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by ARLnow.com June 12, 2018 at 10:35 am 0

Primary Voting Underway — It’s an election day in Virginia. On the ballot in Arlington is the Democratic race for County Board, between Chanda Choun and Matt de Ferranti, and the Republican primary for U.S. Senate, with candidates Corey Stewart, Nick Freitas and E. W. Jackson. Voting will continue through 7 p.m. [Twitter]

Post-Parade Party in Courthouse — Those heading to the Capitals Stanley Cup victory parade downtown today can head on back to Arlington for an afterparty at Arlington Rooftop Bar & Grill, hosted by the Caps blog Russian Machine Never Breaks. The event starts at 3 p.m. [RMNB]

Final Issue of ‘The Citizen’ — Arlington County’s “The Citizen” newsletter is publishing its last issue this week. The county-run publication is ceasing its print issues due to budget cuts. The move was lamented by the Sun Gazette, which wrote that The Citizen provided “information that, most likely, many local residents will now not get, despite the government’s plethora of online-centric public-relations efforts.” [InsideNova]

Clement: Strip Washington from W-L Too — Independent Arlington School Board candidate Audrey Clement says it is “hypocrisy in the extreme” for the “Lee” in “Washington-Lee High School” to be removed without also removing “Washington.” Wrote Clement: “Had not George Washington, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson — all Virginia native sons and all slave holders — greased the skids of institutionalized slavery by agreeing to write it into the U.S. Constitution, Lee would not have taken up arms against his own nation.” [Audrey Clement]

Apartment Building to Get Free Broadband — “Arlington’s Digital Inclusion Initiative, announced in December 2017, will leverage the County’s fiber-optic network, ConnectArlington, to bring free broadband Internet access to low- and moderate-income households in Arlington, including those with school-age children. Arlington Mill Residences, a low- and moderate-income residential development, will serve as the demonstration project for the initiative.” [Arlington County]

Paving on Lorcom Lane — Crews are paving Lorcom Lane between N. Fillmore and Daniel streets today. [Twitter]

Nearby: Second Northside Social Opens — The new Falls Church outpost of Clarendon cafe Northside Social has opened in the Little City. “The business itself will offer a menu similar to its Clarendon location, but a basement that allows for a commercial-sized bakery and chef Matt Hill’s creative inklings will provide new lunch and dinner options.” [Falls Church News-Press]

by Alex Koma May 22, 2018 at 3:45 pm 0

(Updated at 4:25 p.m.) Arlington’s public libraries are bracing for impending budget cuts — including a 17 percent cut to its collections budget — and they’re asking for your input on what services staff should protect from those spending slashes.

The county’s public library system is currently running a survey on its website, looking for feedback on “what collections we will provide and maintain” moving forward. The survey will stay open through June 8, and staff wrote that the results will help guide their decision-making on how library services change going forward.

Arlington’s Department of Libraries has a roughly $14.5 million budget in fiscal year 2019, and county budget documents show that the department is set to lose out on $250,000 in one-time funding for library materials in the new budget year. The department is also set to lose one full-time library assistant, as the county grapples with an increasingly tight budget overall.

We’re really just trying to get feedback from the community and hear what they value,” Peter Petruski, the department’s division chief for materials management, told ARLnow.

The survey’s questions say that some library collections — including bestselling books, DVDs and children’s books — will remain unchanged, even with the new budget pressure. However, the survey does ask respondents to rank how much they value some categories of materials that the department could roll back, like online encyclopedias or new CD audiobooks.

The questionnaire also asks participants to rank how much they value online resources county libraries currently offer, such as access to Ancestry.com or ConsumerReports.org, as well as how much they might be interested in services the department is considering offering, but has yet to provide to patrons.

Henrik Sundqvist, a spokesman for the library, added that no decisions have been made yet on what to cut. He added that the library system has already received more than 11,000 responses to the survey.

“It just really speaks to the library department being at the heart of this community,” Sundqvist said.

The department is also set to lose $19,000 in funding to run a “pop-up” library in Crystal City, which opened in 2016. Sundqvist said the County Board has yet to make that change official, or decide what it will mean for the location, and plans to review the matter at its June 16 meeting.

File photo

by Alex Koma May 4, 2018 at 3:45 pm 0

The Arlington School Board managed to avoid class size increases in its new budget, but the county’s worsening financial outlook has school leaders warning that future spending plans could include additional painful cuts.

The School Board voted unanimously Thursday to approve a roughly $637 million budget for fiscal year 2019, though board members expressed plenty of trepidation about the document.

“This was a very difficult year, and I think we’re going to have a few more difficult years,” said board member Tannia Talento. “The things we were able to save this year, we may not be able to save next year. We just need to be aware of that reality.”

Just as the County Board has been wrestling with challenges associated with a shrinking commercial tax base and ballooning Metro expenses, Arlington Public Schools officials have been forced to start doing some belt tightening as well. Superintendent Patrick Murphy proposed about $10 million in spending cuts in the budget he sent to the board, targeting areas like employee benefits and planned hires, and he warned that the rapid pace of student enrollment is likely to only make budget pressures more acute in the coming years.

However, the School Board was able to push off the impact of this year’s budget squeeze in some select areas, thanks to an extra $3.2 million in one-time funding the County Board opted to send to the school system as it finalized its budget on April 22.

The School Board decided Thursday to use the bulk of that money — roughly $2.6 million — to delay a bump in class sizes across every grade level for one year, saving 28 jobs from the chopping block in the process. Murphy had originally proposed upping average elementary school class sizes by one student each, with average increases of .75 pupils in each middle school class and .5 students in high school classes.

But using that money to avoid class size increases was not without controversy; it passed on a 3-2 vote, with Vice Chair Reid Goldstein and board member Monique O’Grady dissenting. While neither board member expressed any great satisfaction with those votes, both stressed that they’d rather see the school system save up now to prepare for choppy financial waters ahead.

“I don’t like taking cuts, but the reality is we must do so,” Goldstein said. “Tightening the belt means things are not going to be perfect all the way around.”

Yet board members like Chair Barbara Kanninen argued that keeping class sizes small is “a hallmark of our school system,” justifying the extra spending. Furthermore, she reasoned that the board could use the county’s one-time funding to support such a change because APS wouldn’t be adding any new positions with the money, merely supporting existing employees.

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by ARLnow.com April 23, 2018 at 6:35 pm 0

The Arlington County Board on Saturday unanimously passed a $1.276 billion balanced budget that includes a number of fee increases but no real estate tax rate hike.

The FY 2019 budget notably restores $70,000 in funding for Arlington Independent Media — County Manager Mark Schwartz proposed cutting about $90,000 in county funds for the community TV and radio broadcaster — after AIM collected more than 1,300 online petition signatures against the cut. The Board also boosted first responder pay, particularly starting pay which police and firefighter associations say is low and hurting recruitment, by $1.6 million above the manager’s recommendation, which already included a pay boost.

Funding the increased spending is the reallocation of $2.5 million from proposed renovations to the county government headquarters in Courthouse and the freezing of 16 vacant public safety positions.

Per the manager’s recommendations, the budget also increases parking meter rates and extends metered hours until 8 p.m., while increasing utility taxes, household waste fees and various departmental fees.

“The Board largely accepted the $8.4 million in spending reductions, $6.6 million in fee and tax increases and $5.5 million in funding realignments recommended by the County Manager in his proposed budget,” notes a county press release, below. County Board Chair Katie Cristol called the adopted budget “sustainably progressive.”

County funding for Arlington Public Schools will top the $500 million mark, as the school system continues to face pressures from enrollment growth and the opening of new schools. Metro, meanwhile, will receive a 3 percent increase in funding, receiving $73.1 million from the county’s coffers and state transit aid earmarked for Arlington.

In addition to AIM and first responders, the Board nixed the following cuts proposed by Schwartz, according to the markup record:

  • $620,000 for the Affordable Housing Investment Fund
  • $365,000 for Lee Highway planning and $25,000 for the Lee Highway Alliance
  • $40,000 for the Legal Aid Justice Center, which serves immigrants
  • $200,000 for a body scanner at the county jail
  • $50,000 for the Arlington County Fair
  • $20,000 for community shredding events
  • $40,000 for the Arlington Neighborhood College program
  • $184,000 for a youth mental health therapist

Among the proposed cuts not restored: the elimination of the printed Citizen newsletter, the elimination of two ART bus routes, the elimination of Arlington’s poet laureate and a $555,000 cut to the Arlington Initiative to Rethink Energy residential rebate program.

The latter drew some pushback from Board members.

“The cuts that we’re doing this year to AIRE — nobody’s going to die, there’s nothing fundamentally that any of us are going to lose sleep over or should be ashamed of,” said Erik Gutshall. “But while people don’t die, our planet is dying, its ability to sustain our life at least.”

“In future budgets, while we’re going to continue to make tough choices, we’re not going to let our commitment to the environment fall behind,” he added.

Despite the disagreements, the Board was unanimous in its vote on the budget, which Board members praised for prioritizing key areas while avoiding a tax rate increase. (The tax burden on the average homeowner will still increase by $296.)

“Despite the reductions, there are investments our community can be proud of in this budget,” Cristol said in a statement. “We prioritized funding our public schools, especially teachers, and investing in our workforce, especially public safety personnel. We preserved our social safety net and sustained funding for affordable housing and core services.”

“I see this budget really as a transition from the way we’ve been doing things to the way we’ll need to do things going forward,” said Libby Garvey. “This community has pretty much gotten used to having as much money as we need to do what we want to do. This year it’s starting to change. It’s likely to be even harder in the future with the stresses we have moving forward. I think it’s a good transition to what we’ll be doing moving forward.”

“What I think we’ve done is really weatherize our fiscal house for the inclement weather ahead,” echoed John Vihstadt. “It’s only going to get tougher as we move forward, but we took some important steps here that, while not greeted uniformly favorably, were necessary to be done.”

Arlington Independent Media and public safety associations, meanwhile, expressed gratitude for the additional funding.

Arlington County’s press release about the budget, after the jump.

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by Bridget Reed Morawski March 27, 2018 at 10:45 am 0

Some Arlington Public Schools parents are unhappy with proposed budget cuts that would lead to fewer weekly world language instructional hours.

The proposed 2019 APS budget includes a number of reductions that aim to resolve the “$16 million in reductions this year in the face of our continuing growing enrollment needs,” wrote APS assistant superintendent Linda Erdos in an email to ARLnow.

The budget proposal includes the following FLES, or Foreign Language in the Elementary Schools, teacher reductions:

€The planning factor formula for FLES (Foreign Language in the Elementary Schools) teachers is changed. This results in a reduction of 11.5 FLES teacher positions as follows: a 0.50 reduction each at Abington, Arlington Science Focus, Arlington Traditional, Ashlawn, Barrett, Drew, Carlin Springs, Henry, Jamestown, Long Branch, McKinley, Discovery, Nottingham, Oakridge, Randolph, Taylor and Tuckahoe and a 1.0 reduction each at Glebe, Claremont, and Key. The new planning factor allocates a 0.5 teacher up to 100 students, a 1.0 teacher for 101 to 215 students, a 1.5 teacher for 216 to 340 students, a 2.0 teacher for 341 to 470 students, 2.5 teachers for 471 to 610 students, and 3.0 teachers for 611 to 770 students, and 3.5 teachers for 771 to 930 students.

Instructional time would be reduced alongside the staff reductions.

“Staff will work out the model and schedules with principals so it’s equitable for all elementary schools,” wrote Erdos.

One Arlington parent, Kelly Alexis, emailed those she referred to as “Friends of FLES,” imploring that they take time to support the program by contacting School Board members themselves and asking for more information as to how this cut was agreed upon.

Alexis also sent the following email to School Board members regarding the potential reduction:

Dear School Board Members,

I am certain that all of you share the goal of providing equitable and quality education to our elementary school children, though I do not see a unified vision.

Looking at the proposed cuts that include FLES, Arts and more, and hearing School Board members question the need for such programs, it is clear to me there is no unified vision or focus on instruction for our youngest learners and as a whole for APS. When the need for FLES is questioned even though APS has set as a strategic goal to have APS students proficient in two languages upon graduation we have an instructional management issue.

More cuts in instruction will not solve this problem, ignoring the need for ES students to have exposure to World Language will not improve test scores.

What is the School Board’s instructional vision? The Superintendents proposed budget’s FY19 Elementary School priorities are disturbing and miss the “whole child”, social and emotional well being and World Language completely, how does that even happen?* As a county we can easily put ourselves in the position to pit program against program though it will take a School Board with vision and fortitude to stick with its own strategic goals meeting the essential and basic needs of our students and ensuring that program are delivered with consistency and equity.

APS or School Board members must be able to explain to the community how they have evaluated every proposed budget addition or budget cut against that vision, and how they have arrived at each of their decisions in the context of that vision. You cannot continue to cut staff and access to language instruction without communicating how these actions “refine” and I assume improve (how?) World Language delivery as stated in the budget.

We cannot throw out or reduce programs such as FLES due to arbitrary questions without looking at the facts. Putting FLES against recess is ridiculous and short sighted, why not provide both? If we are going to throw out programs due to inconsistent feedback and program delivery then 1:1 should be at the top of the list. Lets review the data and look at the best practies set forth by ACTFL and see how we measure up to meet the needs of our World Language goals.

We must provide APS students appropriate resources to ensure safe learning environments, strong social emotional supports and instruction that is developmentally appropriate and evidence based. We know early exposure to language provides tremendous learning benefits, its proven with years of study. World Language acquisition is a vital skill and early exposure is essential.

We know that many APS programs are not perfect, though I feel APS is not trying hard enough and this budget process is showing true colors on priorities – SOL’s and devices in young hands prevail while humanities and Art take a back seat.

Our youngest learners deserve better and APS owes us an explanation NOW, before you cut staff and vital instructional programs through this budget process, of what your vision is in regards to FLES, 1:1 and instruction overall that does not involve an SOL test score.

Thank you for your time,
Kelly Alexis

The School Board has one remaining work session to discuss and make changes to the proposed budget, on Tuesday, April 3. The School Board is set to adopt the proposed budget at the School Board meeting on Thursday, April 5.

File photo

by ARLnow.com March 27, 2018 at 8:35 am 0

Shake Shack, Philz and More Coming to Ballston — “Ballston will beef up its fast-casual restaurant offerings by the end of this year, with Shake Shack, We the Pizza, Philz Coffee and Cava all slated to lease space in the newly dubbed Ballston Exchange project. Ballston Exchange, formerly known as Stafford Place I and II, was until 2017 home to the National Science Foundation.” [Washington Business Journal]

Outdoor Lab Squeezed by Rising Enrollment — “A growing student body at the elementary-school level may soon mean there are not enough days in the school year to send the usual cadre of students to the Arlington Outdoor Lab, located in Fauquier County.” [InsideNova]

Arlington Smoker Busted in Falls Church — Falls Church police issued a summons to a 56-year-old Arlington man for smoking in a restaurant in the city. [Falls Church News-Press]

Hamlin Leaving Macedonia Baptist Church — The Rev. Dr. Leonard Hamlin Sr. is leaving Macedonia Baptist Church in Nauck for a post at the Washington National Cathedral. “To celebrate his 22-year tenure at Macedonia, more than 300 people attended a farewell gala held March 25 at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City,” the Sun Gazette reported. [InsideNova]

Advocates Flock to Open Door Monday — Those seeking more funding in the county budget process flocked to yesterday’s regularly-scheduled Open Door Monday event with County Board member Libby Garvey. Among those bending Garvey’s ear were first responders, who are seeking higher pay, and Arlington Independent Media, which is fighting a proposed budget cut. [Twitter, Twitter]

Photo courtesy @jimcollierjr

by Bridget Reed Morawski March 23, 2018 at 10:45 am 0

The County Manager’s fiscal year 2019 proposed budget includes service eliminations to Arlington Transit bus routes 92 and 54.

The reductions would save the county $356,771 in 2019, according to the proposed budget. Public hearings on the budget and tax rate are scheduled for Tuesday, April 3 and Thursday, April 5, respectively.

The routes “are not meeting minimum service standards,” according to the budget document, and “service delivery can potentially be met by other transit or other modes such as Capital BikeShare.”

ART Route 92 runs weekdays from the Crystal City Metro station to the Pentagon Metro station via Long Bridge Park. Several WMATA routes also run through that area.

According to the ART Route 92 web page, “the route also serves as a shuttle for those working at Boeing and the U.S. Marshals Service.”

ART Route 54 operates weekdays during the morning and afternoon rush hours from Dominion Hills to the East Falls Church Metro station via Madison Manor neighborhood.

Both routes have “experienced low ridership (3 passengers per hour) and [have] performed below the established minimum service standards of 15 passengers per hour and a 20 percent cost recovery ratio,” according to budget documents.

The County Board is expected to adopt its final budget on April 21.

by ARLnow.com March 15, 2018 at 8:45 am 0

ATS Parents Peeved About Overcrowding — Arlington Traditional School parents are protesting the addition of classes and relocatable classrooms to the already-overcrowded school. [Arlington Connection]

Alliterative Pothole Patching Update — Via Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services: “Punctilious, present pothole people have plugged 500-plus problems post-2017 but prefer a plethora for practice. Please provide. http://topics.arlingtonva.us/reportproblem or call 703-228-6570.” [Twitter]

AIM Petition Nearing 1,000 Signatures — More than 900 people have signed a petition calling on the County Board to nix the proposed 20 percent cut in funding for Arlington Independent Media. “The proposed Arlington County FY ’19 budget would be catastrophic for AIM,” the petition says. [Change.org]

Arlington Ranks No. 2 in Virginia ‘Healthiest’ List — Arlington is second only to Loudoun on a list of the healthiest counties in Virginia, compiled by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. [WTOP]

Capitol City Files for Bankruptcy — Shortly after closing its Shirlington brewpub, Capitol City Brewing Co. has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Owner David von Storch says he intends to keep Cap City’s downtown D.C. location open, serving its four core in-house beers, which will now be brewed by a contract brewery, as well as local craft brews. [Washington Business Journal]

Kaine to Talk Guns at Wakefield HS — Via press release: “On Friday, March 16, Senator Tim Kaine will hold a classroom conversation on gun violence and school safety with students at Wakefield High School in Arlington. Kaine will hear students’ perspectives on how policymakers should address this issue and which solutions they would like to see implemented to keep schools safer.”

Photo courtesy @thelastfc

by ARLnow.com February 22, 2018 at 5:40 pm 0

Community paper shredding events. Arlington’s poet laureate. The Citizen newsletter.

Those are a few of the relatively small cuts that add up to enough savingsin County Manager Mark Schwartz’s new proposed budget to bridge Arlington’s $20 million budget gap.

The proposed $1.27 billion budget, which is being presented to the County Board today (Thursday), keeps the county’s property tax rate steady — at $0.993 per $100 in assessed value, per the County Board’s earlier guidance — while generating some new revenue through slightly higher utility taxes and additional paid parking hours, rates and fines, among other measures. It includes $775.9 million for the county’s operating budget and $498 million for schools.

Schwartz says his budget cuts 50 county programs and eliminates 48 jobs, including 29 currently filled positions. It includes $8.4 million in spending reductions, $6.6 million in fee and tax increases and $5.5 million in “funding realignments.”

The cuts are necessary, in part, due to budget pressures from Metro and the need to raise employee salaries, particularly in the police and fire departments, to remain competitive with nearby jurisdictions. Arlington’s fast-rising home values, which have helped the county keep up with rising expenses, were offset this year falling commercial property values caused by higher office vacancy rates.

Among the ways the proposed budget increases county revenues:

  • Commercial utility taxes increased by 5%
  • Residential utility tax increased to $3/month per utility (revenue earmarked for schools and the county’s Affordable Housing Investment Fund, which is proposed at $13.7 million, matching last year’s AHIF proposal)
  • Parking rates increased by $0.25/hour
  • Parking meter hours extended to 8 p.m.
  • Parking fines increased from $35 to $40
  • Household Solid Waste fee up $2/year

Among the proposed cuts and “realignments:”

  • The Citizen printed newsletter, sent to all county residents ($82,000/year)
  • Lee Highway planning process scaled back ($500,000)
  • ART routes 54 and 92 eliminated ($350,000/year)
  • Snow blower loaner program eliminated ($30,000/year)
  • Free community paper shred events eliminated ($20,000/year)
  • Arlington Initiative to Rethink Energy residential rebate program cut ($555,000)
  • Poet laureate eliminated along with other humanities programs ($77,000)
  • Long Bridge Park Fourth of July event entertainment eliminated ($50,000)
  • County window washing reduced from twice to once per year ($48,000)
  • In-house pharmacy and lab services cut from Dept. of Human Services ($625,000)
  • Reduction in DHS employment services staffing ($825,000)
  • Eliminate the Office of Community Health in the Dept. of Parks and Recreation ($483,000)
  • Eliminate a youth boxing program ($85,000)
  • Eliminate a parks volunteer office ($197,000)
  • Reduce money earmarked for Crystal City infrastructure, originally intended for the streetcar project, as generated via Tax Increment Financing (about $1 million)
  • Reduce the parks department vehicle fleet ($52,000)
  • Cut county funding for Arlington Independent Media by 20 percent ($91,000)
  • Eliminate the county cable administrator, who receives complaints about cable service from residents ($181,000)

The budget includes raises for many county employees, and even higher raises for most public safety personnel. Police officers, from the rank of sergeant on down, will see an additional 2.5 percent increase in pay, while firefighters will get an extra 4 percent bump over other county employees. Schwartz acknowledged that the departments have been having trouble filling open positions due to competition from other jurisdictions.

Schwartz said he and the county’s economic development office are determined to reduce Arlington’s office vacancy rate, which is back to nearly 20 percent after ticking down a bit from its previous high water mark. Schwartz expects office vacancies will put pressure on the budget for the next several years.

“It remains my primary focus to work on that vacancy rate, to get it down,” he said in a budget briefing with reporters. “We need to work through this problem. We have a lot of economic projects that are coming into the county, but this is the underlying problem that is going to challenge us in coming years.”

The Arlington County Board will advertise a property tax rate on Saturday, setting a ceiling on what the rate may go up to, and will hold various budget work sessions and hearings between now and final adoption on April 21.

by ARLnow.com March 30, 2017 at 11:15 am 0

The following letter was sent to members of the County Board, ARLnow.com and other community organizations by Bluemont resident and local activist Suzanne Smith Sundburg, who says the proposed tax rate hike is regressive and unnecessary. Arlington County is in the midst of its annual budget process.

Dear Chair Fisette and members of the Arlington County Board,

Meaningful discussion of revenue (the real estate tax rate) without any discussion of expenditures (the budget) makes little sense, as these two items are inextricably linked.

For FY18, the effective advertised real estate tax-rate (assessment increase + 2-cent rate increase) is equivalent to a 4-cent hike in the real estate tax rate. Over the past decade, Arlington County homeowners, commercial property owners, and renters have been asked to shoulder ongoing increases in the tax and fee burden.

With a 2-cent increase, the average homeowner would see the tax and fee burden rise from $8,305 in calendar year (CY) 2016 to $8,613 in CY 2017 — a 4% increase, or about $492 — and will have absorbed a cumulative, 5-year increase of $1,613 in additional taxes and fees (CY 2013-CY 2017).

Commercial property owners (and the businesses that rent from them) face an even greater burden with the 12.5-cent transportation surcharge and (where applicable) BID assessment.

At a March 9 budget work session with the commissions, the manager agreed that real estate tax increases are passed through to commercial office tenants and that taxes are one driver of the county’s stubbornly high vacancy rate. However, he could point to no specific data or recent analysis predicting the impact of a 4-cent (or lesser) effective tax-rate increase on Arlington’s vacancy rate.

Likewise, in answer to another question on March 9, the manager also agreed that raising the real estate tax rate would increase the cost of housing for the county’s affordable housing community — even as the county is simultaneously subsidizing this cost. Increases in Arlington’s tax and fee burden makes housing less affordable for all Arlingtonians, and this burden disproportionately affects those living on lower and fixed incomes, including elderly and disabled residents.

Given the large amount of cash on hand, as outlined below, it would seem highly likely that the manager could (with Board concurrence) cover all new proposed spending by reallocating a small portion of these funds to cover limited-duration and nonrecurring expenditures in the general fund budget rather than raising the tax rate for FY2018.

Using cash already on hand, the manager’s proposed budget could be funded without any spending cuts or a tax-rate increase. I therefore urge the Board not to increase the tax rate and to ask the manager to identify expenditures that are appropriate for alternative cash funding and to trim any unnecessary spending, using public money efficiently and effectively to minimize the need for future tax increases (or spending cuts). Below the list of several sources of cash on hand, I have identified a few cost savings and efficiencies as well.

CASH ON HAND

  • $191.2 million — Fund Balance. (See Exhibit 3, FY16 CAFR.) I am not asking the board to tap the county’s 5% operating reserve of $58 million or similar required reserves. There is a great deal of money in the fund balance beyond required reserves. Since FY09, the county has been carrying an unspent fund balance of at least $100 million. (See Exhibit 5, FY09-FY16 CAFRs.) Since FY06, the fund balance has generated a net positive surplus, even at the height of the real estate crash when revenues were $72 million less than expenditures.

Thus, over the last decade the county historically and consistently has taken in more money than it has spent. FY18 will likely continue this trend as the manager has presented a “balanced budget that continues the current level of service within existing tax rate” of $0.991 per $100 of assessed value.

  • $77.7 million — APS reserves. APS has its own $77.7 million cash reserves (on top of county reserves), which are defined/described in the superintendent’s FY18 proposed budget. The superintendent has set aside approximately $24 million in cash for “future budget years,” $19 million of which is unallocated and presumably will be carried over into FY19.
  • $157 million — Transportation Capital Fund. (See Exhibit X, FY16 CAFR.) The TCF is expected to generate another +/-$26 million in revenue in FY18. On March 9, the manager confirmed to me that at least some of the 1-cent proposed increase for Metro could alternately be funded by TCF dollars. When we know that borrowing costs are likely to rise, why would we want to float more new bonds than strictly necessary, particularly when we have so much unspent money in the TCF?

Surely out of a $1.24 billion budget, the county can find $14.8 million in limited-duration and nonrecurring expenditures that could be otherwise funded from cash already on hand. If it’s a choice between making cuts and finding expenditures that qualify for an alternative funding source(s), my guess is that the county’s departments will be able to provide a list of items that would qualify.

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by Chris Teale March 29, 2017 at 3:30 pm 0

Numerous Arlington residents spoke out last night against the County Manager’s “optional” proposed cuts to lessen a planned tax increase.

The County Board’s public hearing Tuesday saw opposition to suggested cuts to the Lee Highway Planning Initiative, snow removal from trails and the Glencarlyn Library among other programs.

County Manager Mark Schwartz proposed a $1.2 billion budget for FY 2018 that includes a tax increase of 2 cents per $100 of assessed value. One cent apiece would go towards Arlington Public Schools and Metro’s increased funding needs.

After direction from County Board members, Schwartz produced a version that would only have a 1-cent increase and cuts elsewhere to make up the difference.

But the suggested cut to funding Lee Highway planning — which would shelve the project until further notice — brought strong opposition from residents and business owners. Under the $500,000 budget cut, the Lee Highway Alliance, a grassroots partnership that looks to improve the quality of life along the corridor, would lose all $60,000 of its county funding, according to speakers.

“The Lee Highway Alliance is the Arlington way: it’s a grassroots effort that sprung up as we realized the need for planning in this corridor,” said Karen Kumm Morris, a representative of the Rock Spring Civic Association.

“A good idea is meaningless without the courage to act,” agreed Sandi Chesrown, an executive board member on the Waverly Hills Civic Association.

Also coming under fire was the plan to cut the Glencarlyn Branch Library’s days of operation from six to two, but it brought one of the two-hour hearing’s lighter moments.

Jeffrey Liteman, representing the Glencarlyn Civic Association, first unfurled a 20-foot petition signed in opposition to the planned cuts. He then sang and played guitar in support of the library, backed by other attendees holding signs behind him.

“It’s the heart of the community, two days are not enough,” he sang.

Members of the county’s Community Services Board advocated for various budget requests, including new case managers for those with developmental disabilities, six placements in a mental health group home and a $75,000 study to determine services for young adults on the autism spectrum.

Among the other topics discussed Tuesday night:

  • Arlington Public Schools and the need to fill the approximately $13 million funding gap between Schwartz’s plan and Superintendent Patrick Murphy’s proposed $617 million budget.
  • Various solutions to increase the county’s affordable housing stock, including more funding for housing grants and a higher zoning fee for apartment developers.
  • Funding for the county’s streetlight repair program, which is in line to receive a big boost under Schwartz’s proposed budget but not under his optional cuts.
  • Opposition to an optional cut to the $50,000 program that removes snow from local trails with the same priority as street snow removal.
  • The financial literacy program within the Virginia Cooperative Extension and permanent county funding for the financial education program associate position to run it.

Earlier this month, opinion columnist Mark Kelly suggested that Schwartz’s optional cuts were purposefully unpalatable, “designed to make taxpayers believe there are few desirable options when it comes to trimming the budget.” Schwartz, in a statement, said making budget cut recommendations “is always difficult, particularly given the growing demands and potential impacts on our community.’

The County Board will return for another public hearing tomorrow night, this time about the proposed tax rate and fee hikes. The budget is slated for final adoption on April 22.

by ARLnow.com March 16, 2017 at 9:30 am 0

County Manager Mark SchwartzArlington County Manager Mark Schwartz has proposed a series of budget cuts to halve his proposed two cent tax increase to one cent.

The cuts to Schwartz’s proposed budget total $11.1 million and include everything from a multi-million dollar reduction in school funding to a reduction of hours at the Glencarlyn library and the elimination of a management intern position in the parks department.

From a county press release:

The potential reductions would affect a range of County services, including Human Services, Libraries, Parks and Recreation, Community Planning and Housing and Economic Development. The options also include eliminating both planned service improvements in the streetlight program and additional staff for the County jail. Schwartz also recommended that, based on the principles of revenue sharing between County Government and Arlington Public Schools (APS), $3.5 million of the cuts from the on-going budget and $1.7 million of the cuts from the one-time budget come from the APS budget.

The Arlington County Board advertised Schwartz’s recommended two cent tax rate increase but also asked him to recommend some budget cuts, as an option to consider.

“Putting together budget reduction options is always difficult, particularly given the growing demands and potential impacts on our community,” Schwartz said in a statement. “The package makes no change to the additional resources committed to Metro. Since we presented our Proposed Budget on Feb. 25, jurisdictions are facing a Metro funding deficit that may grow even larger.”

Under the advertisement, the Board cannot raise the property tax rate more than two cents for every $100 in assessed value this year. (At last month’s meeting, Board members Libby Garvey and Christian Dorsey proposed, unsuccessfully, setting the advertised rate three cents higher than the current $0.991 for every $100.)

The Board will hold public hearings on the budget and the tax rate on March 28 and March 30, respectively. Final adoption of the budget is scheduled for April 22.

by ARLnow.com October 31, 2016 at 9:10 am 0

Dog dressed as a pumpkin (Flickr pool photo by Joseph Gruber)

Arlington Residents Place in MCM — A pair of athletes from Arlington placed at the 41st Marine Corps Marathon on Sunday. Desta Morkama, an Ethiopian who’s living and training in Arlington while seeking asylum, was the second-place male finisher, bested only by Army Medic Spc. Samuel Kosgei. Nicole Irving, a 24-year-old Arlington placed third among the women. Perry Shoemaker of Vienna placed first while Army Capt. Meghan Curran captured second. [Stars and Stripes, Run Washington, Run Washington]

Investor Bets Big on Ballston Real Estate — Perseus Realty has purchased the Ballston Metro Center building, betting that “the planned remake of the Ballston Common Mall, among other projects, bodes well for the neighborhood.” [Washington Business Journal]

Metro Budget Would Slash Jobs, Increase Waits — Metro is considering a new budget that would plug a $300 million budget gap by slashing 1,000 jobs, increasing wait times between Metrorail trains and raising fares. [NBC Washington]

Write-In Candidates in Virginia — Sixteen write-in presidential candidates have filed the proper paperwork with the state to have their votes tallied. Note: InsideNova’s desktop site now shows two auto-play video ads simultaneously upon loading an article. Those with slower computers may wish to avoid the site. [InsideNova]

Flickr pool photo by Joseph Gruber

by ARLnow.com March 24, 2015 at 9:30 am 1,854 0

Early spring in Westover Village

Advocates Decry Proposed Bike Cut — An optional budget cut floated by Arlington County Manger Barbara Donnellan in her proposed FY 2015-2016 budget is attracting some push back from cyclists. Donnellan said the County Board should consider a $800,000 cut in funds for the county’s BikeArlington program if it wants to make additional cuts beyond her base budget. Bike advocates say the cut “would be a huge mistake.” [Greater Greater Washington]

Condo Fence Mowed Down — A car ran through the fence of a condominium complex next to Long Branch Elementary School Sunday evening. No injuries were reported. [Twitter]

Resident Survey to Be Mailed — Arlington County is planning to mail its fourth resident survey to 3,600 randomly selected residents. “This survey will help us find out how we’re doing across many different service areas – and also pinpoint where we need to improve,” County Manager Barbara Donnellan said in a statement. [Arlington County]

Custis Trail Added to Beer Guide — A guide intended to show D.C. area cyclists where they can grab craft brews near local trails has added Arlington’s Custis Trail to its directory. [Bikeable Brews]

A-SPAN To Help Meet Homeless Goals — Arlington County has signed on to a pair of ambitious goals: to house all homeless veterans in the community by the end of 2015 and end chronic homelessness by 2016. The Arlington Street People’s Network, the nonprofit organization that will be running Arlington’s soon-to-open year-round homeless shelter, is preparing to do its part to help achieve those goals. [InsideNova]

by ARLnow.com March 5, 2015 at 9:15 am 3,022 0

Snow on a residential area near Ballston (photo courtesy @Norr_Fit)

Nats Player’s Townhouse for Rent — A townhouse owned by Washington Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman is available for rent. The three-bedroom home, at the Bromptons at Clarendon development, is listed at $5,750 per month. [Real House Life of Arlington]

Budget Cuts for ‘Complete Streets?’ Updated at 9:25 a.m. — As part of budget discussions, Arlington County is considering cutting $800,000 from its “complete streets” program, which funds pedestrian and bicycle improvements. The cuts would still leave $4 million in the program’s budget, however. The county is also considering eliminating two bicycle planning positions. [WAMU]

Arlington Home Show This Weekend — The annual Arlington Home Show and Garden Expo will be held Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., at the Thomas Jefferson Community Center (3501 2nd Street S.). [Arlington Home Show]

Underground Bike Races in Crystal City — Every Wednesday night this month, Crystal City is hosting a series of bicycle races on the bottom level of a parking garage. The races are being dubbed “Wednesday Night Spins” and feature a course shorter than a kilometer with almost a dozen turns. [WJLA]

‘Honeysuckle Hill’ Property for Sale — A large property next across from Overlee Pool on Lee Highway is for sale for $3.325 million. The property is divided into four lots, one of which includes a 75+ year old Colonial Revival home that’s expected to be preserved. [Preservation Arlington]

Photo courtesy @Norr_Fit

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