Arlington, VA

Morning Notes

Pike Lane Closures Prompt Apology — “Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz has apologized that residents, business owners, and commuters weren’t informed how their lives would be temporarily affected by a road construction project on Columbia Pike, near the Fairfax County border,” per WTOP. County officials will be holding a press briefing about the lane closures on the Pike this morning. [WTOP, Arlington County]

Park Near HQ2 May Have Security Features — “Amazon.com Inc. is weighing methods for securing its second headquarters and appears to be looking across the pond for ideas. The U.S. embassy in London… avoids fences in favor of a number of ‘defense strategies’ disguised as a ‘welcoming landscape that is experienced as a public park,’ an Amazon representative told Arlington County officials.” [Washington Business Journal]

Ballroom Closing Is a Changing of the Bro Guards — “The millennials who do end up in Arlington are being drawn to a new generation of bars and nightspots, many of which are run by chef Mike Cordero and partner Scott Parker, including the bustling three-level tequila/tacos restaurant Don Tito… Clarendon may always have a place for the venerable Whitlow’s on Wilson, where the combination of a roof deck and cover bands makes it the most likely refuge for those missing the Ballroom… But it’s clear that Clarendon — at least, its bro-centric archetype — will never be the same.” [Washington Post]

Alabama Man Busted With Loaded Gun at DCA — “An Alabama man started the new year on a sour note when he brought his loaded handgun to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) on the first day of the new year.” [Transportation Security Administration]

New Slate of County Board Meetings Set — “Arlington County Board members will hold 11 monthly meetings (Saturdays and the subsequent Tuesdays) in 2020, along with several hearings on the proposed fiscal 2021 budget and capital-improvement projects. Regular meetings will be held on Jan. 25, Feb. 22, March 21, April 18, May 16, June 13, July 18, Sept. 12, Oct. 17, Nov. 14 and Dec. 12 and, in each case, the following Tuesdays.” [InsideNova]

‘National Gateway’ Building Sold — “An affiliate of The Meridian Group has sold part of its National Gateway campus in Arlington County, one of a handful of office properties poised to benefit from an expected surge in demand tied to Amazon.com Inc.’s second headquarters. The Bethesda developer sold National Gateway II, a roughly 238,031-square-foot building at 3550 S. Clark St., for nearly $60 million.” [Washington Business Journal]

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In time for the holiday season, but before there’s any measurable snow in the forecast, Arlington officials have unveiled a new snow plowing map intended to track snow clearing activity in the county.

The map is the successor to a previous online snow cleaning map — which didn’t work correctly, caused confusion following a blizzard in 2016 and was ultimately removed from the county website.

The new map is not perfect, County Manager Mark Schwartz acknowledged during a presentation at Tuesday’s County Board meeting, but should prove useful and reflects an “innovation culture” in county government.

The map does not represent whether a street is clear of snow, but instead shows snow plow activity down to the street level. It also links to Arlington’s traffic cameras.

The map is not currently active and will have other limitations during snow events. It displays data on a 15 minute delay, for instance, and will not reflect activity by plows contracted by the county to respond to major snowfalls.

County officials touted other snow response changes during the meeting, including the use of new electric salt spreaders, which are said to be easier to use and maintain while also being more environmentally friendly than the old gasoline-powered spreaders.

The full Arlington County press release about its Winter 2019-2020 initial snow preparations is below, after the jump.

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(Updated at 12:05 p.m.) The Arlington County Board is asking the County Manager for a budget that contains no property tax rate hike and maybe even a rate cut.

Members gave their Fiscal Year 2021 guidance to County Manager Mark Schwartz at last night’s recessed Board meeting.

The guidance for reducing the tax rate or keeping it steady will likely not, however, result in lower tax bills, as property assessments are expected to continue to rise in the wake of Amazon’s arrival. The average real estate assessment is expected to jump 4-6 percent next year.

A budget forecast paints a rosy picture of Arlington’s post-HQ2 economy, with business tax revenue expected to grow as well, though budget pressures of Metro, county employee compensation, needed stormwater improvements and flood mitigation, and a growing school population remain.

The Board also took action last night on the affordable housing front, asking the manager for options that could hike the county’s annual Affordable Housing Investment Fund contribution to as high as $25 million from the current $16 million. Additionally, the Board largely accepted Schwartz’s recommendation to carryover unspent funds from the last budget to the new budget and to reserve funds, but set aside $500,000 for emergency housing assistance.

“The Board understands that anticipated increases in property assessments could have a real impact on residents,” Arlington County Board Chair Christian Dorsey said in a statement. “We want the Manager to come back to us with a proposed budget with no increase in property tax rates and to consider a reduction in the tax rate if possible. Our guidance to the Manager also emphasizes the need to invest more in preserving and creating affordable housing in Arlington, including housing affordable to extremely low-income families.”

The manager will present his proposed FY 2021 budget in February, after a months-long public budget process, which will then continue through the Board’s budget adoption in April.

More from an Arlington County press release, after the jump.

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Following weeks of fallout from the July 8 storm, Arlington officials are discussing a new program for tackling future floods.

During Tuesday’s County Board meeting, County Manager Mark Schwartz introduced “Flood Resilient Arlington,” to be considered during the spring budget planning.

Demetra McBride, who heads the Department of Environmental Services (DES) Sustainability and Environmental Management bureau, said Flood Resilient Arlington will include educational forums, site visits, and a potential flood-resilience incentive program to help the county prepare for increasingly extreme weather caused by climate change.

The program “builds upon” the 2014 Stormwater Master Plan, which outlined improvements to Arlington’s stormwater management systems, streams, and watersheds over the next 20 years, according to DES Chief Operating Officer Mike Moon.

“We hear about climate change, and it always seems to be somewhere else,” said Vice Board Chair Libby Garvey. “People tend to think and accuse the government of not doing something right, they don’t buy the climate change reason, so we have a level of education we [owe].”

Funding for Flood Resilient Arlington will not be established for “eight to nine months,” said Moon.

The next steps include approximately 80 visits from Board members beginning this month to sites deemed a “high risk” for flooding, or homes that received more than four feet of water during the July 8 storm. During the Tuesday presentation, McBride listed several neighborhoods — such as Waverley Hills, Westover, and Rock Spring — as high risk for future flooding based on past data. She highlighted steps homeowners can take to stay dry.

“I realize this is emotional for people, your home is a big investment,” McBride said. “They have families and children and they’re concerned for their safety.”

Two public forums to discuss the program are planned: one on Thursday, October 24 from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at Arlington Central Library (1015 N. Quincy Street), and another on Saturday, October 26 from 10 a.m.- 12 p.m. at George Mason University’s Arlington campus (3351 Fairfax Drive.)

During the meetings, the public can expect to:

  • Hear from experts on flood-proof design
  • Learn about flood insurance options and coverage
  • Learn about how to flood-proof your house

McBride stressed homeowners need to educate themselves on flood insurance policies, also noting the county needs to step in with educational resources.

Several residents told ARLnow in the flood’s aftermath they had received conflicting information about their eligibility for flood insurance and were left fearing they would have to bear tens of thousands of dollars in repair costs.

During the disaster, dozens of residents fled their homes, a few beloved Arlington businesses closed for repairs, six pedestrian bridges were washed away, and thousands of dollars were raised on platforms such as GoFundMe. The county stated days later it would not cover any sewage overflow damage caused by the flood, telling ARLnow it would violate state law.

Since then, residents have applied for over $2.1 million in U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) disaster loans, Schwartz shared, and Arlington businesses have applied for more than $100,000 in loans. Applicants can still file for a loan by Monday, October 7.

“During a majority of the 1,100 damage reports [this summer], people had insurance and thought they were protected, and then they realized there were exemptions and exclusions,” said McBride. “That’s a gap we would help to close.”

In addition to damage to private property, Arlington County reported $5.8 million in damage to county property and Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall reported damage to 26 buildings.

McBride said Arlington will have to slowly overhaul its public infrastructure through several long-term projects — like upgrading the stormwater pipes, developing large tanks for water storage, and property acquisition — to help address the flood risk.

“These [will require] long-term disruption of neighborhoods,” she said. “I wish we could avoid that, but we’re simply not going to be able to and that’s going to be a partnership we need to have with the public.”

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Arlington County is adding three new places to drop off glass for recycling, and more are potentially on the way.

With glass off the curbside recycling list, Arlington residents have been flocking to the county’s two existing glass drop-off sites at Quincy Park and the Arlington Trades Center, going out of their way to recycle more than 200 tons of glass since this spring.

Officials have been working to add more sites, to make drop-offs more convenient for those who don’t want to throw away glass bottles in the trash. At Tuesday afternoon’s County Board meeting, three new sites were announced.

“Those customized purple and green containers will be added to Aurora Hills Community Center, another site at the Cherrydale Branch Library, and a third one at the Lee Community Center,” said County Manager Mark Schwartz, adding that the new roll-off bins “should appear over the next two weeks.”

County Board Chair Christian Dorsey said during the meeting that “a few more” sites were needed, particularly in southern and central Arlington. More sites will come in time, Schwartz assured him.

County Board member Libby Garvey asked about the fact that the only way to deposit glass is via a few round holes in the side of the bins.

“People have to go bottle by bottle and they’ve found it frustrating to go slowly,” she said.

Schwartz explained that glass containers larger than bottles tend to cause problems in the recycling stream.

“Those holes are sized as they are — our analysis has shown that the larger containers of glass tend to be not as clean and pristine, people don’t spend time to clean them out,” Schwartz said. “Second, if you put those glass containers in, you’ll hear shattering… [the] holes are sized so that the glass doesn’t come back up.”

Glass dropped off at the bins is recycled and reused locally — sent to Fairfax County to be “crushed and turned into sand and gravel for use in paving, construction and landscaping,” according to Arlington County.

 

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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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Update at 11:20 a.m. — Arlington County’s Solid Waste Bureau has issued the following statement about trash collection in the wake of Monday’s flooding. In it, the county apologizes for notices of “improper trash preparation” issued to flood-impacted residents “during this difficult time.”

The County continues to take special measures to assist residential curbside customers in trash collection efforts following this week’s damaging storm. We have identified areas that experienced extensive flooding and will have additional County trash collection trucks sent out daily to monitor these areas and collect items set on the curb. This will continue through Saturday, July 21 and will be extended if necessary. The County will also continue to monitor other areas and expand this service if necessary.

Trash collection by the County contractor will continue as scheduled throughout the week of July 8. If storm damage debris set out for bulk item collection isn’t picked up the day of your regular trash collection, it may take an additional 1-2 days for service given the extent of the event. You can also call the Customer Contact Call Center at 703-228-6570 to schedule a special pickup.

Some residents may have received an orange notice of improper trash preparation. We apologize if you received one during this difficult time. These are routinely issued by the County contractor to help residents properly prepare materials to allow for efficient and timely pickups and to ensure the safety of the crews.

For residential customers with storm-related debris, trash should be properly prepared for pickup on your designated collection day. For large and/or bulk household items, please follow these guidelines.

If residents have any questions, contact the Customer Contact Call Center at 703-228-6570 or learn more about residential services at recycling.arlingtonva.us/residential. Check out the online Where Does it Go? directory to learn how to properly dispose of specific types of items.

Thank you for your patience and understanding.

Earlier: Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz has declared a state of emergency in Arlington following Monday’s historic flash flooding.

The declaration, which is set to be formalized by the County Board on Saturday, is a first step to obtaining disaster relief funding for residents and businesses affected by the flash flood emergency. Across the county, cars were destroyed, homes were flooded and businesses inundated.

In a press release, below, the county says volunteers have been going door-to-door to conduct damage assessments, but residents and business owners are also encouraged to submit damage reports online.

County Manager Mark Schwartz signed a Declaration of Local Emergency for Arlington County, effective 8:30 a.m. on July 8, 2019, in response to the Flash Flood Emergency that saw torrential rain, dangerous public safety conditions and damage to private and public facilities.

“Following record setting rainfall and flash flooding on Monday, initial damage assessments have clearly shown the impact to residents and businesses in our community,” said Aaron Miller, Director of the Department of Public Safety Communications and Emergency Management (PSCEM). “This emergency declaration is a key step in activating recovery assistance for our community. We continue to work closely with state and regional partners, including the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, on the process of determining our community’s eligibility for disaster assistance.”

The County Board will vote to formalize the emergency declaration at Saturday’s Regular Board Meeting, a step that positions the County to request reimbursement for storm-related costs through Virginia to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

The emergency state remains in effect until rescinded. More information on how individuals and businesses might benefit from this designation will be detailed in a soon-to-come Declaration of Local Emergency FAQ.

As Arlington continues to work with state and local partners to assess damage, the County is asking those affected by Monday’s storm to submit a Damage Report form by Friday, July 12. While owners are responsible for repairs on their property, the County could use this data to pursue disaster aid, to the extent it is available.

Volunteers from the Arlington Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), the Virginia Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) and Team Rubicon have been trained and mobilized to go door-to-door to assist with damage assessments in the County.

In the meantime, those with immediate needs are encouraged to dial 2-1-1 or call the local American Red Cross. Only dial 9-1-1 for a life-threatening emergency.

Photo courtesy Nicole Bender

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Morning Notes

Rescuers Searching for Vehicle in the Water — “A vehicle apparently went into the water Sunday night near Roosevelt Island in the Potomac River, and a search was still under way Monday morning, authorities said. The search was being conducted near the island’s parking lot, according to the D.C. Fire and EMS Department. A witness reported that the vehicle went into the water.” [Washington Post, Twitter]

Amazon Less Worried About HQ2 Housing Impact — “Amazon said its second headquarters in Arlington will not aggravate housing problems as much as the company has in Seattle because it will be able to plan for growth here in a way that it couldn’t in earlier years in its home base. Jay Carney, a senior vice president with the online retail giant, also said the company chose the Washington region for HQ2 and its 25,000 jobs partly because it is ‘a much more racially diverse area than the Pacific Northwest.'” [Washington Post]

Amazon’s Transformative Effect on Crystal City — “All of this points toward a vision of the future that was far-fetched even a few years ago: Crystal City as a place people would want to remain in after 5 p.m.” [Washingtonian]

County Had Cozy Emails with JBG Smith — “In a Dec. 6 email to Andy VanHorn, the executive vice president at JBG Smith Properties overseeing the development of Amazon.com Inc.’s second headquarters, Schwartz pledged open and unfettered access to a roster of key county officials charged with overseeing the various pieces of the approval process.” [Washington Business Journal]

Arlington Unemployment Rate: 2.1% — “Arlington will have to share the title of lowest jobless rate in Virginia for at least a month. With 150,932 county residents in the civilian workforce and 3,216 looking for jobs, Arlington’s unemployment rate for March stood at 2.1 percent, unchanged for a month before and tied with the adjacent city of Falls Church as lowest among the commonwealth’s 133 cities and counties.” [InsideNova]

Arlington Man Arrested After Police Chase — “An Arlington resident was arrested Thursday for allegedly stealing a Porsche and leading Fairfax County police on a chase through Tysons.” [Tysons Reporter]

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County officials are trying to drum up participation in the next U.S. Census — a year before the feds start surveying and counting.

Arlington has joined other neighboring jurisdictions in creating a group called “Complete Count Committee” tasked with convincing residents to fill out the 2020 Census form when it arrives next April.

Wanda Pierce, a Nauck resident who co-chairs of the committee, said the group is “representative of all different types of organizations, ethnicities, religions, everyone across Arlington, because to reach a lot of the hard-to-count populations, we have to have those members on the committee,” per a press release.

“The U.S. Census Bureau cannot conduct the 2020 Census alone,” the website for the committee reads.

County Board Chair Christian Dorsey also signed a proclamation calling on “the Arlington community to rise up as leaders and partners in this effort to reach 100% participation in the 2020 Census campaign.”

“It’s not enough to want to count everybody,” said County Manager Mark Schwartz at the event. “We’re going to have to go out and tell people that we want to work with them to make sure they are counted.”

Each member of the committee is tasked with recruiting at least 1,000 Arlington residents to take the annual survey, per the committee’s website.

Previously, Principal Planner and co-director of the Arlington County Census 2020 campaign Elizabeth Hardy spoke at a March meeting with the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments where she noted the county began 2020 census preparations in 2018.

“This time I feel like every resident is in a hard-to-count community,” said Hardy, who worked on the awareness campaign for the 2010 census.

She said there “were a lot of lessons learned” from the 2010 campaign, and that this time around the county planned to share more resources with neighboring jurisdictions.

The census is administered once every ten years by the federal Census Bureau.

Next year’s Census has drawn controversy after Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s decision to collect information about respondents’ about the citizenship status, a largely unprecedented move that’s been criticized by civil rights advocates and defended by President Trump.

The Supreme Court is expected to make a ruling on the citizenship question on April 23.

The most recent Census estimate of Arlington’s population — made in intervening years between official Census counts — was 234,965 as of July 1, 2017. That showed Arlington’s population has continued to grow, from 230,050 in 2016, 226,908 in 2014 and 207,627 from the last Census count in 2010.

Every level of government studies the population data gleaned to make funding decisions. The number of people counted also determines how many House of Representative seats each state is awarded.

Image via U.S. Census Bureau

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Metro is moving forward with its new budget, proposing sweeping service increases to bolster ridership with the need for a modest budget increase from Arlington.

The WMATA Board of Directors gave initial approval for the transit agency’s draft $3.5 billion, FY2020 budget during a meeting today (Thursday). The budget paves the way to start running Yellow Line trains to Greenbelt and Red Line trains all the way to Glenmont, eliminating the Silver Spring turn-back.

The budget asks Arlington to contribute $77.6 million to the agency’s operating budget, a $2.6 million increase from last year.

“Yellow and Red extensions help any Arlingtonians heading to those end points and expand the commute/travel shed into Arlington to accommodate growth in Pentagon City and Crystal City,” Metro Board member and Arlington County Board Chair Christian Dorsey told ARLnow after Thursday’s meeting.

“Better service helps us all,” said Dorsey.

Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz proposed $45.6 million in the county’s next budget to be allocated to Metro’s operating budget, a $5 million increase from budget adopted last fiscal year. The remainder of the county’s $77.6 million in funding is from a small increase in the portion of the county’s capital improvement program (CIP) funds set aside for Metro.

Arlington County Board members advertised a 2.75-cent bump to the real estate tax in Arlington’s next fiscal budget, in part, to cover rising expenses at Metro.

The idea was Dorsey’s, who said the increased funds to Metro allowed the transit agency’s budget “to do more service, reduce the price of some fare pass products including on bus where ridership is cratering while having no fare increases and staying within legislatively mandated caps.”

The budget also included a small, $1 million proposal provide $3 subsidies for late-night rideshare trips that area workers take, now that Metrorail’s own late-night service is no more.

One uncertainty the transit agency’s budget continues to face is its ridership rates, which have now plummeted to a 20-year low. The budget banks on that number stabilizing this year, a result WMATA General Manager Paul Wiedefeld hopes to achieve with the increased service.

Wiedefeld initially proposed even more sweeping service increases, including an expansion of rush-hour service, but the expense prompted consternation from county officials. Those proposals were ultimately stripped from the budget.

The budget proposal Board members approved Thursday did not include service cuts or fare increases. 

Metro Board member Corbett Price, representing D.C., thanked Dorsey at the end of the meeting for his “political leadership” in assembling the budget, reported WTOP.

“My only hope is people say such things about me when I’m dead,” joked Dorsey.

Metro Board members will convene again this month for a final vote on the budget, which goes into effect in June.

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Arlington arts advocates are sounding the alarm about planned cuts in the county’s new budget, arguing that they’ll disproportionately impact the government’s already modest arts programs.

County Manager Mark Schwartz is proposing a total of $5.2 million in spending slashes for fiscal year 2020, in tandem with a tax increase to meet some of the county’s financial challenges. About $500,000 of those cuts will targets arts-focused programs specifically, according to an analysis by the advocacy group Embracing Arlington Arts.

“We all have to sacrifice when budgets are tough,” Embracing Arlington Arts Chair Janet Kopenhaver wrote in a statement. “However, we remain stunned at the very high proportion the small arts budget is being asked to shoulder.”

Schwartz plans to close the Costume Lab and Scenic Studio Program located at the Gunston Community Center (2700 S. Lang Street), which provide scenery construction space and costume rentals for local arts groups. That will involving laying off two employees who staff the programs, a savings of about $180,000 each year.

The manager also expects to cut funding for its arts grant program by a third, dropping it from about $216,000 to $146,000 annually. The program provides some matching funds to support local artists, and both County Board contenders last year pressed for increases to the fund.

Kopenhaver group says that would make the county’s budget for the grant program “the lowest in the region.”

The county would also ditch the use of its mobile performance stage, which is available for rent, under Schwartz’s proposal.

The Cultural Affairs Division of the county’s economic development arm would also lose an audio production specialist who worked on county events, and the facility manager and facility technology services director working at the county’s arts studio at 3700 S. Four Mile Run Drive. Schwartz expects existing staff could absorb the responsibilities of those employees, who are responsible for managing the space as a variety of different arts groups make use of it.

Finally, Kopenhaver’s group is also concerned about the proposed layoff of a supervisor of after-hours building engineers, who supervises building maintenance workers. Many county arts groups rely on county facilities after normal business hours for performance space.

In all, the arts advocates estimate that cultural affairs and arts program take up about one tenth of one percent of the county’s budget — Schwartz’s proposed cuts are much larger than that for arts-related services.

“In the end, the tiny arts program is being held accountable for a share of this year’s budget shortfall that is 62.5 times greater than its share of the fiscal year 2019 county budget,” Kopenhaver wrote. “If the cuts were proportional to the actual budget, then the cuts to the arts would be only $8,000.”

Embracing Arlington Arts notes that a recent study found that the arts generate $18 million in economic activity for the county, meaning that cuts to the arts budget could well have an impact on the county’s tax revenue.

Other proposed cuts in the budget including spending reductions for everything from Arlington Independent Media to the county’s bus service.

The Board will evaluate Schwartz’s proposal over the next few months, while also keeping a close eye on school needs as well — Superintendent Patrick Murphy is already warning that the school system will face painful cuts unless the Board approves a substantial tax hike.

Officials are scheduled to finalize the budget in late April.

Photo via Arlington Arts

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