Official: No Voter Fraud in Arlington — On Sunday president-elect Donald Trump tweeted an accusation of “serious voter fraud” in several states, including Virginia. In response, Arlington’s top election official said there were no reports of voter fraud in the county, which Trump lost by a wide margin. “I want to see the evidence as to what the allegations are,” said Linda Lindberg. [WJLA, Fox 5]
County and APS Budget Forum — Arlington County and Arlington Public Schools will be holding a joint budget forum tomorrow (Wednesday) from 6-8 p.m. at Wakefield High School. “During this forum, participants will have the opportunity to share their priorities and ideas on the 2018 budget,” said a press release. [Arlington County]
Local College Student Dies — Nicole Orttung, a National Merit Scholar who graduated from Yorktown High School, died last Tuesday. Orttung was a student at Columbia University, where she was “known for her dedication to social justice and bright personality.” [Legacy]
Advice from a Still-Grieving Husband — Neal Lawson, whose wife Jennifer was killed by a passing dump truck while she was putting her toddler into a car seat, is still two-and-a-half years later, “managing his own loss and grief while balancing the emotional needs and daily schedules of his growing children.” He recently offered some advice for others dealing with profound loss. [Washington Post]
Donation from 9/11 5K — The annual Arlington Police, Fire & Sheriff 9/11 Memorial 5K Race, which was held in September, helps to raise money for military and first responder charities. Among the donations from the race this year was a $21,000 donation to TAPS, which provides care to the survivors of fallen U.S. service members. [Twitter]
Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf
(Updated on 11/21/16 at 3:50 p.m.) The Arlington School Board discussed its budget guidance for 2018 at its meeting Tuesday. Included in the discussion: plans to move the Arlington Public Schools administrative offices.
Currently, top APS administrators have offices at the Education Center at 1426 N. Quincy Street. But the school system is considering signing a lease that would move APS offices from the Education Center and elsewhere to the Syphax Education Center at 2110 Washington Blvd.
That would free up classroom space for overcrowded Washington-Lee High School or, potentially, for a countywide high school program.
“While the Ed Center property will be considered for additional high school seats, the School Board has not made any decision regarding how this space will be used as secondary seats, but the plan does not automatically add capacity to Washington-Lee,” said APS spokesman Frank Bellavia. “The Board will have a conversation with the community about whether it will be a countywide high school program, what type of program, and how to use this additional space for secondary seats in the future.”
“The proposed budget direction prioritizes increased compensation for staff; supports continued investment in initiatives to meet the needs of the whole child and provide 21st century learning opportunities; provides full staffing for growing enrollment; and assumes full funding from the County’s transfer to pay for critical needs of the school division,” said the press release. “Additionally, the Board’s budget direction includes efforts to identify cost savings, options for increased fees, and opportunities to use closeout funding to pay for one-time expenses.”
The School Board, meanwhile, is thanking Arlington voters for approving a $139 million school bond measure that will fund school construction necessary to keep up with increasing school enrollment.
From Arlington Public Schools:
Approximately 79.5 percent of voters supported the bond, which will be dedicated to addressing growing capacity needs throughout Arlington County.
“Thank you to the entire community. We have an incredible community that really supports our schools,” said School Board Chair Nancy Van Doren. “Here in Arlington we are proud to enjoy continued support from the community that is clearly committed to our schools.”
She continued, “One demonstration of this commitment is the strong voter approval of our 2016 School Bond, which passed with just under 80% of the vote. The success of our Bond campaign this year was due in large part to our two Bond Co-Chairs, Monique O’Grady and Peter Fallon. We owe a big thank you to Monique and Peter for their efforts.” The allocation of the $138.8 million will fund the following projects:
- $26,030,000 will be used as the majority funding to build an addition at the Stratford building to add 339 seats.
- $78,400,000 will be used as the majority funding for construction of the new school at the Wilson site to add an estimated 775 seats.
- $12,000,000 will be used to renovate the Career Center/Arlington Tech to add 300 seats.
- $10,000,000 will be used for planning and design to build an additional 1,300 secondary seats [location(s) TBD].
- $12,400,000 will be used for HVAC, roofing, and other infrastructure improvement projects at existing APS buildings.
Information on the 2016 school bond and all of the projects planned in the 2017-26 APS Capital Improvement Plan is available online.
Home Prices Declining? — For the past two months, the median home sale price in Arlington has declined year-over-year. For September the median sale price was $515,000, down 10 percent compared to one year earlier. [WTOP]
Record Absentee Voting Expected — The total number of absentee ballots cast in Arlington is expected to reach 43,000 this year, smashing the county’s previous record of 35,000 in 2008. Arlington’s elections office hired “considerable extra staff” this year to meet voter demand. [Arlington County]
Va. Voter Registration Extended — To make up for a system failure before the Virginia’s voter registration deadline, a federal judge has ordered registration be extended through midnight tonight. [Politico]
Budget Guidance Anticipates Gap — County officials are projecting a $5.4 million funding gap for Arlington’s FY 2018 budget. That assumes a 2 percent growth in revenue, a 2.9 percent growth in expenditures, service levels remaining unchanged and the tax rate remaining at $0.991 per $100, which the county notes is the lowest rate in Northern Virginia. [Arlington County]
Local Man Competing in Maccabiah Games — David Ostroff, an Arlington resident, has been chosen to represent the United States on the 35+ Masters basketball team in the 20th World Maccabiah Game in Israel next summer. Ostroff is currently raising money for his sponsorship. [Maccabi USA]
Note: Photo (above) does not imply sponsorship or endorsement.
The County Board tonight (Tuesday) is expected to discuss what to do with the extra cash as part of its annual budget close-out process, which has previously been criticized for a lack of public input.
The public will have a month to weigh in on the draft recommendations before a final vote in November.
The County Manager’s budget close-out recommendations were posted online Monday morning. Among the recommendations:
- $0.95 million for police equipment, replacement of emergency generators and other “critical life safety needs.”
- $2.5 million for land acquisition and costs associated with temporary facilities for Fire Station 8 and Fire Station 10.
- $1.0 million for expanding the use of a key rainy-day reserve fund to include “unanticipated expenditure requirements, such as weather events.”
- $2.1 million for rent subsidies that benefit low income, elderly and disabled residents.
- $7.0 million for the county’s Affordable Housing Investment Fund, which will provide much of the $9.4 million in one-time funding for the fund budgeted for FY 2017.
- $1.7 million for various capital projects and maintenance.
- $1.0 million for “unforeseen needs that arise during the current fiscal year.”
- $1.6 million reserved for future allocations, to be considered as part of the FY 2018 budget process.
Overall county revenue was above projections for FY 2016. (See partial table, above.) The $17.8 million in close-out funding is a result of the extra revenue and conservative budgeting, county officials say, but it’s a lower percentage of the General Fund budget — 2.3 percent — than previous years.
“While this amount is significant in dollar terms, it is the lowest as a percent of total budget in recent years, reflecting increased expenditure levels due to the lifting of the hiring slowdown and the significant snow events of this past winter,” staff wrote.
The close-out allocations are intended to closely align with existing County Board policies and priorities.
It “expands on the approach taken last year where allocations of available funding are
focused on a few major categories of priorities consistent with County Board policies” and “moves away from the occasional past practice of providing initial funding for new
programs via close-out,” county staff wrote.
While some critics have suggested that the county deliberately over-budgets so that it can have a “slush fund” left over at the end of the year, county staff argue that its conservative budgeting is necessary to keep Arlington’s top-notch bond rating and smooth out budgetary “bumps” throughout the year.
“It is important to note that good financial management and retention of the triple-AAA bond ratings require that the County ends each year with a surplus (revenues in excess of projections or expenditures less than budget),” said the staff report. “The County’s historically conservative budgeting practices have allowed us to accommodate unanticipated events (snow, state / federal budget cuts) without having to go back to the County Board and community for mid-year service reductions and budget cuts.”
Board to Consider Arts Grants — The Arlington County Board on Saturday is set to consider its latest round of annual grants to local arts organizations. Among the 18 organizations being allocated a portion of the $215,810 in financial support for the arts are the Arlington Arts Center ($20,547), Bowen McCauley Dance ($27,237), Encore Stage and Studio ($24,715) and Washington Shakespeare Company ($24,247). [Arlington County]
ACFD Says Thanks for Fire Staffing — The Arlington County Fire Department thanked residents yesterday for fully funding safe fire truck staffing levels and an additional peak-time medic unit with the county’s latest Fiscal Year 2017 budget. The new budget took effect July 1. [Twitter]
Landscapers Volunteer at Arlington National — A group of some 400 professional landscapers from around the country volunteered their time at Arlington National Cemetery on Monday to help spruce up the grounds. The annual event is organized by the National Association of Landscape Professionals. [WTOP]
Extended Construction Hours for Ballston Project — The County Board will consider a proposal by Marymount University and developer the Shooshan Company to temporarily extend the construction hours at the “Blue Goose” project in Ballston. The proposal would extend construction hours to 1:30 a.m. for eight weeks, to allow nighttime deliveries of construction materials that would otherwise require lane closures on Glebe Road and Fairfax Drive during the day. [InsideNova]
Lane Closures on GW Parkway — Expect single lane closures on the northbound GW Parkway, 2.5 miles north of Key Bridge, due to repair work on a stone wall along the Parkway. The closures will be in place from 8 p.m.-5 a.m. through Wednesday. [Patch]
Those are some of the highlights from the $582 million Fiscal Year 2017 budget adopted by the Arlington School Board on Thursday night.
- A step increase for all eligible employees ($7.6 million)
- An increase of 1.75% for eligible employees at the top of the salary scale or on a longevity step ($2.4 million)
- An increase in the minimum wage to $14.50 per hour ($150,000)
- An increase in School Board salaries ($14,760)
- Implementation of a parental leave benefit of two weeks of paid leave ($0.5 million)
- An increase in the Live Where You Work program to provide additional grants as well as the implementation of rental assistance grants (similar to the County’s program) at a cost of $68,700
Arlington Public Schools issued the following press release about the budget’s adoption.
The Arlington School Board adopted its FY 2017 final budget at last night’s meeting. The approved budget totals $581,941,859 which includes an additional $2,042,993 in ongoing County funds and an additional $1,336,437 from the Future Budget Years Reserve. The additional County and Future Budget Years Reserve funds closed the funding gap to ensure a balanced budget was adopted.
“We worked closely as a Board with our staff and advocated to our County colleagues to make certain that APS has the funding that is necessary to meet the needs of our growing school division,” stated School Board Chair Dr. Emma Violand-Sanchez. “The Board has also invested in additional areas that will meet the instructional needs of our students, support the whole child and provide the necessary staff to ensure all students can succeed.”
The School Board has designated that all of the additional funds be used to invest in instructional support, infrastructure, and staff needed to continue progress toward achieving strategic goals of the school division.
The School Board’s adopted FY17 Budget also included staff compensation increases totaling $10.2 million, including a step increase for all eligible employees, an increase of 1.75% for eligible employees at the top of the salary scale or on longevity steps, and implementation of two weeks of paid parental leave.
“It is critical that APS offers competitive staff compensation and benefits to ensure that we continue to retain and attract the most talented employees to work here,” said Dr. Violand-Sanchez. “We are proud to provide, for the first time, two weeks of paid parental leave, to enhance our “Live Where You Work” assistance for our employees, and to raise the minimum wage to $14.50 an hour. Our APS educators are a crucial factor in our students’ success.”
The FY 2017 budget designates APS operating funds for July 1, 2016 – June 30, 2017.
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.”