by ARLnow.com March 2, 2018 at 8:30 am 0

Golf Course Tax Bill Passes — A bill that would provide a massive tax break to two Arlington country clubs has passed the Virginia General Assembly. The bill, if signed into law by Gov. Ralph Northam (D), would cost Arlington $1.5 million or more in tax revenue. [Washington Post]

Military Couple Fights Wife’s Deportation — The wife of a retired Army special forces veteran was to face deportation in an Arlington-based immigration court next week, but the Dept. of Homeland Security is now offering to drop the proceedings. Prior to the reversal, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) called said via social media: “Military families should not be targeted like this. It’s unconscionable.” [Military Times, Twitter]

Cherry Blossom Bloom Prediction — The National Park Service expects peak bloom for the Tidal Basin cherry blossoms to take place March 17-20. [PoPville]

Beyer’s GOP Challenger — “The Republican challenger to U.S. Rep. Don Beyer (D) used a Feb. 28 meeting of the Arlington County Republican Committee to introduce himself to the county’s GOP rank-and-file. ‘I look forward to the campaign,’ said Thomas Oh… an Army veteran and currently a contractor in Falls Church.” [InsideNova]

Marymount Joins New Conference — Marymount University in Arlington and five other schools have formed the new Atlantic East Conference within NCAA Division III. [Marymount University, Twitter]

County Seeking Budget Feedback — Arlington County is seeking feedback on its proposed budget. The online survey asks residents to weigh in on various priorities, including county employee raises, economic development, Metro funding, school funding, infrastructure investment and affordable housing. [SurveyMonkey]

by ARLnow.com February 26, 2018 at 11:45 am 0

The Arlington County Police Department is planning a “strategic restructuring” as a wave of retirements and departures leaves significant gaps in its staffing.

Services could be reduced as the department’s functional strength falls to a projected 50 officers below its authorized force of 370, according to an internal memo sent by police chief M. Jay Farr and obtained by ARLnow.com.

The Arlington Police Beneficiary Association, an employee organization representing Arlington officers that is advocating for higher police compensation in the county’s current budget process, said the “historic understaffing” is due to “sub-par pay.”

Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz’s proposed budget includes a 2.5 percent pay raise for rank-and-file officers, on top of pay hikes for all county employees. The raise does not apply to the department’s command staff. The County Board voted over the weekend against a property tax rate increase, meaning that any additional money for the department beyond Schwartz’s recommendation will likely result in reductions elsewhere in the budget.

The police department is actively recruiting to try to fill staffing holes, but faces competition from other D.C. area local police departments as well as federal law enforcement agencies that often have higher levels of pay. Asked about the numbers, ACPD spokeswoman Ashley Savage said the total staffing level at the department is a bit higher than the functional staffing level.

“The Arlington County Police Department has an authorized staffing of 370 officers and a current strength of 346 officers,” she told ARLnow.com. “Our current strength includes recruits currently at the academy as well as officers on light duty so our functional staffing is a little lower.”

A table showing retirements and non-retirement departures from the police department, as provided by a county spokeswoman, shows a sharp uptick in 2017.

In a statement, Savage said the planned restructuring will “maximize our available resources.”

Our goals and objectives as a department have not changed, nor has our commitment to providing professional law enforcement services to the residents, visitors and businesses of Arlington County. However, our methods of achieving these goals must adapt to our current staffing challenges. To maximize our available resources, we will be completing a strategic restructuring of the police department. This will be accomplished by our command staff collaborating with the entirety of the police department and devising a staffing plan jointly. Our staffing and structure will focus on prioritizing core services and ensuring the services we are able to provide are effective and efficient. The ultimate goal is to design a police department reflective of our current staffing levels, limit the workload strain on officers by focusing on core services and promote a balanced work/life atmosphere. Our plan will also be forward looking to support growth as staffing improves. It is anticipated that the restructuring will be complete by late spring and additional information will be available at that time.

“Great work happens throughout this agency on a daily basis and this I am confident this will continue despite our current staffing challenges,” Chief Farr said in a statement issued to ARLnow.com. “The strategic restructure will provide us with an opportunity to maximize our resources by building a police department reflective of our current staffing levels while supporting our mission to reduce the incidence of crime and improve the quality of life in Arlington County.”

In the memo, below, Farr says the police department will be reevaluating its ability to provide support for special events in the county as part of the restructuring process.

The Arlington County Fire Department, meanwhile, is facing similar pressures. Fire department personnel are slated to receive an extra 4 percent bump in pay over the standard county employee raise in Schwartz’s budget, but the Arlington Professional Firefighters and Paramedics Association says even that might not be enough to fill gaps in staffing.

The full memo about restructuring from Chief Farr, after the jump.


by ARLnow.com February 24, 2018 at 3:55 pm 0

Arlington County’s property tax rate will not be increasing in Fiscal Year 2019, though many homeowners will be paying higher taxes overall.

The Board advertised a tax rate of $1.006 per $100 in assessed value, including the stormwater tax, which is unchanged from the current fiscal year and in line with County Manager Mark Schwartz’s recommended budget. Even if the rate stays the same when the Board adopts its final budget on April 21, taxes for homeowners will be going up.

“Schwartz pointed out that even without a tax rate increase, the average Arlington homeowner will see an increase in taxes and fees of $297 a year, a 3.5 percent increase over taxes and fees in FY 2018,” according to a county press release. “The increase is due largely to the 3.8 percent increase in residential property assessments in Calendar Year 2018.”

The vote was 3-2, with Chair Katie Cristol and Board members John Vihstadt and Erik Gutshall in favor, and Vice Chair Christian Dorsey and Board member Libby Garvey opposed. Dorsey and Garvey advocated for an extra half cent in the tax rate, citing state legislation that could reduce Arlington’s tax revenue by around $2 million.

During a public comment period, school advocates called for a higher advertised rate, which could provide more money for the Arlington Public Schools budget.

More from the county press release:

The Arlington County Board today voted to advertise no increase in the tax rate for Calendar Year 2018. The Board’s action came after the County Manager proposed a Fiscal Year 2019 Budget that requires cuts in services and staffing to close an estimated $20.5 million revenue-expenditure gap within the existing tax rate.

“The demands on our budget are growing, and with continuing challenges in our office vacancy rate, our revenues are not keeping pace,” Arlington County Board Chair Katie Cristol said. “The Board, with the community, will spend the next two months evaluating and prioritizing how to deliver quality services within our existing tax rate.”

As cost pressures from Metro and new schools grow, Cristol warned, the Fiscal Year 2020 and 2021 budgets will require additional fiscal discipline.

“Tough choices lie ahead for our community,” she said. “But by taking these steps now to rebalance in County government spending, we aim to ensure Arlington’s fiscal sustainability in the years ahead.”

The Board voted 3 to 2 to advertise a real estate tax rate of $1.006, (including stormwater tax,) per $100 of assessed value, the same as the Calendar Year 2017 tax rate. Cristol and Board Members John Vihstadt and Erik Gutshall voted yes and Vice Chair Christian Dorsey and Board Member Libby Garvey voted no, saying they preferred to advertise a tax rate of $1.011 per $100 of assessed value.

“Arlington is at risk, with legislation pending in Richmond, of losing nearly $2 million in revenue that will affect both the County government and Schools budgets,” Dorsey said. “Revenue reductions of that magnitude will require eliminating essential programs and services, or raising the tax rate. Advertising a slightly higher tax rate would have allowed the Board to engage with our community on the best way to meet this potential fiscal challenge.”

By law, the County can adopt a real estate tax rate equal to or lower than what is advertised, but cannot adopt a higher rate. The Board also voted to advertise higher rates for some fees.

by Bridget Reed Morawski February 23, 2018 at 9:45 am 0

Class sizes at Arlington Public Schools may increase as the school system continues to see rising enrollment.

Superintendent Patrick Murphy proposed a fiscal year 2019 budget of $636.7 million at Thursday’s School Board meeting. That’s an increase of 3.8 percent from the 2018 budget, lower than the 5.4 percent increase from 2017 in to 2018. Murphy said APS is facing the same budget pressures as the county, which is projecting only a modest increase in tax revenue.

Class sizes will increase slightly under the proposed school budget, with grades four through five seeing the largest increase of an estimated one student per class. Middle schools will see a .75 pupil increase, and high schoolers will see a .5 student increase.

The cost per pupil, as proposed, is down $105, dropping from $19,340 to $19,235.

The budget will again include a step increase in salary for all eligible employees and a further raise for employees, like assistants and bus drivers, who aren’t already earning market rate salaries.

Compensation step increases will cost $9.7 million in 2019, and “salary adjustments” will cost $2.2 million.

The majority of the budget, 77.7 percent, will go toward salaries and benefits. The next largest expenditure will be debt service, at 9.1 percent, as APS continues to build and expand schools to keep up with enrollment. The cost of materials and supplies will take up 3.4 percent of the budget.

Murphy emphasized that as Arlington Public Schools is on pace to grow to 30,000 students by 2021, “we’ve got to begin to think about a sustainable future.”

The schools are projected to add 2,200 children per class year starting in 2019. In 2019, enrollment growth related expenses, like staffing and supplies, will cost $5.82 million. Several new schools on targeted to open for the fall 2019 semester, according to Murphy.

“Many of the decisions that we have made are not my preference, are not where we want to be,” Murphy said before his presentation to the School Board, noting his desire to balance the needs of an increased enrollment with employee compensation and continued funding for 2017 and 2018 initiatives.

“These were tough decisions that we needed to make.”

Projected expenditures initially exceeded projected revenue by $16.5 million. Additional revenue and use of reserve funds scraped together $6.5 million, and expenditure reductions and service changes — like changes in elementary school foreign language programming — brought in an additional $10 million to address the shortfall.

APS also found other creative ways to address its budget gap, including joining an Apple program that will buy back used iPads and laptops, generating about $1 million in revenue.

Among other ways to weigh in on the budget, residents can email Arlington Public Schools ([email protected]) with feedback. The School Board will be holding budget work sessions and hearings in February and March, ahead of its final budget adoption.

by ARLnow.com February 22, 2018 at 5:40 pm 0

Community paper shredding events. Arlington’s poet laureate. The Citizen newsletter.

Those are a few of the relatively small cuts that add up to enough savingsin County Manager Mark Schwartz’s new proposed budget to bridge Arlington’s $20 million budget gap.

The proposed $1.27 billion budget, which is being presented to the County Board today (Thursday), keeps the county’s property tax rate steady — at $0.993 per $100 in assessed value, per the County Board’s earlier guidance — while generating some new revenue through slightly higher utility taxes and additional paid parking hours, rates and fines, among other measures. It includes $775.9 million for the county’s operating budget and $498 million for schools.

Schwartz says his budget cuts 50 county programs and eliminates 48 jobs, including 29 currently filled positions. It includes $8.4 million in spending reductions, $6.6 million in fee and tax increases and $5.5 million in “funding realignments.”

The cuts are necessary, in part, due to budget pressures from Metro and the need to raise employee salaries, particularly in the police and fire departments, to remain competitive with nearby jurisdictions. Arlington’s fast-rising home values, which have helped the county keep up with rising expenses, were offset this year falling commercial property values caused by higher office vacancy rates.

Among the ways the proposed budget increases county revenues:

  • Commercial utility taxes increased by 5%
  • Residential utility tax increased to $3/month per utility (revenue earmarked for schools and the county’s Affordable Housing Investment Fund, which is proposed at $13.7 million, matching last year’s AHIF proposal)
  • Parking rates increased by $0.25/hour
  • Parking meter hours extended to 8 p.m.
  • Parking fines increased from $35 to $40
  • Household Solid Waste fee up $2/year

Among the proposed cuts and “realignments:”

  • The Citizen printed newsletter, sent to all county residents ($82,000/year)
  • Lee Highway planning process scaled back ($500,000)
  • ART routes 54 and 92 eliminated ($350,000/year)
  • Snow blower loaner program eliminated ($30,000/year)
  • Free community paper shred events eliminated ($20,000/year)
  • Arlington Initiative to Rethink Energy residential rebate program cut ($555,000)
  • Poet laureate eliminated along with other humanities programs ($77,000)
  • Long Bridge Park Fourth of July event entertainment eliminated ($50,000)
  • County window washing reduced from twice to once per year ($48,000)
  • In-house pharmacy and lab services cut from Dept. of Human Services ($625,000)
  • Reduction in DHS employment services staffing ($825,000)
  • Eliminate the Office of Community Health in the Dept. of Parks and Recreation ($483,000)
  • Eliminate a youth boxing program ($85,000)
  • Eliminate a parks volunteer office ($197,000)
  • Reduce money earmarked for Crystal City infrastructure, originally intended for the streetcar project, as generated via Tax Increment Financing (about $1 million)
  • Reduce the parks department vehicle fleet ($52,000)
  • Cut county funding for Arlington Independent Media by 20 percent ($91,000)
  • Eliminate the county cable administrator, who receives complaints about cable service from residents ($181,000)

The budget includes raises for many county employees, and even higher raises for most public safety personnel. Police officers, from the rank of sergeant on down, will see an additional 2.5 percent increase in pay, while firefighters will get an extra 4 percent bump over other county employees. Schwartz acknowledged that the departments have been having trouble filling open positions due to competition from other jurisdictions.

Schwartz said he and the county’s economic development office are determined to reduce Arlington’s office vacancy rate, which is back to nearly 20 percent after ticking down a bit from its previous high water mark. Schwartz expects office vacancies will put pressure on the budget for the next several years.

“It remains my primary focus to work on that vacancy rate, to get it down,” he said in a budget briefing with reporters. “We need to work through this problem. We have a lot of economic projects that are coming into the county, but this is the underlying problem that is going to challenge us in coming years.”

The Arlington County Board will advertise a property tax rate on Saturday, setting a ceiling on what the rate may go up to, and will hold various budget work sessions and hearings between now and final adoption on April 21.

by ARLnow.com February 21, 2018 at 8:15 am 0

Pentagon City Metro Tunnel Now Open — At long last, the pedestrian tunnel from the corner of S. Hayes Street and 12th Street S. to the Pentagon City Metro station has opened. [Twitter]

Firefighters Push for RaiseIAFF Local 2800, which represents Arlington firefighters and paramedics, is pushing for a raise in this year’s county budget process. The group says Arlington’s compensation for public safety employees “is at the bottom of the DMV.” [Twitter]

Chamber Concerned With 4MRV Initiative — The Arlington Chamber of Commerce has written a letter to the County Board expressing concerns with the Four Mile Run Valley Initiative and possible changes to or acquisition of the light industrial properties along Four Mile Run Drive. [Arlington Chamber]

Growing Up Black in Arlington — From 1950 to 1962, growing up black in Arlington meant facing segregation and racism at every turn, and not feeling safe venturing out of the largely self-contained confines of a historically African-American neighborhood like Hall’s Hill. [Falls Church News-Press]

Arlington Startup Raises $3 Million — What started as a way for the owner of conveyor belt sushi chain Wasabi Sushi to streamline his accounting is now a venture-funded startup. Arlington-based MarginEdge has raised $3 million to go national with its restaurant management software. [Washington Business Journal]

Axios Makes ‘Most Innovative’ List Fast-growing Clarendon-based media startup Axios has been named one of the top 10 most innovative media companies of 2018. [Fast Company]

by Bridget Reed Morawski February 9, 2018 at 10:45 am 0

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) is calling the bipartisan budget deal, which passed early Friday morning after a five-hour government shutdown, “good for the country and good for Virginia.”

The deal, which adds billions of dollars in federal spending for military, disaster relief, and domestic programs, comes weeks after a historic package of tax cuts championed by President Trump and the GOP was signed into law.

Kaine is touting several portions of the spending bill as Virginian victories, such as the $3 billion for 2018 and 2019, respectively, that the budget sets aside to tackle the national substance abuse epidemic. The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) has been funded for an additional four years, which a press release from the Senator’s office states will benefit 66,000 Virginian children.

A two year funding extension of federally-qualified community healthy centers was included in the spending bill. The Senator’s press release states that “approximately 300,000 Virginians receive health care at more than 100 community health center locations in underserved communities” across the state.

“I am proud to have worked with a bipartisan group of my colleagues last month on negotiations to reopen the government that led us toward this deal, but our work isn’t done. We now must build on this bipartisan progress and immediately proceed to debate and pass legislation that permanently protects Dreamers,” stated a press release quoting Kaine.

The bill ends military sequestration, which Kaine says has been “painful” to Virginia’s military community. It also increases national security and military spending by $80 billion in 2018 and $85 billion in 2019. Domestic spending will be increased by $63 billion in 2018 and $68 billion in 2019, which will fund education, health, and non-defense national security programs.

Other Virginia “wins” cited by Kaine, via press release, include:

  • Veterans – $2 billion for FY 18 and $2 billion for FY 19 to reduce the VA health care maintenance backlog
  • Child Care – $2.9 billion for FY 18 and $2.9 billion for FY 19 for child care, including for the Child Care Development Block Grant program;
  • Higher Education – $2 billion for FY 18 and $2 billion for FY 19 for programs that aid college completion and affordability, including those that help police officers, teachers, and firefighters;
    Drug Addiction and Mental Health – $3 billion for FY18 and $3 billion for FY19 to combat the substance abuse epidemic;
  • Infrastructure: Transportation, Clean Water and Broadband – $10 billion for FY 18 and $10 billion for FY 19 to invest in infrastructure, including programs related to rural water and wastewater, clean and safe drinking water, rural broadband, roads, rail and bridges;

Photo via Sen. Tim Kaine’s office

by ARLnow.com January 23, 2018 at 9:45 am 0

Puerto Rico Pets Coming to Arlington for Adoption — Dogs and cats from Puerto Rico, which is still recovering from Hurricane Maria, were flown from the island to the D.C. area over the weekend by Arlington-based Lucky Dog Animal Rescue. The pets arrived via van convoy to a hero’s welcome in Shirlington and are now up for adoption. [Washington Post]

Arlington Among ‘Best Places to Live’ — City ranker Livability.com is out with its 2018 “Top 100 Best Places To Live” list and Arlington has placed No. 35, one spot below Pittsburgh and one above Asheville, N.C. Arlington previously ranked No. 3 on the list. [Livability]

Lower Property Value Rise Will Cause Budget Challenges — “The year-over-year increase in real-estate assessments throughout Arlington came in lower than government officials had expected, which may cause problems for County Board members trying to avoid either tax increases or budget cuts.” [InsideNova]

More on Key Bridge Marriott Sale — The new owners of the Key Bridge Marriott in Rosslyn may benefit from the previous owner’s application to the FAA to construct buildings up to 470 feet tall on the property, which overlooks Georgetown and the Potomac River. The FAA application is “an indication it was setting the stage for the site’s redevelopment.” [Washington Business Journal]

Betsy Franz Leaves Leadership Center — Leadership Center for Excellence (formerly Leadership Arlington) founding President and CEO Betsy Frantz is leaving the organization in April to become President of the Virginia Hospital Center Health System Foundation. Liz Nohra, the COO of LCE, will take over as Acting President and CEO. [Leadership Center for Excellence]

Eviction Notice for TechShop in Crystal City — “A Jan. 18 eviction notice from the Arlington County sheriff’s department now hangs in the storefront of the maker space chain’s Crystal City location. The notice comes more than a month after San Jose, California-based TechShop announced it would file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection and then, a few weeks later, disclosed in early December it was reaching a deal to be acquired.” [Washington Business Journal]

County to Connect Building Owners and Investors for Sustainability — “All systems are ‘go’ for Arlington’s new ‘C-PACE’ program, a first-in-Virginia public-private partnership to provide affordable, long-term financing to improve energy or water efficiency of commercial buildings.” [Arlington County]

Reminder: Use Salt in Moderation — Prior to this morning’s rain, Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services tweeted a reminder to residents to avoid excess application of salt during freezing weather. “Use only as much as needed and no more to melt ice because this will wash into our watershed,” DES said. [Twitter]

Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf

by Chris Teale January 19, 2018 at 1:45 pm 0

(Updated at 5:15 p.m.) Property values in Arlington County rose at a slower rate this year compared to last year, according to the latest tax assessments, and slower than projected by staff.

The value of all residential and commercial property rose by 1.9 percent over the past year, compared to 3 percent the previous year. Homes went up in value by 3.9 percent, compared to a rise of 2.5 percent last year.

It means the average home value in Arlington, including condominiums, townhouses and detached homes, is now $640,900, up from $617,200 last year.

“Year after year, we see through our rising residential property values that Arlington is a place people want to live,” said County Manager Mark Schwartz. “At the same time, we’ll have some challenging budget decisions in the months ahead, given that our overall property values did not grow as much as projected.”

While residential real estate continued to rise, the value of office buildings was down significantly.

“Office properties, which represent 17.6 percent of the County’s total property tax base, saw significant declines — down 6.9 percent since last year,” the county said in a press release. “This decrease was driven primarily by office vacancies as well as rent concessions.”

The slower growth overall will mean a budget shortfall for Fiscal Year 2019, with debate on county spending levels to continue this year. Staff initially projected a 3.2 percent increase in the value of all real estate, so with actual growth of 1.9 percent the county will need to find savings to balance the budget.

Schwartz and Arlington Public Schools Superintendent Patrick Murphy will present their respective budget proposal late next month.

The full county press release is after the jump.


by Chris Teale January 19, 2018 at 10:45 am 0

Arlington County’s representatives in Congress are blaming Republicans for the looming government shutdown, set to take effect at midnight tonight.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a short-term continuing resolution late last night (Thursday) to keep the federal government open for another month while negotiations continue on a long-term spending deal.

A major sticking-point for Democrats is the status of immigrants under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, who were brought to the United States illegally as minors and shielded from deportation.

President Donald Trump announced he would end the program as of March, and since then Democratic legislators have pushed for a permanent solution.

Rep. Don Beyer (D), who represents Arlington in Congress as well as Alexandria, Falls Church and a section of Fairfax County, slammed the continuing resolution as “appalling and absurd.” It is the fourth in as many months as wrangling over the federal budget continues.

Beyer’s full statement is below:

“House Republicans are now forcing us to take our fourth vote on a short-term funding resolution in as many months. This is appalling and absurd.

Like my fellow House Democrats, I spent months imploring my Republican colleagues to take action on key priorities for the American people, including passing long term funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and protecting Dreamers. But they were too busy trying to use hundreds of thousands of young people’s lives as leverage and cutting taxes for the wealthy to solve these problems.

Donald Trump claims he wants to help Dreamers, yet he keeps taking to Twitter to derail bipartisan efforts to solve a problem he created. Republicans suddenly decided this week that they cared about CHIP, but they could have passed a clean reauthorization of CHIP any time in the past few months and refused to do so.

The President keeps talking about how ‘our military needs’ this, but has he listened to them when they have said that they need long term budget certainty? The same is true of our non-defense agencies, which are having to guess again and again about when and how they will be funded as the Republicans who have complete control of government repeatedly fail to do the basic job of governing.

The federal workforce deserves better than to experience the fifth Congressional budget fight in five months in February. I do not want the government to shut down, and today introduced bipartisan legislation with my friend Congressman Rob Wittman to protect federal workers’ pay if that happens. But Congress’ refusal to live up to its basic responsibilities to the American people must end.”

Were the government to shut down, for the first time since 2013, many federal workers would be furloughed — sent home without pay. It would also represent the first time that the federal government has shut down with one political party in control of all branches of government.

And Beyer has tried to mitigate the impact on federal workers — many of whom live in his district — by introducing the Federal Employee Retroactive Pay Fairness Act alongside fellow Virginia Rep. Rob Wittman (R).

The bill, which the pair introduced last April when another shutdown threat threatened, would guarantee back pay for federal workers who are furloughed.

“We are working hard to avoid a government shutdown, but if it comes our bill would protect federal workers from the worst of the consequences,” Beyer said in a statement. “This legislation is designed to shield civil servants, who need to support their families, from the disastrous effects of Congress’ failure to agree on a budget measure. We hope it will not be needed, but time is running out.”

In a joint statement Thursday, U.S. Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner (both D-Va.) criticized the House’s continuing resolution. The plan appears to have significant opposition from both sides of the aisle in the U.S. Senate.

The pair said it creates “uncertainty” to not have a long-term budget deal and to instead rely on short-term resolutions, and ignores many important issues.

“The current CR ignores key priorities — community health centers, permanent protection for Dreamers, emergency relief for Florida, Texas, western states ravaged by wildfires, Puerto Rico, the USVI, opioid treatment, and pension reform,” they said. “These issues are not going away and need to be addressed immediately.”

Kaine and Warner’s full joint statement is after the jump.


by ARLnow.com December 1, 2017 at 8:15 am 0

Fight Over Aquatics Center Operation Costs — Local budget hawks are worried that operating costs of the new Long Bridge Aquatics Center may take a chunk out of the county budget. The current staff estimate is about $1 million per year of net taxpayer support for operating costs, with a caveat that there may be a ramp-up period with less revenue and thus net higher costs. [InsideNova]

Arlington Honors ‘Fast Four’ Companies — Arlington County on Wednesday honored the fastest-growing local companies in four revenue categories. The companies honored were: Courthouse-based Mind Body Health, digital marketing company Knucklepuck, Ballston-based Deep Learning Analytics and another Ballston tech-oriented company, Apogee Research. [Arlington County]

Eastern Foundry Expanding Again — Arlington-based startup incubator Eastern Foundry is working with investors to launch Global Foundry, which will “provide international companies entrée to U.S. commercial and government markets, while exposing potential American customers to the innovation taking place overseas.” [Washington Business Journal]

Flickr pool photo by Eric

by Chris Teale November 29, 2017 at 9:45 am 0

The Arlington County Board voted to allocate the just-over $11 million in surplus funds to five “near-term” needs, but clashed over its use for affordable housing.

Board members voted 4-1 to follow County Manager Mark Schwartz’s recommendations and allocate the funds in the following ways:

  • Affordable Housing Investment Fund: $5.2 million in one-time funding to be set aside for the FY 2019 budget.
  • Critical Life Safety Needs: $2 million for unanticipated security system upgrades to the county’s Justice Center in Courthouse.
  • Employee Compensation: $1.75 million to reflect changes in federal law on several position classes in public safety.
  • County Manager Operating Contingent: $1.25 million to address “unforeseen needs that arise during the fiscal year without reprioritizing or cutting other programs.”
  • Facility Studies: $900,000 to primarily fund additional site analysis at the Buck and Carlin Springs sites, as directed by the Board.

Board member John Vihstadt voted against the proposal, and instead tried to free up the funds for three items — the Affordable Housing Investment Fund (AHIF), the manager’s operating contingent and facility studies — for next year’s budget cycle. Vihstadt said those three recommendations were not emergency needs.

“These may well be necessary and appropriate, but this is not reason enough for me to short-circuit the extensive and robust budget process the manager has already begun just because the money is here now,” Vihstadt said. “It doesn’t mean that every penny should be spent. Let’s hold this up to the air and the light and the sun and consider everything holistically as part of the budget cycle that comes in the next few months.”

But Vihstadt’s plan failed on a 4-1 vote, while a similar plan by Board member Libby Garvey to not allocate the $5.2 million in AHIF funding and instead give Schwartz room to make a decision on where it could go went down 3-2.

Fellow Board members were critical of the proposals. Vice Chair Katie Cristol said it is imperative for the facility studies to advance, while Board chair Jay Fisette said denying money for affordable housing was “undermining a key priority to the community.”

“In my view, Mr. Vihstadt’s alternative proposal undermines the current Board priority on affordable housing,” Fisette said.

At the same meeting, the Board provided its budget guidance to Schwartz for FY 2019, and asked him to propose a “balanced budget within the existing tax rate.” The guidance also calls on Schwartz to “include expenditure or service enhancements that are fully offset by reallocations or fee revenue increases.”

The Board approved a 1.5-cent property tax hike for FY 2018 earlier this year, and expects to see moderate revenue growth for FY 2019.

“However, there is uncertainty regarding the impact of the state and federal budgets, as well as potential legislative changes to federal income tax policy, on the County, and real estate assessments are not yet known,” the Board wrote. “Further, the projected moderate increase in revenues is not keeping pace with budget pressures in expenditures, creating an expected budget gap of $10-13 million for FY 2019.”

Board members called on Schwartz to maintain affordable housing funding, and allocate 46.6 percent of county revenue to Arlington Public Schools, consistent with previous years.

They also said Schwartz should include funding for Metro that does not exceed the proposed 3 percent cap on annual increases in funding, and assumes that a new state or regional funding source will cover higher capital costs.

The budget process, which is already underway for FY 2019, will kick into high gear in the new year.

by Chris Teale October 25, 2017 at 11:30 am 0

Arlington County could face a funding shortfall of up to $13 million in its Fiscal Year 2019 budget, according to budget projections by County Manager Mark Schwartz.

At the Arlington County Board’s meeting yesterday (Tuesday), Schwartz projected revenue will grow by 2.9 percent in FY 2019, but the county’s expenditures will grow by 4 percent. That would result in a funding gap of between $10 million and $13 million.

The funding gap assumes the current real estate tax rate of $1.006 per $100 of assessed value will remain the same. County staff is also projecting “modest growth” in assessed property values.

The projections are only for county government, and do not include revenues and expenditures for Arlington Public Schools. The forecast largely keeps the county’s operations and services budget the same, with the exception of expansions in transit service as laid out in the Board-adopted Transit Development Plan.

“This is a preliminary projection — it’s still early in the budget-building process,” Schwartz said in a statement. “We have additional information that will come in the next few months — including actuarial reports for our pension and retiree healthcare, state budget proposals as well as Metro’s updated financial forecast.”

Through November 22, residents can share feedback online about the FY 2019 budget, in addition to the series of public roundtables that end this week.

The county is also seeking feedback on Schwartz’s plan to spend the $11.1 million surplus from this past year’s budget between five “near-term needs,” including affordable housing, facilities studies, public safety employee compensation, a fund for “unforeseen needs” and a security system upgrade at the county’s Justice Center.

Residents can email [email protected] with comments on the plan. Those comments will then be compiled and shared with the County Board before its November meeting, where members will vote on close-out spending.

by Chris Teale October 23, 2017 at 1:30 pm 0

Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz is recommending the county’s just-over $11 million surplus be spent on several “near-term needs & County Board policy priorities,” including affordable housing.

County staff said $11.1 million is left over, 1.4 percent of the county’s FY 2017 General Fund budget, excluding money appropriated to Arlington Public Schools.

The county collected just over $1.022 billion in revenue from property, business, sales taxes and other sources, having projected in April it would collect just over $1.004 billion. That is 1.8 percent more than projected.

“It is the lowest as a percent of total budget in recent years; in FY 2016, available funds totaled $17.8 million, or 2.4 percent, and in FY 2015 available funds totaled $21.8 million,” staff wrote. “This reflects diligent focus on executing the adopted FY 2017 budget.”

Schwartz is recommending the Arlington County Board use the leftover funds in the following ways:

  • Affordable Housing Investment Fund: $5.2 million in one-time funding to be set aside for the FY 2019 budget.
  • Critical Life Safety Needs: $2 million for unanticipated security system upgrades to the county’s Justice Center in Courthouse.
  • Employee Compensation: $1.75 million to reflect changes in federal law on several position classes in public safety.
  • County Manager Operating Contingent: $1.25 million to address “unforeseen needs that arise during the fiscal year without reprioritizing or cutting other programs.”
  • Facility Studies: $900,000 to primarily fund additional site analysis at the Buck and Carlin Springs sites, as directed by the Board.

“As was started with housing grants as part of the FY 2018 budget, it is important to move to a higher level of ongoing funding for AHIF in the future,” staff wrote. “This transition to a higher amount could take several years, and the transition can be eased with reliance on available one-time funding.”

Certain community members and some County Board candidates have criticized the closeout practice in Arlington, and instead suggested the extra money should be given back to residents and businesses as tax relief, or at least applied to the next year’s budget.

The County Board will consider its options at its recessed meeting tomorrow (October 24), although numbers are preliminary until the county’s independent auditors complete their work at the end of the month.

by Chris Teale October 11, 2017 at 11:45 am 0

Funding for schools, Metro and public safety officials weigh heavily as Arlington County’s initial budget conversations continue.

In an infographic released yesterday (Tuesday) ahead of more public roundtables to discuss the FY 2019 budget, county staff highlighted how the county spends its money and the challenges ahead.

According to the data, the biggest expense in the county’s operating budget is Arlington Public Schools, which is allocated $490.2 million by the county, or 39 percent of its budget. Human services and public safety are second and third, around $140 million each, or 11 percent.

Among the challenges ahead, staff said APS enrollment has grown by 850 students a year for the last five years, and it takes up almost all of the $510 million raised from real estate taxes on homes, condos and apartments.

And with Metro needing more money and an office vacancy rate of 17.8 percent, which keeps commercial real estate revenue down, county leaders are expecting some tight fiscal times and hard budgetary decisions.

A number of groups will be looking to influence county leaders’ thinking during the budget discussion. Among them is IAFF Local 2800, the Arlington Professional Firefighters and Paramedics Association.

In a tweet Tuesday, the group said firefighters, paramedics and police officers need a market adjustment to their salaries — a pay rise to keep up with inflation and the rising cost of living — to “remain competitive.” The last adjustment was in 2013.

According to figures provided to ARLnow.com by IAFF Local 2800, starting pay for county firefighters is 20 percent below the regional average and only $2 more per hour than the county’s minimum wage.

Since the last “market adjustment,” the group said, inflation in the region is up almost 5 percent, the cost of family HMO health insurance for county employees has increased over 45 percent, and the cost for HMO coverage for retirees and their spouses has increased over 55 percent.

Local 2800 added that new firefighters will earn 12 percent less per hour over a 20-year career compared to their peers in Fairfax, Prince William, Prince George’s and Montgomery Counties, the City of Alexandria and D.C.

“Arlington invests a tremendous amount of money in hiring, training and developing its firefighters,” said Brian Lynch, President of Local 2800. “Every time a firefighter leaves the department for another opportunity or does not complete their probationary period, we consider this a loss of an investment in human capital. If the department’s physical capital, vehicles, tools etc. were being lost the way we are losing our people, it would be considered common sense to try to stop the losses. There is not only a moral imperative to fairly compensate those who risk their lives to protect the community, there is also a fiscal imperative.”


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