That’s nearly $4 million more than was spent the previous winter, when the county almost ran out of salt due to a succession of snow storms.
The total roadway snow removal expenditure — the figures quoted here do not include removing snow from bus shelters or sidewalks — for Fiscal Year 2015 was only $2.7 million, according to Arlington County. As of April 25, the FY 2016 bill was $6.5 million, about $5 million of which was associated with the cleanup from January’s Snowzilla blizzard, as the county revealed last month.
Why was this year’s bill so much higher? It’s mostly attributable to equipment rental costs, we’re told.
“The majority of this cost increase was associated with heavy contract equipment used during the January 22-29, 2016 blizzard,” explained Mike Moon, Chief Operating Officer of Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services.
“The amount of contract equipment deployed for this event far exceeded the requirements for the previous year and cost more than $4.0 million,” Moon continued. “With more than two feet of snow, heavy contract equipment was needed for the effort, which included hauling snow in our commercial corridors (Rosslyn, Ballston, Crystal City).”
Last month Arlington said that it can potentially recoup $2 million from federal disaster assistance funds, though the reimbursement process is a lengthy one.
Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz said in March that the county is considering changes to its snow removal efforts in the wake of January’s blizzard. Among the changes being considered is the purchase of additional heavy equipment and a new snow melter.
Flickr pool photo (top) by Starbuck77
The Board largely took the recommendations of County Manager Mark Schwartz, who presented his proposed budget in February, and voted unanimously for the new, $1.2 billion FY 2017 budget.
Under the budget, the property tax rate will be reduced by half a cent, to $0.991 for every $100 in assessed value, while the overall property tax burden on the average homeowner will increase from $7,640 to $7,829. The increase is due to a 2.8 percent rise in residential property assessments.
The budget provides more money for Arlington Public Schools than APS asked for, in stark contrast to the budget battle in Fairfax County.
APS, which is continuing to grapple with a burgeoning student population, will get a $466.9 million budget transfer from the county, a 3.3 percent increase over the previous fiscal year. That includes “$1.1 million in one-time and ongoing funding above the School Board’s funding request.”
The budget includes the biggest boost to Arlington’s public safety funding in years, satisfying some long-sought requests.
The fire department will get eight additional firefighters to convert existing three-person fire units to the recommended safe staffing level of four per unit. ACFD will also get four additional firefighters to address persistent strains to medic unit staffing during peak times.
“A positive step forward for public safety,” the Arlington Professional Firefighters and Paramedics Association said via Twitter.
The police department will get six new officers to help the department “meet its core mission responsibilities.” The Sheriff’s Office, which is facing a lawsuit over the alleged mistreatment of a deaf jail inmate, is getting five new positions to “improve safety and security at the Courthouse and the Detention Center, bolster its administrative staff and add a uniformed American with Disabilities Act coordinator.”
Other notable budget items include:
- An additional $1.5 million for Arlington Economic Development, “to focus on lowering the commercial vacancy rate.”
- $13.6 million for the county’s Affordable Housing Investment Fund, which is $1.1 million more than proposed by the manager.
- “Modest funding to continue the County’s open data efforts” and funding for livestreaming County Board work sessions and certain commission meetings.
- Merit pay increases for county employees.
- An increase in the living wage for county employees to $14.50 per hour, plus tuition reimbursement and continued funding for the Live Where You Work program.
“This is a good budget,” Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey said in a statement. “Even as our population and school enrollment continue to grow, and our office vacancy rate remains high, the Board was able to put together a budget that preserves our community’s values, gives schools more funding than they requested, and adds funding for public safety, economic development and other key services – with a slight decrease in the tax rate.”
The budget is a complex document and the adopted budget is not yet online. Know of any other notable budget items not included here? Any quiet boosts or cuts in funding to a certain group or county department? Let us know in the comments.
Today Covers Arlington Couple Picking Baby Name — An Arlington County has named three children after former presidents, but is now seeking help naming their fourth child, a girl. Potential names include Kennedy, Reagan, Pierce and Monroe. [Today Show]
School Board Releases Proposed Budget — The Arlington School Board has released its proposed, $582 million budget and is now seeking public comment on it. Final school budget adoption is scheduled for May 5. [Arlington Public Schools]
Civic Federation Meetings May Be Streamed — Future Arlington Civic Federation meetings may be live streamed, courtesy of help from the TV production program at the Arlington Career Center. Arlington County recently started streaming commission meetings. [InsideNova]
Millions for Melwood from Local Couple — An Arlington couple has donated $3 million of their estate to Melwood, which provides services and job opportunities to those with disabilities. The donors are Geraldine “Gerry” Schaeffer, a prominent local psychiatrist who died in 2013, and her husband Peter M. Kolls, a former pro football player for the San Diego Chargers who retired from the National Park Service. Kolls passed away last year. The couple loved to travel but otherwise lived frugally, we’re told. The gift is one of the largest received by Maryland-based Melwood, according to a press release.
Arlington Teacher and Principal of the Year — McKinley Elementary principal Colin Brown has been named the 2016 Arlington Public Schools Principal of the Year. Oakridge Elementary teacher Jennifer Burgin, meanwhile, has been named Teacher of the Year.
Va. Square Hess Station Rebranded — The Hess gas station in Virginia Square has been rebranded as a “Speedway” station. [Twitter]
Flickr pool photo by Samer Farha
Rapper Arrested in Arlington — D.C. rapper Martrel Reeves, better known as Fat Trel, was arrested by Arlington County Police early Thursday morning after a traffic stop in I-395. Reeves is reportedly facing charges of DWI, narcotics distribution, speeding and driving on a revoked license. [WJLA, XXL]
APS May Hire Horticulturist — In its new budget, the Arlington School Board is considering hiring a horticulturalist — “to help us keep our trees healthy” — along with a public engagement specialists and more psychologists and social workers. [InsideNova]
Beyer Dines With Undocumented Family — Earlier this week, Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) sat down for dinner with the Pintos, a local family of five that includes a set of parents who are in the U.S. illegally but eligible for the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) program. Beyer is encouraging Republicans to follow suit and get to know immigrant families like the Pintos. [Think Progress]
Garvey Wants Easier Access to TR Island — County Board Chair Libby Garvey says she is committed to getting a more direct connection from Rosslyn to Roosevelt Island built. Such a connection would require a bridge over I-66 and the GW Parkway. It could potentially get built as part of the massive Rosslyn Plaza development, which was recently approved by the County Board. [InsideNova]
Congratulations to Borderstan — A big congratulations to our sister site, Borderstan, for being recognized in this year’s “Best of D.C.” list. Borderstan — which covers the Dupont, Logan and Columbia Heights communities of D.C. — was named “Best Revival,” after being relaunched last year. [Washington City Paper]
Flickr pool photo by Joseph Gruber
While a school budget battle rages in Fairfax County, Arlington Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Patrick Murphy quietly rolled out his budget proposal last night.
Murphy’s budget, which he presented at Thursday’s School Board meeting, calls for a 3.9 percent spending increase over the 2015-2016 school budget. That compares to the 6 percent increase sought by Fairfax County Public Schools, which is also experience growing pains from increased student enrollment.
The proposed, $579.4 million budget includes $10.8 million to handle a projected 4.5 percent growth in student enrollment next school year, $9.6 million for a staff “step increase” in salary, an extra $3 million for infrastructure maintenance and $750,000 for the launch of Arlington Tech, a new environment-and-engineering-focused technical education program at the Arlington Career Center.
Also included: $4.4 million for various instructional and student support initiatives, like new social studies textbooks, an additional substance abuse counselor and three next elementary-level gifted program teachers.
Most of the budget — 59.3 percent — goes to teacher and staff salaries. Murphy said the school system found some “efficiencies” this year by changing some of its salary and health care options for new employees.
APS is expecting enrollment to grow by 1,135 students next school year — it currently stands just above 25,000 — and to exceed 30,000 by 2021. The money in Murphy’s proposed budget would fund new teachers, new instructional materials, two new school buses and includes $2.6 million for new trailer classrooms, called “relocatables” by APS.
Class sizes would remain the same under the proposed budget. The cost per pupil will increase, from $18,616 this year to $18,893.
There is no increase in budget this year for the APS’ 1:1 technology initiative, which provides laptops for each high school student and iPads for students at lower grade levels starting in second grade. The technology rollout will be complete in 2017. From FY 2018-2020, the instructional technology budget is expected to rise a cumulative $9.3 million, due mostly to enrollment growth and the renewal of APS’ technology lease agreement.
Murphy’s budget this year projects a $1.9 million deficit between revenues and expenditures, despite the use of $11.3 million in one-time reserve funds. Thanks to prudent budgeting, administrators said, APS currently has $65.2 million across its various reserve funds.
Debt service amounts to 8.1 percent of the proposed budget — $46.7 million. That’s a slight, 3 percent increase over the current fiscal year. Administrators said that even though APS continues to take on new debt to build and renovate schools, it’s benefiting from the retirement of older debt. APS will begin its capital improvement planning process in June. By law, debt service may not exceed 10 percent of the APS budget.
While declining to make direct comparisons to Fairfax County, Murphy thanked Arlington County leaders for being “committed to maintaining excellence” at APS and credited the county’s diversified tax base — which is evenly split between commercial and residential — for helping to keep the school systems’ finances stable.
“Here in Arlington we believe in public education,” he said. “We have the support of the entire community.”
In terms of budgeting, “the strength of our tax base here and how we manage our money is, I think, our biggest strength,” said Murphy.
“We are very fortunate to live in a community that is committed to providing students with an exceptional public education,” Murphy said in a statement. “As enrollment continues to rise significantly, we want to maintain the assets that have made us an outstanding school division, including dedicated and highly-qualified teachers with small class sizes, healthy and safe spaces that nurture student learning; addressing the individual needs of the whole child; and providing multiple pathways for students to achieve success.”
Following public hearings, the School Board will reveal its proposed budget in April and adopt its final budget in May.
More Cars on Local Streets Due to I-66 Plans? — Will plans to toll I-66 inside the Beltway during rush hour send cars spilling onto local streets in Arlington? Not exactly. Traffic studies suggest the opposite will happen: more cars will use the highway rather than seek alternate routes through Arlington. [Washington Post]
Metro Begins Installation of Cable for Cell Service — Metro has begun the process of installing 100 miles of cable in Metrorail tunnels in order to allow mobile phone and better emergency radio coverage. [WMATA]
Optimism from Arlington’s New Metro Board Member — Freshman Arlington County Board member Christian Dorsey is serving as the county’s representative on the WMATA board. Though he says the agency is facing “a fair number of problems,” he says Metro expects “to see some significant improvements” in 2016. [InsideNova]
Potholes on GW Parkway — The northbound lanes of the GW Parkway had to be closed from Spout Run to the Beltway for pothole repair last night. This morning, crews were dispatched to fill potholes in the southbound lanes. [Twitter]
County Combines Budget Hearings — In previous years, Arlington held separate budget hearings to discuss proposed expenditures and the tax rate. This year, those topics are being combined and members of the public can weigh in on either at two budget hearings: one on Tuesday, March 29 and another on Thursday, March 31. The county is also accepting online budget feedback. [Arlington County]
Flickr pool photo by Erinn Shirley
The Arlington County Board on Tuesday night voted unanimously to advertise a property tax unchanged from last year — $0.996 per $100 of accessed value ($0.983 base tax plus a $0.013 stormwater district tax).
That means that Arlington’s tax rate can only go down when the County Board approves a final Fiscal Year 2017 budget in April. County Manager Mark Schwartz is recommending a half cent reduction in the tax rate.
The average Arlington homeowner will still pay more in taxes than last year, thanks to a 3 percent rise in property assessments. Some county fees are also expected to rise, including a $36.24 per year increase in the household solid waste rate due to the implementation of year-round yard waste collection.
The county press release about the Board’s action and the County Manager’s budget, after the jump.
The Arlington County Board today heard a presentation from County Manager Mark Schwartz on his proposed budget. (As of Wednesday night, when this column was written, the details had not been posted online.) It will be the first look at where the Board may be headed for FY 2017. And if history is any guide, it will not be without at least a few minor controversies.
The County Board’s guidance late last year directed staff to prepare a budget that did not raise tax rates. However, it has been the practice of the Board in the past to advertise a tax rate increase even with such guidance.
Some have argued that ongoing concern about the taxes we pay is overblown or somehow anti-government. But longtime homeowners here in Arlington know that our out-of-pocket property taxes over time have increased at a rate much faster than the rate of inflation.
Many ask, as they should, are they getting a good return on their tax dollar? Are potholes being adequately prioritized over gondolas? Is public safety adequately addressed before theater bailouts? And, what exactly is the plan to meet school enrollment increases?
Some may argue it prudent to advertise a higher rate and give the Board options in case revenue estimates fall dramatically over the next two months. The Board will almost certainly call it giving themselves “flexibility.” Flexibility usually means a reason to ignore their guidance and spend more later.
Here are three reasons the Board should advertise a flat tax rate for fiscal year 2017 and entertain the possibility of a rate cut:
1. The Board just added a new audit function as a nod to fiscal responsibility. Why not give the new office a year to make recommendations on changes the Board can make before even entertaining a rate increase?
2. The average homeowner’s taxes are going up even with a flat rate simply because of increased assessments.
3. If the last decade plus of history is any indication, revenues will comfortably exceed estimates – again. The “worst” thing that will happen is the Board will have a few million less on hand to spend at the end of the year in the closeout process.
(Updated at 2:00 p.m.) More money for cops and firefighters, for economic development and for county employees — that’s the message from Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz, who presented his proposed budget to the County Board this morning.
The $1.19 billion budget benefits from a 3 percent increase in overall projected revenues, allowing Schwartz to boost funding to a number of priorities and propose a slight tax rate decrease.
The budget adds $1.6 million for the addition of 19 public safety employees. Among them: eight firefighters/EMTs, six police patrol officers, and four uniformed Sheriff’s positions.
The new firefighters will covert existing three-person fire units to the nationally-recommended staffing level of four per unit. The extra police officers will help reduce overtime and officer fatigue. The extra Sheriff’s positions will address staffing levels at the county jail.
Schwartz allocates $1.5 million in additional one-time funding for Arlington Economic Development’s efforts to bring down the county’s office vacancy rate. Another $400,000 will be used on infrastructure maintenance like streetlight repair and residential concrete maintenance.
One of the biggest proposals in terms of cost is $6.3 million to increase merit-based pay for county employees, boost the minimum wage for permanent employees to $14.50 per hour, boost the county’s Live-Where-You-Work program and replace grade and step plans with an “open range” salary plan.
Arlington Public Schools, which is dealing with a quickly-growing student population, will see an extra $13.2 million — for a total of $464.9 million — in Schwartz’s budget.
The budget includes separate proposals for an extra $6.2 million in projected revenue than originally expected. Among them is a proposal to decrease the county property tax rate by half a cent, to $0.991 per $100 in assessed value, saving taxpayers about $3.5 million — though many will face higher overall taxes thanks to rising assessments and a rising solid waste rate. Other proposals include adding an extra medic unit for the fire department, to address peak demand, and $100,000 to expand the online streaming of public meetings.
While Schwartz did not highlight any specific cuts in the budget, he did propose a “systematic evaluation of programs and services, with the goal of reducing or eliminating programs and staffing, and proposals to eliminate duplication and inefficiencies.”
Schwartz also expects to find hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings via a new early retirement package for county employees. In addition to saving money, the retirement incentives will serve to “renew the county workforce.”
(About 20 percent of county employees are currently of the Millennial generation, but the county workforce is expected to be majority Millennial by 2020, officials say.)
Despite a so-so macroeconomic environment, Arlington County isn’t being forced to make tough budgetary decisions this year, unlike our neighbors in Fairfax County. Schwartz credited Arlington’s business community — which makes up about half of the tax base — for helping to smooth out economic bumps.
“We’re benefitting from our 50-50 split between commercial and residential,” he said.
Schwartz will formally present his budget at the County Board’s upcoming February meeting. The Board will adopt a final Fiscal Year 2017 budget on April 17.
County Board Chair Libby Garvey said there’s still work to be done on the budget, but overall she’s pleased with the county’s direction under Schwartz, who last month was selected to be the county’s permanent County Manager.
“We’re in a good place,” Garvey said this morning. “We’re changing how we do things a bit. It’s exciting.”
Design of New Wilson School Lauded — “The new Wilson School might be the fanciest public school building in the nation.” So says the influential urbanist news website Citylab, of the design of the future home of the H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program. The fan-like design comes from a team of two architecture firms, including the Bjarke Ingels Group, which is noted for its experimental designs. The total project cost is estimated at $86-94 million. [Citylab]
APS Seeks to Squeeze More Capacity Out of Existing Schools — Facing a continued capacity crunch, Arlington Public Schools is seeking to find additional room for students in its middle and high schools. APS thinks it can squeeze another 600+ students total in its three high schools and another 150 students at middle schools, by finding additional usable space in the existing buildings. Growth in school enrollment, meanwhile, is slowing down but is not expected to stop. [InsideNova, InsideNova]
APS Wins Budget Award — Arlington Public Schools has been awarded a Meritorious Budget Award for excellence in budget presentation from the Association of School Business Officials International. The entry fee to be eligible for the award is more than $1,000. [Arlington Public Schools, ASBO]
School Board Compromise on Stratford History — While opposing efforts to designate the former Stratford Junior High a historic district, the Arlington School Board has adopted a renovation plan that keeps its facade intact and has set aside $250,000 for commemorative artwork and educational displays. Currently the home of the H-B Woodlawn secondary program, the school — which was the first in Virginia to integrate — is slated to become a new neighborhood middle school. [Washington Post]
Arlington Reservist Suing Benghazi Committee — Arlington resident Bradley Podliska is suing his former employer, the House Select Committee on Benghazi, claiming he was wrongly forced out of his job and then was defamed on national TV by the committee’s chair. Podliska, an Air Force reservist, says the committee was too hyper-focused on pinning blame on Hillary Clinton. At the same time, he says he was reprimanded for looking into the post-Benghazi talking points of United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice. [Courthouse News Service]
APS to Hold Community Budget Meetings — Arlington Public Schools will be holding three community meetings in December to gather public feedback ahead of the creation of its proposed FY 2017 budget. [Arlington Public Schools]
Arlington’s Secret Santa Program — Arlington County is again organizing a Secret Santa program, which will distribute gifts to more than 1,000 needy individuals in the Arlington community this holiday season. Residents, churches and school groups who’d like to participate are encouraged to donate $25 gift cards to local grocery, drug, and clothing stores. [Arlington County]
Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf
(Updated at 5:05 p.m.) Arlington officials are anticipating “moderate” revenue growth in 2017 due to increases in residential real estate assessments, as predicted earlier this fall.
The County Board will review these increases — as outlined in the County Manager’s Fiscal Year 2017 budget guidance — at its meeting this Thursday, kicking off the county’s annual budgetary process.
Increases in the real estate assessments for single-family homes, townhouses and condos will provide the county with most of its revenue growth. On average, such assessments are expected to rise 3 percent, causing tax bills for Arlington residents to increase by approximately $175 at current tax rates.
Assessments for commercial real estate, however, are expected to remain flat or turn slightly negative “due to vacancy rates in office buildings and the slowing demand in multi-family residential.” Commercial property taxes are half of Arlington County’s tax base, and by staying flat or going negative it will “shift the tax burden to the average homeowner.”
Overall, tax revenue is expected to increase between 1.9 and 2.4 percent in FY 2017. Aside from real estate taxes, the projected growth in other county tax revenue includes:
- Personal property/vehicle tax: +0.1 percent
- Sales tax: +1.9 percent
- Meals tax: +6.2 percent
- Transient occupancy/hotel tax: +7.9 percent
Revenue from taxes categorized in the budge guidance as “other” is also expected to increase 4.2 percent because of rising bank stock and residential utility tax rates. Cigarette taxes are expected to decrease, and all other taxes not specifically listed should remain flat.
Predicted expenditures will also be discussed on Thursday as part of the budget guidance. The county is expected to spend 1.8 percent more on personnel, including salaries and healthcare. It also expects to spend 3.3 percent more on the Metro and 3.2 percent more on debt service than last year.
The county shares 46.5 percent of all local tax revenue with Arlington Public Schools. Given that revenue split, current tax rates, planned one-time outlays and budgetary projections, county government is expected to face a $1-3 million funding gap during FY 2017, while schools may face a deficit of more than $12 million.
Thursday’s meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. in the County Board Room at 2100 Clarendon Blvd, Room 307.
A joint Arlington County-APS public budget forum is scheduled from 6:30-9 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 7, at Washington-Lee High School.
The Arlington County Board is expected to decide on how to spend $21.8 million left over from last year’s budget at its meeting this Thursday.
The surplus must be allocated as part of the Board’s year-end budgeting process.
The County Manager has made recommendations for how the money should be spent, covering five different categories, including:
- $1 million for economic development, including incentives to attract new businesses to Arlington
- $7.8 million for land purchases and other capital investment, including schools
- $0.8 million for a “larger than anticipated” class of fire recruits
- $11.2 million to maintain investments in the Affordable Housing Investment Fund and housing grants
- $1 million for any unexpected needs or issues that may arise next year
The $7.8 million item includes $1.8 million to be put toward the purchase of a light industrial site along N. Quincy Street, across from Washington-Lee High School. It also includes another $1.8 million for other land acquisition, $1.7 million for maintenance and other capitol investment needs, plus $2.5 million for the county/schools joint contingency fund.
As in the past, the School Board is expected to contribute the same $2.5 million to the joint contingency fund when it takes on its own year-end budgeting process.
A majority of the surplus funds would go to the Affordable Housing Investment Fund and housing grants. This year’s anticipated $11.2 million investment is the same amount allocated for that purpose last year.
Thursday’s meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. in the County Board Room at 2100 Clarendon Blvd, Room 307.
Officials expect the local housing market to remain resilient, with 1-3 percent rises in residential property assessments. High office vacancy rates, however, are expected to result in flat to slightly lower commercial property assessments.
Commercial property taxes are half of Arlington County’s tax base. While the office vacancy rate is dropping — it’s down to 20.8 percent from 23.6 percent near the end of 2014 — it’s “expected to remain high” during fiscal year 2017, which begins July 2016.
The county’s population, meanwhile, continues to rise. County projections call for the population to rise by 66,300 residents through 2040, a 31 percent increase from the current population of around 220,000.
School enrollment is also expected to continue its upward trajectory, with annual growth rates between 2.7 and 3.5 percent over then next five years. While still rising, that’s down from 2.8-5.2 percent growth over the past five years.
An excerpt from a county press release on the budget projection and the county-school revenue sharing agreement, after the jump.
Vihstadt Endorses Dorsey, McMenamin — Independent Arlington County Board member John Vihstadt has endorsed fellow independent Michael McMenamin and Democrat Christian Dorsey for County Board. Dorsey said in a statement that he is “honored to have the support of all five members of the Arlington County Board, including John Vihstadt,” but also reiterated his support for Democratic ticket mate Katie Cristol. [InsideNova]
ACFD Responds to Small Fires — The Arlington County Fire Department has battled two small fires within the past two days. On Saturday around noon on the 2300 block of S. Arlington Mill Drive, firefighters extinguished a fire on the back porch of a home. This morning ACFD extinguished a small apartment fire on the 4200 block of 2nd Road N. [Twitter, Twitter]
‘JPod’ Discussion Tonight — The Columbia Heights Civic Association tonight will discuss monorail-like “JPods” as a possible transit alternative for Columbia Pike. Residents will hear from JPods booster Bill James at tonight’s meeting at the Walter Reed Community Center. [CHCA]
Affordable Housing Opponents Vow Budget Fight — Now that Arlington’s Affordable Housing Master Plan has been approved, opponents of the plan are planning to try to stymie it within the county’s budget process next year. “The plan didn’t obligate the county, directly or indirectly, to spend money,” the chair of the Arlington County Republican Committee is quoted as saying. “The testimony at the budget hearing is going to determine how that is funded.” [InsideNova]