Arlington, VA

Arlington doesn’t have it as bad as other communities, but the pandemic is causing a drop in tax revenue that is likely to result in some budget cuts.

That’s the message from County Manager Mark Schwartz, who presented an update on the county’s finances at last night’s County Board meeting.

The main highlight from Schwartz was the county budget closeout — the allocation of funds leftover from the previous fiscal year’s budget, which closed on June 30. There was $22.4 million left over from the 2019-2020 budget, most of which Schwartz recommended using to boost the current Fiscal Year 2021 budget.

“As proposed, $13.4 million would be used for the FY 2021 budget, $2 million would be put into the County Manager contingency fund, $2 million would support an employee separation contingent, and $5 million would be set aside to address COVID-related expenses in the FY 2022 budget,” said a county press release, below.

The Board is scheduled to vote next month on Schwartz’s recommendations, after receiving public feedback.

While a number of local advocacy groups have traditionally used the budget close-out process to secure additional funding for various initiatives, that is likely to be curtailed this year. Schwartz reiterated his previous warning that the county and Arlington Public Schools are together facing a $56 million budget gap for FY 2021.

“Usually we would already be thinking about our next budget, but instead we must figure out how we will provide the services and programs in the FY 2021 budget and fulfill our primary obligations to Arlington residents,” Schwartz said.

On the table for closing the gap, caused by a revenue shortfall and unexpected pandemic-related costs, is a reduction in county services. Schwartz’s presentation said that the county hopes to save $6.1 million by reducing some services and by not filling some vacant positions.

While holding out hope of saving money with a hiring freeze and preserving currently filled positions, Schwartz recommended that the Board set aside $2 million for “employee separation” costs, potentially including early retirements and buyouts.

From a county staff report:

As we work through development of the FY 2022 budget, we will be considering changes in how we deliver services based on our experience during COVID and due to anticipated revenue declines. This contingent would allow the Manager flexibility in addressing any impacts of these changes. As an example from prior years, we have offered various incentives for early retirement and other buy-out options. It is likely that these options will need to be effective prior to the beginning of FY 2022 (July 2021); thus, funding would be needed in FY 2021.

Other planned sources of savings outlined by Schwartz include debt refinancing ($2.4 million), federal CARES Act funding ($9.3 million) and “operational adjustments” — delayed facility openings ($1.9 million).

More from a county press release, below.

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Three days after members of the Arlington County Board expressed support for changing the county’s logo, officials outlined a process for changing it, the county seal and, potentially, names of some local roads and places.

The logo change comes after a push from the Arlington branch of the NAACP, which earlier this summer called the illustration of Arlington House a “racist plantation symbol” that “divides, rather than unites us.”

At the Board’s Tuesday evening meeting, County Manager Mark Schwartz presented a plan to review county symbols and names over the next few months.

The review will include “gathering perspectives on race and equity in Arlington,” and examining county symbols, street names and facility names that may be associated with systemic racism or oppression. The review will “build on this fall’s community process to update the County’s Historic Preservation Master Plan,” according to a county press release.

Schwartz said he will present in December a summary of community feedback, as well as recommendations to the Board for next steps.

In introducing the topic, County Board Chair Libby Garvey said that equity and the county budget are “the two most important things we’re tackling as a Board.” She, along with the four other members of the Board, reiterated their support for changing the county logo.

While newly-elected Board member Takis Karantonis said he agreed with local NAACP leader Julius Spain, Sr.’s call to retire Arlington House as the county’s logo as soon as possible, he acknowledged that the overall process of choosing a new logo and replacing the old logo on most county equipment and properties would “probably take several years.”

Board member Katie Cristol said the logo and some names currently in use locally “have come to feel so out of step with our current values in Arlington County,” while Board member Matt de Ferranti said he wanted to ensure the process of evaluating and changing them was thoughtful and inclusive.

Christian Dorsey, the lone Black member of the Board, said his support for changing the logo came down to the 1972 renaming of Arlington House by Congress as “Arlington House: the Robert E. Lee Memorial,” in honor of the Confederate general and one-time occupant of the historic home on the grounds of what became Arlington National Cemetery.

While some may believe Arlington House to be a symbol of slavery, Dorsey said, others see it as a symbol of the repudiation of the Confederacy, given that it was seized during the Civil War in order to serve as a final resting place for Union war dead. The 1972 renaming, however, “takes all nuance out of the equation.”

“Should a national memorial to Robert E. Lee be the official symbol of Arlington County?” Dorsey asked. “For me it’s a clear no. Period, full stop.”

Dorsey said that the logo change and renaming process will need to find a way to try to unite people who are “in different places along the journey,” but names that honor people who “actively promoted systemic oppression” have to go.

The county should also consider naming some things that are currently unnamed in order “to elevate the contributions of women, people of color, indigenous peoples, that have been suppressed in the telling of our country’s and our community’s history,” according to Dorsey. At the same time, he said, the county should “make sure that fiscal and human resources are not diverted from doing the work to address systemic racism” by the logo change and renaming processes.

(The county, through a local nonprofit, is currently in the process of renaming Lee Highway.)

More on the logo change and renaming process, from a county press release, below.

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Arlington County’s new police practices review board answered questions from the public about its goals and methods in a virtual meeting Monday.

The board, announced in July by County Manager Mark Schwartz, used the meeting to elaborate on how it would “ensure that the Arlington County Police Department is current with policing best practices and continue to build trust between our police and the community” through its review.

Its work comes in the wake of increased community complaints about ACPD, local activists’ recent demands for police reform and a national reckoning on policing after George Floyd’s killing by police.

Questions were directed at representatives of the review board’s two parts: an external assessment of ACPD by a hired firm, and a 16 person Police Practices Group (PPG) with four subcommittees.

Marcia Thompson, a civil rights attorney and vice president of law enforcement consulting at Hillard Heintze, is leading her firm’s ACPD assessment.

When asked how Hillard Heintze will conduct its review, Thompson said it will first comb through ACPD data to compile a quantitative report on policies and practices like use of force. The firm will then create a qualitative report based on a climate survey and interviews with police officers and community members who have relevant lived experience.

Thompson said the firm will compare its findings to what are considered best practices for community policing, a standard set by the U.S. Department of Justice and policing accreditation groups like CALEA.

She added that reviews like this are typically asked for by police departments dealing with a publicized incident or failure, but she does not think similar pressure compelled Arlington.

“This is a progressive move by a department to actually have someone coming in and look at their practices,” Thompson said. “They have no idea what our outcomes are going to be, so that’s a very bold step that they took to have someone come in to look at their work.”

The remainder of the community’s questions were about the PPG, whose members are largely Arlington-based. The group consists of four subcommittees, with each looking at an ACPD policy area.

“Our end goal is to be able to take the assessment work that [Thompson] and her team are doing and combine it with community engagement work that the PPG group is doing, to present a set of recommendations to the County Manager by the middle of December,” Julie Shedd, the associate dean at George Mason University’s Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution and the PPG’s expert consultant, said.

Each subcommittee chair spoke in the meeting about what their intentions are and methods of analysis will be.

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(Updated at 10:30 a.m.) Arlington County is creating a new group of residents, officials and police officers to review law enforcement practices in Arlington.

The 15-member Police Practices Group will conduct a review to “ensure that the Arlington County Police Department is current with policing best practices and continue to build trust between our police and the community.”

The group, which will start meeting in August, will allow “all the people who are most concerned about [police practices in Arlington] to have an airing,” Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz said Friday morning. It will also “provide an opportunity for people to get all the perspectives, including hearing directly from the police… and bringing in some outside parties who can take a look at what we do and discuss best practices.”

Schwartz noted that the county has received a number of complaints about police conduct, as well as calls for police reform from groups like the local chapter of the NAACP. Prior to Thursday night’s announcement of the group’s formation, activists were questioning whether the county was stalling in their response.

Among specific, actionable items for the group to discuss are the establishment of a police civilian review board, the role of the police department in traffic enforcement, and whether police officers should respond to certain calls for mental health services and civil disputes.

Schwartz said the review will not examine mutual aid agreements with other regional police departments, like the agreement that infamously led Arlington officers in riot gear to be deployed to the White House, as a regional review is already underway. Additionally, the group will not discuss the role of School Resource Officers — uniformed ACPD officers stationed in schools — as Arlington Public Schools is already reviewing that practice, according to Schwartz.

As for the nationwide calls to “defund the police,” Schwartz said budget decision are likely to follow recommendations group the group — for instance, are as many sworn officers needed if some duties, like response to mental health emergencies, are removed. There could also be discussions about raising officer pay to better help recruit qualified officers, he added.

The creation of the group comes after local and nationwide protests over the killing of unarmed civilians — particularly Black people — at the hands of law enforcement. It also comes as Police Chief M. Jay Farr prepares to retire by the end of the year.

More from a county press release:

Following recent events involving policing and racial justice across the United States, the County Board has asked the County Manager to lead a review of police policies and practices. This review will ensure that the Arlington County Police Department is current with policing best practices and continue to build trust between our police and the community.

The first step will be an external review and assessment of current policies and practices in six key areas:

  • Review of use of Force: De-escalation tactics; lethal and non-lethal force; and, foot and vehicle pursuits.
  • Training and Supervision: Police Academy training; and training for implicit bias and crisis intervention.
  • Cameras: Both body-worn and vehicle dash cameras; and policies regarding use of this equipment.
  • Recruitment and Retention: Screening for bias; psychological evaluation; mental health programs; process for officer evaluation; promotion and leadership development programs; and compensation, including pay and benefits.
  • Internal Affairs: Statistics; structures and procedures; effectiveness through an anonymous climate survey; grievance processes; and use of force investigations.
  • Data/Statistics: Reviewing data collected for arrests and stops over the past 3 years and ensuring its consistency.

This external assessment will begin on July 20, 2020 and be led by two parties with expertise in departmental assessments, police practices, policy review, criminal justice reform and conflict analysis: Marcia K. Thompson, Vice President at Hilliard Heintze, an attorney and law enforcement practitioner with more than 20 years working in the criminal justice field; and Dr. Julie Shedd, Associate Dean at the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, George Mason University Carter School (see biographies below).

The themes of this assessment will be shared with the 15-member Police Practices Group (PPG) early in the fall and will support the work of the group moving forward. The PPG will begin meeting in August and will also discuss the following four important policy areas:

  • Police civilian review board – what type and approach?
  • The role of the police department in providing mental health services;
  • The role for the police department in traffic enforcement; and
  • The opportunity for alternative dispute resolution, including restorative justice & mediation.

The PPG will use the themes identified during the assessment to inform discussion and work to offer options on the four policy areas and report to the County Manager by December 21, 2020. The PPG will hold public engagement sessions to gather community input on these issues. The results will be provided to the County Manager as he hires a new Police Chief after a national search. (Note: Chief Jay Farr will be retiring before the end of this year). The information will also form the basis of potential recommendations for improvements to the County Board.

County Board Chair Libby Garvey noted that “this group will start us on a journey to tackle the important issues we face as a community regarding public safety for all of our residents. We have a fine police department in Arlington, however, it can and should be better. Arlington Police welcome the review and look forward to being a part of this important effort. These times call for a new look at how our community addresses public safety and policing.”

“I want to thank each of those who have agreed to participate in this important work,” County Manager Mark Schwartz stated. “This group will hopefully strengthen the bonds of trust between officers and residents of the County and explore the difficult issues facing law enforcement today. Our Police Department has a longstanding history of working with the community to provide professional services and a mission to treat all individuals with respect but also recognizes the need for improvements. Arlington is not immune to the challenges seen elsewhere, and I know that we will be better for the work of this group.”

The PPG’s first meeting is scheduled for August 3, 2020.

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Arlington County employees who are currently teleworking will likely continue doing so well into the fall, County Manager Mark Schwartz said in a memo last week.

The internal memo, obtained by ARLnow, announced that the county will continue its current approach to operating during the pandemic — which includes an emphasis on telework for non-front-line workers — through Oct. 1.

“I am fairly certain that our current approach to doing business will continue much longer into the future beyond October 1,” Schwartz added, noting that the “need to allow space for absentee voting for the upcoming Presidential election… will most likely make a return prior to November 3 infeasible.”

Telework among county employees is up 15-fold since the start of the pandemic.

“County employees logged nearly 118,000 telework hours in late May/early June compared with about 7,700 hours in late February,” Arlington County spokeswoman Erika Moore said in response to an inquiry from ARLnow.

The county has been working hard to provide services to residents as safely as possible, Moore said.

“County employees have continued to work at a high level throughout the pandemic, providing government services to the community using virtual and other innovative and creative strategies,” she wrote. “Many services are available online and virtually, including permitting, inspections, and our call center operations. Arlington Public Library has developed many virtual options, along with e-books and grab-and-go services.”

“There are some important services that cannot be done virtually, including street and water maintenance, trash and recycling services, and public safety operations,” Moore added. “Those continue with specific public health protocols in place to protect both employees and the community.”

The full memo from Schwartz is below.

From: EmployeeUpdate
Sent: Wednesday, July 8, 2020 2:07 PM
To: All County Employees
Subject: Memo from the County Manager: Update on COVID-19 & County Operations

Thank you. Thank you for your commitment to serve our community throughout this pandemic. I am inspired every day by the creativity you have demonstrated over the past four months — allowing us to continue to serve our community in new and innovative ways. I wanted to update you on County operations and offer thoughts on what the next months may look like.

As of today, our public health officials note that there is still community wide spread of COVID in Arlington, in Northern Virginia and the wider region. While the number of patients in our hospitals infected with COVID continues to drop, we are far from “normal.”

I am announcing that we will continue our current approach to providing services through at least October 1. Knowing what has
happened over the past four months, I am fairly certain that our current approach to doing business will continue much longer into the future beyond October 1. We also will need to allow space for absentee voting for the upcoming Presidential election — and this will most likely make a return prior to November 3 infeasible. I will be back to you with more direction on how the rest of the calendar year is looking as we get closer to October.

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(Updated at 4:15 p.m.) On Friday, Arlington County workers — dispatched after a resident complained — power washed away a girl’s Black Lives Matter chalk art from in front of her Boulevard Manor home. After an uproar, the county later apologized.

A memo from County Manager Mark Schwartz, sent to county employees on Saturday and obtained by ARLnow, shows some of the internal soul searching that followed the incident.

The memo says that Schwartz first heard about what happened due to “an inquiry from the press” — ARLnow first asked the county for comment around 10:30 a.m. He learned that the sequence of events started when “a resident complaint about ‘graffiti.'” Then he saw the photos of county employees erasing quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., among other phrases and drawings.

“A series of flowers, hearts, and quotations focusing on understanding and the sanctity of Black lives had been removed by 3 county employees — all 3 are Black,” Schwartz wrote. “What was first described as graffiti removal became obviously something very different. My heart sank. How could this have happened? On Juneteenth of all days? I was sick.”

Schwartz says he asked himself a series of questions, including how those involved in the incident were doing and “In the time of pandemic, why are our limited resources being used to remove chalk from the street?”

He concluded that the employees and family involved, as well as county taxpayers, are all owed apologies. He personally delivered the apology to the workers. Among those to reach out to the family were Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey and Arlington Dept. of Environmental Services Director Greg Emanuel.

Schwartz ruminated on how the incident could have taken place despite the county’s focus on equity. He focused both on how the employees involved did not feel empowered to question their orders, and how the county has created a complaint-based system of resident services.

“Calling the ‘authorities’ is the wrong way to address our concerns as neighbors and community members,” Schwartz wrote. “This should be reserved for cases where our safety is at risk.”

The workers involved were not empowered “to make a judgment better than stipulated by the letter of the policy,” the county manager wrote. “The way we currently operate, it is too hard for employees to question what they are asked to do under a policy that is blind to feelings, nuance and the world we live in.”

Other notable questions raised by Schwartz in the memo include:

  • “Was this possibly the worst example of how we ignore equity in doing our work?”
  • “[Does] our complaint driven enforcement efforts lead us to address concerns (regardless of how serious they are) by some residents for any problem that frustrates them, while larger problems that affect our residents go unaddressed?”
  • “[Are we] intentional about reaching impacted residents during public engagement processes, or only those who show up regularly?”

In the memo, Schwartz notes that the county will soon be hiring a Chief Equity and Diversity Officer, who will report directly to the county manager.

“This will take some time, but it is an overdue step,” he said.

The full memo is below.

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Morning Notes

Schwartz Presents New Capital Plan — “County Manager Mark Schwartz has proposed a $277.5 million one-year Capital Improvement Plan (CIP). The County Manager, rather than proposing the traditional 10-year plan, is presenting a short-term proposal until the County better understands the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The focus of the one-year CIP is on projects that are already underway, those that improve failing or end-of-life infrastructure, and those required by legal or regulatory obligations.” [Arlington County]

Juvenile Court Reeling from Coronavirus Cases — “An outbreak of covid-19 in the clerk’s office of the Arlington County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court has forced the court to close the office to the public and has concerned lawyers who practice there daily. Four of the seven clerks in the office have tested positive for covid-19.” [Washington Post]

Small Business Grants Announced — “Arlington County today announced 394 businesses are receiving the Small Business Emergency GRANT (Giving Resiliency Assets Near Term). The GRANT program provides financial assistance to Arlington’s small businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The GRANT funds were designed to bridge the gap to provide near-term relief for businesses and nonprofits, some of whom have experienced delays or limitations with federal relief initiatives.” [Arlington County, Arlington Economic Development]

Va. Not Ready for Phase 3 — “Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said Tuesday that statewide Covid-19 numbers ‘continue to look favorable,’ but that he will not move the commonwealth into phase 3 of reopening this week. ‘I want to have more time to see how the numbers look before we make changes, especially as we see surges in other parts of our country,’ Northam said.” [Washington Business Journal, InsideNova]

Wardian to Run to Every District Taco — “This is Mike Wardian, a Guinness-World-Record winning runner, who is partnering with DT on Saturday, June 20 as he runs to ALL 12 DMV LOCATIONS (just about 60 miles)! If you see Mike on his run, snap a pic and use #whereswardian for in-app credit for a free taco!” [Twitter]

County Offers Free Trees and Tree Maintenance — “Arlington County loves trees, and knows trees are critical for our stormwater infrastructure, environmental and human health benefits, and through its Tree Canopy Fund EcoAction Arlington offers grants to plant or maintain trees on private property.” [Press Release]

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After public outcry and demands from activists, Arlington County is moving forward with long-delayed plans to equip the Arlington County Police Department and other county law enforcement with body-worn cameras.

County Manager Mark Schwartz is scheduled to present the plans to implement the program at a meeting on the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) tonight (Tuesday).

A presentation for the CIP notes that a body-worn camera system would be implemented for the Arlington County Police Department, Sheriff’s Office, and Fire Marshal’s Office starting in January 2021.

According to a presentation on the budget, the Fiscal Year 2021 CIP includes:

  • $268K for body-worn camera hardware
  • $244K for upgrades to four County courtrooms
  • $536K for data storage, software, and maintenance
  • $755K for in-car camera replacement

The upgrades total $1.8 million. The presentation notes that the annual expense for camera maintenance, software and data storage — including the equivalent of 7.5 full-time employees dedicated to the effort — is estimated to be $1.6 million.

The CIP is scheduled for review throughout June and July, with a public hearing on Tuesday, June 30, and adoption set for July 18.

Update at 8:45 a.m. — The county has released more information in a press release, below.

As part of his proposed one-year Capital Improvement Plan (CIP), County Manager Mark Schwartz is including $1.05 million to begin implementation of a body-worn camera program for the Arlington County Police Department, Arlington County Sheriff’s Office, and Arlington County Fire Marshals.

The funding in the proposed FY 2021 CIP includes $268,000 for body-worn camera hardware​, $244,000 for upgrades to four County courtrooms​ to support the technology, and $536,000 for data storage, software, and maintenance​. Additionally, $755,000 is proposed to replace the existing in-car camera system to one compatible with body-worn cameras.

If the CIP funding is approved in July by the Arlington County Board, the program will be implemented in January 2021.

“My decision to propose the program now is prompted by the recent events in our country. As I have stated many times, I am proud of our police department and its long tradition of professionalism,” Schwartz said. ”The public’s perception of our officers has been highlighted in each of the resident satisfaction surveys of the past 10 years. We want to reinforce those positive public perceptions and to ensure actions, especially those involving use of force, are transparent. The time has come for body-worn cameras in Arlington.”

The Police Department and the Sheriff’s Office conducted a pilot for body-worn cameras back in 2015, and since then the department has consistently asked for the addition of these cameras to complement the existing in-car camera system. However, due to budget challenges the program has not been proposed previously.

“Our police have sought these cameras because they help promote ACPD accountability and transparency, can be a useful tool to increase officer professionalism and training, and to document police encounters,” Schwartz said. “Our community expects and deserves a culture of transparency, accountability, fairness, trust and respect, and the ultimate measure of success, and the ability to maintain public trust, is based on earning and re-earning the trust and respect of our citizens every day.”

In addition to funding in the FY 2021 CIP, the FY 2021 operating budget that was adopted by the board in April will have to be amended to begin to fund the employee positions associated with this program. That is estimated to be $476,000 in FY 2021 for a partial year.

In total, 7.5 FTEs will be needed in ACPD, Court Technology, and the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office to fully support the program. Future operating budgets will include funding for FTEs and ongoing data storage, software, and maintenance, at approximately $1.6 million per year​.

The FY 2022 and FY 2023 CIPs will include funding for technology upgrades to the seven remaining courtrooms​.

Photo via Tony Webster/Flickr

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(Updated at 10 a.m.) Despite what you might have seen on TV, the Arlington police officers who were sent to assist the response to protests in D.C. conducted themselves professionally, county leaders say.

In a half-hour phone interview with ARLnow, Police Chief M. Jay Farr, County Board Chair Libby Garvey and County Manager Mark Schwartz discussed the decision to send officers to help U.S. Park Police in D.C., and the subsequent decision to bring them back to Arlington — which is facing criticism from the local police association.

The origin of what has become a national news story started Saturday night, when U.S. Park Police — facing mounting officer injuries and exhaustion from guarding Lafayette Square, near the White House, amid large-scale protests over the death of George Floyd — formally made a mutual aid request for Arlington County Police to assist 0n Sunday. Such requests are common in the multi-jurisdictional D.C. region, and made for everything from suspect searches to large events like an inauguration.

“The numbers and the amount of protests had accelerated to the point that they definitely could use our assistance,” Farr said. ACPD was also asked to help fill in for USPP by patrolling the George Washington Parkway. Alexandria and smaller local jurisdictions were not asked to provide

Farr agreed to the requests, Schwartz and Garvey were informed and concurred with the decision, and on Sunday Arlington officers in riot gear made their way to the District.

The officers were held in reserve for much of the day but at night, as peaceful protests gradually gave way to violence and destruction, they were called to help push protesters back, allowing D.C. firefighters to battle several fires, including at St. John’s Church. Live news footage showed the officers in their ACPD riot helmets, maintaining a perimeter as objects were thrown in their direction,

On Monday, Park Police asked ACPD for another day of aid, pending the arrival of backup from other federal law enforcement agencies. Dozens of USPP officers had been injured in the protests, out of a force of about 300, Farr said. Arlington again agreed to the request. But this time turned out to be different.

A harbinger, Schwartz said, was a conference call President Trump held with the nation’s governors, in which he told them that “you have to dominate” to control the protests.

“It was a disturbing phone call,” said Schwartz. But it wasn’t until shortly after he read about the call that word reached him about what had happened in front of Lafayette Square.

It was 6:35 p.m when police at the park, including Arlington officers, started to suddenly move toward the crowd, which had to that point been mostly peaceful.

Live coverage on CNN showed Arlington officers on left side of the screen, forcefully but steadily pushing back a small group of protesters. To their right, other riot gear-clad officers — Farr believes at least some of them were Park Police — shoved members of the crowd much more aggressively. Cloud-spewing munitions were fired, which some believed to be tear gas, something USPP denied Tuesday.

Shortly after protesters were pushed out of the way, President Trump walked out of the White House, walked to the fire-damaged church, held up a bible as photos were taken, and then walked back.

Outrage followed on social media. Images of Arlington officers in the midst of the fracas, including one holding a pepper ball gun (as seen above), started to make the rounds.

“This is absolutely not what our tax dollars should be used for,” one local tweeted. “Nothing about this made Arlington or DC safer.”

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Morning Notes

County Scaling Down Capital Improvement Plan — “As the County continues to experience the economic impacts of COVID-19, County Manager Mark Schwartz intends to present the Arlington County Board with a short-term proposed Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) rather than the traditional 10-year plan.” [Arlington County]

Metro May Require Masks — “Metro riders may not see service fully restored until spring 2021, but the WMATA is now making plans to gradually get trains and buses running more frequently. News4’s Adam Tuss has learned that officials are considering requiring all riders to wear face masks on buses and trains and applying social distancing measures.” [NBC 4]

Real Estate Market Falters — “Home sales across the region took a tumble in April as the first impacts of COVID-19 were felt… The District of Columbia (down 31 percent) and Arlington (down 25 percent) were hardest hit, but all jurisdictions except the small city of Fairfax posted double-digit declines in closed sales.” [InsideNova]

APS Asks for Public Feedback on Data — “Beginning May 12, APS is inviting community members to review the data that will be used in the Fall 2020 Elementary School Boundary Process. This review of data by Planning Unit — the geographic building blocks APS uses to establish school attendance zones — will help ensure that the final data reflects what you know about your neighborhood.” [Arlington Public Schools]

Swim Season Cancelled — “With the logistics to pull off the 2020 Northern Virginia Swimming League season proving too numerous and complicated in a COVID-19 world, officials have pulled the plug on summer competition.” [InsideNova]

Photo courtesy of Peter Golkin

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The Arlington County Board today adopted a budget for the coronavirus era.

Gone is the good budget year and the idea of expanding programs and services. In its place is a focus on preventing service reductions while supporting the most vulnerable members of the community.

The adopted Fiscal Year 2021 budget leaves the property tax rate where it was, which means a tax increase for the average homeowner, given rising property values. Following County Manager Mark Schwartz’s recommendations, it largely maintains service levels from the current budget, while providing just over $10 million in coronavirus-related relief for residents, small businesses, nonprofits and county employees.

The opening of two major new facilities — the Lubber Run Community Center and Long Bridge Park Aquatics Center — will be delayed at least a year. County employees won’t get raises, a hiring freeze will remain in effect, and the county will tap into some of its budget reserves to prevent further cuts.

More from a press release:

The Arlington County Board today adopted a $1.3 billion balanced General Fund Budget for Fiscal Year 2021 that reflects the novel coronavirus’s impact on County revenues and priorities and includes no increase in the tax rate for Calendar Year 2020.

“In just three short months, our budget priorities have been upended,” Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey said, “and we know that the budget we adopted today will likely need revision in the coming months. Our focus in the coming year will be on supporting residents and small businesses hit hard by the economic fallout of the pandemic, preserving essential services and maintaining a strong financial foundation.”

Noting the uncertainty surrounding revenues and expenditures in FY 2021, The Board approved a $10.2 million contingent fund that includes $2.7 million for housing grants, permanent supportive housing, emergency food assistance, and other emergency needs and $7.5 million to assist small businesses and nonprofits, aid service delivery recovery, provide employee support, and offset any further revenue loss.

The budget reflects an estimated loss of $56 million in anticipated revenue in FY 2021, resulting in a loss of $34 million for County government and $21.6 million for Arlington Public Schools. The projected losses are in sales, meal, business license and transient occupancy taxes, Parks & Recreation fees, development fees, parking meter & parking ticket revenue, and more.

The Board voted 4 to 0 to adopt the budget, with no increase in the Calendar Year 2020 tax rate. The tax rate will remain at $1.026 (including the sanitary district tax) per $100 of assessed real estate value. Because assessments increased, the average homeowner, with a home valued at $686,300 will see an increase in the taxes and fees they pay the County, up from $9,023 in FY 2020 to $9,399 in FY 2021.

The budget maintains current levels of service, foregoes salary increases for all staff, continues a hiring freeze put in place in March, places many projects on hold, delays the opening of the Lubber Run Community Center and Long Bridge Park Fitness & Aquatics Center until Fiscal Year 2022 and uses $4.0 million in funds from the Stabilization Reserve to close the gap between revenues and expenditures.

$524.6 million will be transferred to Arlington Public Schools for its FY 2021 Budget, a slight increase over the FY 2020 ongoing funding level.

Also left on the cutting room floor in the new county budget were a series of new programs and staff positions:

  • Traffic Control Officers to assist with traffic enforcement
  • Courthouse library expansion
  • Online marriage license portal
  • Foster care housing pilot program
  • New planners, arborist, real estate appraiser, and other positions
  • Library collection expansion
  • Additional support for Housing Arlington initiative
  • Additional tree maintenance

The county noted in its press release that dozens of residents participated in virtual budget sessions and the Board received hundreds of comments on the budget, which were made part of the public record.

Moving forward, the Board instructed Schwartz “to develop a plan in the early months of Calendar Year 2021 that would identify, quantify and develop strategies to address food insecurity in Arlington, with an emphasis on child hunger.”

Schwartz was also asked to make progress on the potential launch of a curbside food waste collection service, “in keeping with the County’s 2015 Zero Waste Resolution’s goal of diverting 90 percent of solid waste from landfills and incineration.”

With the county’s budget and the Arlington Public Schools transfer now set, the School Board is scheduled to adopt its FY 2021 budget next Thursday, May 7.

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