Arlington, VA

Deputy County Manager James Schwartz is retiring.

An announcement was made official by County Manager Mark Schwartz at Tuesday’s County Board meeting. Schwartz’s last full day with Arlington County will be February 5.

For the last six years, Schwartz has served as the Deputy County Manager overseeing public safety and technology, after just over a decade as the county’s fire chief.

Schwartz started at the Arlington County Fire in 1984 as a firefighter and served in multiple roles in the department. He led the county’s united command effort after the September 11, 2001 attack at the Pentagon. In 2004, he was appointed as chief.

Schwartz was the first person to rise through the department’s ranks to become chief since the 1970s. In 2015, he was named Deputy County Manager.

“This is an opportunity… to thank him from the bottom of my heart for all of his years of service,” said County Manager Mark Schwartz during the County Board meeting.

In a memo to fire personnel, ACFD lauded Schwartz’s leadership and dedication to serving the county and the region.

“Chief Schwartz was the architect of many local, NoVA, and [National Capital Region] initiatives that continue to improve public safety. While he does not have any immediate plans, Chief Schwartz will remain connected and invested in the department, county, and region,” the memo said. “ACFD is grateful for his leadership, dedication, and friendship over many years.”

“A big thanks to Jim Schwartz for his extraordinary service over the years,” said Board Chair Matt de Ferranti at Tuesday’s meeting. “If we were in the boardroom, we would all be standing and applauding.”

Photo courtesy of Arlington County

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(Updated at 4:45 p.m.) Facing a potential $41-56 million budget gap, the Arlington County Board is signalling that service cuts and tax rate hikes may be included in next year’s budget.

At its Tuesday meeting, the Board provided guidance to County Manager Mark Schwartz on the upcoming Fiscal Year 2022 budget, covering July 2021 through June 2022. Underlying it all is a big drop in tax and fee revenue caused by the pandemic.

“Our challenge in Fiscal Year 2022 will be to support our community as it continues to deal with an unprecedented medical, economic and educational emergency, even as the County faces continued fiscal uncertainty,” Board Chair Libby Garvey said in a statement.

“Our guidance to the Manager today starts what I expect to be a difficult conversation with our community about priorities, cuts to programs and services, and potential tax increases over the coming months, as we focus our limited resources on defeating this deadly virus, preserving our social safety net, protecting public health, and supporting our students and those in our community who face food and housing insecurity,” she said. “While the budget situation is serious, Arlington’s financial fundamentals remain strong.”

In a press release, the Board detailed what they want Schwartz to include in his proposed budget next year, including:

  • “Reducing programs and services where necessary”
  • “Consider a real tax rate increase, increased cigarette taxes, and a plastic bag tax”
  • “Fund affordable housing, with a primary focus on preventing evictions and providing housing grants”
  • “Food assistance, COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, personal protective equipment, and an anticipated vaccine program for the virus”
  • “Funding… to implement Rank Choice Voting in Arlington…  and the Police Practices Group’s recommendations”
  • Funds to open the new Long Bridge Aquatics and Fitness Facility, and a recommendation on when to open the new Lubber Run Community Center
  • An evaluation of “the advantages and disadvantages of moving to a utility model for funding stormwater management”

The Board’s guidance also calls for funds to be set aside “to support collective bargaining implementation,” following the May 1, 2021 implementation of a new Virginia law that allows localities to recognize and negotiate with public employee labor unions.

While reserve funds and federal coronavirus funds may help close up to half of the anticipated budget gap, Schwartz and his staff told Board members that difficult decisions may still be necessary. County revenue from commercial real estate taxes, as well as sales and meals taxes, is down significantly.

“The bottom line” is that “there is a significant gap to close,” Arlington County Budget Director Richard Stephenson said. “It will require some tough choices in the development and adoption of the FY 2022 budget.”

Board member Matt de Ferranti asked the public to be aware that the Board is “seeking options.”

“As much as we might wish we were fully immune from economic challenges, we are not,” he said. “There won’t be good options — there will only be least bad options.”

Board member Christian Dorsey said the Board does not take the possibility of tax increases lightly, and cautioned against a budget that prioritizes other aims above the marginalized in Arlington, who have been disproportionately hit by the pandemic.

“It’s certainly not lost on me or any of you that we have a really blunt tool in adjusting real-estate taxes to raise revenue,” he said. “It’s a blunt tool that can cause harm to the people you’re seeking to try and help with other government expenditures and services.”

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Arlington County has undergone drastic changes over the last 100 years to become what it is today.

In celebrating the county’s history and the 2020 census, County Manager Mark Schwartz will compare a snapshot of the area from 100 years ago and today’s Arlington during a virtual discussion.

The two-hour program will take place on Tuesday, Sept. 29, at 7 p.m. and can be viewed on the county’s Facebook page, YouTube channel, or on Arlington TV (Comcast 1085/Verizon 40).

An interactive storybook and map will be paired with the discussion. The session will also feature a “conversation with the members of the Complete Count Committee appointed in 2019 on their experiences with working on the 2020 census,” according to Schwartz.

“Viewers can expect a summary of how Arlington of today compares with the Arlington of 100 years ago on a number of measures, including population, family size, demographic makeup (race, age, gender, languages spoken, housing types),” Schwartz wrote in an email.

Schwartz added that the discussion will include “a history lesson on what Arlington looked like and some stories from 100 years ago that shed some light on the Arlington of today.”

The broadcast will explore the county’s transformation since its naming as a nod to the Arlington House in Arlington National Cemetery — an association that is now under scrutiny. The name was officially changed from Alexandria County in 1920 to avoid being confused with the city of Alexandria.

Arlington County grew from a primarily rural area of farms — the last of which closed in 1955 — as its population steadily increased and new developments were established.

Farms gave way to housing developments, new businesses and modernized infrastructure over the years. The population followed suit as an increase of federal workers spilled into the area during the 1930s, as National Airport opened in 1941, as World War II saw the construction of the Pentagon, and as the Metrorail corridors were introduced in the 1970s.

The county’s population has grown exponentially from the 16,040 residents counted in the 1920 census, which included sections of Del Ray and the City of Alexandria that were part of the county then, according to Arlington’s website.

Arlington County has grown every decade since 1920, except in the 1970s when the area’s population dropped by 12.4%. However, the population rebounded and steadily grew to 207,627 in 2010, according to census data.

The latest estimates peg the county’s population at 228,400, a 10% increase from 2010. A forecast by the county shows the population growing to 301,200 in 2045.

“Today, Arlington is a diverse and inclusive world-class urban community with a population that continues to grow at approximately 1% per year,” the county website says.

Flickr pool photo by Erinn Shirley

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Deputy County Manager Samia Byrd has been promoted to the new position of Chief Race and Equity Officer, Arlington County announced today.

Byrd, a long-time county employee who previously worked in the Department of Community Planning, Housing and a Development, will oversee work “to inform the County’s development of its plan for addressing race and equity issues.”

A University of Virginia graduate and Hampton, Va. native, Byrd said she is looking forward to the challenges ahead in the new role.

“The time is past due to dedicate and commit our time, resources and effort to advancing race and equity in achieving Arlington’s vision of a diverse and inclusive community,” she said in a statement. “It is an opportunity we should not take lightly or as a response to the moment, and one I approach with humility.”

More from a county press release, below.

As the Chief Race and Equity Officer for Arlington County, Samia Byrd will lead the County’s work to advance racial equity, diversity and inclusion both internal and external to the organization. This includes guiding and facilitating the development and implementation of important policies and practices through an equity lens.

“Samia will be instrumental to helping Arlington better understand the cracks in our foundation,” stated County Manager Mark Schwartz. “I am excited to have her in this new leadership role as we identify the solutions moving forward to ensure that everyone in Arlington has the same opportunities regardless of the color of their skin, their education level, their housing type, their job, or the Arlington ZIP code where they live. I am honored that she will take on this work.  She will bring a deep sense of commitment, faith, and insight to a subject that is profoundly, at its core, about what type of community we want to be.”

Ms. Byrd will continue to oversee and manage the County’s coordinated work with the Metropolitan Washington Council of Government (COG) Racial Equity Cohort comprised of Senior County and Arlington Public Schools staff, to inform the County’s development of its plan for addressing race and equity issues. This includes working closely with the Government Alliance on Race and Equity, a national network of governments working to achieve racial equity and advance opportunities for all, to help guide the development of a racial equity tool later this year.

Once developed, the racial equity tool will be used in guiding policy, practice, program and budget decisions and offer new strategies for achieving racial equity outcomes in Arlington. Ms. Byrd will also have a pivotal role in developing and implementing a Countywide Racial Equity Action Plan.

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Masks significantly reduce the transmission of coronavirus, making their usage during the pandemic a public health priority.

To encourage wider use of masks, Arlington County is planning to give them away for free.

Earlier this month County Board member Katie Cristol revealed that Arlington had “recently put in a pretty significant order for cloth face coverings that were intended to be distributed around the county.” The idea, she said, was to encourage rather than mandate mask usage — a carrot vs. stick approach.

During last night’s Board meeting, County Manager Mark Schwartz said the masks will be given out in various parts of the county.

“We’re going to be setting up locations across the county where people who do not have masks could go and get them if needed,” he said, adding that more details will be released next week.

The county, Schwartz noted, has established something of an “emergency logistics operation” since the start of the pandemic, distributing hundreds of thousands of pieces of personal protective equipment to first responders, healthcare providers and others.

A county spokeswoman tells ARLnow that much of the new mask distribution effort will be accomplished through community organizations and nonprofits.

“Arlington County has procured cloth facial coverings to distribute to Arlington’s most vulnerable populations,” said Jennifer K. Smith. “The County is planning to enlist the help of community-based organizations (CBOs), including safety net nonprofit partners, to help distribute the facial coverings. The County will be reaching out to these CBOs in advance of the delivery of the face coverings, which is expected in the coming weeks.”

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Arlington County is working to publicly release data on payments to vendors, according to an email exchange between county officials and a local resident.

The new initiative came to light after a local resident filed a Freedom of Information Act Request to obtain a list of county expenditures, sorted by vendor, for fiscal years 2018 and 2019. Some other localities publicly list such information, in the interest of transparency and showing which companies were being paid by the local government.

The county’s initial response to the FOIA request was to demand payment of $8,750 to produce the information, citing a need for a budget analyst to spend 250 hours to compile it.

“The County is permitted to make reasonable charges to cover the County’s actual cost incurred in accessing, duplicating, supplying, or searching for any potential responsive records. The estimated cost associated with the request is $8,750.00,” the Arlington County FOIA office said in a letter. “Arlington County must review the financial data for potential exemptions to protect sensitive information on a line-item basis, which is the reason for this cost estimate.”

The resident, Patrick Lockhart, then appealed to the County Board and the County Manager to intervene. In response, the County Manager’s office agreed to waive the fee, noting that vendor payment information is set to be released through the county’s Arlington Wallet portal.

The website, which launched in early 2019, contains charts and graphs intended to give residents a clearer look at how officials are spending money each year.

There’s no word yet on when the new vendor-level expenditure information will be released, but a county official said it’s coming soon.

“Our Department of Management and Finance (DMF) has been working on the next phase of Arlington Wallet for some time now, and is actually getting close to being able to roll that out publicly,” wrote Ben Aiken, Director of Constituent Services in the County Manager’s office. “This next phase will contain the transaction level detail that will include vendor name and transaction descriptions, amongst other attributes.”

The full email is below.

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The upshot of most Arlingtonians being confined to their homes is that Arlington is seeing fairly high rates of responses to the 2020 census.

County Manager Mark Schwartz said at Tuesday’s County Board meeting that the Arlington is already seeing higher rates of people turning in census forms than at this time in the 2010 census. The rate currently sits at 27.4%.

“We went back and looked at 2010 and we’re doing better than we were doing in 2010,” Schwartz said. “I think part of that is because people are at home… It’s really good for where we are in the process.”

County officials are pushing census participation, the upshot of which is more representation in Congress and more federal assistance. County Board member Katie Cristol said that respondents should remember to “count their babies” in the census, noting that populations under five-years-old were the most underreported demographics in the last census.

Households can respond to the census online, by phone, or by mail until Aug. 14. Households should have recently received census mailers.

Schwartz said county officials are still hoping to set up mobile census assistances stations outside places like grocery stores and community centers once the pandemic concerns have died down.

Many of the traditional methods the county uses to encourage people to fill out the census, like pop-ups, have been canceled. The county government is still finding other ways to promote responding to the census.

“We’re including information about the census with food distribution that’s going on,” Schwartz said. “Several hundred tote bags have been given to AFAC as a way of emphasizing that.”

If you were curious about whether County Manager Mark Schwartz has a poem for the moment, you won’t be disappointed. He recited the following self-written verse at the meeting.

Covid has us all feeling frustration

What a great time to ensure our county’s enumeration

Take a minute or two to complete your census form

Perfect to do while social distancing is the norm

Just go to census.gov and complete all the questions

So Arlington can get our full representation

Schwartz’s full presentation is below.

Image via Arlington County

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Several senior Arlington County employees left the Saturday, Jan. 25, Arlington County Board meeting with renewed contracts and some notable pay bumps.

The County Manager, County Attorney, County Auditor and Clerk to the County Board all had their contracts unanimously approved in a 5-0 vote with no discussion.

County Manager Mark Schwartz got a 4.5% raise to $282,489 annually. It’s a little less than his neighbor, Alexandria City Manager Mark Jinks, who earns $288,000 annually, according to the Alexandria Gazette Packet. On the other hand, it’s a little more than the $268,000 salary for Bryan Hill, who has the equivalent position in Fairfax County.

This is also the first time Schwartz’s salary has surpassed his predecessor, Barbara Donnellan, whose salary was $270,000 annually by the end of her five-year tenure. Schwartz became County Manager in 2015.

County Attorney Stephen MacIsaac, meanwhile, got a 3.5% raise to $261,933 per year — more than the $243,812 annual salary paid to Alexandria City Attorney Joanna Anderson.

County Auditor Christopher Horton got a 3.25% raise to $147,493 per year. Horton became the county auditor in 2016 and is the County’s second auditor. The first left the job after less than seven months.

Kendra Jacobs, Clerk to the County Board, had the biggest raise at 6.75%, increasing her salary to $115,749. Jacobs was appointed to the role in 2018.

The top county employees also received a raise last year; for all but Horton the raise was higher this year.

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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The Arlington County Board will soon vote on whether to spend over $700,000 upgrading the County Manager’s Office.

Member are scheduled to vote on the proposed renovation to the third floor office suite in the Bozman building (2100 Clarendon Blvd) during their meeting this Saturday, November 16.

If members vote to approve the project, the county will award $631,535 to Manassas-based Juniper Construction Company, Inc, plus an additional $126,307 for unanticipated costs.

A staff report to the Board indicates that the contract would fund upgrades to:

  • Create a “joint reception area” for the County Manager and County Board offices as well as a new “huddle room”
  • Several “open office concept work spaces” for staffers
  • Renovated conference rooms on the 3rd floor
  • “New finishes” in the offices and hallway

As of today (Thursday), the item is listed on the Board’s consent agenda, a place usually reserved for issues members expect to pass without debate.

The work is funded by a tenant improvement allowance negotiated as part of the county’s lease renewal and is part of a larger project to renovate the local government headquarters.

“The total project budget for the Bozman Government Center Renovation Project is $23.5M with the 3rd Floor CMO Suite renovation at $757,842.17,” the report notes.

Recently, the Board approved a multimillion dollar contract to replace the heating system at the county’s jail and courthouse building.

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As one fire station faces permanent closure, Arlington County is considering plans to open another one.

Fire Station 7 in Fairlington (3116 S. Abingdon Street) temporarily closed in October due to structural safety concerns. The crews relocated to other stations, with Fire Station 9 and nearby Alexandria and Fairfax stations assigned to cover Fairlington and nearby parts of South Arlington.

The station hasn’t reopened since, according to Arlington County Fire Department spokesman Capt. Ben O’Bryant.

That closure could become permanent. Since at least 2014, the station has been on the chopping block. A report from 2012 noted that the station is beloved by the community, but lacks the efficiency of other stations throughout the county.

According to the report:

Station 7 is located in a residential community that has narrow streets and limited access. It does not provide as wide coverage area as do other fire stations in the County. Well maintained and in excellent condition, Station 7 is considered a ‘neighborhood treasure’ to residents of the community. The Routley study also recommended the elimination of Station 7, or its relocation to South George Mason Drive near Wakefield High School. This study found that Stations 7 and 9 could be merged to a location near the intersection of South Walter Reed Drive and South Four Mile Run Drive.

At an audit meeting last week regarding the overuse of overtime in the Fire Department, County Board Vice Chair Libby Garvey said part of the reasoning behind Fire Station 7’s closure is that 60 percent of the station’s runs are to Alexandria and Fairfax.

The County Manager is close to making a decision on the future of Fire Station 7, according to county spokeswoman Jennifer K. Smith, and more information should be forthcoming “soon.”

Meanwhile, the County is in the early days of scouting sites for a new fire station on Columbia Pike. No timeline or site has been identified, but County Manager Mark Schwartz noted that the eastern end of Columbia Pike is a desirable location based on previous studies.

In the audit meeting, County officials also noted that new development planned for the eastern end of Columbia Pike and in the Crystal City/Pentagon City area — notably, Amazon’s HQ2 — will also likely increase demand for fire services in that area over the next few years.

“The current high demand at Fire Station 5 in Aurora Hills, combined with anticipated development and population growth in Crystal City/Pentagon City, may affect priorities in the next Capital Improvement Plan, which will be proposed in May 2020,” Smith said.

Photo via Google Maps

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