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Thanksgiving week in Shirlington (Staff photo by Jay Westcott)

ACPD Thanksgiving Anti-DUI Event — “On Thanksgiving-eve, traditionally a time of celebrations with heavy alcohol consumption, ACPD, in partnership with WRAP, is hosting a Thanksgiving anti-drunk driving event to highlight the impact alcohol has on motor skills. This free event is open to the public and will take place on Wednesday, November 24, at N. Hudson Street and Wilson Boulevard, from 8:00-10:00 p.m.” [ACPD, Twitter]

Shirlington Apartment Employee Slashed — “An employee of the residential building discovered that the laundry room had been locked and upon opening it, discovered the unknown male suspect inside. The suspect produced a knife and struck the victim’s hand, causing a laceration. The suspect then fled the scene on foot. Arriving officers canvased the area with negative results. The victim was transported to an area hospital with non-life threatening injuries.” [ACPD]

Bus Driver Protest in Ballston — “Arlington Public Schools bus drivers are protesting again, this time in Ballston. They’re chanting and getting passing drivers to honk in favor of better pay and fair treatment.” [Twitter, WJLA]

County Seeks Budget Feedback — “Each winter, the County Manager presents a proposed operating budget to the County Board in order to plan spending for the next fiscal year. We’d like to know your thoughts on how Arlington should prioritize necessary spending in FY 2023. Help us get better insight on questions such as: How would you rate the importance of County programs and services?” [Arlington County]

Clement: Fewer Signs Stolen This Year — “In her annual election wrapup at the first Arlington County Board meeting after the votes were in, perennial protest candidate Audrey Clement told board members that she’d been able to gather up a good portion of her campaign signage from medians. ‘I recovered about 450 signs, or two-thirds of the total,’ she told board members. ‘This is a significant improvement over 2020, when two-thirds of my signs were trashed.’ Clement ran second in the four-candidate County Board race.” [Sun Gazette]

It’s Monday — A chance of showers today, mainly before 10 a.m. Cloudy, then gradually becoming mostly sunny, with a high near 52. Northwest wind 7 to 16 mph, with gusts as high as 28 mph. Sunrise at 6:59 a.m. and sunset at 4:49 p.m. Sunny tomorrow, with a high near 43. Northwest wind 9 to 14 mph, with gusts as high as 23 mph. [Weather.gov]

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County Manager Mark Schwartz is proposing to use leftover money from the most recent fiscal year and federal COVID-19 relief for priorities such as employee bonuses and investments in disadvantaged communities.

He presented his plans to the Arlington County Board Tuesday night.

The county has $20.5 million in unspent, unencumbered “closeout” funds from the 2020-2021 fiscal year, which ended in July. Arlington also has about $17 million in unspent American Rescue Plan Act funding and $23 million more in expected funds for which to plan.

Some of the budget surplus will go toward employee salary adjustments and retention bonuses, while the federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) will support new initiatives, some of which are one-time and some that will eventually switch to ongoing local funding.

In years past, some have scrutinized Arlington’s surplus, or “closeout” funds, as being excessive — a product of conservative budgeting that enables a de facto slush fund, divvied up outside of the normal budget process, at the end of most fiscal years. Critics have also questioned the county’s spending plans for allocating most of the surplus, rather than setting it aside to avoid tax increases.

In the 2019 budget, Schwartz noted that he had made progress on whittling down surplus funds from $21.8 million in 2015 to $11 million in 2017. It ticked back up in 2018 to $21.9 million and reached $23.2 million in 2019, falling slightly to $22.4 million in 2020.

Schwartz attributes the 2021 surplus to the moving target of planning during a pandemic: over-budgeting healthcare costs and departmental operations, which slowed down due to COVID-19, while underestimating tax revenue.

And rather than allocate most of it, this year, he’s proposing to put about $16.6 million toward the 2023 budget to address priorities such as housing and restorative justice.

He will spend nearly $2 million in retention bonuses for police and emergency services health employees, and $174,000 to match state funding for bonuses for the Sheriff’s Office. On Tuesday, the County Board changed the funding source from ARPA funding to the surplus, county spokeswoman Erika Moore said.

The retention bonuses respond to reports of police and clinicians quitting their county jobs over grueling overtime and a demanding mental health crisis response. The situation worsened over the summer when the state closed five of its eight psychiatric hospitals, which were suffering from understaffing and becoming dangerous places to work. Department leaders say employees leave for more competitive, less taxing private-sector roles, such as security jobs at Amazon and private-practice clinical work.

“I appreciate the County Board taking action tonight to allocate retention bonuses, which will include a $3,500 one-time payment for police and emergency services health employees,” Schwartz said in a county press release. “It has been extremely difficult to retain and hire qualified staff for these positions at a time when demand for services is exceptionally high with extreme risk to our community if left unfilled.

Now, the plan will go to the public for review. The Board will hold a hearing on the spending plan at its Nov. 13 meeting, followed by a vote.

In addition to the $20.5 million, the county ended the year with $284.9 million in unspent, allocated money in its coffers. The rest of the fund balance breaks down as follows:

The county’s allocation plan for the fund balance (via Arlington County)

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Firefighters responding to smoke in the Ballston Metro station

Arlington County firefighters are sounding the alarm on a possible exodus from the department over stagnating wages.

IAFF Local 2800, which represents the county’s professional firefighters and paramedics, warned in a press release Monday that without an increase in pay or a hazard pay program, there could be “high turnover rates over the next year” in the department.

“We haven’t seen a true pay raise in years and no cost-of-living adjustments to keep pace with inflation,” Brian Lynch, president of the Arlington County Professional Firefighters and Paramedics, in the release. “With the COVID-19 epidemic causing an increase in dangerous 911 calls over the past 18 months, we are doing more extremely hazardous work — and really getting paid less.”

The union is asking the county manager for a 6% cost-of-living pay increase, the reinstitution of a hazard pay program, and one year of earned merit increases.

The news comes one week after ARLnow reported that the police department is shrinking over salaries and burnout and as Arlington County begins deliberating its 2022-23 budget, including wages for county employees.

It also comes before Arlington’s public safety unions will be able to engage in collective bargaining with the county. The County Board voted to permit such negotiations this summer, but the first collective agreements are not expected to go into effect until the 2024 fiscal year.

Lynch tells ARLnow the fire department hasn’t reached the inflection point that the police department appears to be at quite yet, but he’s concerned it could. Over the last two years, pay for firefighters and paramedics has only increased by 1%, which doesn’t keep pace with inflation and cost-of-living increases. Consumer prices have gone up by 4.4% in the region over the last year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

There was a short-term hazard pay program in place at the beginning of the pandemic but it only lasted ten weeks, he said, adding that the union never got an official explanation for why the program ended.

County officials didn’t tell ARLnow exactly why either, only saying that the program was “designed to mirror other neighboring jurisdictions’ public safety programs.”

Lynch says that re-instituting one now would show firefighters and paramedics that they are valued.

“[It would] be a token of respect towards the folks that are putting themselves and their families out there,” says Lynch. “We’ve always had a risk of dying, but COVID puts our families at risk.”

Without these concessions or merit increases, county firefighters could opt to go to other jurisdictions or get out of the industry altogether, he says.

“We’ve lost a few people already… and it could get worse,” Lynch said. “Historically, people never left fire departments once they got in. It’s a very competitive job and people stayed. What we’ve seen change is their willingness to go to other industries.”

While the county could fill these positions with new recruits, there’s a price to that as well. The union estimates that it costs the county more than $175,000 to train a single firefighter-paramedic.

County officials dispute the notion that firefighters are looking to leave the department. ACFD says the opposite is true, according to its data.

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A boathouse, a library in Crystal City and a new Metro entrance in Ballston are some of the projects Arlington County is looking to fund over the next three years.

These projects are part of County Manager Mark Schwartz’s proposed $1.25 billion, three-year Capital Improvement Plan, slated for adoption this summer, which includes a long list of investments, from renovating and building community amenities to upgrading county technology.

“In this CIP, we were able to make more investments than we anticipated at this time last year, but our county — and our residents — are still facing longer-term economic uncertainty and this plan was built with that reality in mind,” Schwartz said in a statement last month. “My proposal takes a more constrained approach that will continue to bridge us through the next year of budget deliberations and economic recovery.”

Normally, the county plots out the next 10 years’ worth of projects but the pandemic derailed that kind of long-range planning. The county aims to use the three-year plan as a bridge to return to a 10-year plan for 2023-2032, according to a release.

Stormwater upgrades area slated to get $96 million in funding, including $26.8 million for the Spout Run Watershed, $16.7 million for the Cardinal Elementary School Stormwater Detention project and $5.4 million for the Ballston Pond Watershed Retrofit.

Other highlights include:

  • Early planning for a community boathouse on the George Washington Parkway shoreline in Rosslyn, $800,000
  • Ballston-MU Metrorail Station West Entrance, $67.8 million
  • Phase two of renovations to Alcova Heights Park, including updates the restrooms and the basketball court, ~$1.7 million
  • A new library in Crystal City, ~$1.2 million
  • Two parks in Crystal City, at 15th Street S. and at S. Clark and S. Bell Street, ~$4.6 million
  • Arlington National Cemetery Wall Trail Project, from Memorial Avenue to a new Columbia Pike interchange, ~$25.1 million

Arlington is looking to fund the design phase for a public boathouse, which has been a topic of discussion for more than 20 years. Arlingtonians will be able to vote on this expense as a bond referendum in November.

The long-stalled Ballston-MU Metro West Entrance, at the intersection of Fairfax Drive and N. Vermont Street, is also slated to get funding. The $130 million project is in its design phase and slated to be built by 2026.

In a letter explaining the CIP, Schwartz said the county is investing more in improving transportation and parks and open space in Crystal City as the area develops and Amazon continues to move in.

“With the increasing rate of redevelopment in the National Landing area, I have asked staff to convene a near-term review of the parks and open space plans, learning from the 22202 Livability Initiative, with the objective of being ready for a more comprehensive discussion as part of next spring’s 10-year CIP,” Schwartz said. “In addition, Arlington County is committed to supporting public infrastructure improvements in National Landing.”

Starting this fiscal year, the county will also use a portion of property tax revenues in Crystal City, Potomac Yard and Pentagon City to pay for infrastructure improvements, including the Army-Navy Drive Complete Street project and the design phase of the pedestrian bridge to Reagan National Airport.

Other transportation projects include the Crystal City Metro Station East Entrance and improvements to bus stops, particularly along Columbia Pike, which the plan said serves “the highest bus ridership of any corridor in Northern Virginia.”

Crystal City will also get a limited-service library as early as 2024 as part of an agreement with developer JBG Smith. The county will use community benefits contributions to build a library at 1900 Crystal Drive, where the developer will lease 7,200 square feet of space.

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(Updated 4:50 p.m.) The School Board approved a $700 million budget for the 2021-22 school year during its meeting on Thursday evening.

These funds will support both full-time in-person instruction and a distance education option for Arlington Public Schools students this coming fall and next spring. More than 24,000 students are projected to be in-person this August, according to APS.

The budget was pieced together with an ongoing county transfer of $527 million, a one-time transfer of $2.8 million, $3.5 million in carry-over funds from the 2020-21 school year, state and federal funding, and the use of $19.5 million in reserves. It is enough to keep APS in the black in the short term, according to Board Vice Chair Barbara Kanninen.

“This budget is going to be balanced, but going forward, we are carrying a deficit into next year,” she said.

It also takes into account lower enrollment than initially expected for the next school year, which was revealed just two days before the meeting.

When news dropped on Tuesday that about 2,000 students who left APS over the last year will not be returning, School Board members asked the school system to adjust the budget for reduced enrollment, expressing hope that it would help resolve a looming $11 million budget deficit.

After consulting with an enrollment expert, APS administrators offered an alternative budget that estimated 525 fewer students. The School Board voted 4-1 — with board member Reid Goldstein dissenting — to account for the more conservative projected reduction in enrollment. (Goldstein said he believed APS could make deeper reductions.)

“To provide any larger of a reduction would give a much greater weight to the 2020 enrollment than [the expert] felt would be practicable because this year is an anomaly,” said Leslie Peterson, Assistant Superintendent of Finance and Management Services.

This change to the budget saved the school system nearly $3.5 million, or nearly 37 full-time employees that APS would otherwise need to hire. APS is setting aside $500,000 of that savings to hire more staff if real enrollment is higher this fall.

“I believe this puts us in the situation of, I hope, almost similar to a freeze so that we are able to keep the current staff as much as we can in the building,” Board Chair Monique O’Grady said. “This will have an impact on hiring additional staff, but hopefully, we can keep current staff in place while saving us dollars in the middle of a tight budget scenario.”

Superintendent Francisco Durán, the outside enrollment expert and administrators did not support the lower enrollment projection, which they said does not account for high birth rates in Arlington in 2016 — children that are coming of elementary school age — or an increase in housing, among other factors included in enrollment projections.

With the new budget, the school system will be be increasing classroom sizes by one student for grades K-5, saving APS $1.8 million and the equivalent of hiring nearly 21 full-time employees.

In response to concerns from a handful of parents, the School Board used reserve funds to restore $85,000 in the budget, nixing a proposal to remove one copier from each school. The parents, Kanninen said, were concerned that fewer copiers would mean less pencil-and-paper work and more screen time.

“Even before the pandemic, we were making transitions to digital learning materials and other manipulatives to help students grasp concepts,” said Bridget Loft, Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning. “While there would be some impact, the expectation is it would not be catastrophic or a game-changer, particularly since we’ve been engaged in moving in a different direction away from paper-based materials.”

Only Goldstein voted against the amendment, saying that he believes staff when they say it will not impact instruction.

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About 2,000 students who left Arlington Public Schools after buildings shuttered in March 2020 have indicated they will not be returning this fall, according to APS staff.

This enrollment information — which could alter the budget for the 2021-2022 school year — landed in the laps of the Arlington School Board and school administrators during a budget work session Tuesday evening.

The problem? School Board members are slated to vote on the $700 million budget tomorrow (Thursday) and APS administrators say they do not have enough time to draw meaningful conclusions about how the budget will be impacted.

During the work session, however, School Board members asked staff to try anyway. They said recalibrating the budget for 2,000 fewer children could knock down the $11-$15 million budget deficit that APS is facing and could determine how the board votes to compensate staff.

(Since the School Board adopted a proposed budget in early April, which then included a $14.9 million deficit, Superintendent Francisco Durán and board members have proposed changes lowering the deficit to $11 million.)

“Our budget is funding for at least some students who we assumed would be part of our enrollment who are not,” Vice Chair Barbara Kanninen said. “We can’t not do anything with this information. I don’t know how we’re going to pull it off that quickly, but we have to: We owe it to the taxpayers of Arlington and we owe it to our staff, not to lowball them on compensation because we couldn’t figure out where the students will be.”

Durán cautioned against using the information to cut down on staffing without knowing more information. He vowed to provide more details tomorrow.

“We still need a deeper analysis to understand what the implications are,” he said.

APS previously projected 29,653 students would be enrolled in the school system next year. On multiple occasions, staff members have said they calculated the increase based on numbers from 2019, as 2020 was too irregular of a year given the pandemic.

But Lisa Stengle, Executive Director of Planning & Evaluation for APS, said the new survey responses are just one piece in a bigger puzzle of figuring out what next school year’s enrollment will look like.

“This number is about students who left, but we also have the intent-to-return surveys, we have new families not counted in this, and five years ago, we had the largest number of births to Arlington parents in quite a period of time,” Stengle said. “There are a lot of other factors. We need time to work all of those through. This is trying to estimate human behavior in a pandemic that we don’t have patterns for.”

Board member Reid Goldstein, however, said it is public knowledge at this point that members of the board believe 29,653 students is an overestimation. During the budget process, board members asked APS to calculate the savings if enrollment dropped to 28,500 students; staff said APS would save $5.9 million under such a scenario.

“This new information about 2,000 students planning not to come back is really giving me a lot of heartburn, given the budget that’s a day and a half away,” he said.

Kanninen brought up the enrollment news halfway through the meeting, which, up until then, had included a lengthy discussion on the myriad employee compensation plans the board will have to choose from.

Taking into account one compensation plan and the several million dollars in new budget cuts, APS faces an $11 million budget deficit. Meanwhile, a plan that provides a 1.5% cost of living increase at the start of the year — favored by a number of APS teachers and staff — would increase the deficit to $13.9 million.

Another option would provide a state-recommended 2% cost of living increase to all staff and would make APS eligible for $657,783 in state funding. Some School Board members said they want to take advantage of this funding and supported this option which would increase the deficit to nearly $16 million.

Board member David Priddy said by his math, the enrollment drop would save APS $8.3 million, and would cover any of the compensation plans.

“I think that we should pursue that,” he said.

Image via Arlington Public Schools 

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Last week, the Arlington County Board approved a new budget that holds the current real estate tax rate steady.

In some ways, that’s a win given the fears of a pandemic-caused budget crunch. Tax revenue ended up coming in above estimates and federal funding freed up million in local funds. Instead of making significant budget cuts, as originally feared, the Board was able to add in numerous initiatives, paid for with one-time funding.

The budget maintains the current base real estate tax rate at $1.013 per $100 in assessed property value, a de facto tax hike for most homeowners given that residential property assessments up are 5.6%. Assessments on commercial property, including office buildings, slumped 1.4% this year.

Some called for the Board to lower the property tax rate, as Loudoun County is doing and Fairfax County is considering, “to provide relief to homeowners hit by rising assessments.” In the end, the Board decided to do more rather than less, keeping the tax rate where it is and adding funding for things like housing, hunger, fiscal reserves, and raises for county employees.

Perhaps there is a calculation here, that an expected strong economy will further buoy tax revenue and property assessments over the next year, and that the next (FY 2023) budget is the time to trim the tax rate a bit, rather than now when many are still suffering as a result of the pandemic.

What do you think of the Board’s decision?

Photo by Pepi Stojanovski on Unsplash

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The majority of Arlington homeowners will face higher property taxes, after the County Board approved a budget that holds the property tax rate steady.

The Fiscal Year 2022 budget includes $1.4 billion in spending, a 3.5% increase from last year’s budget. Of that, $530 million will go to Arlington Public Schools, which will pass its final budget next month.

Earlier this year County Manager Mark Schwartz proposed a budget that would have only boosted spending by 1.4%, calling it a “transition budget” appropriate for the challenges presented by the pandemic.

The new county budget includes millions in additional expenditures, thanks to higher-than-expected business tax revenue and an expected $46 million in federal funding for Arlington’s local COVID-19 response from the American Rescue Plan, to be split between this year’s and next year’s budgets.

Among the additions, according to a County Board report posted the same day as Tuesday’s meeting:

Increasing the bonus for employees to approximately $900/net ($2,653,965); Fully replenishing the Stabilization Reserve that was utilized to balance the FY 2021 and FY 2022 budgets ($7,841,608); Funding technical support for financial/human resources system ($240,000); Increasing funding for Libraries to support materials collection ($100,000); Supporting tree pruning by shifting cycle from 17 to 9.5 years ($200,000); Providing funding for a vehicle for the Urban Forester position ($55,000); Restoring outreach program recruitment funding for Police Department ($187,350); Funding the purchase and installation of 13 charging stations for electric vehicles to prepare for increase in electric vehicle purchases in the upcoming year ($250,000) and providing supplemental funding of $33,000 to increase the number of electric vehicles purchased in FY 2022 (6 additional vehicles); Funding the County Manager’s Contingent ($2,500,000); Increasing funding for the Affordable Housing Investment Fund, bringing the total in the FY 2022 budget to $16.9 million ($7.9 million one-time and $9.0 million in ongoing); Restoring $2.6 million of PAYG funding, adding $2.0 million for facility renovations, and funding the installation of gender-neutral restroom signage in County facilities ($145,000); Funding Arts Resiliency grants ($50,000); Provide additional support for the Restorative Arlington initiative ($50,000); Maintaining alternative COVID eligibility criteria for existing recipients of housing grants ($1,036,512); Providing additional funding for the airport noise study ($50,000); Arlington Public Schools (APS): one-time funding requests for Summer School Incentive Payments ($605,000) and costs of opening Cardinal Elementary School ($882,940) and the Education Center ($750,000); Funding an analysis of the budget based on Equity Metrics ($50,000); Expanding access to early voting on two Sundays in advance of the November election ($50,000); Providing a one percent salary increase for all employees and shifting pay ranges by one percent for public safety and five percent for general employees ($2,420,332); Funding 1.0 permanent and 3.0 temporary FTEs for the Fire Department’s implementation of the Emergency Triage, Treat, and Transport (ET3) program with costs covered by program revenue ($270,000); Increasing funding to the Lee Highway Alliance by $25,000 to match total FY 2021 funding of $85,500; Purchasing additional databases for small businesses to assist with pandemic recovery ($40,000); Funding redaction software for the body worn camera program for the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office ($33,500); Funding to support prevailing wage administration ($168,600); Funding an additional Urban Forester position for the Department of Parks and Recreation ($105,000); Restoring funding for the Virginia Cooperative Extension ($63,682) and Northern Virginia Conservation Trust ($90,159); Funding additional Police Practices Group recommendations ($90,000); Adding a fifth Court Clerk (1.0 FTE) and an additional Land Records position (1.0 FTE) to the Circuit Court ($87,416); Restoring previous one-time funding with ongoing support to Arlington Independent Media ($70,000); Restoring funding for an Administrative Assistant position in the County Board Office ($90,000); Reducing client’s income contribution towards rent from 40% to 30% for the Housing Grants Program ($487,713)

The budget also includes $2.8 million for some one-time Arlington Public School projects.

“After a lengthy public review process that included work sessions, public hearings, input from residents, employees, boards and commissions, and updated revenue forecasts based on the third quarter update, the County Board, after deliberations, has approved a balanced budget for FY 2022,” says the Board report. “The budget continues funding for core County services and Arlington Public Schools; it provides additional funding for a variety of critical County programs and one-time APS costs related to opening Cardinal Elementary and the Ed Center, summer school incentive payments, and virtual school in the fall.”

The budget maintains the current base real estate tax rate at $1.013 per $100 in assessed property value, a de facto tax hike with residential property assessments up 5.6%. Assessments on commercial property, including office buildings, slumped 1.4% this year.

There was little additional discussion as the Board voted on the numerous individual budget items.

At a recent tax rate hearing, a few people called for the Board to lower the property tax rate, as Loudoun County is doing and Fairfax County is considering, “to provide relief to homeowners hit by rising assessments.” The real estate tax is expected to generate just over $800 million in revenue in Fiscal Year 2022, which starts July 1.

The Board also voted last night to raise the stormwater tax by $0.004 per $100 of assessed value to support stormwater improvements, and to slightly decrease the annual Household Solid Waste Rate from $319.03 to $318.61.

Other highlights of the new budget including affordable housing funding and housing grants; grants for small businesses affected by the pandemic; implementing recommended policing changes, including funding a civilian mental health crisis response team; electric vehicle charging stations and county fleet purchases; raises and bonuses for county employees; and the opening of the new Long Bridge Park Aquatics and Fitness Center and Lubber Run Community Center.

The full county press release about the budget is below, after the jump.

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The County Board is slated to vote on its fiscal year 2022 budget tomorrow (Tuesday) and affordable housing is top of mind for many Arlingtonians and Board members.

In February, County Manager Mark Schwartz proposed a budget with $71.1 million earmarked for housing — about 8.5% of the overall $834 million county budget, excluding schools.

This month, however, housing advocates told the Board that may not be enough to tackle the entrenched problem of rising housing costs and the deepening inequality caused by the pandemic. In response, Board members have identified three ways to amend the budget.

Testifying before the County Board on April 6, Carlos Velazquez, who sits on the board of trustees for Arlington Community Foundation, said the county needs to maintain flexibility for families seeking housing aid.

“COVID-19 assistance has helped many low-income families and individuals [stay in Arlington] and keep food on the table,” he said. “But the need has not gone away… We believe that flexibility should be maintained after the pandemic to help residents resolve delinquencies and develop plans to move forward from personal crises.”

Over the last two weeks, County Board members have discussed ways of doing just that. Last Thursday, ahead of the vote tomorrow evening, County Board Chair Matt de Ferranti proposed adding up to $2.4 million in several areas.

The chair proposed just over $1 million to maintain COVID-era guidelines that expanded eligibility for working families who needed financial aid during the pandemic. For those receiving grants, who currently contribute 40% of their income toward housing, de Ferranti is also proposing about $487,000 in one-time and recurring funding to lower annual housing contributions.

According to county staff, that could affect 700 families.

“This is of interest to us in the sense that severely rent-burdening individuals at 40% is more than [The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development] recommends,” de Ferranti said.

The County Board is also looking to add $850,000 in one-time funding for the Affordable Housing Investment Fund, a loan fund that helps to fund the development of new, dedicated affordable housing.

A portion of the $17.5 million set aside in the budget for the county’s response to the pandemic, meanwhile, will go toward eviction prevention. Housing advocates would like to see the county take bolder action in light of rising housing costs and economic hardship among lower-income residents.

Shaheera Sayed, an advocate with ACE Collaborative, an Asian American community-building group affiliated with Alexandria-based advocacy organization New Virginia Majority, said more needs to be done to prevent displacement of current residents.

ACE, which recently organized a rally near the future Amazon HQ2 in Pentagon City, proposed adding $8 million in funding.

“There is proof that the Asian Americans and other communities of color in Arlington county are struggling,” she said. “By adding more funding and expanding eligibility in programs such as the Housing Grants, more people who are unable to get affordable housing but are struggling to pay rent can benefit from this program.”

Beyond this year’s budget, County Board members say that more housing support will be needed for years to come. The most vulnerable in Arlington will likely face the longest road to full economic recovery, said County Board member Katie Cristol.

“Let’s not set ourselves up to make this purely one-time investment in Fiscal Year 2022,” she said.

Photo (top) via Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing, (middle) via Arlington County

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Morning Notes

Most Library Branches Still Remain Closed — “Arlington officials say it is no longer public-health concerns, but budget issues, that are keeping most of the county’s libraries locked up tight. And it’s likely most of them will stay that way for months to come. ‘Community health metrics are not the driving factor in regard to opening additional locations and services,’ library officials said in an e-mail to patrons last week. ‘The county [government] has been under a hiring freeze for more than one year. Libraries cannot open additional locations or services with current staffing levels.'” [Sun Gazette]

Rosslyn Startup Raises Millions — “Arlington meal delivery service Territory Foods has raised $22 million in fresh funding, the startup announced Tuesday… The company creates specialty meals that cater to a wide variety of specific diets, including paleo, Whole30, keto, vegan, low carb and low fat, among others. Customers can order the meals delivered in bulk once or twice a week.” [Washington Business Journal]

County Board Meetings Stay Virtual — “It could be summer before Arlington County Board meetings return to an in-person venue. The board schedule currently anticipates meetings through May will be ‘virtual’-only, as they have been since the spring of 2020 when the pandemic took hold.” [Sun Gazette]

Flower Market Coming to Rosslyn — “Roses are red, violets are blue, if you’re looking for fresh flowers, Rosslyn is here for you! With spring in full bloom, the Rosslyn BID is continuing Rosslyn Refresh with a series of outdoor flower markets. Rosslyn Flower Market will bring local plant, herb, and flower vendors to Central Place Plaza, Saturdays April 24-May 8.” [Rosslyn BID]

New Development to Host Temporary Hotel — “The developer of another new apartment complex is seeking permission to use some of the units as hotel rooms for a period, but is quibbling with county staff over how long that period should be. Arlington County Board members on April 17 will be asked to approve a proposal to permit up to 100 residential units in one of the two towers in ‘The Highlands’ to be used as hotel space.” [Sun Gazette]

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Arlington County’s projected revenue appears sunnier than when County Manager Mark Schwartz first presented his proposed budget for the 2022 fiscal year in February. 

The county can attribute this warmer outlook to two sources: the nearly $2 trillion American Rescue Plan and strong business license tax receipts, Budget Director Richard Stephenson said during a public hearing on the tax rate last Thursday. While he did not specify the revenue from the business taxes, Stephenson said President Joe Biden’s relief bill will apportion $46 million to the county.  

Combined, the influx of cash could mean funding will be restored to libraries, community centers, Arlington Independent Media and the Virginia Cooperative Extension, for example.

Schwartz’s proposed budget delays the re-opening of Cherrydale and Glencarlyn libraries and reduces support for AIM and VCE. Between 2019-20 and the proposed budget, funding for AIM had dropped by 22%, while the proposed reductions to VCE would require the organization to find new funding sources or reduce its programs. Members of the public spoke in favor of restoring funding to these programs last Tuesday.

Still, Arlington County will be leaning on real estate taxes for the lion’s share, 59%, of its revenue. Specifically, it will be relying on increasing residential real-estate taxes due to rising property values as commercial property assessments drop. 

“We’ve experienced some significant reductions to several of our tax revenues and non-tax fees,” Stephenson said. “We were fortunate this past January that real estate assessments came in slightly higher than we were originally projecting. While we experienced a decrease in commercial property assessments, new construction and residential properties increased.”

While property values are rising, Schwartz is proposing to keep the rate flat — at $1.013 per $100 of assessed value — for the upcoming fiscal year. That will mean an overall tax increase for most homeowners.

The County Board is slated to vote on this rate next Tuesday.  

Members cannot increase the rate but they could decrease it, which is something that a few Arlington residents told board members they would like to see.  

While Arlington has proposed holding its tax rate steady, nearby jurisdictions — including Fairfax County and Loudoun County — have proposed lowering or approved a lower real estate tax rate, said Audrey Clement, who is running as an independent for a seat on the County Board. 

“The impetus for tax reductions elsewhere is to provide relief to homeowners hit by rising assessments, even as the pandemic has put a lot of them out of work,” Clement told the board.

She said the county is using falling commercial real estate tax revenue to justify freezing rather than lowering the residential tax rate.

“The county will tell you it can’t afford to reduce the real estate tax rate because the pandemic has drained the commercial real estate tax revenue, but where were your real estate tax rates heading when the county was flush with revenue from corporate tenants?” she said. “They were going up.”

Meanwhile, two residents, William Barratt and Cindy Nelson, both asked the County Board to reduce real estate taxes.

Barratt said the Bluemont Civic Association, of which he is a part, passed a resolution encouraging the board to reduce the tax rate. The homeowner said he and his wife have seen a 15% increase in their taxes in recent years.

“I don’t think this is a wise idea for anyone: poor and rich,” Nelson said. “It’s just not right.”

The stormwater tax rate is set to increase, which Stephenson said will help generate $15.1 million earmarked for stormwater improvements.

Eventually, the county plans to eliminate the stormwater tax completely in favor of a fee based on how much impervious surface covers a given property, Schwartz previously said.

A higher cigarette tax rate is also being proposed that could generate $600,000. Like most of the county’s tax revenue, almost half of that will go toward Arlington Public Schools, Stephenson said.

Images (2-4) via Arlington County

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