Arlington, VA

Morning Notes

Hotel-to-Apartment Project on Hold — “A proposal to convert the Arlington Courts Suites extended-stay hotel in the Courthouse area to apartments is on hold, at least for now. The project had been slated for County Board consideration on July 18, but has been deferred until at least October at the request of the applicant, citing ‘economic concerns about the project due to the COVID-19 emergency.'” [InsideNova]

Controversy Sparks Idea for Fundraiser — A local man has raised more than $140,000 “after starting a GoFundMe page to buy Goya Foods products and donate them to local food pantries after critics called for a boycott over pro-Trump comments from Goya’s CEO. ‘People are seeing in the news a double standard for one political view,’ 27-year-old Casey Harper of Arlington, Va., told FOX Business.” [Fox Business, GoFundMe]

Jury Questionnaire Going Out Soon — “The Arlington Circuit Court, which includes the City of Falls Church, will soon begin its annual juror qualification process.  Juror questionnaires will be mailed in early August to randomly selected residents of Arlington County and Falls Church City.  These questionnaires are used to qualify residents for jury duty which begins Jan. 1, 2021, and ends Dec. 31, 2021.” [Arlington County]

Job Losses Possible at DCA — Among the 36,000 United Airlines workers who may be furloughed starting in October, according to WARN Act notices, are 116 employees at Reagan National Airport. [Virginia Employment Commission]

Swearing In for New County Board Member — “Takis P. Karantonis, elected to the Arlington County Board in a special election on July 7, 2020, will be sworn in at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, July 14 in a virtual ceremony. Clerk of the Circuit Court of Arlington Paul Ferguson will officiate.” [Arlington County]

Red Hook Lobster Pound Shuts Down — Long-time local food truck operator and concessionaire Red Hook Lobster Pound is selling its trucks and assets as the pandemic forces it out of business. This presumably means that there will be no Red Hook lobster restaurant near Clarendon, either. [Washingtonian]

ACPD Investigating Airbag Theft Along Lee Highway — “At approximately 7:30 a.m. on July 12, police were dispatched to the report of a larceny. Upon arrival, it was determined that between 7:00 p.m. on July 11 and 7:30 a.m. on July 12, an unknown suspect(s) smashed the windows of approximately three vehicles and stole the airbags. There are no suspect(s) descriptions. The investigation is ongoing.” [Arlington County]

Photo courtesy Mike Cantwell

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Morning Notes

Country Club Files Layoff Notice — Arlington’s Washington Golf and Country Club has filed a WARN Act notice of potential layoffs. The club said it may lay off up to 188 employees due to the coronavirus pandemic. [InsideNova]

Local Eye Doctor Sees Big Decline in Business — “Dr. Nicole Renaud, an Arlington, Virginia, ophthalmologist, said she had a full schedule of patients and worked long hours before the pandemic. Now, she sees a few patients a week, mostly through telemedicine… As a result, her practice’s income has fallen by a stunning 90%.” [WTOP]

SUVs Stolen from Koons Toyota Dealership — “At approximately 1:44 p.m. on April 21, police were dispatched to the report of several stolen vehicles. Upon arrival, it was determined that during an inventory of vehicles, four 2020 silver Toyota Highlanders were determined to have been stolen between April 7 and April 21.” [Arlington County]

Civ Fed Zooms into Virtual Future — “For 104 years, the Arlington County Civic Federation held its monthly meetings in a group setting. But on April 21, to address the COVID-19 public-health situation, the organization conducted its proceedings in a ‘virtual’ setting. ‘We are experimenting,’ Civic Federation president Allan Gajadhar said at the opening of the meeting, held on the online platform Zoom.” [InsideNova]

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While the human toll of the COVID-19 outbreak becomes shockingly apparent, particularly in New York, the shutdown to slow the disease is also having widespread economic impacts.

Nationwide, the Department of Labor reported 3.28 million new unemployment claims, smashing the previous record. There were a total of 102,240 new claims in Virginia, D.C. and Maryland.

While Congress works to approve a $2 trillion relief package today, more and more people are being laid off. Locally, that includes the employees of many local restaurants and other retail-oriented businesses; last night, the group behind local stalwarts Liberty Tavern, Northside Social and Lyon Hall announced that most of its employees had been laid off and funds established to support them.

The Labor Department does not break down its data to the city or county level, but we were hoping to get a sense for where Arlington stands via this morning’s poll. Assuming you were working from the outset of the outbreak, which of the following applies to you?

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Morning Notes

Don’t Ride Metro Unless You Must, Says Metro — “Effective… Wednesday, March 18 — and continuing until further notice — Metro service will operate as follows: Rail system hours and service levels are further reduced to support essential travel only. DO NOT TRAVEL UNLESS ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY. Follow guidance from your state and local authorities. New hours: Weekdays 5AM-11PM, Sat/Sun 8AM-11PM. Trains will run every 15 minutes on each line at all times.” [WMATA, Twitter]

Utility Disconnections, Evictions Suspended — Arlington County has suspended water disconnections, Dominion has suspended power disconnections, and courts in Virginia has suspended evictions, giving those who are unable to pay their bills during the coronavirus outbreak a chance to stay in their homes. [Twitter, Dominion, Press Release, Twitter]

Police Can Now Enforce State Crowd Ban — “I just issued an emergency order with @VDHCommissioner to enforce Virginia’s statewide ban of more than 10 patrons in restaurants, theaters, and fitness centers. Please use common sense. If you were considering ignoring this limit — don’t.” [Twitter, Gov. Ralph Northam]

Compass Coffee Lays Off Most Employees — “”Compass Coffee, a DC based company just laid off 180 of their 200 employees abruptly.” [PoPville]

Vintage Restaurant Group Shutters Locations — The operator of iconic local restaurants Ragtime, Rhodeside Grill and William Jeffrey’s Tavern is closing its locations until further notice. [Twitter]

Four Courts Donates Extra Food to AFAC — “We just dropped off fresh produce @AFACfeeds… their need is still great.” [Twitter]

Marymount Extends Online-Only Classes — “In order to continue ensuring the health and safety of the campus community, Marymount University will extend its online-only class period to Tuesday, April 14 (previously March 30), as the greater Washington region sees increased cases of COVID-19.” [Press Release]

Macy’s Closes Stores Nationwide — “Macy’s is closing all of its stores nationwide, effective at the end of business Tuesday through March 31, to try to help curb the spread of COVID-19.” [CNBC]

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(Updated at 10 a.m.) Arlington schools will likely face class size increases and could see some staff layoffs next year under terms laid out in Superintendent Patrick Murphy’s proposed budget for the new fiscal year.

Murphy delivered his first draft of a new spending plan for fiscal year 2020 to the School Board last night (Thursday), arguing that even the tax increases proposed by the County Board won’t be enough to help the school system avoid some spending cuts. The school system is preparing to open three new schools next year to cope with persistently rising enrollment levels, which Murphy expects will create another challenging budget year for county schools.

Much like the county government’s own financial picture, sketched out in earnest by County Manager Mark Schwartz late last week, Arlington Public Schools’ budget picture is still a bit more promising than it appeared this fall. School officials initially warned that they could be facing a $43 million budget gap next year, a deficit that Murphy says could’ve been the largest one for APS in the last 30 years, if not the school system’s history.

However, rising real estate assessments filled county coffers a bit more than officials anticipated, easing some concerns. And Murphy was glad to see, too, that Schwartz proposed 1.5-cent real estate tax increase largely designed to meet school needs, and the superintendent built his budget using that increase as a base.

But even if the County Board approves that tax hike, Murphy says the school system will face cuts. He built a series of spending trims into his plans, most notably the reduction of 23 staff positions, bumping up class sizes slightly.

“It’s a tough year, there’s a lot of things happening,” Murphy told a group of reporters and school leaders in a budget briefing Thursday. “But given where we are and the things that are happening, I thought that was prudent.”

Plans call for grades four through five seeing the largest increase of an estimated one student per class. Middle schools will see a .75 pupil per class increase, and high schools will see a .5 student per class increase.

The School Board narrowly avoided that outcome last year, thanks largely to some one-time funding from the county. But Murphy says he fully expects the county’s own money troubles, driven by a still-high office vacancy rate and rising Metro expenses, means that the school system might not be so lucky this time around.

The proposed cuts total about $10.1 million in all. That will include moving $5.28 million in one-time money to cover construction and maintenance funding, rather than using ongoing funds.

Murphy says he may need to make another $8.9 million in cuts to balance the budget, if the County Board doesn’t approve a tax increase over and above Schwartz’s proposal. He did not say, however, just how of large of a tax hike would meet the school system’s needs.

The Board signed off on advertising a 2.75-cent increase last weekend, setting the ceiling for any potential tax rate it may adopt throughout the budget process. Officials can always lower the rate beyond the one advertised, but can’t raise it.

Board members agreed to that higher rate largely over concerns that schools would need more cash, and Murphy says those concerns were well founded. Without more cash from the county, Murphy expects that cuts to APS central office staff would be necessary, in addition to some transportation and benefit changes, the introduction of new and increased fees and delays to student support programs.

“I hope we don’t have to go there,” Murphy said.

And should the Board decline to raise taxes at all, rejecting Schwartz’s proposed increase, Murphy says he’ll need to make an additional $11.1 in cuts, prompting even more layoffs. However, he said he’s “optimistic” that the Board will avoid that outcome.

Depending on the county’s budget, Murphy also warned that the school system could tinker with its plans for bumping up employee pay rates this year.

Currently, Murphy hopes to order a fifth straight “step increase,” moving eligible employees up the school system’s pay scale commensurate with experience. But he also wants to follow through on long-held plans to raise pay for instructional assistants, bus drivers and bus attendants, arguing that the changes are necessary to keep APS “competitive in the region.”

“It’s a competitive environment out there,” Murphy said.

Those changes will cost APS $12.9 million in all, though Murphy cautioned that “whether we build in that direction this year, or build there in the future” will be dependent on how much money the county sends the school system.

One budget line that will remain unchanged, Murphy says, is the $10.1 million the school system will spend to afford both one-time and ongoing costs associated with opening three new schools next year and repurposing two others.

Alice West Fleet Elementary, Dororthy Hamm Middle and The Heights Building (housing the H-B Woodlawn and Stratford programs) will all open next year. APS will also move the Montessori program currently at Drew Model School into its own building (formerly Patrick Henry Elementary) and convert Drew into a full neighborhood school.

APS will also need to keep up with an expected enrollment bump of about 1,059 students next year, roughly the same level of enrollment growth the school system has seen over the last decade. That will require about $8.73 million in spending to manage, and the addition of 83 employees.

“There’s a very clear reason we’re in this situation: more families are moving here, more businesses are moving here,” Murphy said. “We must be doing something right.”

The County and School Boards will now spend the next several weeks debating their competing budgets.

The School Board will finalize its proposed budget to send on to the county by April 11, then the County Board will pass its budget by the end of the month. The School Board will then adopt its final budget by May 9.

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County Manager Mark Schwartz is calling for a “hiring slowdown” for Arlington’s government, choosing to leave dozens of positions vacant while county officials mull how to cope with a yawning budget deficit.

Schwartz told the County Board last Tuesday (Nov. 27) that he isn’t planning a full hiring freeze for the county workforce, but he will nonetheless direct 10 department heads to hold off on hiring across 45 different positions for the foreseeable future.

The county’s budget picture for fiscal year 2020 is still coming into focus, but Schwartz projects that the county and its school system could combine to face a $78 million budget gap next year. That means that some mix of tax increases, staff layoffs and program cuts are likely in the offing, after the Board declined to raise taxes this year, and Schwartz is working to get ahead of some of those unpleasant measures with this slowdown.

“It may not be immediately noticeable to people, but we will see increased caseloads for some employees,” Schwartz told the Board. “It’s not something that, unless you’re going around and really trying to appreciate it, you’d notice.”

Schwartz said that the positions left unfilled include roles like librarians, code enforcement and housing inspectors and cultural affairs staffers with Arlington Economic Development. He added that the county generally has roughly 200 positions left unfilled at any given time, out of its workforce of about 3,500 employees, and he’d like to leave some spots open in case the Board does indeed pursue layoffs.

“We want to keep some positions vacant for some employees who might be affected by any reduction in force,” Schwartz said.

At the same meeting, the Board did direct Schwartz to present it with options for both layoffs and tax increases as he develops a proposal for the new budget. Even with Amazon’s impending arrival, and the tax windfall the company’s expected to generate for the county, Arlington leaders are gearing up for what Board member Libby Garvey termed “the toughest budget I’ve had to deal with in my 24 years in elected office.”

“We are looking at a path toward a resolution for a long-term structural budget deficit… so our outlook is so much better than it was even just a few weeks ago,” said Board Chair Katie Cristol. “But this will still probably be one of largest gaps between revenues and needs we’ve seen since the Great Recession.”

The county is indeed projecting that Amazon won’t generate substantial new tax revenues for several years yet, leaving Arlington officials with some lean budgets in the meantime. Schwartz projects that new expenses associated with the statewide Medicaid expansion, to the tune of about $1.2 million a year, and rising costs to fund Metro service, with expenses nearing an additional $10 million this year, will put a particular strain on county coffers.

“This is just a different situation than the county has faced before,” Garvey said.

Schwartz is set to present his first budget proposal to the Board in February.

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Opower logo(Updated at noon) Arlington-based Opower has laid off about 7.5 percent of its global workforce, ARLnow.com has learned exclusively.

The move comes amid a wave of layoffs among tech companies that are struggling to attain or maintain profitability as tech investment euphoria cools. Across the economy, there’s weakness in the employment market and in corporate profits.

“We’ve reduced a small number of roles — about 45, including about 25 in our U.S. offices,” Opower Vice President of Communications Matt Maurer said this morning in response to an inquiry from ARLnow.com. “It’s part of an effort to cut back on our overall spend in sales and marketing and R&D.”

“These moves give us a better expense profile and strengthen the very good position we are already in as the clear leader in our space, having recently renewed our largest clients to multi-year extensions and with over $480 million in contracted future revenue on the books,” Maurer continued. “These strong fundamentals — combined with our new and growing set of customer care products — put Opower in a great position for continued success.”

Opower had about 600 employees worldwide before the layoffs, which were announced to employees last week.

The company is planning to move from its long-time offices in Courthouse to a new yet-to-be-built headquarters down the street, at 2311 Wilson Blvd, in about two years. Opower received a $1 million grant from the Commonwealth’s Opportunity Fund to entice the company to stay in Virginia.

Opower, which creates energy efficiency technology for utility companies, is publicly traded under the ticker symbol OPWR. As of 11:15 a.m. it was trading at $7.30 per share. The company reported a $13.6 million loss in its most recent quarterly results.

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Morning Notes

Office building in Rosslyn as seen from the Marine Corps War Memorial

Pro-Change Group Forms in Bluemont — Fed up with neighbors who shot down a potential redevelopment of the Safeway site in Bluemont, a group of residents has formed a new organization called “Bluemont Forward.” The organization says it wants to see Wilson Boulevard become a more vibrant and walkable main street, with “an improved grocery store and other amenities for neighborhood residents.” The group might be too late to save the Safeway development, however; Greater Greater Washington reports that developer Silverwood may have “quietly backed out of the project.” [Bluemont Forward, Greater Greater Washington]

Layoffs at PBS NewsHour — PBS NewsHour, which is produced in Shirlington, has laid off a number of staff members in a reorganization. The production will also save money by streamlining and digitizing its technical processes. [TV Newser]

Ballston LaunchPad Finalists Revealed — Kylee Majkowski, the 8-year-old CEO of Tomorrow’s Lemonade Stand, is among the 10 semi-finalists in the Ballston LaunchPad Challenge. The entrepreneurial competition will pair the semi-finalists and their startup businesses with mentors. In November, three finalists will be chosen and will have a chance to pitch their business idea to venture capitalist and Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis. Competition organizer Ballston BID is an ARLnow.com advertiser. [Patch]

Wedding Planning Recommendations at the Library — With wedding season in full-swing, Arlington Public Library has published a list of books and movies that may be of interest to those planning a wedding. [Arlington Public Library]

Northam, Herring Prevail in Dem Primary –– Turnout was very light for Tuesday’s statewide Democratic primary. Ralph Northam, a state Senator, is the new Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, having defeated Arlington resident Aneesh Chopra. State Sen. Mark Herring captured the nomination for attorney general. [WJLA]

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This is the last day on the job for Rebecca A. Cooper, the Arlington community reporter for Rosslyn-based TBD.com.

Cooper joined TBD last July, a month before the site launched. She was formerly a contributor to DCist.com and a reporter for a Long Island newspaper. No word yet on her future plans.

TBD is in the midst of layoffs and will likely not replace Cooper or her Arlington coverage.

The layoffs are part of a reorganization that will shift TBD’s mission from being a primarily news-oriented site to exclusively arts and entertainment-oriented site.

TBD’s corporate sister, television station WJLA (ABC 7), will eventually relaunch WJLA.com as a separate, news-oriented web site. (WJLA.com was replaced by TBD after its launch.)

On a personal note, it was a pleasure working alongside Rebecca, who was a total pro and brought an unrivaled depth to her Arlington reporting. Whatever she does next, we hope she stays here in Imperfect Arlington.

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At tonight’s school board meeting, Arlington County Schools superintendent Dr. Pat Murphy will reveal significant cuts in the school system’s proposed fiscal year 2011 budget. Here are some of the notable items in Dr. Murphy’s proposed budget:

  • APS facing $12.8 million budget shortfall (reflects county manager’s tax proposal, but does not take into account an expected decrease in funding from the state)
  • School enrollment is projected to exceed 21,000 for the next school year
  • APS will eliminate at least 57 full-time equivalent school-based positions
  • APS will eliminate at least 36 full-time equivalent support positions
  • There will likely be no teacher layoffs, as the school scales back new hires and shifts affected teachers to vacant positions
  • APS expects 15-20 support staff layoffs
  • The Arlington planetarium will be closed
  • Class sizes will increase by one pupil for grades K-3 and 6-12
  • Staff salaries will be frozen at the current year’s levels
  • Budget does not include funding for new initiatives or program expansions
  • $0.5 million in new school fees will be imposed, including: increased pool fees, building rental fees, drivers education fees, summer program fees, cafeteria meal prices and Montessori tuition
  • Fewer summer school sites and larger summer school class sizes
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