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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.

(more…)

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

by Ethan Rothstein — February 19, 2015 at 5:00 pm 1,285 0

APS Superintendent Patrick Murphy gives his budget presentationIncreasing class size, cutting jobs and deferring a teacher pay raise are all on the table for next school year in Arlington Public Schools Superintendent Patrick Murphy’s proposed FY 2016 budget.

Murphy’s proposal, which he will present to the Arlington School Board tonight (Thursday), calls for a total of $561.1 million of spending, a $21.7 million or 4 percent increase over FY 2015.

With a projected enrollment bump of 1,413 students next fall, Murphy’s budget calls for a $14.6 million spending increase just to handle the increased capacity, plus another $3.2 million to open Discovery Elementary School in north Arlington. Murphy also included $8.1 million in teacher step pay increases, a directive from the School Board.

“There’s nothing new in this budget,” Murphy told ARLnow.com this morning. “The emphasis is around instruction, efficiencies, compensation package among our employees and addressing enrollment to date.”

Murphy’s budget includes eliminating early release on Wednesday for the four schools that still have it: Arlington Traditional School, Arlington Science Focus, Long Branch and Taylor Elementary schools. The change costs $2.1 million, Murphy said, and necessitates adding 20.5 full-time equivalent positions. The elimination of early release also clears the way for APS to implement a broader foreign language in elementary schools (FLES) program.

APS projects its per-pupil cost in Murphy’s budget at $18,689, the lowest level since FY 2013.

County Manager Barbara Donnellan’s proposed budget, also announced today, includes an additional $13.2 million over the county’s contribution last year, still leaving a gap of $13.6 million. Murphy provides a plan to cut the $13.6 million deficit — assuming the county doesn’t allocate more funding in its deliberations — in three tiers.

  1. Tier One: Saving $4.7 million
    • Central Office reductions, including cutting six language positions and converting some world language classes to online, laying off four maintenance workers, and restructuring the library services department
    • Add more one-time funding from FY 2014 closeout funds into general budget
    • Fund replacement buses and technology with one-time funds
  2. Tier Two: Saving $5.2 million
    • Increase class size by one, saving $4.1 million and cutting 55 positions
    • Defer the elimination of early release in two schools
  3. Tier Three: Saving $3.7 million
    • Implement the step pay increase one-third of the way through the fiscal year, saving $2.7 million
    • Defer the elimination of early release in the other two schools

“I don’t support this,” Murphy said of the tier two cuts, particularly increasing class size, “but this is one of the strategies we’ve had to take.”

The cuts are divided into tiers in case the County Board elects to provide only partial funding toward closing the budget deficit.

The budget also includes $1.7 million for purchasing and outfitting 14 new relocatable classrooms, a number that APS staff anticipates changing before the final budget is approved. Revised enrollment projections for the 2015-2016 school year are expected to be released next month, prompting readjustments across the board in the proposed budget.

Relocatable classrooms, or trailers, as they’re also known, are just one piece of the puzzle for APS in solving its capacity crisis. Murphy said there are no additional measures in his proposal to help relieve south Arlington elementary school overcrowding; that’s a Capital Improvement Plan discussion, he said, which won’t be updated until 2016.

Instead, Murphy said there’s constant discussion about finding space efficiencies with what’s already in place, including changing the way space is used or moving county-wide programs to different buildings. Montessori classes and pre-K programs have already been shifted for capacity reasons, Murphy said.

“There’s been a strong message from my office about how we use our existing capacity, redefining space in buildings,” Murphy said. “We’ve made accommodations for [overcrowded] schools either with relocatables or redesigned space within those buildings.”

(more…)

by Ethan Rothstein — April 18, 2014 at 3:35 pm 2,810 0

County Board Chair Jay Fisette(Updated at 4:40 p.m.) Two days after the Arlington County Board voted to offset a one-cent tax rate cut by eliminating a pay raise for county employees, the Board has changed course.

County Board Chair Jay Fisette told ARLnow.com Friday afternoon that, after the Board met with representatives from the police and firefighter unions this morning, it decided to cut from other areas to make up the $6.6 million gap in the budget the tax cut will create.

The Arlington County Police Union, the Arlington Police Beneficiary Association and the Arlington Professional Firefighters and Paramedics Association (Local 2800) each released statements denouncing the Board’s decision to go against County Manager Barbara Donnellan’s recommendation to keep the property tax rate at 2014’s level of $1.006 per $100 in assessed value — and to pay for it by eliminating pay raises in favor of a “modest” 1 percent Cost of Living Adjustment and a one-time $500 employee bonus.

The decision was made in the days leading up to Wednesday’s budget mark-up, leading the police and firefighters to question the process and transparency of the Board’s budget process.

“Throughout the budgetary process that started in September 2013, there were no discussions by the County Board that indicated that step increases would be eliminated,” Local 2800 said in a statement. “Only now, six days before the vote, have we been informed… We understand that there needs to be a balance and restraint in the current economic times but there also needs to be transparency.”

The APBA said the cut in step increases would have hit twice as hard because the county changed employees’ healthcare plans this year, resulting in increases in premiums as high as 7 percent for some employees.

“Not only is this budget cut targeting employees in one of the most expensive places to live in the U.S., it also was made at the 11th hour, outside of Arlington’s well-accepted and long-established budget process and after the last opportunity for public comment,” the APBA said in a statement.

“It is the opinion of the APBA and Union that this last minute decision is politically motivated as a newly elected County Board Member was just sworn into office,” APBA member Jim Tuomey said in a separate email. “We feel this is a last minute effort for the County Board to try and ‘win over’ the voters by saving a penny on the real estate tax rate at the expense of all County employees and we have no opportunity to be heard at future work sessions with the budget adoption next Tuesday night.”

Fisette said the Board unanimously decided to cut the tax rate “a few weeks ago,” before the April 8 special election that saw John Vihstadt became the first non-Democrat elected to the Board since 1999 by a 57-41 percent margin over Democrat Alan Howze.

The decision to do away with the step increase came as a shock to the employees because it hadn’t been mentioned in any public hearings or meetings. Moreover, Fisette said, it’s rare that the Board goes away from the county manager’s recommendations on compensation. It’s particularly rare that the Board lowers salaries or cuts pay raises, Fisette said. (more…)

by ARLnow.com — March 21, 2014 at 9:05 am 3,045 0

Inside Ben's Chili Bowl (Flickr pool photo by Christaki)

School Board Nixes Controversial Proposed Cuts — The Arlington School Board on Thursday took three key cuts proposed by superintendent Patrick Murphy off the table. The nixed proposals are: combining the Langston-Brown High School Continuation Program with Arlington Mill High School, reducing day classes offered to students over the age of 22, and eliminating elementary school library aides. The cuts would have saved at least $2.7 million. The Board is also “asking for more information about” a proposal that would outfit every second and sixth grader with an iPad or Chromebook at a reported annual cost of $200,000. [InsideNoVa]

WHS Video for Happiness Day — The Wakefield Asian Club at Wakefield High School created a musical video from Pharrell Williams’ song “Happy” in honor of International Day of Happiness on Thursday. [YouTube]

Girl Scout Troop Orders Too Many Cookies — A new Girl Scout troop from Arlington’s Nottingham Elementary School misread an order form and accidentally ordered 12 times as many cases of Girl Scout cookies to sell as intended. Luckily, other local Girl Scout troops rallied and helped the troop sell the 1,440 excess boxes of Samoas, Tagalongs, Do-si-dos, etc. [Washington Post]

Bennington Apartments Sell for $101.1 Million — The Bennington apartment building at 1201 S. Eads Street in Pentagon City has traded hands for $101.1 million. The 348-unit building was purchased by New York-based Pantzer Properties, which plans to rebrand the building as “The Point at Pentagon City.” [Washington Business Journal]

SPRC to Meet on Key Blvd Apartment Plan — The county’s Site Plan Review Committee will meet Monday to discuss a plan to demolish and redevelop the Key Boulevard Apartments near Rosslyn. The group Preservation Arlington has expressed concern about the proposal. “Built in 1943, Key Boulevard Apartments are a nearly perfect garden apartment complex with all the right details and scaling,” the group wrote on its blog. [Preservation Arlington]

Road Closures for Nottingham 5K — Several streets will be closed Saturday morning for the Nottingham Elementary 5K race. The closures will be in place on parts of Williamsburg Blvd, Little Falls Road and N. Ohio Street from 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. [Arlington County]

Flickr pool photo by Christaki

by Katie Pyzyk — July 15, 2013 at 12:00 pm 1,361 0

MoneyThe county will tap into the $3 million Economic Stability Fund it established to lessen the sequestration’s impact on the community. The County Board voted on Saturday to send $39,000 from the fund to the Department of Human Services for its Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP) program.

The Board voted to tap into the fund for the first time after learning of cuts to federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funding, which would trickle down to the local level. The Virginia Department of Social Services informed the county its contribution would be reduced by $39,000 in FY 2014 due to cuts in the state HPRP funding, which originates at HUD.

“This is the first time the County has had to tap into its sequestration fund, but unfortunately, we are quite certain it will not be the last,” said Arlington County Board Chairman J. Walter Tejada. “Across the nation, communities are feeling the impact of sequestration. These indiscriminate cuts are affecting the lives of real people, in large and small ways, and that impact is only going to grow as time goes on. In this instance, we are able to use the special funds to continue important safety net services for some of our most vulnerable individuals and families.”

HPRP has been in existence since 2009 and receives funding through a combination of $249,000 of state money to support case management, and $200,000 of local money to support housing-related financial assistance. Four non-profits provide case management services: Arlington Street People’s Assistance Network, Doorways for Women and Families, the Arlington Alexandria Coalition for the Homeless and Volunteers of America-Chesapeake.

Individuals and families who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless can qualify for short term financial assistance from HPRP. Participating families are limited to $1,200 for homelessness prevention and $3,000 for rapid re-housing. Participants also receive case management services such as guidance for developing household budgets and maintaining their housing.

So far, county staff has not identified any other sequester cuts that would require a dip into the reserve fund. Although the state has experienced some cuts it hasn’t yet passed those on to localities.

by ARLnow.com — April 2, 2013 at 6:55 pm 2 Comments

Sign at the County Board budget hearing on 3/26/13The Arlington County Board has taken a proposal to eliminate local childcare inspections off the table for the 2014 budget.

The recommendation, one of numerous spending cuts in County Manager Barbara Donnellan’s proposed budget, was met with controversy. Hundreds of parents and residents signed a petition against the elimination of Arlington Child Care Office, which would have turned inspections over to the state and resulted in more lax oversight.

The county issued the following press release about the Board’s decision tonight.

Arlington County Board Chairman J. Walter Tejada today said that the County will continue its inspections of childcare centers and family childcare homes and will continue to train providers. County Manager Barbara Donnellan had recommended in her Proposed Fiscal Year 2014 Budget that the County eliminate childcare inspections and provider training.

“The Board is committed to maintaining Arlington’s inspections of childcare facilities and training for providers,” Tejada said. “Although most localities in Virginia rely on the State alone to conduct inspections of childcare facilities, Arlington has, for more than 40 years, provided an extra layer of inspections and training for providers – and the Board is committed to continuing both of those elements.”

Tejada made his statement at the start of a Board public work session on the Department of Human Services’ proposed FY 2014 Budget. In her Proposed FY 2014 Budget, had recommended that the County rely on the state to inspect childcare centers and family childcare homes, and cut provider training, as part of her effort to cut costs across departments. The proposed cuts to inspection services had raised concerns within the community about the safety of Arlington’s childcare facilities.

The measure would have saved about $250,000 per year. The County Board will approve a final Fiscal Year 2014 budget on April 20.

by ARLnow.com — March 27, 2013 at 6:15 pm 30 Comments

County Board budget on 3/26/13Dozens lined up Tuesday night to ask the Arlington County Board to open the county’s purse strings just a bit more.

Most speakers at the 3 hour, 45 minute public budget hearing addressed the $9.3 million in proposed cuts to social programs, environmental initiatives, the arts and other county services — though some came to encourage additional cuts, namely to the proposed Columbia Pike streetcar.

The top issue at the meeting by speaker count was County Manager Barbara Donnellan’s proposed cut of the county’s Child Care Office. Some 16 speakers, wearing yellow in solidarity, asked the County Board to reconsider the $250,000 budget cut, which would deregulate small home-based child care operations and return the regulation of larger child care businesses to the state.

County Board budget on 3/26/13“These extra services and higher standards helped us feel comfortable about using an in-home daycare provider in Arlington,” said Michelle Sagatov, a full-time working mom with two kids. “The state does not have the same standards.”

Lauren Harris, the owner of Little Ambassadors Academy in Arlington, said she opposes the Child Care Office’s closure, even though reverting to state regulations could allow her to have a higher and more profitable child-to-employee ratio.

Affordable housing was another hot topic, with about 9 speakers urging the County Board to invest more in affordable housing. Donnellan’s proposed budget, which is currently under consideration by the Board, calls for a total of $32.3 million to go to affordable housing — or 4.9 percent of the County’s general fund budget (excluding schools).

Tim Wise, of the Arlington County Taxpayers Association, countered that the county spends enough on “the so-called affordable housing special interest.”

Wise and about a half dozen other speakers also called for the Board to cancel the $250 million Columbia Pike streetcar project.

“As an Arlington county resident, I appreciate our services and our relatively low taxes compared to D.C. and Maryland and even Fairfax,” said Lee Schalk, who works at the National Taxpayers Unions “But with our current budget gap… we must pump the brakes on this quarter of a billion dollar streetcar project. Instead of throwing away our tax dollars on an inefficient form of public transportation, based on questionable assumptions… the local government should work to keep spending and taxes in check.”

Schalk called the streetcar a “boondoggle” and said he was “not amused by the $1 million bus stop” on Columbia Pike.

At least one speaker urged the County Board to press on with the Columbia Pike streetcar project.

(more…)

by Peter Rousselot — March 26, 2013 at 3:00 pm 2,365 75 Comments

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column published on Tuesdays. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter RousselotThe Arlington County Board needs to learn some lessons from the Rolling Stones:

Yeah, a storm is threatening
My very life today
If I don’t get some shelter
Lord, I’m gonna fade away

As ARLnow reported last week, the cost of the new “Super Stop” at the corner of Walter Reed Drive and Columbia Pike will be more than $1 million. This is a cost escalation of over 100 percent from the original estimate.

Shouldn’t we say, “superexpensive?”

With due credit to Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and the rest of the Rolling Stones (who know a lot more about rock and roll than the County Board knows about transportation infrastructure), here are three lessons to be learned from the Board’s Super Stop fiasco:

1. Since the County Board did such a poor job on just this one superstop, the County Board can’t possibly be ready to choose the managers and contractors for a project like the streetcar currently estimated to cost 250 times more than this one stop.

Trying to counter the tsunami of public criticism about the enormous cost overrun on this Super Stop, county officials have tried to deflect blame onto WMATA — the Super Stop’s project manager. They say WMATA won’t be chosen to play such a role again. This begs the question: how can we rely on the County Board to make the right choice of managers for much larger projects if they failed to recognize WMATA’s poor performance on this one? Are you ready for the $500 million streetcar?

2. Since the County Board failed to recognize the many design flaws in this one Super Stop, the County Board can’t possibly be ready to recognize the design flaws in much larger and more complex transportation infrastructure projects.

Disregarding the advice of the Rolling Stones, the County Board approved a design for this Super Stop that failed to provide one of the fundamental things that many bus stops in other parts of Arlington already provide: adequate shelter from rain and wind. How can we rely on the County Board to make good design decisions about much more complex transportation infrastructure projects that contain many elements they have never seen before?

3. The County Board displays no public understanding of the multiple ways in which the costs of large transportation infrastructure projects take funding away from core services.

Hiding behind erroneous claims that the costs of mammoth capital projects have no impact on proposed operating budget cuts, various spokespeople for the County are turning themselves into pretzels arguing that watering down child care standards or cutting back on community policing are completely unrelated to financing large transportation infrastructure projects. As anyone with a mortgage or a car loan knows, this defies common sense: the bigger your loan payments, the less you have left over for your other needs.

A fiscal storm is threatening Arlington’s life today. Gimme shelter!

Peter Rousselot is a member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

by ARLnow.com — March 19, 2013 at 11:15 am 2,076 104 Comments

Child care (photo via Arlington County)A group of residents is organizing to oppose a proposed cut to child care regulation in Arlington County Manager Barbara Donnellan’s proposed budget.

Donnellan’s budget, which is under consideration by the County Board, cuts the county’s Child Care Office, which regulates local daycare centers. Three full time positions would be eliminated, saving $250,000 annually.

If the cut were made, a local ordinance regulating daycare providers would be eliminated, and oversight of such daycare centers would be returned to the Commonwealth of Virginia, which opponents say has weaker standards than the county. In addition, family daycare centers with up to 5 children are not regulated by the state and would instead go unregulated.

Opponents of the Child Care Office cut have formed an online petition, now with 288 supporters, and a Facebook page, with 113 fans, to send a message to county leaders.

“The County Code and Child Care Office PROTECT our children by requiring small home daycares to be licensed and by requiring SIGNIFICANTLY higher standards for all settings,” says the petition page. “Investing in early childhood is SMART ECOMONICS: research has shown high quality early care and education significantly decreases major social and economonic problems such as crime, teenage pregnancy, dropping out of high school and adverse health conditions.”

The petition was started by Sandra Redmore, director of the Clarendon Child Care Center.

In addition to eliminating local oversight of the county’s dozens of licensed daycare providers, the closure of the Child Care Office would eliminate professional development programs run by the office.

Child Care Office supporters are being asked to register today to speak at the upcoming March 26 public budget hearing.

Photo via Arlington County

by Peter Rousselot — March 12, 2013 at 2:00 pm 2,144 89 Comments

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column published on Tuesdays. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

In last week’s column, I explained why Arlington needs to develop a core services approach to deal with its budget. Several commenters offered helpful suggestions as to how Arlington ought to define a core services approach.

For example:

  • “Another way to look at the role of government revolves around the phrase ‘Basic Human Needs.’ Things like the Artisphere, other arts and cultural projects, fancy swimming pools, and dog parks need to take a back seat to education, public safety, assistance to the needy.” -Willy
  • “Focus on the core and spend in other [areas] only as funds permit. But equally as important, spend wisely on everything.” -John Fontain
  • “It’s stuff that you would think is almost too self-evident to need mentioning. But when you see the cuts proposed, you have to wonder. Sure, there is some room for debate about what is core, and the published example from California is just one example.” -Flux

Of course, there are refinements, adjustments and other details that Arlington needs to address in order to adopt a core services approach to its budget.

For example:

  • Core services such as police, fire, and schools should not be immune from cuts. As “John Fontain” says, Arlington should “spend wisely on everything”. But, programs and services in core areas such as these should be given greater protection from cuts than programs in more peripheral areas.
  • Contrary to the views of another commenter last week, I certainly do not believe that Arlington should stop funding parks or libraries. These are critical functions of our local government and justify very substantial continuing investment.

Where Arlington has missed the mark is by spending, or proposing to spend, extravagant amounts of money in areas relating to, for example, public recreation. Don’t get me wrong. I believe it is important for Arlington to provide facilities like swimming pools and dog parks. But, I also believe it is extravagant to construct an $82 million Aquatics Center or a $1.7 million dog park.

In the end, Arlington needs to adopt a core services approach to budgeting because such an approach will provide a publicly articulated and understood set of values by which budget proposals can be measured.

A core services approach to budgeting should only be adopted by the County Board after an appropriate process of community engagement.

Peter Rousselot is a member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

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