The Arlington firefighters union says the county’s proposed 2022-23 budget underfunds the fire department and puts residents in unnecessary danger, but county officials dispute the characterization.
The union wants the budget to support having someone with Advanced Life Support training on each fire department vehicle, something that county officials say is not necessary. ALS providers are certified to treat critically ill patients with life-saving drugs or intravenous medicines, among other training that goes beyond basic emergency medical care, also called Basic Life Support.
Currently, Arlington has a mix of ALS and BLS medic units on duty at any given time.
IAFF 2800, which represents more than 300 firefighters, proposes adding $8.5 million to the 2022-23 budget to address these issues.
Budgeting decisions regarding wages “have led to diminished emergency services at the risk of potential harm to the citizens, businesses and visitors of Arlington,” the union said in a letter to the Arlington County Board and County Manager Mark Schwartz. “It is with this in mind that we bring these issues to the forefront before it escalates to a point that causes unnecessary harm to the community we serve.”
The $8.5 million would provide a 7% raise to keep up with inflation, make firefighters whole for missed pay increases since 2018, provide premium pay for responders who took on more work due to labor shortages, and increase compensation for the Swift Water Rescue Team, IAFF says.
County Manager Mark Schwartz says the union’s account is inaccurate and the county has not been cutting costs.
“All County residents should know that there is no ‘unnecessarily hazardous situation’ and that each resident can rely on a strong and well-trained workforce to respond to their needs,” he said in response.
Specifically, ACFD has stepped up its medical care without “over-resourcing” every call through mobile diagnoses, on-site treatments and new technologies that give patients more options, he said, adding that “not every patient needs an Advanced Life Support provider.”
Schwartz says the Swift Water Rescue Team does not receive premium pay, but he is committed to adding compensation for the team in addition to funding that addresses stagnant wages.
Employee compensation is the chief focus of the 2022-23 budget, which is currently being hammered out. Schwartz proposes 6.5% salary increases for public safety employees and a $2.2 million increase for the fire department over the 2022 budget, according to a recent presentation.
Among other changes, the increase would fund the implementation of the Kelly Day, which will reduce each firefighter’s average work week from 56 to 50 hours, improving work-life balance and reducing attrition, the county says. The county hired nearly 40 additional firefighters over four years to instate the Kelly Day.
Today, the department is close to full staffing and is experiencing vacancies comparable to Arlington’s historical average, Schwartz said. ACFD loses about two employees a month, and there are currently 15 uniform vacancies.
“I hope that the historic investments we have made over the past four years in a reduced work week and exemplary practices will continue to attract the best staff in the nation,” he said.
Months after parents and students wondered if rising freshmen in Arlington could attend Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, the results are in.
The Class of 2025 will include Arlington kids, although the exact number is not known.
The results, released Wednesday, cap a turbulent admissions cycle. Fairfax County Public Schools made significant changes to the school admissions criteria — among them scrapping a standardized test and written teacher recommendation — which parents protested and challenged with two lawsuits.
The changes resulted in the school’s “most diverse class in recent history.”
Thomas Jefferson, nicknamed “TJ,” is a STEM-focused magnet school open to students from Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties who meet certain academic requirements to get in. US News ranks it as the number one public high school in the United States.
While Arlington annually sends students to the school, the relationship is not a steady one. When facing a budget deficit, Arlington Public Schools sometimes suggests cutting funding. That happened earlier this year, when Superintendent Francisco Durán’s proposed budget for the 2021-22 school year, which had a $42 million gap, put TJ funding on the chopping block.
In response, some Arlington parents and students mobilized to advocate for funding tuition. Then-sophomore Lauren Fisher was among four parents and students to speak at a School Board hearing on March 23.
“If I were to sum up TJ in a few words, it would be an animated community of nerds,” Fisher said. “The students there are incredibly enthusiastic and encouraging, and this energy is contagious. I’ve never felt more encouraged to try or learn new things regardless of how nerdy they might be.”
When the School Board released its amended budget in early April, TJ was no longer among the next school year’s cuts, though the reason for the reversal was not clear.
Still, Arlington students’ access to the magnet school could end in a future budget cycle. Director of Secondary Education Tyrone Byrd tells ARLnow that in difficult budget situations, funding for the magnet school would be among the first of proposed cuts.
“Our commitment is to APS kids and APS buildings, that’s our first priority,” Byrd said. “As far as I know, there’s no purposeful movement toward removing TJ from our options to kids, but when it gets tight, we have to start looking for avenues to correct that.”
Former TJ parent Jennifer Atkin, who remains involved in the Arlington-TJ community, recalled a similar effort two years ago when then-Superintendent Patrick Murphy suggested cutting transportation funding.
“I believe one of the values that Arlington and the School Board profess is equity and access, and I think there’s a feeling amongst parents that in order for them to make good on that they really need to continue the relationship that they have with TJ,” Atkin said. “If you cut off access to this public education opportunity, what you’re really doing is cutting off access to [specialized] programs to the people who are middle and lower-income within Arlington, which runs counter to this idea that you’re promoting equity and access.”
Atkin suggests that the magnet school remains a target for budget cuts because the Arlington-TJ community is relatively small, and tuition cuts would anger fewer people than cuts to other programs. Byrd disputes that theory, saying that the county considers these cuts because the APS prioritizes its own resources first and foremost.
Should access to her school be in danger next year, senior Alexandra Fall said she is prepared to pick up where she left off in April, writing to board members and motivating peers to take action.
“I would try to get people involved,” Fall said. “I know that the community of Arlington kids at TJ is very strong because they ride the buses together and they’ve all come from a similar place.”
Fall and Atkin said they doubt the struggle to keep Arlington students at TJ will ever reach a resolution.
“The problem is with every election cycle, the composition of the school board changes,” Atkin said. “Even if this school board were to say, ‘We’re going to stop proposing cuts to TJ,’ it doesn’t mean that the next school board will operate the same way. That’s the nature of politics.”
Photo courtesy of Sean Nguyen
About 2,000 students who left Arlington Public Schools after buildings shuttered in March 2020 have indicated they will not be returning this fall, according to APS staff.
This enrollment information — which could alter the budget for the 2021-2022 school year — landed in the laps of the Arlington School Board and school administrators during a budget work session Tuesday evening.
The problem? School Board members are slated to vote on the $700 million budget tomorrow (Thursday) and APS administrators say they do not have enough time to draw meaningful conclusions about how the budget will be impacted.
During the work session, however, School Board members asked staff to try anyway. They said recalibrating the budget for 2,000 fewer children could knock down the $11-$15 million budget deficit that APS is facing and could determine how the board votes to compensate staff.
(Since the School Board adopted a proposed budget in early April, which then included a $14.9 million deficit, Superintendent Francisco Durán and board members have proposed changes lowering the deficit to $11 million.)
“Our budget is funding for at least some students who we assumed would be part of our enrollment who are not,” Vice Chair Barbara Kanninen said. “We can’t not do anything with this information. I don’t know how we’re going to pull it off that quickly, but we have to: We owe it to the taxpayers of Arlington and we owe it to our staff, not to lowball them on compensation because we couldn’t figure out where the students will be.”
Durán cautioned against using the information to cut down on staffing without knowing more information. He vowed to provide more details tomorrow.
“We still need a deeper analysis to understand what the implications are,” he said.
APS previously projected 29,653 students would be enrolled in the school system next year. On multiple occasions, staff members have said they calculated the increase based on numbers from 2019, as 2020 was too irregular of a year given the pandemic.
But Lisa Stengle, Executive Director of Planning & Evaluation for APS, said the new survey responses are just one piece in a bigger puzzle of figuring out what next school year’s enrollment will look like.
“This number is about students who left, but we also have the intent-to-return surveys, we have new families not counted in this, and five years ago, we had the largest number of births to Arlington parents in quite a period of time,” Stengle said. “There are a lot of other factors. We need time to work all of those through. This is trying to estimate human behavior in a pandemic that we don’t have patterns for.”
Board member Reid Goldstein, however, said it is public knowledge at this point that members of the board believe 29,653 students is an overestimation. During the budget process, board members asked APS to calculate the savings if enrollment dropped to 28,500 students; staff said APS would save $5.9 million under such a scenario.
“This new information about 2,000 students planning not to come back is really giving me a lot of heartburn, given the budget that’s a day and a half away,” he said.
Kanninen brought up the enrollment news halfway through the meeting, which, up until then, had included a lengthy discussion on the myriad employee compensation plans the board will have to choose from.
Taking into account one compensation plan and the several million dollars in new budget cuts, APS faces an $11 million budget deficit. Meanwhile, a plan that provides a 1.5% cost of living increase at the start of the year — favored by a number of APS teachers and staff — would increase the deficit to $13.9 million.
Another option would provide a state-recommended 2% cost of living increase to all staff and would make APS eligible for $657,783 in state funding. Some School Board members said they want to take advantage of this funding and supported this option which would increase the deficit to nearly $16 million.
Board member David Priddy said by his math, the enrollment drop would save APS $8.3 million, and would cover any of the compensation plans.
“I think that we should pursue that,” he said.
Image via Arlington Public Schools
Pandemic Doesn’t Change Amazon’s Plans — “Schoettler, who oversees Amazon’s global portfolio of office space, said the past year hasn’t changed the way the company thinks about its office strategy… Amazon still views the office as the best place for work because of the ability for employees to collaborate, and it still envisions its footprint centered around large corporate campuses like its Seattle headquarters and its HQ2 development in Northern Virginia. ” [Bisnow, Twitter]
Sheriff’s Deputy Charged with Fraud — “India Middleton, a deputy sheriff with the Arlington County Sheriff’s Office, was indicted in Georgia by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service on conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Middleton was one of 10 defendants indicted in a multi-state scheme to submit fraudulent loan applications for non-[existent] businesses as part of the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program and the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), according to a U.S. Department of Justice release.” [Patch, Arlington County]
New Irish Pub Opening Soon — From the social media account of Mattie & Eddie’s, Chef Cathal Armstrong’s new Irish restaurant and bar in Pentagon City: “Practice test! All your grand Irish pints coming soon!” [Facebook]
APS May Cut Magnet High School from Budget — “As part of his proposed budget for the 2022 Arlington Public Schools (APS) fiscal year, Superintendent Francisco Dúran has suggested cutting funding for Arlington students to attend [Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology]. Should the proposed cut pass, current Arlington students at Jefferson will be allowed to remain, but all future classes — including this year’s rising 9th graders — will be barred from attending the school.” [TJ Today]
Lopez’s Gun Loophole Bill Signed — “Introduced by House Majority Whip Alfonso Lopez (D-Arlington), HB 2128 was one of the first pieces of legislation signed into law by Virginia Governor Ralph Northam before the end of the session. The bill expands the amount of time state police and agencies have to conduct a background check on a ‘default proceed’ gun sale, from 3 days to 5 days.” [Press Release]
(Updated at 11:30 a.m.) For his first budget as Superintendent of Arlington Public Schools, Francisco Durán said he is proposing a conservative budget “that reflects our most urgent needs.”
The 2022 budget for APS, which he presented to members of the School Board on Thursday, comes to $704.4 million in expenditures and $661.9 million in revenue. APS, which has expected budget gaps in years past, is expecting a $42.5 million shortfall for its next fiscal year.
“We are facing very unique challenges as our school division works through the pandemic and what is to come,” Durán said. “Over the past year, we have seen the impact that this has had on our local economy and significant losses in revenue in Arlington.”
The county will be transferring $529.7 million to APS, which is $5.1 million higher than the 2021 fiscal year, according to a county budget presentation document. County Manager Mark Schwartz presented his proposed budget two weeks ago.
Durán said increases in local and state contributions will be lower they have been over the last three years. The county has increased its contributions by an average of $19 million a year, while the state increased its contributions by about $4 million annually, he said.
APS could make up some of the gap with funding from the Biden administration’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, Durán said. The school system is projected to receive $20.5 million in funding from the plan, which House Democrats passed last week and sent to the Senate.
The government will likely require the funds be allocated to health and safety and learning loss, he said.
This is the second consecutive year that APS is not proposing step increases for staff. Last year, the approved $670 million budget included a projected gap of $27 million, which led APS not to include these compensation increases.
Responding to a directive from the School Board to provide compensation for staff at all levels, Durán said he is making a 2% cost of living adjustment.
“A step increase would not provide a compensation increase to 35% of our full-time employees or to 100% of our hourly workers and substitutes,” Durán said. “A cost of living adjustment ensures that everyone will receive something.”
But, he added, “while I do believe there are many steps in the right direction, I want to acknowledge and recognize that it is not enough.”
Salary and benefits costs account for nearly 79% of the total budget and 95% of the school operating fund.
In the official 2022 proposed budget, Durán wrote that the primary drivers of the budget are:
- $10 million for student enrollment growth, including staffing, opening the neighborhood school at the Key site and moving three other schools
- $9.5 million to restore funding for one-year reductions used to balance the FY 2021 budget
- $9.2 million for a 2% cost of living adjustment for all staff
- $2.2 million for special education needs such as additional interpreters and Pre-K assistants
- $3.5 million to support network infrastructure and student access to the Internet
The investments in special education and English language services are part of continuing compliance with a settlement with the U.S. Dept. of Justice.
“It seems clear to me that we are putting our emphasis on equity, equity for our students, equity for our staff in terms of the way that the proposed compensation is coming forward, and equity when it comes to our concerns about our students’ social-emotional needs,” School Board Chair Monique O’Grady said during the meeting last Thursday. “Those are major things that have been borne and laid bare because of the pandemic.”
School enrollment in the fall, meanwhile, is expected to rise well above figures from two years prior, after a big pandemic-caused dip this school year. Enrollment now projected to peak and start a slight decline mid-decade, after more than 15 years of growth to date.
Among the proposed cuts is the Metroway route between Pentagon City and the Braddock Road Metro stations.
Arlington and Alexandria have spent millions building the Crystal City/Potomac Yard Transitway that the Metroway line serves, with more than a dozen stops, primarily in the Crystal City and Potomac Yard area. An $27.7 million expansion of the Transitway to Pentagon City is in the works and set for construction.
The revenue-starved Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority shut Metroway down at the beginning of the pandemic in March, and has since experienced a system-wide 90% decline in ridership. The budget, as proposed, would extend the closure at least to mid-2022.
With Amazon’s choice of National Landing for its HQ2 headquarters in Pentagon City and Virginia Tech’s new Innovation Campus to be situated next door in Alexandria, the budget moves have caused concern for many, including Tracy Sayegh Gabriel, president and executive director of the National Landing Business Improvement District.
“Transit access is at the center of National Landing’s vibrant future and is a critical component of keeping our community competitive, equitable and sustainable,” Gabriel told ARLnow. “Public transit is more essential today than ever before as it enables our region’s frontline workers to access their jobs and continue serving the community during the pandemic. As the backbone of our transportation network and the most efficient means of reaching our commercial centers, our economic recovery will similarly depend on the continued funding, reliability and effectiveness of WMATA.”
Metro, which has sought a second injection of federal relief funding since May, is also proposing to shutter 19 Metrorail stations — including Arlington Cemetery, Clarendon, East Falls Church and Virginia Square — as well as eliminate weekend rail service and reduce weekday hours to 5 a.m.-9 p.m.
Metro is proposing the elimination of the following bus lines in Arlington and Alexandria:
- 4A and 4B from Pershing Avenue to the Pentagon
- 7F and 7Y from Lincolnia to North Fairlington
- 10A from Alexandria to the Pentagon
- 16A, 16E, 16G and 16H on Columbia Pike
- 22A, 22F from Barcroft to South Fairlington
- 25B from Landmark to Ballston
- 38B from Ballston to Farragut Square
- 7M from Mark Center to the Pentagon
Other lines are set for reductions or modifications in service.
In neighboring Alexandria, Mayor Justin Wilson said the changes would harm those who most rely on Metro service.
“My hope is that the federal government enacts new COVID-relief legislation that provides support to transit agencies and local and state governments so that we do not need to inflict these cuts on transit and city services,” Wilson said. “If that doesn’t happen, this will very detrimental to our community. Many of our residents rely on these transit services to get to places of work, healthcare services and essential trips. It has taken generations to develop our transit system and dismantling it will be tragic.”
On Tuesday night, members of Metro’s Rider Advisory Council (RAC) said that the bus cuts were “dramatic” and “draconian.”
“I’m just really sad and scared about this,” RAC Member Rebekah Mason said. “It just seems really highly prejudicial and really not a way to treat riders who have jobs, other than white collar jobs.”
Doris Ray, a member of the WMATA Accessibility Advisory Committee, wants the agency to instead enhance bus service in light of potential rail cuts.
“I am concerned as many in the community about the ability of people who do not drive, particularly essential workers, but for everyone who doesn’t drive and rely on transit to be able to get around,” Ray said.
Photo via Donna Gouse
Day Laborer Site Now Closed — “Although not unexpected, mid-November nonetheless brought something of an end of an era to the Shirlington Employment and Education Center, better known as SEEC. The pavilion area in Shirlington that the organization had used since 2003 to connect day-laborers with contractors and homeowners who sought their services has been fenced off in preparation for changes to Jennie Dean Park, where it is located.” [InsideNova]
Tonight: Outdoor Art in Crystal City — “Walk along Crystal Drive on December 2nd from 6-9PM to see the words of Luisa A. Igloria, Poet Laureate of the Commonwealth of Virginia projected onto the facade of 2011 Crystal Drive as the opening installation of Arlington Art’s Visual Verse. Their work will be brought to life by noted artist Robin Bell.” [National Landing BID]
Beyer Blasts Proposed Metro Cuts — From Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.): “The proposed WMATA budget cuts would be apocalyptic for Metro service and devastate its workforce. This catastrophe must not be allowed to happen, and Congress can prevent it by passing a new aid package. WMATA is not alone in its massive funding shortfall, which is a direct result of the pandemic. Cuts like this will hit across the country without robust aid for state and local governments and specific targeted funding for transit.” [Press Release]
Rosslyn Tree Lighting — “Thanks @ABC7Kidd for starting the countdown at tonight’s neighborhood tree lighting!” [Twitter]
Library Director’s Xmas Playlist — “For the past 13 years, I have published a ‘Too Cool for Yule’ playlist, as my love letter to the County and the people we serve. And while (sadly) Spotify has replaced the cassette tape, making the process easier, like much of 2020, this playlist was more difficult than ever to create.” [Arlington Public Library]
Major Metro Cuts Proposed — “With sharply reduced ridership and lacking fresh federal relief, Metro is proposing a new operating budget with a nearly $500 million deficit. Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld said Monday the proposed 2021 budget includes closing Metro rail at 9 p.m., ending weekend service, closing 19 stations and reducing the number of trains, which would result in longer wait times.” Among the stations that would close under the proposal are the Arlington Cemetery, Clarendon, East Falls Church and Virginia Square stations. [WTOP, Washington Post]
County Working on New Payment System — “Arlington officials continue to work on developing a one-stop online presence so the public can pay for a wide array of local-government services from their computers or smartphones. The initiative, being worked on by the treasurer’s office and Department of Technology Services, would go beyond the current CAPP [Customer Assessment and Payment Portal], which allows local residents to pay certain taxes, utility bills and parking tickets online.” [InsideNova]
Renovations for Mostly Vacant Building — “Wheelock Street Capital is seeking to renovate a long-vacant Arlington office building with the hope of attracting companies to the same corridor as Virginia Tech’s planned innovation campus and Amazon.com Inc.’s second headquarters… All of 3550 S. Clark St.’s office space thus far remains vacant. Small portions of the building’s retail space are leased to LA Fitness and child care center operator Bright Horizons.” [Washington Business Journal]
New Charitable Giving Portal — “New Looking for a way to add more charitable giving to the season of giving while supporting your neighbors in need? Arlington Community Foundation is launching its first ever Nonprofit Wish Catalog featuring grant ideas of 24 local nonprofits with wishes of up to $5,000 each this Giving Tuesday.” [Arlington Community Foundation]
Art Event Still On This Weekend — “The Arlington Artists Alliance presents its 18th annual Artful Weekend at Fort C.F. Smith Park. The show, featuring 30 top local Arlington-based artists and held in historic Hendry House at Fort C.F. Smith Park in Arlington, will be held December 4 to 6 this year. The show will feature paintings, ceramics, sculpture and cards, in addition to bins of unframed works.” [Event Calendar]
New Top Doc at VHC — “David Lee, MD, a member of the medical staff of Virginia Hospital Center for 30 years, has been tapped as the hospital’s senior vice president and chief medical officer.” [InsideNova]
It’s December — Today is Dec. 1. After today, there are only 30 days left in 2020.
Sexual Battery Suspect Arrested — “At approximately 1:12 p.m. on November 20, police were dispatched to the 4200 block of Wilson Boulevard for the report of a suspicious person matching the description of the suspect in the November 17 incident. Responding officers located the individual and took him into custody without incident.” [ACPD]
Local Attorney Accused of Sex Offenses — “A Northern Virginia attorney was arrested Thursday in Miami and accused of coercing underage girls into sexual activity. Matthew Erausquin, a founding partner of the firm Consumer Litigation Associates’ Northern Virginia affiliate, is charged in Alexandria federal court with sex trafficking involving six minors.” [Washington Post]
Hospice Worker Accused of Sexual Assault — A 57-year-old Arlington man has been charged “with sexually assaulting a hospice patient in October. Detectives were first notified on Nov. 11, that an 80-year-old Reston man disclosed to a family member that he awoke to [the man] performing a sex act on him in his home.” [Fairfax County Police]
Man Arrested After Incident in Park — “Arlington County Police say that a local man tried to kick a dog and then pepper sprayed its owner Thursday afternoon at Chestnut Hills Park.” [Patch]
SUV Fire in Westover — Washington Blvd was blocked around lunchtime Sunday due to a vehicle fire near Westover Village. The SUV was fully engulfed in flames when firefighters arrived. [Twitter]
MyEyeDr Opening Today in Ballston — The new MyEyeDr location in Ballston is set to open today, according to a press release. The chain bills itself as “one-stop shop to get an eye exam, buy new eyewear or even shop for sunglasses.”
Metro Making Budget Cuts — “Metro board members unanimously approved service cuts and a buyout plan Thursday aimed at avoiding as many layoffs as possible as the transit agency faces a $176 million budget shortfall due to the coronavirus pandemic.” [Washington Post]
(Updated at 4:45 p.m.) Facing a potential $41-56 million budget gap, the Arlington County Board is signalling that service cuts and tax rate hikes may be included in next year’s budget.
At its Tuesday meeting, the Board provided guidance to County Manager Mark Schwartz on the upcoming Fiscal Year 2022 budget, covering July 2021 through June 2022. Underlying it all is a big drop in tax and fee revenue caused by the pandemic.
“Our challenge in Fiscal Year 2022 will be to support our community as it continues to deal with an unprecedented medical, economic and educational emergency, even as the County faces continued fiscal uncertainty,” Board Chair Libby Garvey said in a statement.
“Our guidance to the Manager today starts what I expect to be a difficult conversation with our community about priorities, cuts to programs and services, and potential tax increases over the coming months, as we focus our limited resources on defeating this deadly virus, preserving our social safety net, protecting public health, and supporting our students and those in our community who face food and housing insecurity,” she said. “While the budget situation is serious, Arlington’s financial fundamentals remain strong.”
In a press release, the Board detailed what they want Schwartz to include in his proposed budget next year, including:
- “Reducing programs and services where necessary”
- “Consider a real tax rate increase, increased cigarette taxes, and a plastic bag tax”
- “Fund affordable housing, with a primary focus on preventing evictions and providing housing grants”
- “Food assistance, COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, personal protective equipment, and an anticipated vaccine program for the virus”
- “Funding… to implement Rank Choice Voting in Arlington… and the Police Practices Group’s recommendations”
- Funds to open the new Long Bridge Aquatics and Fitness Facility, and a recommendation on when to open the new Lubber Run Community Center
- An evaluation of “the advantages and disadvantages of moving to a utility model for funding stormwater management”
The Board’s guidance also calls for funds to be set aside “to support collective bargaining implementation,” following the May 1, 2021 implementation of a new Virginia law that allows localities to recognize and negotiate with public employee labor unions.
While reserve funds and federal coronavirus funds may help close up to half of the anticipated budget gap, Schwartz and his staff told Board members that difficult decisions may still be necessary. County revenue from commercial real estate taxes, as well as sales and meals taxes, is down significantly.
“The bottom line” is that “there is a significant gap to close,” Arlington County Budget Director Richard Stephenson said. “It will require some tough choices in the development and adoption of the FY 2022 budget.”
Board member Matt de Ferranti asked the public to be aware that the Board is “seeking options.”
“As much as we might wish we were fully immune from economic challenges, we are not,” he said. “There won’t be good options — there will only be least bad options.”
Board member Christian Dorsey said the Board does not take the possibility of tax increases lightly, and cautioned against a budget that prioritizes other aims above the marginalized in Arlington, who have been disproportionately hit by the pandemic.
“It’s certainly not lost on me or any of you that we have a really blunt tool in adjusting real-estate taxes to raise revenue,” he said. “It’s a blunt tool that can cause harm to the people you’re seeking to try and help with other government expenditures and services.”
Arlington doesn’t have it as bad as other communities, but the pandemic is causing a drop in tax revenue that is likely to result in some budget cuts.
That’s the message from County Manager Mark Schwartz, who presented an update on the county’s finances at last night’s County Board meeting.
The main highlight from Schwartz was the county budget closeout — the allocation of funds leftover from the previous fiscal year’s budget, which closed on June 30. There was $22.4 million left over from the 2019-2020 budget, most of which Schwartz recommended using to boost the current Fiscal Year 2021 budget.
“As proposed, $13.4 million would be used for the FY 2021 budget, $2 million would be put into the County Manager contingency fund, $2 million would support an employee separation contingent, and $5 million would be set aside to address COVID-related expenses in the FY 2022 budget,” said a county press release, below.
The Board is scheduled to vote next month on Schwartz’s recommendations, after receiving public feedback.
While a number of local advocacy groups have traditionally used the budget close-out process to secure additional funding for various initiatives, that is likely to be curtailed this year. Schwartz reiterated his previous warning that the county and Arlington Public Schools are together facing a $56 million budget gap for FY 2021.
“Usually we would already be thinking about our next budget, but instead we must figure out how we will provide the services and programs in the FY 2021 budget and fulfill our primary obligations to Arlington residents,” Schwartz said.
On the table for closing the gap, caused by a revenue shortfall and unexpected pandemic-related costs, is a reduction in county services. Schwartz’s presentation said that the county hopes to save $6.1 million by reducing some services and by not filling some vacant positions.
While holding out hope of saving money with a hiring freeze and preserving currently filled positions, Schwartz recommended that the Board set aside $2 million for “employee separation” costs, potentially including early retirements and buyouts.
From a county staff report:
As we work through development of the FY 2022 budget, we will be considering changes in how we deliver services based on our experience during COVID and due to anticipated revenue declines. This contingent would allow the Manager flexibility in addressing any impacts of these changes. As an example from prior years, we have offered various incentives for early retirement and other buy-out options. It is likely that these options will need to be effective prior to the beginning of FY 2022 (July 2021); thus, funding would be needed in FY 2021.
Other planned sources of savings outlined by Schwartz include debt refinancing ($2.4 million), federal CARES Act funding ($9.3 million) and “operational adjustments” — delayed facility openings ($1.9 million).
More from a county press release, below.