These funds will support both full-time in-person instruction and a distance education option for Arlington Public Schools students this coming fall and next spring. More than 24,000 students are projected to be in-person this August, according to APS.
The budget was pieced together with an ongoing county transfer of $527 million, a one-time transfer of $2.8 million, $3.5 million in carry-over funds from the 2020-21 school year, state and federal funding, and the use of $19.5 million in reserves. It is enough to keep APS in the black in the short term, according to Board Vice Chair Barbara Kanninen.
“This budget is going to be balanced, but going forward, we are carrying a deficit into next year,” she said.
It also takes into account lower enrollment than initially expected for the next school year, which was revealed just two days before the meeting.
When news dropped on Tuesday that about 2,000 students who left APS over the last year will not be returning, School Board members asked the school system to adjust the budget for reduced enrollment, expressing hope that it would help resolve a looming $11 million budget deficit.
After consulting with an enrollment expert, APS administrators offered an alternative budget that estimated 525 fewer students. The School Board voted 4-1 — with board member Reid Goldstein dissenting — to account for the more conservative projected reduction in enrollment. (Goldstein said he believed APS could make deeper reductions.)
“To provide any larger of a reduction would give a much greater weight to the 2020 enrollment than [the expert] felt would be practicable because this year is an anomaly,” said Leslie Peterson, Assistant Superintendent of Finance and Management Services.
This change to the budget saved the school system nearly $3.5 million, or nearly 37 full-time employees that APS would otherwise need to hire. APS is setting aside $500,000 of that savings to hire more staff if real enrollment is higher this fall.
“I believe this puts us in the situation of, I hope, almost similar to a freeze so that we are able to keep the current staff as much as we can in the building,” Board Chair Monique O’Grady said. “This will have an impact on hiring additional staff, but hopefully, we can keep current staff in place while saving us dollars in the middle of a tight budget scenario.”
Superintendent Francisco Durán, the outside enrollment expert and administrators did not support the lower enrollment projection, which they said does not account for high birth rates in Arlington in 2016 — children that are coming of elementary school age — or an increase in housing, among other factors included in enrollment projections.
With the new budget, the school system will be be increasing classroom sizes by one student for grades K-5, saving APS $1.8 million and the equivalent of hiring nearly 21 full-time employees.
In response to concerns from a handful of parents, the School Board used reserve funds to restore $85,000 in the budget, nixing a proposal to remove one copier from each school. The parents, Kanninen said, were concerned that fewer copiers would mean less pencil-and-paper work and more screen time.
“Even before the pandemic, we were making transitions to digital learning materials and other manipulatives to help students grasp concepts,” said Bridget Loft, Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning. “While there would be some impact, the expectation is it would not be catastrophic or a game-changer, particularly since we’ve been engaged in moving in a different direction away from paper-based materials.”
Only Goldstein voted against the amendment, saying that he believes staff when they say it will not impact instruction.
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
Last week, the Arlington County Board approved a new budget that holds the current real estate tax rate steady.
In some ways, that’s a win given the fears of a pandemic-caused budget crunch. Tax revenue ended up coming in above estimates and federal funding freed up million in local funds. Instead of making significant budget cuts, as originally feared, the Board was able to add in numerous initiatives, paid for with one-time funding.
The budget maintains the current base real estate tax rate at $1.013 per $100 in assessed property value, a de facto tax hike for most homeowners given that residential property assessments up are 5.6%. Assessments on commercial property, including office buildings, slumped 1.4% this year.
Some called for the Board to lower the property tax rate, as Loudoun County is doing and Fairfax County is considering, “to provide relief to homeowners hit by rising assessments.” In the end, the Board decided to do more rather than less, keeping the tax rate where it is and adding funding for things like housing, hunger, fiscal reserves, and raises for county employees.
Perhaps there is a calculation here, that an expected strong economy will further buoy tax revenue and property assessments over the next year, and that the next (FY 2023) budget is the time to trim the tax rate a bit, rather than now when many are still suffering as a result of the pandemic.
What do you think of the Board’s decision?
Photo by Pepi Stojanovski on Unsplash
The majority of Arlington homeowners will face higher property taxes, after the County Board approved a budget that holds the property tax rate steady.
The Fiscal Year 2022 budget includes $1.4 billion in spending, a 3.5% increase from last year’s budget. Of that, $530 million will go to Arlington Public Schools, which will pass its final budget next month.
Earlier this year County Manager Mark Schwartz proposed a budget that would have only boosted spending by 1.4%, calling it a “transition budget” appropriate for the challenges presented by the pandemic.
The new county budget includes millions in additional expenditures, thanks to higher-than-expected business tax revenue and an expected $46 million in federal funding for Arlington’s local COVID-19 response from the American Rescue Plan, to be split between this year’s and next year’s budgets.
Among the additions, according to a County Board report posted the same day as Tuesday’s meeting:
Increasing the bonus for employees to approximately $900/net ($2,653,965); Fully replenishing the Stabilization Reserve that was utilized to balance the FY 2021 and FY 2022 budgets ($7,841,608); Funding technical support for financial/human resources system ($240,000); Increasing funding for Libraries to support materials collection ($100,000); Supporting tree pruning by shifting cycle from 17 to 9.5 years ($200,000); Providing funding for a vehicle for the Urban Forester position ($55,000); Restoring outreach program recruitment funding for Police Department ($187,350); Funding the purchase and installation of 13 charging stations for electric vehicles to prepare for increase in electric vehicle purchases in the upcoming year ($250,000) and providing supplemental funding of $33,000 to increase the number of electric vehicles purchased in FY 2022 (6 additional vehicles); Funding the County Manager’s Contingent ($2,500,000); Increasing funding for the Affordable Housing Investment Fund, bringing the total in the FY 2022 budget to $16.9 million ($7.9 million one-time and $9.0 million in ongoing); Restoring $2.6 million of PAYG funding, adding $2.0 million for facility renovations, and funding the installation of gender-neutral restroom signage in County facilities ($145,000); Funding Arts Resiliency grants ($50,000); Provide additional support for the Restorative Arlington initiative ($50,000); Maintaining alternative COVID eligibility criteria for existing recipients of housing grants ($1,036,512); Providing additional funding for the airport noise study ($50,000); Arlington Public Schools (APS): one-time funding requests for Summer School Incentive Payments ($605,000) and costs of opening Cardinal Elementary School ($882,940) and the Education Center ($750,000); Funding an analysis of the budget based on Equity Metrics ($50,000); Expanding access to early voting on two Sundays in advance of the November election ($50,000); Providing a one percent salary increase for all employees and shifting pay ranges by one percent for public safety and five percent for general employees ($2,420,332); Funding 1.0 permanent and 3.0 temporary FTEs for the Fire Department’s implementation of the Emergency Triage, Treat, and Transport (ET3) program with costs covered by program revenue ($270,000); Increasing funding to the Lee Highway Alliance by $25,000 to match total FY 2021 funding of $85,500; Purchasing additional databases for small businesses to assist with pandemic recovery ($40,000); Funding redaction software for the body worn camera program for the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office ($33,500); Funding to support prevailing wage administration ($168,600); Funding an additional Urban Forester position for the Department of Parks and Recreation ($105,000); Restoring funding for the Virginia Cooperative Extension ($63,682) and Northern Virginia Conservation Trust ($90,159); Funding additional Police Practices Group recommendations ($90,000); Adding a fifth Court Clerk (1.0 FTE) and an additional Land Records position (1.0 FTE) to the Circuit Court ($87,416); Restoring previous one-time funding with ongoing support to Arlington Independent Media ($70,000); Restoring funding for an Administrative Assistant position in the County Board Office ($90,000); Reducing client’s income contribution towards rent from 40% to 30% for the Housing Grants Program ($487,713)
The budget also includes $2.8 million for some one-time Arlington Public School projects.
“After a lengthy public review process that included work sessions, public hearings, input from residents, employees, boards and commissions, and updated revenue forecasts based on the third quarter update, the County Board, after deliberations, has approved a balanced budget for FY 2022,” says the Board report. “The budget continues funding for core County services and Arlington Public Schools; it provides additional funding for a variety of critical County programs and one-time APS costs related to opening Cardinal Elementary and the Ed Center, summer school incentive payments, and virtual school in the fall.”
The budget maintains the current base real estate tax rate at $1.013 per $100 in assessed property value, a de facto tax hike with residential property assessments up 5.6%. Assessments on commercial property, including office buildings, slumped 1.4% this year.
There was little additional discussion as the Board voted on the numerous individual budget items.
At a recent tax rate hearing, a few people called for the Board to lower the property tax rate, as Loudoun County is doing and Fairfax County is considering, “to provide relief to homeowners hit by rising assessments.” The real estate tax is expected to generate just over $800 million in revenue in Fiscal Year 2022, which starts July 1.
The Board also voted last night to raise the stormwater tax by $0.004 per $100 of assessed value to support stormwater improvements, and to slightly decrease the annual Household Solid Waste Rate from $319.03 to $318.61.
Other highlights of the new budget including affordable housing funding and housing grants; grants for small businesses affected by the pandemic; implementing recommended policing changes, including funding a civilian mental health crisis response team; electric vehicle charging stations and county fleet purchases; raises and bonuses for county employees; and the opening of the new Long Bridge Park Aquatics and Fitness Center and Lubber Run Community Center.
The full county press release about the budget is below, after the jump.
The County Board is slated to vote on its fiscal year 2022 budget tomorrow (Tuesday) and affordable housing is top of mind for many Arlingtonians and Board members.
This month, however, housing advocates told the Board that may not be enough to tackle the entrenched problem of rising housing costs and the deepening inequality caused by the pandemic. In response, Board members have identified three ways to amend the budget.
Testifying before the County Board on April 6, Carlos Velazquez, who sits on the board of trustees for Arlington Community Foundation, said the county needs to maintain flexibility for families seeking housing aid.
“COVID-19 assistance has helped many low-income families and individuals [stay in Arlington] and keep food on the table,” he said. “But the need has not gone away… We believe that flexibility should be maintained after the pandemic to help residents resolve delinquencies and develop plans to move forward from personal crises.”
Over the last two weeks, County Board members have discussed ways of doing just that. Last Thursday, ahead of the vote tomorrow evening, County Board Chair Matt de Ferranti proposed adding up to $2.4 million in several areas.
The chair proposed just over $1 million to maintain COVID-era guidelines that expanded eligibility for working families who needed financial aid during the pandemic. For those receiving grants, who currently contribute 40% of their income toward housing, de Ferranti is also proposing about $487,000 in one-time and recurring funding to lower annual housing contributions.
According to county staff, that could affect 700 families.
“This is of interest to us in the sense that severely rent-burdening individuals at 40% is more than [The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development] recommends,” de Ferranti said.
The County Board is also looking to add $850,000 in one-time funding for the Affordable Housing Investment Fund, a loan fund that helps to fund the development of new, dedicated affordable housing.
A portion of the $17.5 million set aside in the budget for the county’s response to the pandemic, meanwhile, will go toward eviction prevention. Housing advocates would like to see the county take bolder action in light of rising housing costs and economic hardship among lower-income residents.
Shaheera Sayed, an advocate with ACE Collaborative, an Asian American community-building group affiliated with Alexandria-based advocacy organization New Virginia Majority, said more needs to be done to prevent displacement of current residents.
ACE, which recently organized a rally near the future Amazon HQ2 in Pentagon City, proposed adding $8 million in funding.
“There is proof that the Asian Americans and other communities of color in Arlington county are struggling,” she said. “By adding more funding and expanding eligibility in programs such as the Housing Grants, more people who are unable to get affordable housing but are struggling to pay rent can benefit from this program.”
Beyond this year’s budget, County Board members say that more housing support will be needed for years to come. The most vulnerable in Arlington will likely face the longest road to full economic recovery, said County Board member Katie Cristol.
“Let’s not set ourselves up to make this purely one-time investment in Fiscal Year 2022,” she said.
Photo (top) via Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing, (middle) via Arlington County
Most Library Branches Still Remain Closed — “Arlington officials say it is no longer public-health concerns, but budget issues, that are keeping most of the county’s libraries locked up tight. And it’s likely most of them will stay that way for months to come. ‘Community health metrics are not the driving factor in regard to opening additional locations and services,’ library officials said in an e-mail to patrons last week. ‘The county [government] has been under a hiring freeze for more than one year. Libraries cannot open additional locations or services with current staffing levels.'” [Sun Gazette]
Rosslyn Startup Raises Millions — “Arlington meal delivery service Territory Foods has raised $22 million in fresh funding, the startup announced Tuesday… The company creates specialty meals that cater to a wide variety of specific diets, including paleo, Whole30, keto, vegan, low carb and low fat, among others. Customers can order the meals delivered in bulk once or twice a week.” [Washington Business Journal]
County Board Meetings Stay Virtual — “It could be summer before Arlington County Board meetings return to an in-person venue. The board schedule currently anticipates meetings through May will be ‘virtual’-only, as they have been since the spring of 2020 when the pandemic took hold.” [Sun Gazette]
Flower Market Coming to Rosslyn — “Roses are red, violets are blue, if you’re looking for fresh flowers, Rosslyn is here for you! With spring in full bloom, the Rosslyn BID is continuing Rosslyn Refresh with a series of outdoor flower markets. Rosslyn Flower Market will bring local plant, herb, and flower vendors to Central Place Plaza, Saturdays April 24-May 8.” [Rosslyn BID]
New Development to Host Temporary Hotel — “The developer of another new apartment complex is seeking permission to use some of the units as hotel rooms for a period, but is quibbling with county staff over how long that period should be. Arlington County Board members on April 17 will be asked to approve a proposal to permit up to 100 residential units in one of the two towers in ‘The Highlands’ to be used as hotel space.” [Sun Gazette]
Arlington County’s projected revenue appears sunnier than when County Manager Mark Schwartz first presented his proposed budget for the 2022 fiscal year in February.
The county can attribute this warmer outlook to two sources: the nearly $2 trillion American Rescue Plan and strong business license tax receipts, Budget Director Richard Stephenson said during a public hearing on the tax rate last Thursday. While he did not specify the revenue from the business taxes, Stephenson said President Joe Biden’s relief bill will apportion $46 million to the county.
Combined, the influx of cash could mean funding will be restored to libraries, community centers, Arlington Independent Media and the Virginia Cooperative Extension, for example.
Schwartz’s proposed budget delays the re-opening of Cherrydale and Glencarlyn libraries and reduces support for AIM and VCE. Between 2019-20 and the proposed budget, funding for AIM had dropped by 22%, while the proposed reductions to VCE would require the organization to find new funding sources or reduce its programs. Members of the public spoke in favor of restoring funding to these programs last Tuesday.
Still, Arlington County will be leaning on real estate taxes for the lion’s share, 59%, of its revenue. Specifically, it will be relying on increasing residential real-estate taxes due to rising property values as commercial property assessments drop.
“We’ve experienced some significant reductions to several of our tax revenues and non-tax fees,” Stephenson said. “We were fortunate this past January that real estate assessments came in slightly higher than we were originally projecting. While we experienced a decrease in commercial property assessments, new construction and residential properties increased.”
While property values are rising, Schwartz is proposing to keep the rate flat — at $1.013 per $100 of assessed value — for the upcoming fiscal year. That will mean an overall tax increase for most homeowners.
The County Board is slated to vote on this rate next Tuesday.
Members cannot increase the rate but they could decrease it, which is something that a few Arlington residents told board members they would like to see.
While Arlington has proposed holding its tax rate steady, nearby jurisdictions — including Fairfax County and Loudoun County — have proposed lowering or approved a lower real estate tax rate, said Audrey Clement, who is running as an independent for a seat on the County Board.
“The impetus for tax reductions elsewhere is to provide relief to homeowners hit by rising assessments, even as the pandemic has put a lot of them out of work,” Clement told the board.
She said the county is using falling commercial real estate tax revenue to justify freezing rather than lowering the residential tax rate.
“The county will tell you it can’t afford to reduce the real estate tax rate because the pandemic has drained the commercial real estate tax revenue, but where were your real estate tax rates heading when the county was flush with revenue from corporate tenants?” she said. “They were going up.”
Meanwhile, two residents, William Barratt and Cindy Nelson, both asked the County Board to reduce real estate taxes.
Barratt said the Bluemont Civic Association, of which he is a part, passed a resolution encouraging the board to reduce the tax rate. The homeowner said he and his wife have seen a 15% increase in their taxes in recent years.
“I don’t think this is a wise idea for anyone: poor and rich,” Nelson said. “It’s just not right.”
The stormwater tax rate is set to increase, which Stephenson said will help generate $15.1 million earmarked for stormwater improvements.
Eventually, the county plans to eliminate the stormwater tax completely in favor of a fee based on how much impervious surface covers a given property, Schwartz previously said.
A higher cigarette tax rate is also being proposed that could generate $600,000. Like most of the county’s tax revenue, almost half of that will go toward Arlington Public Schools, Stephenson said.
Images (2-4) via Arlington County
New Irish Pub Now Open in Pentagon City — “If your notion of an Irish pub is a static menu of fish n’ chips in a shamrock-decked bar, chef Cathal Armstrong wants to change that perception with Mattie and Eddie’s. The James Beard-anointed chef, who championed seasonal Irish cooking over 14 years at Alexandria’s Restaurant Eve, just opened the gastropub with a large outdoor patio in Pentagon City.” [Washingtonian]
Extended Power Outage in Barcroft — A driver crashed into a utility pole at S. Buchanan Street and 6th Street S. in the Barcroft neighborhood Sunday, initially knocking out power to thousands. Hundreds of homes were still in the dark until early this morning. [Twitter]
Candidate Comes Out Swinging At Dem Meeting — “[Chanda] Choun, who is attempting to unseat sitting Democrat Takis Karantonis in a June primary, did not pull many punches in an April 7 kickoff speech before the Arlington County Democratic Committee rank-and-file. ‘Takis was not the best candidate to represent Arlington’ during a politically and racially charged era, Choun said… If elected, Choun said he would be an elected official who ‘goes beyond the platitudes and buzzwords’ to promote an aggressively left-leaning agenda. One example: Choun said he wanted the county to establish a ‘truth and reconciliation commission’ to focus on equity issues.” [Sun Gazette]
School Board Advances Budget Proposal — “The School Board adopted its FY 2022 Proposed Budget at its April 8 meeting. The proposed budget expenditures total $699,919,805. The School Board amended the Superintendent’s FY22 Revised Proposed Budget by reducing the budgeted expenditures by $6,796,056 and 35.00 FTE and replacing the 2% cost of living adjustment with Compensation Option 1. Compensation Option 1 provides different compensation models by employee scale to ensure that every employee in the school division receives a compensation increase.” [Arlington Public Schools]
Pentagon Police Officer Faces Murder Charges — “Takoma Park police have charged the off-duty Pentagon Force Protection Agency officer they say shot and killed two men Wednesday morning in Montgomery County, Maryland. The officer has also been charged for an alleged assault that happened last year. David Hall Dixon, of Takoma Park, has been charged with two counts of second-degree murder, two counts of use of a handgun in commission of a felony and reckless endangerment.” [WTOP]
Don’t Hang Up on 911 — From Arlington County: “Oops, did you call 911 by mistake? It’s OK, just stay on the line and tell the friendly dispatcher it was an accident. That way, they can confirm there’s no emergency… Otherwise, we’ll have to call you back, taking away a dispatcher who could help someone who needs it.” [Twitter]
Sentencing in Arlington Cold Case — “A Virginia cold case closed Thursday as Jose Rodriguez-Cruz was sentenced to 40 years in prison in Stafford County for the killing of his wife. Marta Rodriguez went missing from Arlington in 1989, when her son, Hansel Rodriguez, was just four years old… ‘It almost felt like I was able to breathe for the first time in many years,’ said Hansel, now 36.” [NBC 4]
Wheel Theft Spree Along Columbia Pike — “On April 7, police responded to multiple reports of larcenies from auto. The investigations determined that between 6:30 p.m. on April 6 and 7:35 a.m. April 7, the suspect(s) removed all four tires and rims from the four victim vehicles. There is no suspect(s) description. The investigation is ongoing.” [ACPD]
DCA Traveler Traffic Recovering — “The U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) reports that passenger originations at Reagan National were down 68.9 percent in March compared to the pre-pandemic March 2019. In a way, that’s positive news – Reagan National typically has been down 80 percent even as airports in other parts of the country have started to see rebounds.” [Sun Gazette]
ACFD Salutes Fallen Officer — From the Arlington County Fire Department: “[On Wednesday] we detailed crews along the I-66 overpasses to salute fallen @CapitolPolice Officer Billy Evans as his procession passed through @ArlingtonVA. Doing this twice within a few months hurts. We’re keeping Officer Evan’s family and the USCP in our thoughts & prayers.” [Twitter]
Firefighters Push for Higher Pay — Updated at 8:45 a.m. — “Brian Lynch, president of the Arlington Professional Firefighters and Paramedics Association (APFPA), called on the Arlington County Board Tuesday to implement a pay increase for county firefighters when it adopts the Fiscal Year 2022 budget. ‘Being firefighters has always meant risking our lives for others,’ Lynch said, during a Tuesday night public hearing.” [Patch]
County officials are currently hammering out the details for the next fiscal year’s budget, which the County Board is slated to adopt on Saturday, April 17 and which will go into effect on July 1. The proposed $1.36 billion budget, which County Manager Mark Schwartz calls a “transition” budget, includes a COVID-19 contingency fund and $16.4 million in cuts.
And while the pandemic forced some revisions to the current 2020-21 budget, the pandemic has not changed the different buckets of spending by the county — from Arlington Public Schools to the Department of Parks and Recreation — and what proportion of the general fund these sectors receive.
Local taxes represent 83% of Arlington County’s overall general fund revenue. That includes the taxes you pay on real estate, vehicles, restaurant bills, retail sales, hotel stays, and if you run a business, taxes on business or occupational licenses. For next year, local tax revenue is projected to exceed $1.1 billion, increasing only $1.1 million from last year’s adopted budget, according to Arlington County’s 2022 master budget document.
In this year’s budget, about $795 million comes from real estate taxes. Levied on homes as well as apartments and commercial properties, these taxes make up the lion’s share (59%) of general fund revenue.
This year, homeowners should expect to see their bills increasing due to rising property values, although Schwartz is proposing keeping the $1.013 per $100 property tax rate flat, as he did last year. Real estate assessments showed an overall growth of 2.2% with an increase among residential properties of 5.6% and a 1.4% decline in commercial assessments.
Other revenue sources are utility rates for water and sewage; fees, like those set by the parks department; permits and fines; state and federal contributions; and some leftover money after previous budget cycles.
Where does the money go?
The county’s general fund expenditures are divided into three large buckets: county services, schools and the capital fund. In the current budget, the county services bucket — which includes a $48 million contribution to Metro — accounts for $817 million. APS received $524.6 million from the general fund and the capital fund received $3.8 million (the rest comes from carryover balances and bonds).
Excluding schools, of the nine overall departments or sectors receiving county funding, some are almost completely funded by local taxes, while others receive more support from federal and state support or other sources of revenue.
For example, taxes fund about 90% of the budget going toward public safety, which accounts for 11% of the county’s expenses. Within that, local tax support chips in $71 million of Arlington County Police Department’s $72 million budget.
(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.