Arlington, VA

Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos has officially kicked off her bid for re-election, looking to rebuild bridges among her fellow Democrats after repeatedly endorsing independent John Vihstadt and drawing a primary challenger from her left flank.

Stamos emphasized that she’s “been a Democrat since I was holding up signs for Hubert Humphrey on the south side of Chicago” in a speech announcing her run for re-election last night (Wednesday) at the county Democratic committee’s monthly meeting.

The county’s top prosecutor has ruffled plenty of feathers among party leaders in recent years, becoming one of just three elected Democrats in Arlington to back Vihstadt’s independent bids for County Board.

And with Parisa Tafti (a former public defender who’s served in leadership roles for the local Democratic party) hoping to win the party’s nomination for the post this June, Stamos began her campaign on a bit of a conciliatory note. After all, the committee threatened to boot County Board member Libby Garvey out of the group over her support for Vihstadt, leading her to briefly resign instead.

Accordingly, Stamos primarily cited her long history with the entire Vihstadt family in explaining her support for the independent, who won a pair of elections in 2014 to become the first non-Democrat on the Board since 1999. Vihstadt lost his bid for re-election last year to Democrat Matt de Ferranti, returning the Board to one-party control.

Stamos regaled the audience with memories of relying on the Vihstadts, her neighbors for years, to look after her kids as they were growing up. She says her family and the Vihstadts still celebrate holidays together, making her backing of his candidacy as personal as it was political.

“Back in 2014, when John asked, and again last year, if I would support him, I wasn’t going to say to him, ‘You know, I’ll support you privately but I can’t do it publicly,'” Stamos said, according to a video of the event posted on the Democratic blog Blue Virginia. “I didn’t want to do that. And, as President [John F.] Kennedy once said, and it’s an important thing to remember, ‘Sometimes party loyalty asks too much.’ And my support for John was one of those times.”

However, Tafti has so far chosen to base her challenge to Stamos on policy disputes, rather than any party infighting. She claims that Stamos, who was first elected in 2011, has been insufficiently committed to reforming the county’s criminal justice system, and even exacerbated some of the system’s racial disparities.

“Safety is justice and justice is safety,” Tafti said Wednesday night in formally announcing her own campaign. “In Arlington, it is long past time that we start leading on this issue.”

Tafti, who recently won the backing of former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, has pledged not to seek the death penalty if she’s elected in Stamos’ stead, and to end the practice of requesting cash bail for all criminal defendants. Stamos has pledged to end cash bail for most defendants accused of misdemeanors, but both Tafti and other local public defenders believe that change doesn’t go far enough.

Tafti also took aim Wednesday at Stamos’ relationship with local legislators, arguing that they need “an honest partner who understands, even outside of campaign season, the need to support policies important to Democrats” in order to pass criminal justice reforms at the state level.

She specifically singled out Stamos’ comments to ARLnow back in June for criticism, after Stamos dismissed a letter by the state’s legislative delegation urging her to do away with cash bail entirely.

“When our delegation seeks my help to reform the bail system, I shall do so with an open mind, not dismiss the request as ‘silly’ and ‘misguided,'” Tafti said.

But Stamos also took some time to defend her record heading up the prosecutors’ office in her kickoff speech, claiming she’s “led our office on a set of values that any Democrat would support.”

“I’m proud to say that, as of last Friday night, the inmate population in the Arlington County jail is the lowest it’s been in the past five years, and that’s not by accident,” Stamos said. “It’s because of smart policing and smart prosecution, because of innovations that I’ve supported and championed.”

She also pointed to her decision to not seek jail time for people convicted of their first marijuana-related offenses as a move toward reform, and her embrace of diversion programs to keep people struggling with addiction or mental health issues out of jail.

“The core mission of our office will always remain the same: the principled prosecution of criminal defendants, the vigorous protection of victims’ rights and never losing track of the public’s and community’s safety,” Stamos said.

Local activist Nicole Merlene also formally announced her primary challenge to state Sen. Barbara Favola (D-31st District) at the meeting, while Treasurer Carla de la Pava proclaimed her own bid for a second full term in office.

Unlike Stamos, de la Pava did not address her support for Vihstadt in her speech. She has yet to draw a challenger this year, and has never run a contested race for the post — she was appointed to replace retiring treasurer Frank O’Leary, then won a special election and general election in consecutive years to retain her role.

School Board Chair Reid Goldstein also used the meeting as a chance to announce his bid for a second term, as he hopes to once more win the party’s endorsement for the nominally nonpartisan role.

Only one seat on the Board is up for grabs this year and Goldstein has yet to face any challengers in the race, though he has attracted some criticism for his handling of the controversial process of drawing new boundaries for eight South Arlington elementary schools last year.

Nevertheless, Goldstein used his speech as a chance to present the school system’s challenges as issues arising from the quality of county schools.

“These are tough issues, but we have to be in a situation where people aren’t eager to leave our schools,” Goldstein said.

The committee is set to select a Democratic School Board nominee in a caucus sometime in May or June. A June 11 primary will decide the other races on the ballot this year.

Photo via Facebook

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Starting next year, Arlington drivers won’t need to display a car decal on their vehicles for the first time in decades.

The County Board voted unanimously yesterday (Tuesday) to end the requirement that owners of vehicles parked in Arlington use a sticker to prove they’ve paid personal property taxes.

The “motor vehicle license fee” associated with the decal, which helps the county pull in about $5 million each year, will remain under the Board’s plan. But starting July 1, 2019, the county will now rely entirely on license plate readers to track whether drivers are up to date on their taxes.

“This is truly the end of an era for Arlington,” County Board Chair Katie Cristol said in a statement. “The decal is going the way of the horse-and-buggy.”

The county first began requiring drivers to display a metal tag on license plates all the way back in 1949, moving to a decal system in 1967. Yet, as other localities across the state have increasingly abandoned similar decals, pressure on the county to follow suit mounted.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Board member John Vihstadt said at the meeting Tuesday. “We’re not getting rid of the fee, it’s important to our tax base and enforcement of motor vehicle regulations and so forth. But this will eliminate the nuisance of having a decal.”

County treasurer Carla de la Pava remains confident that Arlington will be able to maintain its low tax delinquency rate even with this change, though it will also mark the end of her office’s annual design competition for the decal, which featured art from local high school students.

“The decal competition was a great collaboration between art, teens, and local government, and I am sorry to see it end,” de la Pava said in a statement.

File photo

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Morning Notes

More School Renaming Committees on the Way — Though the Washington-Lee controversy gets all the headlines, the School Board will also soon kick off the process of naming two new buildings and renaming two others. Patrick Henry ES will likely draw the most scrutiny. [InsideNova]

Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe Fundraising for de Ferranti — Virginia’s last chief executive will help Democratic County Board hopeful Matt de Ferranti fill his campaign coffers later this month. McAuliffe, a potential 2020 presidential hopeful, joins Attorney General Mark Herring as another statewide politician lending de Ferranti a hand in his bid against John Vihstadt. [Twitter]

County Treasurer Slashes Tax Delinquency Rate Again — Carla de la Pava has hit new highs by ensuring that more taxpayers are keeping up with their payments than ever before, recording the lowest delinquency rate in county history. [InsideNova]

Arlington Centenarians Still Dancing — The county has at least 47 residents who have passed the 100-year mark, and they say they feel as young as ever. [WAMU]

Flickr pool photo via Erinn Shirley

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Arlington County’s 2018-2019 vehicle decals will have a drawing of its skyline behind blossoming cherry trees.

At the Arlington County Board’s meeting Tuesday (January 30), Treasurer Carla de la Pava announced that Schuyler Workmaster, a junior at Bishop O’Connell High School, won first place in the annual design competition over three other finalists.

Workmaster, in her third year as a finalist, said she chose to draw the design as she was inspired by the county’s mix of urban and natural settings.

“I chose to do this because it shows both the urban and nature aspect of Arlington,” she said at the meeting before her win was announced. “It just comes together in both pieces, and works together to create beauty. I think it represents Arlington because it’s very diverse, but it comes together to form something beautiful.”

Workmaster’s work was chosen among design finalists from three fellow student competitors: last year’s winner Amy Kohan, a junior at Wakefield High School; Washington-Lee junior Tom Bolles; and Yorktown High School junior Maddy Heinemann. Workmaster will receive a $750 cash prize from the Arlington Community Federal Credit Union and her design will be displayed on approximately 160,000 vehicles starting later this year.

A record 3,619 votes were cast in the competition, a figure de la Pava said is up 11 percent from last year. She said the interest in voting in the contest is huge across the county.

“The part that really tickles me is that it comes from all areas of Arlington,” de la Pava said. “All the nooks and crannies except for [Arlington National Cemetery]… it really represents how widespread the interest is in voting for this decal.”

Students are instructed to produce a design that represents Arlington. This year’s competition was widened to include anything that they felt represented World War I and the county’s participation in the war.

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With uncertainty still swirling about whether taxpayers can deduct property tax prepayments, Arlington County is offering refunds for those who have already made deposits.

County Treasurer Carla de la Pava said the county has already collected around $18.2 million in prepayments from 2,300 accounts, with it still unclear whether taxpayers can deduct those prepayments from their 2017 federal taxes.

And unlike some other jurisdictions, de la Pava said, Arlington is offering refunds on prepayments for those who have changed their minds about paying early. She said around 75 people so far have requested a refund.

“This bill was passed through Congress, and it was very quick and it caused a lot of uncertainty,” she said. “I do not want that uncertainty to penalize Arlington citizens.”

Under the new GOP tax bill, State and Local Tax (SALT) deductions are capped at $10,000. For many Arlington taxpayers with pricey homes, this means they will lose part of their deduction next year and thus potentially pay higher federal taxes.

The Treasurer’s Office issued an advisory on how to request a refund on December 28, the morning after a ruling by the IRS limiting deductions to property taxes assessed in 2017.

Arlington is unable to assess 2018 property taxes until the County Board sets the tax rate in April, and de la Pava said with so many things still up in the air, it was better to give taxpayers options.

“It’s interesting, because what I’ve heard from many people is that they are certainly not going to request a refund right away because I think there’s a sense in the community that… things might change,” she said. “I even had one customer suggest that there might be something brewing in Congress that would make that IRS advisory stale information. There’s a lot of uncertainty still.”

The full advisory issued by the Treasurer’s Office is after the jump.

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(Updated at 1:55 p.m.) Arlington County has collected some $11.5 million in property tax deposits for future years, according to Treasurer Carla de la Pava, but it’s unclear whether taxpayers will be able to deduct those prepayments from their 2017 federal taxes.

Following a ruling by the IRS yesterday, limiting deductions to property taxes assessed in 2017, the county issued a statement Thursday afternoon that made it clear that Arlington is unable to assess 2018 property taxes until the County Board sets the tax rate in April.

The Arlington County Treasurer’s Office and Arlington County have received multiple inquiries based on the statement issued by the Internal Revenue Service on December 27, 2017, concerning deductibility of the property taxes. Neither the Treasurer nor the County staff will be offering individuals advice on tax issues and suggest people consult with a tax professional for any IRS related questions.

Arlington County, through the Department of Real Estate Assessment issues real property tax assessments each year in mid-January. The assessments for Calendar Year 2018 will be completed in mid-January and mailed to residents at that time.

Bills for taxes owed for calendar year 2018 are generated by the Treasurer after a tax rate is set by the County Board in April.

Those bills are due and payable in two installments – by June 15 for the first portion, and October 5 for the second portion.

De la Pava says the tax office has been inundated with tax deposits this week, but the activity has slowed considerably since the IRS ruling.

Taxpayers hoping to save on their taxes before the $10,000 cap on state and local tax (SALT) deductions goes into effect next year have jammed the phone lines and the payment queues of the treasurer’s office. So far, $11.5 million in deposits have been made across more than 1,500 tax accounts, de la Pava said.

That includes some $4.5 million collected over a six hour span Wednesday, before the ruling, but it also includes $1.8 million collected today following the IRS determination.

De la Pava said that her office, which is roughly two-thirds staffed because of the holidays, handled 1,500 phone calls yesterday, while keeping wait times to around 30 minutes.

“It was crazy,” she told ARLnow.com. “They did the best they could.”

De la Pava and other county officials are being careful not to give federal tax advice to residents given the ongoing uncertainty.

“The only thing I can say is that the real estate assessments have not been made and will not be made in 2017,” she said.

Bobby Grohs of RLG Tax Advisors, an Arlington-based CPA firm, told ARLnow.com that the letter of the law suggests that deposits for Arlington property taxes will not be deductible.

“A prepayment of anticipated real property taxes that have not been assessed prior to 2018 is not deductible in 2017,” he said. “Since Arlington does their 2018 assessment in January, prepaying these taxes in 2017 will not permit you to take a deduction on your 2017 tax filings.”

But that has not stopped the tax deposits, which are continuing to flow in, though at a reduced rate. Some taxpayers believe that there will be lawsuits that may end up reversing the IRS ruling, we’re told.

Other D.C. area jurisdictions, meanwhile, are collecting prepayments that should be deductible under the IRS rules. Among them are the City of Falls Church and the District of Columbia, which have already assessed next year’s property taxes.

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Morning Notes

Commonwealth Joe Gets $2.5 Million — Local nitro cold brew coffee purveyor and Pentagon City cafe operator Commonwealth Joe has landed a $2.5 million round of funding. The Arlington-based firm says it plans to use the investment to expand its cold brew business, which includes distributing kegs of the sweet, smooth chilled coffee to offices. [Washington Business Journal]

Local Holocaust Survivor Reunited — An Arlington man was reunited with a Dutch couple that hid him and his sister, who are both Jewish, from the Nazis in 1945. The reunion took place at the U.S. Holocaust Museum and happened thanks to a high school project undertaken by the couple’s grandson. [NBC Washington]

Raise for Arlington County Board Members? — There is renewed discussion of a significant raise for Arlington County Board members, in recognition that their job, rather than being part time as originally envisioned, now involves full-time hours. There are even “whispers” that Board salaries could be nearly doubled, to reach six-figures, according to one report. [InsideNova, InsideNova]

Tax Delinquency Rate Hits Historic Low — Arlington County’s 2017 tax delinquency rate has hit a record low of 0.226 percent, County Treasurer Carla de la Pava announced. That’s the lowest rate in Virginia and the lowest rate ever in Arlington, she said, touting it as “good for the county” and “good for taxpayers.” The news led Del. Patrick Hope to declare de la Pava the “best treasurer in the Commonwealth.” [Twitter, Twitter]

Remembering the Ballston Mall’s Past — First known as Parkington, then Ballston Common Mall, and soon (next year) to be reopened as Ballston Quarter, following extensive renovations, Ballston’s shopping mall has a long history that dates back to the early 1950s. [WETA]

Nearby: Legislation on Confederate Monument — State Sen. Adam Ebbin says he will introduce legislation “to give Alexandria the authority to relocate the Confederate statue in Old Town” Alexandria. “It is past time that we address the impact that lionizing the Confederacy has had on the character of our Commonwealth,” Ebbin said. [Twitter, Twitter]

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The Arlington County Board marks up the budget, April 16, 2015The Arlington County Board approved measures to reduce the late fee for real estate tax payments, replace the turf field at Washington-Lee High School and grant a $6 million loan for affordable housing at its meeting on Saturday.

The County Board approved the proposal by Treasurer Carla de la Pava to reduce the late fee taxpayers are forced to pay from 10 percent to 5 percent, if taxes are paid within 30 days after the due date. Those who are more than 30 days late paying real estate taxes will continue to pay a 10 percent fee. The county estimates more than 1,000 residents will benefit from the fee reduction.

“Sometimes, people accidentally miss a real estate tax due date but make their payment a few days later — of their own accord and without collection action by the Treasurer. In these cases, I believe a 5 percent penalty is much more appropriate,” de la Pava said in a press release.

The County Board also approved a contract to replace the 10-year-old turf at Washington-Lee High School, spending $670,000 of the $1.6 million contract to install a new synthetic surface at high school. The turf had reached them end of its lifespan, according to county staff, after heavy use from students and the community. Construction on the turf — which will have an extra layer of padding to help prevent concussions — will start in June and is expected to wrap up in August, in time for fall sports.

Additionally on Saturday, the County Board approved a loan from its Affordable Housing Investment Fund to McCormack Baron Salazar, which owns and manages the Clarendon Court Apartments (3814 7th Street N.) near Virginia Square. The loan, for $5.7 million, helps pay MBS for renovating the apartment community and keeping rents at 60 percent of Area Median Income or lower until 2075.

“Ensuring that every transit corridor has a range of housing affordability is a key to Arlington’s long-term sustainability. A first step in achieving this goal is preserving our existing stock of affordable homes,” County Board Chair Mary Hynes said in a release. “The investment in Clarendon Court Apartments, located in the busy R-B corridor, will not only secure the affordability of these homes for 60 years, but make them better places for our neighbors to live.”

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Arlington Treasurer Carla de la PavaThose who don’t pay real estate taxes on time could face lighter penalties this year.

The Arlington County Board is considering a recommendation by Arlington County Treasurer Carla de la Pava to reduce the fee for a real estate bill paid up to 30 days late from 10 percent to 5 percent. Tax bills paid after 30 days would continue to incur a 10 percent penalty.

“The Treasurer … has concluded that as currently implemented a 10 percent penalty for late payment of real estate taxes is unnecessarily harsh for delinquent taxpayers who pay of their own accord,” the county’s staff report reads. “Specifically, it treats those taxpayers who simply forgot about a due date the same as those who refuse to meet their tax obligation without collection action by the Treasurer.”

The average real estate bill last year, which are paid in two installments a year, was $2,752.50, according to the treasurer’s office. If a resident paid on June 17, just two days after the June 15 deadline, he or she would have had to pay a $275.25 late fee. If the County Board approves de la Pava’s recommendation, that penalty would be cut in half, to $137.63.

The treasurer’s office said 1,346 Arlington taxpayers paid their real estate taxes between one and 30 days late in 2014. The 10 percent late fee meant they paid a combined $535,721 in fees alone.

“As the average Arlington County real estate tax bill increases, so does the financial hardship suffered by generally honest property owners by the late payment penalty system currently in effect,” the report says. “Furthermore, it is worth noting that the typical homeowner with a mortgage escrow account is extremely unlikely to ever incur a late payment penalty. Instead, the individuals more likely to miss a real estate tax due date are longtime and older residents who no longer have a mortgage on their home and thus are directly and personally responsible for making their real estate tax installment payments.”

If the late penalty had been reduced in FY 2011, the county would have taken in an average of $235,000 less each year, or just under $1 million. The reduced fee has already been included in the FY 2016 budget, according to county staff.

The motion is on the County Board’s consent agenda on Saturday, which means it is likely to approve it without discussion. If the Board passes the motion, Arlington would be the first jurisdiction in Northern Virginia to not charge the maximum late fee on a real estate tax, according to county staff.

File photo

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Morning Notes

Shadowy jogger in Banneker Park (Flickr pool photo by Dennis Dimick)

One Candidate for Treasurer Race — Democrat Carla de la Pava, who has served as Arlington County treasurer since July 7, following the retirement of Frank O’Leary, is running unopposed in November. No other candidate filed to run in the special election by the Aug. 15 filing deadline. [InsideNova]

Bracket Room to Host Pregame Shows — The Bracket Room, 1210 N. Garfield Street in Clarendon, will host both the Fox 5 and the 106.7 The Fan Redskins pregame broadcasts this fall, according to a press release. The on-location broadcasts will take place at the sports bar for all 16 regular season games. [PRNewswire]

Cyclists Stopped on I-66 — A pair of bicyclists “dressed like Lance Armstrong” were stopped by Arlington County police on I-66 this morning, according to scanner traffic. It’s unclear why the cyclists were on the interstate. Police directed them to nearby Glebe Road.

Arlington: Great for Soccer Moms? — Arlington is the No. 3 locality in the country for “soccer moms,” according to an analysis that factored in things like the number of soccer clubs and food and transportation affordability. [Nerd Wallet]

Ohio Town Raises Money for Arlington Family — Residents of Chagrin Falls, Ohio are trying to raise $10,000 for the Sachar family of Arlington. Their son, 8-year-old Ashlawn Elementary student Eli Sachar, was struck and killed by a car on July 12 during a visit to Chagrin Falls. [Cleveland.com]

Flickr pool photo by Dennis Dimick

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Morning Notes

Sidewalk in Westover

Dems Back Special Election Candidates — At its meeting last night, the Arlington County Democratic Committee formally nominated Carla de la Pava for treasurer and endorsed Nancy Van Doren for School Board. Both candidates are running in special elections to take place at the same time as the November 4 general election. [InsideNova]

Possible Attempt to Resurrect Arlington’s Tourism Tax — Two candidates looking to fill the seat of Del. Bob Brink both said at a recent debate that they would introduce legislation to bring back Arlington’s tourism surtax on hotel bills. Democrat Richard “Rip” Sullivan and Republican David Foster both favor the tax, which had been in place for 21 years until it lapsed in 2011, due to anger over the County Board suing the state and federal governments over high occupancy toll lanes. [InsideNova]

Arlington Man Wins Axe Throwing Competition — Arlington resident Christopher R. Miller won the 2014 Lizzie Borden Axe Throwing competition in Falls Church. He is the brother-in-law of last year’s winner. [Falls Church News-Press]

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