Arlington County is looking to restart an initiative aimed at helping condominium owners stay in their condos that was halted by the pandemic.
The Condominium Initiative, which is part of the county’s Housing Arlington program, is focused on strengthening condo associations. A series of workshops this fall will include information on when capital improvement assessments should be performed and who should do them.
“We are currently working with the City of Alexandria, with whom we had co-sponsored the previous workshops, to schedule more events,” said Elise Cleva, the acting spokeswoman for Arlington’s Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development.
County staff involved with the Condo Initiative are considering some ideas such as small loans to help low- and moderate-income and elderly condo owners pay for repairs and assessments.
“No specific program has been developed and no funding source has been identified,” Cleva said. “Instead, staff is focusing on outreach at this time, with a goal of becoming more familiar with the issues that are of greatest concern for condominium developments; particularly those that are considered ‘affordable’ homeownership.”
Condo affordability and safety have been on County Board member Christian Dorsey’s radar since 2019 — but the issues have been on the back-burner due to other Housing Arlington initiatives, such as the ongoing study of “Missing Middle” housing stock, which will examine how Arlington can increase the supply of townhomes and duplexes, among other issues.
Dorsey tells ARLnow the county needs to get the ball rolling on its condo initiative if it wants to get ahead of problems that are bound to befall aging condos later on. The issue took on a greater sense of urgency after news broke of a condo building collapsing in the Miami area late last month.
Dorsey said he is not worried about a disaster of that scale happening in Arlington, but he is worried about deferred maintenance. Condo owners are responsible for regular assessments and for maintenance, but when the costs become too great, the work often gets put off. Eventually, it compounds, he said, and people opt to sell rather than fix their building.
“I think it’s an emerging problem — one thing that doesn’t reveal itself to you until it becomes catastrophic,” Dorsey said.
In 2016, the county sent surveys to 134 condo association contacts. Of the 16 that responded, 11 were deemed “potentially affordable,” with sale prices less than $500,000. According to a survey summary, one building was less than 20 years old and three were less than 50 years old, and the most common capital needs were aging or deteriorating roofs, structural issues and old mechanical systems.
At the time, however, the 16 respondents expressed “minimal interest” in workshops or technical assistance, and only one development said it did not have the money to make repairs, the summary said.
“These results suggest the need to intensify efforts to contact condo associations and engage them in identifying needs and interests and planning for a program of services, activities and financial assistance,” the summary said.
But conditions have changed since that survey, Dorsey said. Over the last couple of years, the County Board has received a growing number of accounts of deferred maintenance in certain condo communities, a trend that he predicted will continue as wages stagnate and fees climb.
He added that the work should start now because sustainable solutions will require federal policies, which could take a few years to hammer out, he said. The board member said he wants monthly fees and assessments to be tax deductible just as interest on mortgages for homes is tax deductible.
“The reason I think the federal government has a role here is first, equity — not disadvantaging by homeownership type — and second, the level of government subsidy that would be required is significant,” he said.
Federal low-interest loans — such as those done during natural disasters — could also help condo associations pay for assessments, he said.
With everything else that’s going on, Arlingtonians won’t have to worry about racking up late fees at the Arlington Public Library.
“On July 1, Arlington Public Library eliminated overdue library fines to make the library‘s collections more accessible to all Arlingtonians,” Arlington County said in a news release. “The goal is to increase access and minimize barriers for marginalized populations to use the
The move by the Arlington Public Library follows a similar policy implemented in D.C., and part of a growing nationwide trend. In January 2019, the American Library Association passed a resolution condemning the use of late fees as creating an unnecessary economic barrier.
“This permanent change will make the library more accessible to all,” said Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey. “It has been shown that library fines mostly fall on young people whose families cannot afford library fines. And that results in making the library less accessible to families with lower incomes, which is the exact opposite result that we want. I’m delighted that we are adopting this new policy.”
The news release noted that the elimination of fines will have an impact on the library budget, but penalties for losing library materials will remain.
The elimination of fines will reduce the Library fine budget by an expected $155,000 in anticipated revenue to $10,000 in FY 2021. The $10,000 remains in the budget due to the continuation of replacement fees for lost items.
Under this new policy, any patron with a balance over $15 cannot borrow, renew, place holds on materials, or log in to premium sites, such as Consumer Reports. This would only impact patrons who are charged for losing or failing to return items to the library, since overdue fines are eliminated.
Patrons still need to pay their existing fines accrued prior to July 1, 2020.
“Every member of our community has a right to library services and library fines and fees are known barriers to use,” said Diane Kresh, Director of Arlington Public Library. “We are pleased that we can eliminate these long-standing barriers and continue our mission to reach everyone regardless of their socioeconomic background.”
Staff photo by Jay Westcott
Arlington dog owners could soon be able to pay for lifetime licenses for their four-legged friends.
Currently, the county sells one-year or three-year licenses for Arlington’s furriest residents. But a new proposal advanced by the County Board Saturday (Feb. 23) would create a one-time, $30 fee for a lifetime license for local dogs.
If adopted later this year, the new license structure would take effect on July 1. Any dog owners who already have their pets licensed wouldn’t need to pay for the new license right away, however, but the county would only sell lifetime licenses after that date.
County staff argue that the change would eliminate the inconvenience of repeated license renewals, saving time for both the county treasurer’s office and pet owners, and that it would reduce “the amount of dog license taxes paid by dog owners over the course of their pet’s lifetime.”
Staffers proposed the change after state lawmakers passed legislation in 2017 to allow localities to issue lifetime licenses at costs of up to $50, and they noted in a report for the Board that Charlottesville and Hanover, Henrico and Stafford counties have already made the change.
“Arlington County benefits from reduced staff, printing and other costs associated with dog license renewals,” staff wrote about the advantages of making the change.
However, the proposal initially earned some pushback from local animal advocates and even some on the County Board, who feared that removing the yearly license renewal process would mean that dog owners wouldn’t have the same regular reminder to re-up their pet’s rabies vaccines.
The county’s proposal would require that owners prove their dog has received the vaccine in order to earn a lifetime license, but it doesn’t include any additional reminders about new vaccines. Staff reasoned in the report that keeping a pet’s vaccinations current is “something that responsible dog owners do as a matter of course.”
The Board merely authorized a public hearing on the license change for April 4, so members could yet vote down the proposal. If it does make it into law, staff expect a “long term” decrease in revenue from dog license fees, but they note that the program only brings in about $70,000 annually.
Some, including former Board member John Vihstadt, have proposed in the past that the county take the opposite approach and increase dog license fees in order to fund county dog parks.
County Board Approves Bike Boulevard Contract — The Arlington County Board on Saturday approved a half-million dollar contract for safety improvements to the intersection of S. Walter Reed Drive and 12th Street S. Per a county press release: “The project, one of several designed to make the Columbia Pike bike boulevards safer and more comfortable, will provide traffic calming and pedestrian improvements at the intersection.” [Arlington County]
Wakefield Boys Win Basketball Tourney — “The Wakefield Warriors won the 2018 boys Northern Region 5C Tournament basketball championship on their home court Feb. 23. The region crown was the 10th in program history for the high school team and second since 2014.” [InsideNova]
Hearing on Historic District Fee — The County Board will hold a public hearing in April to discuss an application fee for those seeking a local historic district. The fee, between $250-1,000 per request, would only partially reimburse the county for staff time spent researching each request, but could serve as a deterrent against frivolous requests. [InsideNova]
ICYMI: Weekend Articles — ARLnow published two articles of note over the weekend: first, a recap of the County Board’s decision to not raise the property tax rate this budget season, and second, a developing story about state legislation that could cost the county’s coffers around $2 million while slashing the tax bills of Arlington’s two country clubs.
Flickr pool photo by Erinn Shirley
The 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.”
New Gymnastics, Aquatics Fee Structure — In her FY 2016 budget, County Manager Barbara Donnellan is proposing a new fee structure for gymnastics and aquatics teams. The fees will recover “no more than 100 percent of direct costs,” and would be a savings of around 15 percent compared to the current fees. [Arlington County]
Tighter Security at Fort Myer — Some bicyclists are worried that tighter security measures put in place this week at Fort Myer will limit non-military personnel from accessing the base. Cyclists often use Fort Myer to travel safely between south Arlington and north Arlington without having to ride on Columbia Pike. Arlington County, meanwhile, has been working on some trail projects that would make north-to-south and south-to-north bike travel safer. [Greater Greater Washington]
Goldstein Announces School Board Run — Reid Goldstein has announced that he’s running for Arlington School Board. Goldstein, a “longtime Arlington schools, County and neighborhood advocate,” will seek the seat of the retiring Abby Raphael. “We must be honest and diligent stewards of our community’s money and trust as we work to preserve and improve the high quality of Arlington’s schools, even as enrollment increases,” Goldstein said in a press release.
National Airport Hits Passenger Record — Reagan National Airport set a new record for passenger traffic in 2014. Some 20.8 million passengers used Reagan last year, a 2 percent increase. With traffic decreasing at Dulles International, MWAA plans to share as much as $300 million in revenue from Reagan to Dulles over a 10 year span. [Washington Business Journal]
New Marine Corps Sergeant Major — Assuming they’re not deterred by the cold, the Marine Corps will hold a ceremony this morning at the Iwo Jima War Memorial, celebrating the appointment of Sgt. Maj. Ronald Green. Green will serve as the Corps’ 18th sergeant major, its highest enlisted rank. [Marine Corps Times]
Nick Anderson Leaving Arrowine — Former ARLnow.com “Beermonger” columnist Nick Anderson has announced that he is leaving Arrowine. Saturday will be his last day at the Lee Highway beer and wine store. [Arrowine]
Flickr pool photo by Alan Kotok
The Arlington County Board unanimously approved the fee at its meeting Saturday. Earlier this year, the state General Assembly passed a provision to a state law this year that allows localities to levy up to a $5 fee on summons for traffic and criminal cases to fund the establishment of an electronic system for filing summons for traffic tickets.
According to the county staff report, the Arlington County Police Department issued 42,761 traffic citations and made 5,102 arrests from July 1, 2013 to June 30, 2014. The county estimates the new fee would add $200,000 in annual revenue, and that the new system would cost $150,000 for equipment to implement.
“When motorists are stopped by police, it adds an element of danger as both the motorists and officers are exposed to passing traffic,” the staff report states. “An electronic summons system would lessen the chances of a road shoulder accident during the course of the officers’ traffic stop and also provide the motorist with a faster and more efficient transaction.
“An electronic summons system will also significantly improve efficiency and accuracy in the processing of issued citations,” the staff report continues. “With an electronic summons system, citation data would be automatically scanned and electronically entered at the point of activity. Personnel will no longer have to subsequently re-enter data from hand-written summons. Once the citation is completed, the transaction data is sent electronically to the court’s case management systems, usually within 24 hours. This will also allow violators to prepay their fines promptly and aid the courts in managing their dockets while tracking their caseloads. The utilization of the electronic summons system will help reduce data entry errors.”
The money that doesn’t go toward paying for the equipment will fund the summons system’s maintenance. Equipment for the system includes handheld devices for officers, driver’s license scanners, portable printers and and barcode readers. Once maintenance for the next three years is fully funded, the county says, it will consider removing the $5 fee.
Fees could soon be going up on bocce players, race runners and adult sports competitors in Arlington.
- New $100 per team adult sports league surcharge, to go to county’s Field Fund
- New $10/hour bocce court rental fee
- Tennis rental fee increase from $5 to $10/hour
- Baseball and multi-use field rental fee increase of $5/hour. New rates range from $35 to $130/hour
- Trail event permit fee increase from $50 to $150 (impacts trail races)
- Police special event per-officer special event fee increase from $50 to $60/hour (impacts road races, etc.)
- Enjoy Arlington non-resident fee increase from $10 to $20/class
If included in the final FY 2014 budget, the county expects the parks fee increases to generate an additional $158,188 in revenue, and the police fee increase to generate an additional $110,000.
(Updated at 12:05 p.m.) The phrase “bank fees” used to describe a commonly-accepted practice. But in the past few months, rising fees have stoked consumer frustration. As a result, fed up customers have been abandoning big banks, and credit unions — including those located in Arlington — are reaping the rewards.
During the past year, and particularly the past two months, local credit unions have experienced rapid growth. Navy Federal Credit Union, for instance, experienced a 38 percent year-over-year jump in new members in October. Navy Federal has experienced a 23 percent increase in new customers in 2011, compared to its typical annual growth of 7 percent.
The 17,000 member Arlington Community Federal Credit Union, meanwhile, saw a 34 percent increase in new customers from September to October, in addition to a 100 percent increase in new online checking accounts during the same period.
(Disclosure: Arlington Community Federal Credit Union is an ARLnow.com advertiser.)
Although some banks have since rescinded new debit card fees and other banking charges, a grassroots movement toward credit unions and away from big banks seems to be taking hold. It even prompted the creation of Bank Transfer Day, which encouraged people to move their money to credit unions on November 5.
“People are expressing frustration over being treated like a number and not a member,” said Patty Briotta, public relations manager for the Clarendon-based National Association of Federal Credit Unions (NAFCU). “When some banks recalled their debit fees, it was too little, too late.”
Arlington Community Federal Credit Union CEO Brenda Turner said that in addition to accruing new applications, there has been an increase in customers who already held an account suddenly wanting to add another one.
“We could tell they were angry with the big banks because they wanted to move everything,” Turner said. “A lot of times people come in and just want an auto loan because we have great rates. But they wanted to completely clear out of the big banks and come over.”
Previously, many new members were attracted to credit unions due to features like competitive interest rates. Now, those who answered a NAFCU survey listed fees (24 percent) and general dissatisfaction (51 percent) as reasons for making the switch.
“During this challenging financial time, people want to leverage all of their resources and opportunities,” Briotta said. “You’re the boss at a credit union because it’s member-owned and a not-for-profit financial institution.”
Navy Federal Credit Union spokesperson Donovan Fox agreed, adding: “All of our members have a vote and everything that we do is for the benefit of our members. We’re always trying to increase our services, making them better for our members.”
NAFCU has recently ramped up promotion of CUlookup.com, a website it created to help consumers locate local credit unions. The site, which also lists the membership criteria of individual credit unions, has experienced explosive growth. This October saw a 700% year-over-year increase in web traffic this year, according to Briotta.
Although the rush will likely level off, right now Arlington’s credit unions are reveling in the business boom.
“It’s a great deal,” Turner said. “It’s unfortunate that it hasn’t been as widely known the convenience that credit unions offer.”
Said Briotta: “This is an example of Main Street winning over Wall Street.”
Primary reporting for this article was provided by Barry Skidmore of People Powered Arlington.
Property taxes are going up, and on Saturday residents got a preview of just how high rates may go.
Arlington’s advertised property tax rate has been set at 96.5 cents per $100 in assessed value, a nine cent increase from last year. The Arlington County Board unanimously approved the rate during a budget meeting Saturday morning.
The advertised rate represents the highest rate the county can decide to tax for the 2011 fiscal year, which actually begins on June 1, 2010. The FY 2011 tax rate will be set by the board in April.
Although Acting County Manager Barbara Donnellan has proposed a tax rate of 94.2 cents – a 6.7 cent increase – board members said the higher advertised rate will give the county flexibility to meet unexpected budget shortfalls. The county is currently facing a $65 million deficit for FY 2011.
“This rate provides us the flexibility we need to address the unknowns presented since our budget guidance was provided in the fall – primarily the uncertain state budget cuts and Metro demands that we may face,” said Arlington County Board Chairman Jay Fisette.
“I have worked on a lot of these [budgets]” added board member Christopher Zimmerman. “I don’t think I have ever seen this degree of uncertainty.”