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Morning Notes

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

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County Board Approves W-L Turf Replacement, Late Tax Penalty Reduction

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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Morning Notes

Stromans branch in the snow (Flickr pool photo by Alan Kotok)

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 RunReid 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

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County Tacks on $5 Fee to Tickets for Web Summons System

Arlington Police traffic stopTraffic tickets and criminal fines in Arlington County will now cost $5 more to fund the implementation of an electronic summons system.

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.

File photo

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Fees for Parks, Events Set to Increase

Athletic field at Long Bridge Park

Fees could soon be going up on bocce players, race runners and adult sports competitors in Arlington.

Along with advertising a property tax increase, the Arlington County Board on Saturday voted to advertise new parks and police fees. Among them:

  • 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.

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Local Credit Unions Benefiting from Bank Blunders

(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.”

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Board Sets Maximum Tax Rate for 2011

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.”

Many members of the community, including representatives from the police union, the Community Services Board, and the Alliance for Housing Solutions asked the board consider an even higher tax rate ceiling. However, county board member Mary Hynes said the approved rate, plus potential increases in various county fees and service charges, should give the board enough room to maneuver.

The board voted to advertise the following proposed fee increases, which could raise $3.4 million if adopted in April:

  • Increase in the residential solid waste fee
  • Increase in the motor vehicle decal fee
  • Increase fines for parking tickets
  • $8 per-sport, per-season fee for county sports leagues

In addition to tax and fee hikes, Donnellan’s proposed budget also includes a number of cuts in county services.

“We are facing more uncertainty in this fiscal year than in past fiscal years and, unfortunately, the uncertainty is heading in the direction of more cuts,” said board member Barbara Favola.

“It has not been the best of times, nor the worst of times, but they certainly have been interesting and challenging times,” Donnellan said when she laid out the budget. “There is a constituency in this community, for every item I have cut… I know that.”

“Now the work begins, as we scour the budget, engage the community and do what we are required to do – produce a balanced budget in April,” said board member Fisette. “We are committed to find the balance of the service quality that we have come to expect with the burden on taxpayers.”

The public will be able to speak out about the budget at hearings on Tuesday, March 23 and Wednesday, March 24. A hearing on taxes and fees will take place on March 25. All three hearings will begin at 7:00 p.m. in the County Board Room at 2100 Clarendon Blvd.

A board meeting featuring a discussion of the county’s snow removal effort is scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 23 at 3:00 p.m.

Barry Skidmore is a three-year resident of Arlington County. He is actively involved in local urban policy and transportation issues. Read his blog at http://peoplepoweredarlington.blogspot.com.

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