(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.
(Updated at 3 p.m.) Arlington County is facing a possible budget gap in the tens of millions dollars during the current fiscal year, as a result of the pandemic.
That’s the message from county staff, who raised the alarm during Tuesday’s County Board meeting.
“We had hoped that the recovery that we had anticipated at the time in March and April would be further along, and that’s simply not the case,” said County Manager Mark Schwartz.
As a result, tax and fee revenue is coming in significantly lower than expected, and Arlington is now facing an estimated budget gap between $42-60 million for the fiscal year that started on July 1. On the high end, that comes out to a gap of about $39 million for the county government and $21 million for Arlington Public Schools.
The County Board adopted a scaled-down, $1.35 billion budget in the spring — $820.8 million for the county, $524.6 million for schools — assuming lower revenue due to COVID-19. But as the pandemic and its effects drag on, the impacts are becoming bigger than first estimated.
“Clearly this is taking longer than we had anticipated, in terms of both the health and economic recovery,” said Budget Director Richard Stephenson.
Restaurant, sales, car rental and hotel taxes are still down — way down, in the case of hotel taxes. Stephenson showed a slide that compared the county’s expectations for those taxes to reality; rather than a V-shaped recovery, with the tax revenue getting back to near-normal this fall, actual revenues have been much lower and county budget staffers now do not expect to return to near-normal until mid-2021.
Parking meter fees, parking tickets, parks and rec program revenue, and transit revenue are all also coming in lower than expected, Stephenson said. Residential real estate taxes and vehicle property taxes are closer to projections, but the county is worried about potential tax delinquencies from residents facing economic hardship.
Another slide showed overall consumer spending in Arlington still down 22% compared to earlier in the year, when the first U.S. coronavirus case was reported.
Commercial property taxes, business license taxes and business property taxes may also take a hit from delinquencies, Stephenson said. The county is not projecting any growth in property assessments next year, something that has boosted the past couple of budgets without raising tax rates.
Stephenson presented a number of options for dealing with the budget shortfall, for the County Board to consider, including slowing some spending, using leftover funds from last year’s budget, using unallocated funds from Arlington’s share of the federal CARES Act, and using the county’s general budget reserves.
The County Board will learn how much is left over from last year’s budget in October, before deciding what to do with those funds in November, when it will receive further budget guidance.
The coronavirus pandemic will mean big changes to the Arlington Public Schools budget.
Interim Arlington Public Schools Superintendent Cintia Johnson presented her revised budget to the School Board via video conference last night, detailing plans to slash $54 million from what was once an ambitious budget calling for $725.8 million in expenditures.
The new budget assumes a drop in projected revenue from $698 million to $660.6 million. To balance the budget, Johnson proposes eliminating all across-the-board pay raises, nixing other planned expenditure increases, increasing class sizes at all grade levels by one, furloughing all staff for one day next spring, and using $14 million in reserve funds.
The school system’s reserves would drop from $26.5 million to $12 million, and would eventually need to be replenished in future budgets.
“We are using a significant amount of reserve funds to balance the budget, but we believe this is the best option for APS in order to preserve our team, maintain our high quality staff, and continue our tradition of excellence,” Johnson said. “”This is an extremely unusual year that has brought increased budget pressures. as a result, we have had to make some very tough decisions.”
Johnson presented two scenarios to the Board for employee pay raises, but said neither was viable for achieving a balanced budget.
The budget also calls for eliminating the Foreign Language in Elementary School program, eliminating tuition reimbursement for staff for the year, cancelling six planned school bus purchases, delaying purchases of furniture and technology for APS administration headquarters, delaying a planned athletic field renovation at Kenmore Middle School, and delaying a number of hires.
“We have preserved, as much as possible, our quality programs and services,” Johnson told the School Board last night.
The budget includes enough staffing to absorb a 4% increase in student enrollment — projected to be 29,142 at the beginning of the school year — and increased funding for English learners and students with special needs, as mandated by a settlement with the U.S. Dept. of Justice.
APS’ cost per pupil, currently the highest among D.C. area suburbs, would drop from $19,921 to $19,624.
Johnson says there are some unknowns that may yet affect the budget, including whether APS might see any boost in funding from federal coronavirus stimulus programs like the CARES Act, or reduced funding from the state. She said the furlough day should be scheduled as late in the next school year as possible, so that it can be eliminated should additional funding become available.
After a two work sessions and public hearings, the School Board is set to adopt the final Fiscal Year 2021 budget on Thursday, May 7.
No raises, few areas of additional spending and a couple of delayed openings.
That’s the summary of County Manager Mark Schwartz’s revised budget proposal, as announced by Arlington County on Monday afternoon.
The new Fiscal Year 2021 proposed budget “focuses on core essential services of government, retaining the existing workforce and proactively responding to the pandemic,” the county said in a press release.
The revision comes as Arlington expects a projected $56 million drop in revenue as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, dealing Schwartz’s formerly “good news budget” a $34 million reduction while tacking on $21.6 million to Arlington Public Schools’ already sizable budget gap.
Local and state governments have been bracing for big reductions in revenue as the pandemic causes sales tax, meals tax, hotel tax and other types of revenue to plummet.
Schwartz’s new budget proposal allocates more than $10 million for relief efforts, including food assistance, help for local businesses and nonprofits, and employee assistance. County services in the new budget are mostly kept as the current budget year’s levels, and proposed county employee pay increases have been nixed, per the county press release.
Other proposed, money-saving efforts including delaying the openings of the newly-built Lubber Run Community Center and Long Bridge Park aquatics center, as previously suggested by County Board Chair Libby Garvey.
The County Board will now hold a joint budget and tax rate hearing at 7 p.m. on Thursday, April 23. Final budget adoption is scheduled for Thursday, April 30.
After advertising no tax rate increase, the County Board can only keep the current rate steady or lower it. The average homeowner is still likely to pay more in property taxes, however, given a rise in property assessments.
The full county press release is below.
As the County faces the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, County Manager Mark Schwartz presented the Arlington County Board with a revised FY 2021 Proposed Budget that focuses on core essential services of government, retaining the existing workforce and proactively responding to the pandemic.
County staff estimates a nearly $56 million drop in anticipated revenue for the FY 2021 budget–$34.0 million on the County side and $21.6 million for Arlington Public Schools.
“What was unthinkable two months ago is now in front of us,” Schwartz said. “Businesses have laid off staff, residents have lost jobs, schools have closed and only the most essential functions continue.”
In February, Schwartz presented a budget that added back targeted investments in areas that were falling behind after two years of reductions. Now, his revised budget maintains only the current levels of service, removes all salary increases, places many projects on hold, uses funds from the Stabilization Reserve, and removes almost every addition proposed only a few weeks ago.
The budget delays the opening of the Lubber Run Community Center and the Long Bridge Park Fitness & Aquatics Center until FY 2022.
The County Manager’s revised budget also responds to the pandemic. It provides funding to meet projected demand in direct life/safety services to our residents, such as housing grants, permanent supportive housing, and identifies $2.7 million for emergency needs, such as food assistance. An additional $7.5 million is set aside for potential assistance to small businesses and nonprofits, service delivery recovery and employee support, and possible additional shortfalls in revenue.
The County Board now will take up the Manager’s proposal and is expected to vote on the amended budget on Thursday, April 30. There will be a public hearing on the new FY 2021 budget proposal, followed immediately by a tax hearing, on Thursday, April 23, at 7:00 p.m.
Before the pandemic, the County Board voted to advertise a tax rate of $1.013 per $100 of assessed value for Calendar Year 2020 ($1.026 including stormwater). By law, the Board can adopt a tax rate no higher than the advertised rate.