there is the question of accessibility. According to the county’s action plan, more than 13,000 kids are under the age of 5 in Arlington while just less than 7,000 slots are available in child care facilities. However, the county document did not answer all of the relevant statistical questions about these children.

How many families have a stay-at-home parent or a grandparent living with them? How many families use a nanny or au pair? How many families prefer to make use of a child care facility closer to their place of employment, like in D.C. or Fairfax County? In other words, are we really talking about 6,000 plus children who need a child care option, or 3,000 or 1,000 or 100?

Regardless of the number, the county is right to look at whether they can modify zoning and fees to make it easier for more facilities to open. For example, do we really need parking for all of the people who work there, or could the facility instead offer a Metro or rideshare benefit? Can we lower certain application fees? Lowering governmentally imposed barriers to entry, those that do not directly impact the well-being of the child, is a good thing. And the Board is considering making changes like these by the end of the year.

Another big question raised in the plan is whether or not county taxpayers should directly subsidize care to supplement any state programs and federal tax credits.

Before moving forward with a subsidy program, the Board must first provide in great detail: the income levels they propose to subsidize, a well-documented projection of the number of families who would take advantage of such a program, the total cost to fund the subsidies and administer the program and how they would propose paying for it.

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The Right Note: Dorsey Test Driving 2019 Message?

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Over the past week, ARLnow featured Arlington County Board Vice Chairman Christian Dorsey talking about two issues — affordable housing and unfair business practices.

In his Progressive Voice column on business practices, Dorsey laid out an idea to consolidate efforts that take place across agencies and law enforcement and create a consumer protection bureau here in Arlington. Something he says can be done without “substantial increases in funding” by the taxpayers.

The idea is certainly worthy of consideration, particularly if it put all resources available to Arlingtonians in a one-stop shop and did so with little increased costs. At the same time, Dorsey admitted there is no data available to suggest there is a widespread problem or failure of the current system beyond anecdote. It seems like we may want to know the scope of the problem before making a decision on whether it is necessary to dedicate staff time and any increased funding toward creating the new entity.

Dorsey’s speech on housing policy did a number of things. First, it provided a brief overview of discriminatory practices in our country’s past. Dorsey noted that for the most part, these are a relic of the past. He did suggest that using words like “protecting neighborhoods” should not be code for resisting diversity in the name of resisting density.

He went on to argue that government can overcome market forces when it comes to housing. While it is certainly true that you can make public policy strong enough, or destructive enough depending on your perspective, to disrupt market forces, this is always a dangerous road to go down.

Moreover, not a single policy decision made by Arlington County thus far is pointed to as stemming the tide when it comes to rising housing prices. If Amazon came to town there may be no public policy Arlington could pass that could stop a massive price spike. And of course, one can argue that the arduous zoning and permitting processes only serve to make housing more expensive.

Speaking of zoning, Dorsey also intimated that he may favor restrictions on building larger homes on lots because the practice raises the price of the housing stock. Arlington’s zoning ordinance is already a complicated and expensive maze to navigate through, but Dorsey is suggesting he may pursue further restrictions on your property rights in the future.

It sounds a lot like he is previewing a turn as chairman next year or his campaign themes as he presumably runs for re-election in 2019. No data to back a call for additional spending and more property restrictions may not be the best place to start.

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The Right Note: Early Indicator?

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

This week Democrats put out a plea for precinct captains — just four months before Election Day. For those who do not pay attention to the nuts and bolts of campaigns, these are the people who are willing to do the most work over the next four months to get the people in their neighborhood to vote for the Democrats on the ballot.

While Virginia does not have voter registration by party, it is safe to assume Democrats hold at least a two to one advantage over Republicans in Arlington. That means there is always a larger pool of donors and volunteers to draw from. And by this point in the campaign cycle, local Democrats are typically closer to 100 percent when it comes to filling volunteer positions.

Around this time four years ago, a longtime Democrat activist in Arlington told me that local Democrats were not as enthusiastic about their candidate on the top of the ticket as they had been in years past. They were going to vote for him, but they were not going to go out and work extra hard. That conversation turned out to paint an accurate picture for what happened in November 2014. Mark Warner nearly lost the closest Senate race in the country despite being a heavy favorite, and John Vihstadt handily won a full term on the County Board.

Does the shortage of precinct captains now signal a lower than anticipated Democrat enthusiasm advantage this November?

It could represent overconfidence. All the national polls say Democrats will sweep the elections this November just like they did in Virginia last November. That translates to an idea that “we do not have to work hard because we are going to win anyway. And if John Vihstadt wins, we still have the other four County Board seats.”

It could be “outrage” fatigue. It is hard to stay mad all the time, particularly when the economy is humming along. It may also be hard to convince some to associate with the people who are mad all the time.

Or it could be nothing other than a confluence of unlucky events. This year people could have moved, burnt out or had unforeseen life events at a greater rate than usual. We have elections every year here and we keep adding precincts, which means you constantly have to grow and refresh your team.

We will not know for sure until Nov. 6.

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The Right Note: Quick Hits — Independence Day Edition

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Yesterday, we celebrated our nation’s birthday. As we commemorate our nation’s independence each year, we do so with great fun and fanfare. However, we often forget that success was never a sure thing. Our founding fathers faced long odds when they signed the Declaration of Independence declaring our desire for liberty in the face the greatest power on Earth at that time. That is why they pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor. There was a very real chance they would lose everything.

Throughout our history, we have continued to face challenges. Our country has not been perfect. While we may not always agree on how best to move forward, hopefully we can agree that we are still blessed to live in this great nation.

Arlington, via Board Member Christian Dorsey, will now have a vote again on the WMATA Board of Directors. Dorsey should view this as an opportunity to more forcefully speak out and hold the agency accountable for, forgive the pun, getting things back on the right track.

Speaking of Metro, the system is hoping to have free Wi-Fi service up and running in all of its stations by the end of the year. There is nothing wrong with providing a service to your customers, but when it comes to public transit, what most customers want is to get to where they are trying to go in a timely and cost-effective manner. They also do want other simple things, like making sure elevators and escalators work, but the primary goal is reliable transportation.

Last week’s Progressive Voice column suggested that “frugality” was one of their core values. Just to be clear, that is not exactly how Arlington County has been governed with the support of progressives. As evidenced by the resistance to establishing an auditor or providing the auditor with adequate resources, the Democrats who control the votes on the Board still seem to be ok with spending more and more of your hard-earned money each year while avoiding more accountability.

But, the pool of writers for Progressive Voice did produce some interesting food for thought in the previous column about the emerging bike and scooter share systems springing up in the region. The suggestion: we need a faster, nimbler, simpler approach to meet the speed of our current technology.

Here is an area where conservatives could not agree more. The less government interference in the marketplace, the more options that will be available to consumers.

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The Right Note: What’s in a Name?

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

I have not really weighed in about the renaming of Washington-Lee High School for a number of reasons. In the final analysis, if in their infinite wisdom the members of the School Board decide to rename this school, then they have the ability to do so. They do have to make the decision realizing they will face the fallout from the voters, particularly the alumni, many of whom from across the political spectrum vehemently disagree with this exercise.

As part of the discussion when the School Board approved the name change process, Monique O’Grady held up a W-L shirt and said “Celebrating your school pride should not mean having to wear a shirt like this one that honors a person who may not share your values.” In so doing, she effectively ruled out naming any future schools after people. It would be extremely tough, if not impossible, to find any person who could receive unanimous support throughout the county.

O’Grady may eventually backtrack from that statement. We may find out what O’Grady meant is that no one who does not share “her” values should find their name on an Arlington school.

Yesterday, ARLnow also ran a story about a local activist who is adamant that the county should remove Arlington House from its logo because it once belonged to Robert E. Lee. Of course, Arlington County was named after Arlington House. Under this logic, it might be time to rename the whole county.

What would renaming Arlington County end up looking like? Under the O’Grady standard, Arlington cannot be named after any people. So, here is a list of suggestions for the new county name based on the standard talking points from the County Board: Diverse, Inclusive, Progressive, Welcoming, World Class.

Or, maybe we could sell annual naming rights to the county to boost revenue or lower tax rates. Trader Joe’s, Virginia anyone? Or possibly, we could change the name to attract new businesses. Right now, for instance, we could change the name to Amazon.

Sure, no one has seriously suggested doing so… yet. But, it is the logical conclusion of the argument.

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The Right Note: Was It Reasonable?

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

County Board members, in every campaign speech and at the meeting that takes place at beginning of every year, talk about the need to address the affordability of housing in Arlington.

Market forces beyond their control clearly work against the Board, but so do many of the rules and regulations they create and defend. On Tuesday the Board voted unanimously to force a homeowner to pay an additional $20,000 (or more) to replace the roof on their home because it sits in the Maywood Neighborhood Historic District.

The homeowners were not attempting to change the historic design of their home, they simply did not believe they could afford up to $30,000 for tin shingles when asphalt shingles would cost just $6,000. On Tuesday, the County Board unanimously rejected the homeowners’ appeal of the April 2017 decision by the Historical Affairs and Landmark Review Board (HALRB) which required the dramatically more expensive roofing option.

In the scope of review of zoning appeals it says that action should not be taken “which would be incongruous with the historical aspects of the district.” The HALRB ultimately determined that the lack of this particular tin roof would be incongruous. According to the zoning ordinance cited in the staff report, the Board could only overturn the appeal if it was contrary to the law or constitutes an abuse of discretion. The County Board unanimously affirmed that decision.

But if the County Board members wanted to provide the homeowners relief, they could have. According to the Maywood Design Guidelines, “the HALRB strongly supports replacing metal roofs with the same materials.” If they wanted to say it was required, they could have used the word required, but they did not. In fact, the HALRB asked the homeowners to provide an estimate for the cost of asphalt shingles as part of the application process. Therefore, the HALRB clearly had the discretion to allow the asphalt shingles but chose not to. Their exercise of that discretion was open to the County Board’s review.

Ultimately, the County Board had a simple question before it: is the HALRB’s decision to require homeowners to spend five times as much for roofing material reasonable in light of the historic district requirements? The Board unanimously chose to say that imposing such a cost was a reasonable decision.

The Board did so while trying to sound sympathetic. Board Chair Katie Cristol called it a “cautionary tale.” Vice Chair Christian Dorsey said, “I think we can figure out a way to do better.”

When it comes to driving up costs of construction through zoning rules in the county on one hand, and then simultaneously expressing concerns about the rising housing costs that result from those rules, this result is a perfect example of the Arlington way.

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The Right Note: Audits and Bonds

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

The County Board this week will vote on the new work plan for the County Auditor. The Auditor is proposing to look at county procurement practices, the use of Economic Development Incentive Funds and the operation of Business Improvement Districts.

The new work plan is certainly more aggressive than the old work plan, and we should be cautiously optimistic about the final work product on these issues. At the same time, we should continue to ask why the County Board is so hesitant to move even faster. If this process is a priority, they should fund it like one.

Speaking of watching where our taxpayer dollars are going, the County Manager delivered a warning to the School Board to keep their proposals for the next 10-year Capital Improvement Plan in check. The Manager said the county would need to trim $45-55 million from its side of the plan over the next five years based on a draft proposal for the schools, something the Board seems unwilling to do at this time.

If the County Board is looking for where to cut, here is a suggestion: look to the $46.75 million for “ongoing maintenance programs” in the proposed 2018 bond referenda items.

Why is ongoing maintenance included in an infrastructure investment plan in the first place? Maintenance should be a part of the annual operating budget.

It is like taking a mortgage out on your home, then refinancing and adding to your debt to pay for the house to be repainted or to put in a new dishwasher. Most homeowners rightly budget for ongoing maintenance rather than take on more long-term debt. Arlington County should do the same.

Knowing the County Board would never consider taking the entire $46.75 million out of the bond request, here is a proposed compromise: leave the $21.36 million in the bond to pay for road paving over the next two years, then figure out a way to pay for the remaining $25.39 million in maintenance without adding to our debt.

Not only is it basic common sense, but the Board would be wise to look for ways to keep its long-term obligations in check now so as not to threaten the 10 percent debt service threshold down the road.

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The Right Note: SMH

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Yesterday, ARLnow ran a story about “ruffled feathers” over the Washington Capitals banner that appeared in place of the Blues Festival banner on Columbia Pike. By mid-afternoon, all the parties had reached an agreement on what to do with both banners. However, many were shaking their heads that someone associated with the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization felt the need to run to the media instead of trying to solve the problem first and avoid the unnecessary public drama.

Now that we have moved past the “consternation,” there are still at least a few hours left to jump on the Caps bandwagon. Even people who do not follow hockey regularly or even sports at all have been going to watch parties and joining in the excitement.

It is a unifying experience. No one cares (too much at least) if you are a Republican or a Democrat as long as you are #ALLCAPS. Tonight we will be cheering for them to bring home their first ever Stanley Cup and the first major professional championship in 26 years for the Washington teams. In this hyper-politically charged area, it is a welcome shift in the environment, even if it is only a small one.

Also, the issue of airplane noise came back into the news with the announcement that Arlington would chip in to a study on the impacts of the noise on our community. Reagan National Airport, often cited as a tremendous asset for the county, has been generating airplane noise since 1941. Assuming we do not all end up with our own flying vehicles or some new quiet jet propulsion technology in the near future, the airport will still be generating noise for another 75 years.

The only real winners at the end of this process will be the consultants who will get paid a lot of money to tell us how much noise we are experiencing and possibly how to make it marginally less noisy in the future.

Speaking of taxpayer-funded expenditures, the Civic Federation passed a resolution this week calling on the county to get serious about identifying budget savings. This resolution included a much-needed call to give the County Auditor more resources to do his job.

With county leaders arguing tough budget times are ahead, now is the time to move faster than a snail’s pace on identifying ways we can better use taxpayer dollars. If we can afford to chip in to a study that tells us airplanes make noise, we can surely find enough money to immediately double or even triple the capacity of the Auditor’s office at the next County Board meeting.

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