Arlington, VA

(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.

Read More

0 Comments

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]

0 Comments

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

0 Comments

(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.”

Read More

0 Comments

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

0 Comments

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.

0 Comments

No raises, few areas of additional spending and a couple of delayed openings.

That’s the summary of County Manager Mark Schwartz’s revised budget proposal, as announced by Arlington County on Monday afternoon.

The new Fiscal Year 2021 proposed budget “focuses on core essential services of government, retaining the existing workforce and proactively responding to the pandemic,” the county said in a press release.

The revision comes as Arlington expects a projected $56 million drop in revenue as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, dealing Schwartz’s formerly “good news budget” a $34 million reduction while tacking on $21.6 million to Arlington Public Schools’ already sizable budget gap.

Local and state governments have been bracing for big reductions in revenue as the pandemic causes sales tax, meals tax, hotel tax and other types of revenue to plummet.

Schwartz’s new budget proposal allocates more than $10 million for relief efforts, including food assistance, help for local businesses and nonprofits, and employee assistance. County services in the new budget are mostly kept as the current budget year’s levels, and proposed county employee pay increases have been nixed, per the county press release.

Other proposed, money-saving efforts including delaying the openings of the newly-built Lubber Run Community Center and Long Bridge Park aquatics center, as previously suggested by County Board Chair Libby Garvey.

The County Board will now hold a joint budget and tax rate hearing at 7 p.m. on Thursday, April 23. Final budget adoption is scheduled for Thursday, April 30.

After advertising no tax rate increase, the County Board can only keep the current rate steady or lower it. The average homeowner is still likely to pay more in property taxes, however, given a rise in property assessments.

The full county press release is below.

As the County faces the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, County Manager Mark Schwartz presented the Arlington County Board with a revised FY 2021 Proposed Budget that focuses on core essential services of government, retaining the existing workforce and proactively responding to the pandemic.

County staff estimates a nearly $56 million drop in anticipated revenue for the FY 2021 budget–$34.0 million on the County side and $21.6 million for Arlington Public Schools.

“What was unthinkable two months ago is now in front of us,” Schwartz said. “Businesses have laid off staff, residents have lost jobs, schools have closed and only the most essential functions continue.”

In February, Schwartz presented a budget that added back targeted investments in areas that were falling behind after two years of reductions. Now, his revised budget maintains only the current levels of service, removes all salary increases, places many projects on hold, uses funds from the Stabilization Reserve, and removes almost every addition proposed only a few weeks ago.

The budget delays the opening of the Lubber Run Community Center and the Long Bridge Park Fitness & Aquatics Center until FY 2022.

The County Manager’s revised budget also responds to the pandemic. It provides funding to meet projected demand in direct life/safety services to our residents, such as housing grants, permanent supportive housing, and identifies $2.7 million for emergency needs, such as food assistance. An additional $7.5 million is set aside for potential assistance to small businesses and nonprofits, service delivery recovery and employee support, and possible additional shortfalls in revenue.

The County Board now will take up the Manager’s proposal and is expected to vote on the amended budget on Thursday, April 30. There will be a public hearing on the new FY 2021 budget proposal, followed immediately by a tax hearing, on Thursday, April 23, at 7:00 p.m.

Before the pandemic, the County Board voted to advertise a tax rate of $1.013 per $100 of assessed value for Calendar Year 2020 ($1.026 including stormwater). By law, the Board can adopt a tax rate no higher than the advertised rate.

0 Comments

(Updated at 11 a.m.) While sitting a safe distance away from each other, members of the Arlington County Board voted 4-0 to approve a declaration of local emergency this morning, amid the coronavirus outbreak.

County Manager Mark Schwartz signed the declaration of emergency at 7 p.m. Friday. He said the declaration will allow the county to more easily obtain state and federal funds, acquire needed goods and services, and hire staff as needed.

The county will continue to provide essential services, including emergency services, maintenance, and even permitting during the outbreak, Schwartz said. There will be more changes put in place soon, however.

“We know that these new measures are an inconvenience, but we believe that these changes to county government are Arlington’s best chance of slowing this virus,” said County Board member Katie Cristol.

Arlington is continuing to encourage residents to practice social distancing — avoiding crowds and staying at least six feet apart from each other to prevent the spread of disease — County Board members said in a pre-recorded video, played at the Board’s special meeting Saturday morning.

As of Friday afternoon, all Dept. of Parks and Recreation programs were cancelled. All libraries are closed this weekend, though Central Library and the Columbia Pike branch library plan to reopen on Monday, while others remain closed. Schools are now closed through mid-April.

Schwartz said on Monday a new list of hours and operational changes for county facilities will be posted on the county’s website.

“I hope everyone pays attention to the social distancing, washes your hands, wipes down surfaces — this is going to be with us for awhile,” Garvey said, wrapping up the brief meeting. “Your local government has been working flat out for weeks now. We’re going to continue to do so. Please be safe and gentle with each other.”

At last count, there were five confirmed cases of coronavirus, or COVID-19, in Arlington.

Large crowds of shoppers and empty shelves, meanwhile, continue to be reported at stores in Arlington.

0 Comments

There are confirmed cases of coronavirus on the East Coast, so Arlington County assembled some local experts to talk about what the county is doing to prepare for a potential outbreak while clearing up some misconceptions about the disease.

A number of county officials fielded questions sent via social media during Wednesday night’s online panel discussion. Dr. Reuben Varghese, the Arlington County Director of Public Health, answered the lion’s share of the questions as he told locals what to do, and what not to do, to prevent the spread of the disease.

Varghese, like health officials across the country, said the most effective way of keeping yourself safe is by frequently washing your hands, scrubbing for at least 20 seconds at a time.

“The tried and true [advice] for public health activities is to wash your hands with soap and water,” Varghese said. “Don’t touch mouth, nose, eyes. Those are portals for how germs get into body. Cover your cough with elbow and tissue.

Varghese said hand sanitizer can be handy in a pinch, but warned that it isn’t a replacement for thorough handwashing. Any soap will do, Varghese said, noting that antibacterial soap and regular soap make no difference here since the disease is not bacterial.

“Whenever you enter a building, wash your hands,” Varghese said. “When you get home, wash your hands.”

Some asked why the focus on stopping a respiratory virus was on hands and not breathing, but Varghese said that’s a common misconception with diseases like this.

“It’s not always through respiratory contact that you get spread of germs,” Varghese said. “Unless you’re routinely in very close proximity with someone, the most common way of transferring respiratory illness is disease on hands touching [your] mouth, nose or eyes — which then get into the system and cause respiratory illness.”

Varghese also said Arlingtonians shouldn’t be too worried about the spread of coronavirus through apartment complex air systems.

“Whether it’s a high rise or home, [spread of the virus] is all about how air handling is done in these facilities,” Varghese said. “As far as I know, the vast majority have very good air handling in the high rise buildings so it should not lead to spread within these areas.”

Other panelists said now is a good time to take stock of emergency supplies.

“The time to prepare is before emergencies,” said Aaron Miller, director of Arlington’s emergency management department. “In these stages, where we’re still monitoring [the outbreak], take this opportunity to relook at your kit. Look at the food, water, medications.”

Miller said businesses should have a plan for continuity of operations in case of emergencies, referring them to guidance from the CDC.

For those with plans to travel, Miller also advised referring to the CDC travel advisories. In general, Varghese said travel should be limited to absolute necessity.

“People need to be smart, in general,” Varghese said. “Ask the question: is the travel essential? We’ll leave it to you to decide what’s essential.”

Regarding the schools, County Manager Mark Schwartz said decisions to close in the event of a local outbreak would be made on a case-by-case basis.

“We’re in constant communication with the schools,” Schwartz said. “As far as decisions for closing classrooms or schools, I can’t say ‘this should happen’ or ‘that should happen.'”

“If your kid is sick, the best thing you can do is keep that child at home with you,” Schwartz added.

The Q&A session (a video replay is below) would likely be the first of several chats in the coming weeks, said Schwartz.

0 Comments

If you’ve got a lead foot, you should probably slow down, especially — soon — on three particular Arlington streets.

In January the Arlington County Board voted to start imposing an additional $200 fine for speeding on certain residential streets.

At the County Board meeting on Tuesday, County Manager Mark Schwartz announced the first three streets that would be subject to the new fine.

  • Carlin Springs Road from Columbia Pike to George Mason Drive — through the Glencarlyn and Arlington Forest neighborhoods
  • Military Road from Old Glebe Road to Nelly Custis Drive — through the Bellevue Forest and Donaldson Run neighborhoods
  • Lorcom Lane from Military Road to Spout Run Parkway — through the Maywood and Woodmont neighborhoods

The $200 fine would be in addition to standard $6 for every mile per hour above the speed limit and the $66 in court fees.

Schwartz said the meeting was the first announcement of which streets would have the new fines, but emphasized that there would be more public notification before the change goes into effect. Schwartz did not specify when the new fines would be implemented.

“We will put more out there,” Schwartz said. “People should not think today, all of a sudden, we flipped the switch.”

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

0 Comments

(Updated at 5:15 p.m.) Amazon is moving in at a quickening clip and Arlington County’s budget-makers are breathing a sigh of relief.

After a few years of tight budgets, involving tax rate hikes and a handful of county staff layoffs, “this is a good budget year,” County Manager Mark Schwartz said today, ahead of presenting his proposed Fiscal Year 2021 budget to the Arlington County Board.

That means a lack of hard choices: under the proposal, the $1.013 per $100 property tax rate remains steady, county staff — particularly public safety personnel — are getting raises, and library fines are being eliminated.

“We’ve gone through some lean years where we’ve been challenged on the revenue side,” Schwartz told reporters. “This is a good news budget, based on the fact that… we have a revenue infusion that has allowed us to do some things we just weren’t able to do before.”

In all, the $1.4 billion budget increases spending by 2.9% and anticipates a 4.6% increase in tax revenue, thanks in part to rising property assessments and a boost in business taxes paid to the county.

The average homeowner can expect to pay an extra $376 in property taxes, even with the rate holding steady. Arlington’s tax rate is lower than that of Alexandria ($1.130), Fairfax ($1.150) and Loudoun ($1.045).

After years of budget pressures caused by increases in health costs and Metro funding, among other rising expenses amid slowly-growing revenue, Schwartz struck a decidedly upbeat tone this year. He predicted future revenue growth as Amazon continues to grow its presence and other businesses flock to the county.

“The past few years we have seen the effects of a record-high commercial vacancy rate,” Schwartz said in a statement. “Now we are beginning to see the results of our commitment to economic development and spending realignments. This budget represents an investment in the cornerstones of County government with an eye toward an innovative future in Arlington.”

“We’re coming out of the trough,” Schwartz added.

Perhaps the biggest source of budget friction this year will be with Arlington Public Schools.

Schwartz is taking pains in his presentation to emphasize that Arlington County has been increasing the percentage of tax revenue it sends to the school system, a separate governmental entity. This year, under Schwartz’s budget, APS is slated to receive $550 million, up from $500 million two years ago.

Schwartz says he expects APS, with its ever-rising student enrollment, to ask for more. But the extra $17.7 million the schools are receiving this year should be more than adequate to account for the increase in students, he said.

The budget presentation notes that APS spends $19,921 per student, according to the Washington Area Board of Education formula — the highest per-pupil cost in the region.

Other highlights from the budget include:

  • An additional $9.1 million for affordable housing, including more for housing grants, rent assistance and affordable housing development.
  • A 3.25-3.5% increase in pay for general county employees and an approximately 6.5% increase in pay for public safety employees (to help, in part, with police and fire department recruitment.)
  • $49.3 million for Metro, a 4 percent increase from last year.
  • Creating a new “traffic enforcement and control” position inside the police department, with six new full-time staffers charged with enforcing things like scooters on sidewalks and cars parked in bike lanes.
  • Nine new positions in the fire department and funding for a second recruit class.
  • Eliminating library fines, as part of the county’s new focus on equity. The fines disproportionally are imposed on people of color who live on the western end of Columbia Pike, Schwartz said.
  • “Funding to phase in [County] Board member salary increases over a three-year period.”
  • Additional funding for sidewalk, street, and streetlight maintenance.

The budget focuses “on foundational area of County government” and “shores up investments in County infrastructure and core services,” Schwartz says in his presentation.

Read More

0 Comments
×

Subscribe to our mailing list