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County Manager Mark Schwartz is proposing to use leftover money from the most recent fiscal year and federal COVID-19 relief for priorities such as employee bonuses and investments in disadvantaged communities.

He presented his plans to the Arlington County Board Tuesday night.

The county has $20.5 million in unspent, unencumbered “closeout” funds from the 2020-2021 fiscal year, which ended in July. Arlington also has about $17 million in unspent American Rescue Plan Act funding and $23 million more in expected funds for which to plan.

Some of the budget surplus will go toward employee salary adjustments and retention bonuses, while the federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) will support new initiatives, some of which are one-time and some that will eventually switch to ongoing local funding.

In years past, some have scrutinized Arlington’s surplus, or “closeout” funds, as being excessive — a product of conservative budgeting that enables a de facto slush fund, divvied up outside of the normal budget process, at the end of most fiscal years. Critics have also questioned the county’s spending plans for allocating most of the surplus, rather than setting it aside to avoid tax increases.

In the 2019 budget, Schwartz noted that he had made progress on whittling down surplus funds from $21.8 million in 2015 to $11 million in 2017. It ticked back up in 2018 to $21.9 million and reached $23.2 million in 2019, falling slightly to $22.4 million in 2020.

Schwartz attributes the 2021 surplus to the moving target of planning during a pandemic: over-budgeting healthcare costs and departmental operations, which slowed down due to COVID-19, while underestimating tax revenue.

And rather than allocate most of it, this year, he’s proposing to put about $16.6 million toward the 2023 budget to address priorities such as housing and restorative justice.

He will spend nearly $2 million in retention bonuses for police and emergency services health employees, and $174,000 to match state funding for bonuses for the Sheriff’s Office. On Tuesday, the County Board changed the funding source from ARPA funding to the surplus, county spokeswoman Erika Moore said.

The retention bonuses respond to reports of police and clinicians quitting their county jobs over grueling overtime and a demanding mental health crisis response. The situation worsened over the summer when the state closed five of its eight psychiatric hospitals, which were suffering from understaffing and becoming dangerous places to work. Department leaders say employees leave for more competitive, less taxing private-sector roles, such as security jobs at Amazon and private-practice clinical work.

“I appreciate the County Board taking action tonight to allocate retention bonuses, which will include a $3,500 one-time payment for police and emergency services health employees,” Schwartz said in a county press release. “It has been extremely difficult to retain and hire qualified staff for these positions at a time when demand for services is exceptionally high with extreme risk to our community if left unfilled.

Now, the plan will go to the public for review. The Board will hold a hearing on the spending plan at its Nov. 13 meeting, followed by a vote.

In addition to the $20.5 million, the county ended the year with $284.9 million in unspent, allocated money in its coffers. The rest of the fund balance breaks down as follows:

The county’s allocation plan for the fund balance (via Arlington County)

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Firefighters responding to smoke in the Ballston Metro station

Arlington County firefighters are sounding the alarm on a possible exodus from the department over stagnating wages.

IAFF Local 2800, which represents the county’s professional firefighters and paramedics, warned in a press release Monday that without an increase in pay or a hazard pay program, there could be “high turnover rates over the next year” in the department.

“We haven’t seen a true pay raise in years and no cost-of-living adjustments to keep pace with inflation,” Brian Lynch, president of the Arlington County Professional Firefighters and Paramedics, in the release. “With the COVID-19 epidemic causing an increase in dangerous 911 calls over the past 18 months, we are doing more extremely hazardous work — and really getting paid less.”

The union is asking the county manager for a 6% cost-of-living pay increase, the reinstitution of a hazard pay program, and one year of earned merit increases.

The news comes one week after ARLnow reported that the police department is shrinking over salaries and burnout and as Arlington County begins deliberating its 2022-23 budget, including wages for county employees.

It also comes before Arlington’s public safety unions will be able to engage in collective bargaining with the county. The County Board voted to permit such negotiations this summer, but the first collective agreements are not expected to go into effect until the 2024 fiscal year.

Lynch tells ARLnow the fire department hasn’t reached the inflection point that the police department appears to be at quite yet, but he’s concerned it could. Over the last two years, pay for firefighters and paramedics has only increased by 1%, which doesn’t keep pace with inflation and cost-of-living increases. Consumer prices have gone up by 4.4% in the region over the last year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

There was a short-term hazard pay program in place at the beginning of the pandemic but it only lasted ten weeks, he said, adding that the union never got an official explanation for why the program ended.

County officials didn’t tell ARLnow exactly why either, only saying that the program was “designed to mirror other neighboring jurisdictions’ public safety programs.”

Lynch says that re-instituting one now would show firefighters and paramedics that they are valued.

“[It would] be a token of respect towards the folks that are putting themselves and their families out there,” says Lynch. “We’ve always had a risk of dying, but COVID puts our families at risk.”

Without these concessions or merit increases, county firefighters could opt to go to other jurisdictions or get out of the industry altogether, he says.

“We’ve lost a few people already… and it could get worse,” Lynch said. “Historically, people never left fire departments once they got in. It’s a very competitive job and people stayed. What we’ve seen change is their willingness to go to other industries.”

While the county could fill these positions with new recruits, there’s a price to that as well. The union estimates that it costs the county more than $175,000 to train a single firefighter-paramedic.

County officials dispute the notion that firefighters are looking to leave the department. ACFD says the opposite is true, according to its data.

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Following the lead of the state and the federal government, Arlington County is considering a mandate for its employees and contractors to be vaccinated.

Last week President Biden announced that federal employees must either sign forms attesting to be vaccinated or submit to mandatory masking, weekly testing and distancing. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced a similar policy for more than 100,000 state employees yesterday.

Now Arlington — like neighboring Fairfax County — is also considering a vaccine mandate, amid a continued rise in local Covid cases fueled by the delta variant of the virus. The proposal was revealed to county employees during an online town hall with County Manager Mark Schwartz, we’re told.

“During an online employee town hall the county manager informed staff it is his intention to require vaccination or submit to weekly testing,” a tipster tells ARLnow.

In a statement, below, Arlington County confirmed that such a policy is indeed under consideration. A final decision is expected later this month.

“The health and wellbeing of our residents and our employees is our top priority. Arlington County has offered vaccines to all employees, and continues to follow Virginia Department of Health guidance regarding vaccination. The County continues to assess its COVID-19 policies and practices as new guidance emerges from Centers for Disease Control and Virginia Department of Health. The County Manager has asked staff to prepare, for review, a program that would mandate vaccination and testing for County employees and contractors. A final decision on whether to pursue such a program will be made during August. In the meantime, we encourage Arlington employees and residents to access no-cost, no-appointment testing and vaccination opportunities.”

Photo by Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Carlos M. Vazquez II

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(Updated at 3:55 p.m.) A national search for Arlington’s new police chief has ended with a familiar choice.

Andy Penn, a 29-year veteran of the Arlington County Police Department and its current acting chief, has been named as the county’s new permanent chief by County Manager Mark Schwartz.

“Andy embraces the values and important work that is needed around issues of equity, justice, and safety and will work to advance racial diversity and inclusion in all of our public safety efforts.” Schwartz said in a statement Friday afternoon. “He will bring a balanced approach to leading and understanding the issues of today and their implications for the Department’s areas of growth and opportunity.”

The police department has been without a permanent leader since September, when the former police chief M. Jay Farr retired, citing souring relations with the County Board as one of his reasons for leaving.

Schwartz also announced a pair of appointments within the police department.

Deputy Chief Wayne Vincent will now lead a newly-created Community Engagement Division within the department, and Capt. Darrin Cassedy has been promoted to Deputy Chief of Operations.

The appointments of Penn, Vincent and Cassedy come as the county is in the midst of establishing a Civilian Review Board for the police department, as well as implementing reforms recommended by a Police Practices Work Group in the wake of last summer’s national dialogue on race and police violence.

Reform advocates, like the Arlington branch of the NAACP, have said the Civilian Review Board, as proposed, is watered down as it lacks independent investigative authority.

In a statement this afternoon to ARLnow, NAACP Arlington Branch President Julius “J.D.” Spain said he was disappointed by Penn’s appointment.

The lack of transparency with citizens throughout the hiring process is striking. Supposedly a national search was conducted, yet what has occured is another example of cronyism in plain sight. Communities of color are disrespected, many of whom have suffered under Mr. Penn’s tenure as Deputy Chief of Police over the recent years. The hiring of Mr. Penn also reveals a profound insularity in county governance that needs to be offset by an empowered citizenry. This hiring decision further reinforce the need for meaningful and robust civilian oversight through a Civilian Oversight Board. As a civil rights leader, I am not satisfied with the selection of the new Chief of Police. This selection represents “Status-Quo” and has not yielded a transformational leader. Current idealisms are rooted in a culture that does not support substantive or progressive policy changes or police reform. Noteable, Mr. Penn only supports the minority opinion of the PPG CRB Subcommittee, which again, will not yield comprehensive oversight of the police department. The citizens asked for sound leadership, and the County failed to deliver.

Arlington County Board Chair Matt de Ferranti, however, said he trusts Penn to improve the department.

“The efforts to continue to improve our police department will require leadership and collaboration throughout the County on issues that range from mental health response to direct public safety work to our approach to managing 911 calls,” de Ferranti said in a statement. “I fully support the Manager’s choice of Andy Penn as our next chief as he has earned my trust and the trust of many in our community, and is the right person to lead this important work… I respectfully ask all Arlington residents to give Chief Penn the chance to earn your trust, too.”

The county’s press release about hte appointments is below.

Today, following a nationwide search, County Manager Mark Schwartz announced his pick for the top law enforcement officer in Arlington County, Chief Charles “Andy” Penn. Having started his career as an Arlington patrol officer in 1992, Chief Penn brings almost 30 years of experience providing professional law enforcement services to our community. As Acting Chief of Police over the past nine months, he has provided the necessary leadership to implement a new body worn camera program and advance new policies to align with 21st Century policing practice. This includes updating policies and practices on bias-free policing and use of force. He has also worked collaboratively with other law enforcement agencies to form the Northern Virginia Critical Incident Response Team.

County Manager Mark Schwartz says that “Andy embraces the values and important work that is needed around issues of equity, justice, and safety and will work to advance racial diversity and inclusion in all of our public safety efforts.” Schwartz also noted, “He will bring a balanced approach to leading and understanding the issues of today and their implications for the Department’s areas of growth and opportunity. I am confident that Andy will be instrumental in advancing partnerships across our community and similarly with regional stakeholders.”

“The efforts to continue to improve our police department will require leadership and collaboration throughout the County on issues that range from mental health response to direct public safety work to our approach to managing 911 calls,” stated County Board Chair Matt de Ferranti. “I fully support the Manager’s choice of Andy Penn as our next chief as he has earned my trust and the trust of many in our community, and is the right person to lead this important work. His commitment to listening, hard work, honest conversations, and openness will help keep our community safe. I respectfully ask all Arlington residents to give Chief Penn the chance to earn your trust, too.”

“As a longtime member of the Arlington County Police Department and our community, I am honored and humbled to be appointed to this position,” stated Chief Andy Penn. “I am committed to bringing change and transformation to public safety and working collaboratively with the community on a broad range of issues, including racial equity.”

Andy’s role as Chief of Police becomes effective immediately.

County Manager Announces New Community Engagement Division

Schwartz also announced the creation of a new Community Engagement Division within the Arlington County Police Department (ACPD) aimed to strengthen the County’s commitment to public safety and enhancing relationships across our community. Deputy Chief Wayne Vincent has been selected to lead this new effort, coordinating ACPD engagement-focused units and programs, including the Community and Business Outreach Units, Arlington Restaurant Initiative, and the Homeless Outreach Program. The Division will work closely with the County Manager’s Communication and Public Engagement team and other Departments on key areas of importance.

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A boathouse, a library in Crystal City and a new Metro entrance in Ballston are some of the projects Arlington County is looking to fund over the next three years.

These projects are part of County Manager Mark Schwartz’s proposed $1.25 billion, three-year Capital Improvement Plan, slated for adoption this summer, which includes a long list of investments, from renovating and building community amenities to upgrading county technology.

“In this CIP, we were able to make more investments than we anticipated at this time last year, but our county — and our residents — are still facing longer-term economic uncertainty and this plan was built with that reality in mind,” Schwartz said in a statement last month. “My proposal takes a more constrained approach that will continue to bridge us through the next year of budget deliberations and economic recovery.”

Normally, the county plots out the next 10 years’ worth of projects but the pandemic derailed that kind of long-range planning. The county aims to use the three-year plan as a bridge to return to a 10-year plan for 2023-2032, according to a release.

Stormwater upgrades area slated to get $96 million in funding, including $26.8 million for the Spout Run Watershed, $16.7 million for the Cardinal Elementary School Stormwater Detention project and $5.4 million for the Ballston Pond Watershed Retrofit.

Other highlights include:

  • Early planning for a community boathouse on the George Washington Parkway shoreline in Rosslyn, $800,000
  • Ballston-MU Metrorail Station West Entrance, $67.8 million
  • Phase two of renovations to Alcova Heights Park, including updates the restrooms and the basketball court, ~$1.7 million
  • A new library in Crystal City, ~$1.2 million
  • Two parks in Crystal City, at 15th Street S. and at S. Clark and S. Bell Street, ~$4.6 million
  • Arlington National Cemetery Wall Trail Project, from Memorial Avenue to a new Columbia Pike interchange, ~$25.1 million

Arlington is looking to fund the design phase for a public boathouse, which has been a topic of discussion for more than 20 years. Arlingtonians will be able to vote on this expense as a bond referendum in November.

The long-stalled Ballston-MU Metro West Entrance, at the intersection of Fairfax Drive and N. Vermont Street, is also slated to get funding. The $130 million project is in its design phase and slated to be built by 2026.

In a letter explaining the CIP, Schwartz said the county is investing more in improving transportation and parks and open space in Crystal City as the area develops and Amazon continues to move in.

“With the increasing rate of redevelopment in the National Landing area, I have asked staff to convene a near-term review of the parks and open space plans, learning from the 22202 Livability Initiative, with the objective of being ready for a more comprehensive discussion as part of next spring’s 10-year CIP,” Schwartz said. “In addition, Arlington County is committed to supporting public infrastructure improvements in National Landing.”

Starting this fiscal year, the county will also use a portion of property tax revenues in Crystal City, Potomac Yard and Pentagon City to pay for infrastructure improvements, including the Army-Navy Drive Complete Street project and the design phase of the pedestrian bridge to Reagan National Airport.

Other transportation projects include the Crystal City Metro Station East Entrance and improvements to bus stops, particularly along Columbia Pike, which the plan said serves “the highest bus ridership of any corridor in Northern Virginia.”

Crystal City will also get a limited-service library as early as 2024 as part of an agreement with developer JBG Smith. The county will use community benefits contributions to build a library at 1900 Crystal Drive, where the developer will lease 7,200 square feet of space.

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Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz aims to have a new police chief in place within the next month or two.

And this police chief, he said during a meeting last week, must appreciate Arlington’s diversity and understand how different communities react to police presence.

“Our police officers meet with residents, visitors and those who work here during the most stressful moments of their lives,” he said. “I’m looking for a chief who understands our community gains strength from its diversity.”

The police department has been without a permanent leader since September, when the former police chief M. Jay Farr retired, citing souring relations with the County Board as one of his reasons for leaving. Acting chief Andy Penn is leading in his place.

Meantime, Schwartz has been conducting a nationwide search while a consultant, Leroy Thompson, gathered input from police officers and community members.

The consultant found that police officers want a chief who will boost morale, support officers, regain their trust and help improve race relations, Thompson said. They are wary of the county overreacting to a national narrative that “wasn’t severe in Arlington,” he said.

The community, meanwhile, wants a chief who will build relationships in the community and with other county departments to address peoples’ needs, Thompson said. They envision an approach to law enforcement that focuses on connecting people with needed services, instead of the current strategy centered on punishment, which they say is a holdover from the war on drugs, he said.

One area of agreement? Thompson said the community and police officers stressed the new hire should not seem like a political appointment.

Amid a national dialogue on race and policing, Arlington has taken several steps to respond to calls for police reform, including recently budgeting for full time police auditor/monitor position and a civilian mental health crisis response team.

Schwartz said a consultant is also reviewing ACPD’s policies guiding use of force, body-worn cameras, and the collection of data, as well as how successful the department is at recruiting and retaining officers. The report was set to come last fall but has yet to arrive, he said.

This past winter, the county implemented a body-worn camera program, and in January, Penn signed onto the Northern Virginia Regional Critical Incident Response Team, which allows for an independent investigation into serious uses of police force.

In February, a “Police Practices Group” convened last summer presented myriad ways to change how the police respond to behavioral health crises and enforce traffic violations. Schwartz said he expects the new chief to carry out these recommendations.

“It’s my firm expectation — I have made it clear to anyone who has interviewed for the position — that they will follow all the recommendations I support from the PPG and he/she is free to challenge me on those I didn’t recommend,” Schwartz said. “I expect whoever the next police chief is will be walking around with a tired, tattered copy of this document in his or her front pocket.”

A press release from Farr’s retirement timed the hiring to come after the PPG wrapped up its work. One of its recommendations is the creation of a civilian review board.

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Morning Notes

Jail to Reopen to Visitors — “Sheriff Beth Arthur has announced a modified reopening of in-person visitation for those remanded to the Arlington County Detention Center. Relatives and friends will regain the ability to visit loved ones in person beginning May 1. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in-person visitation at the Arlington County Detention Center has been suspended for more than a year.” [Arlington County]

HQ2 to Feature Small Local Businesses — “Amazon.com Inc. plans to prioritize leasing retail space at its D.C.-area offices to businesses owned by people from historically underrepresented groups, an official with the e-commerce and cloud computing giant said recently. ‘We’re still in the process of curating and finding those retailers, but our goal is small, local, minority- and women- owned,’ Joe Chapman, Amazon’s director of global real estate and facilities, said of the company’s retail leasing strategy during a meeting of Arlington’s long range planning committee April 19.” [Washington Business Journal]

New Police Chief Pick Coming Soon — “Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz says he hopes to have a permanent head of the Arlington County Police Department announced sooner rather than later. ‘My goal was to have a police chief in place this spring. That’s still my goal,’ Schwartz told County Board members on April 20.” [Sun Gazette]

Marymount Vaccinates Thousands — “Nearly 1,200 students, faculty, staff and members of the community received their first Pfizer COVID vaccinations on April 21 at Marymount University, part of a collaborative effort between the university and state and local officials. The university transformed one of its gyms into a mass-inoculation site, and turnout exceeded expectations.” [Sun Gazette]

Rotary Club Honors ‘Educator of the Year’ — “The Arlington Rotary Club has honored school counselor Laurie Dodson as Arlington Key Elementary School’s ‘Educator of the Year’ and presented two Arlington high school students scholarships totaling $18,000 at the club’s annual education awards event.” [Press Release]

Pink Moon Dazzles — “We’re entering the heart of spring and, in most temperate climates, buds are bursting and decorating the newly lush landscape. Fresh arrangements of pink flowers are emerging, and the April moon, which will become full Monday night, is named in their honor. The ‘Pink Moon’ will be officially full, or 100 percent illuminated, at 11:31 p.m. Eastern time Monday. It will be bold and bright but won’t actually appear pink in the night sky.” [Capital Weather Gang]

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The County Board is slated to vote on its fiscal year 2022 budget tomorrow (Tuesday) and affordable housing is top of mind for many Arlingtonians and Board members.

In February, County Manager Mark Schwartz proposed a budget with $71.1 million earmarked for housing — about 8.5% of the overall $834 million county budget, excluding schools.

This month, however, housing advocates told the Board that may not be enough to tackle the entrenched problem of rising housing costs and the deepening inequality caused by the pandemic. In response, Board members have identified three ways to amend the budget.

Testifying before the County Board on April 6, Carlos Velazquez, who sits on the board of trustees for Arlington Community Foundation, said the county needs to maintain flexibility for families seeking housing aid.

“COVID-19 assistance has helped many low-income families and individuals [stay in Arlington] and keep food on the table,” he said. “But the need has not gone away… We believe that flexibility should be maintained after the pandemic to help residents resolve delinquencies and develop plans to move forward from personal crises.”

Over the last two weeks, County Board members have discussed ways of doing just that. Last Thursday, ahead of the vote tomorrow evening, County Board Chair Matt de Ferranti proposed adding up to $2.4 million in several areas.

The chair proposed just over $1 million to maintain COVID-era guidelines that expanded eligibility for working families who needed financial aid during the pandemic. For those receiving grants, who currently contribute 40% of their income toward housing, de Ferranti is also proposing about $487,000 in one-time and recurring funding to lower annual housing contributions.

According to county staff, that could affect 700 families.

“This is of interest to us in the sense that severely rent-burdening individuals at 40% is more than [The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development] recommends,” de Ferranti said.

The County Board is also looking to add $850,000 in one-time funding for the Affordable Housing Investment Fund, a loan fund that helps to fund the development of new, dedicated affordable housing.

A portion of the $17.5 million set aside in the budget for the county’s response to the pandemic, meanwhile, will go toward eviction prevention. Housing advocates would like to see the county take bolder action in light of rising housing costs and economic hardship among lower-income residents.

Shaheera Sayed, an advocate with ACE Collaborative, an Asian American community-building group affiliated with Alexandria-based advocacy organization New Virginia Majority, said more needs to be done to prevent displacement of current residents.

ACE, which recently organized a rally near the future Amazon HQ2 in Pentagon City, proposed adding $8 million in funding.

“There is proof that the Asian Americans and other communities of color in Arlington county are struggling,” she said. “By adding more funding and expanding eligibility in programs such as the Housing Grants, more people who are unable to get affordable housing but are struggling to pay rent can benefit from this program.”

Beyond this year’s budget, County Board members say that more housing support will be needed for years to come. The most vulnerable in Arlington will likely face the longest road to full economic recovery, said County Board member Katie Cristol.

“Let’s not set ourselves up to make this purely one-time investment in Fiscal Year 2022,” she said.

Photo (top) via Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing, (middle) via Arlington County

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Last year started out as “a good budget year” for County Manager Mark Schwartz. But nearly a year after the pandemic hit Arlington, Schwartz’s new budget proposal is more austere.

Schwartz calls the upcoming Fiscal Year 2022 budget, which is being presented to the County Board Thursday afternoon, a “transition budget.” While modestly increasing spending, his proposal reflects big pandemic-era declines in some key revenue sources.

“This budget provides us a path forward, ensuring we have a strong, resilient County government when we emerge from this pandemic,” he said after a press briefing earlier today.

For starters, the proposed $1.36 billion budget — representing a 1.4% increase in spending — includes a $17.5 million coronavirus contingency fund. This will fund vaccine distribution and testing, eviction prevention, food assistance, and will go toward supporting local businesses.

Meanwhile, Schwartz has identified $16.4 million in cuts to help close what the county describes as a budget shortfall of $26 million, down from what was initially estimated last fall to be a $50 million shortfall. The rest will be made up through one-time funding sources, he said.

The bulk of the cuts come from eliminating 56 vacant positions, which resulted from a voluntary retirement package offered in January and a continuing hiring freeze from last year.

Schwartz proposes keeping the $1.013 per $100 property tax rate flat, as he did last year. Still, the average homeowner will see a tax bill that is 5-6% higher due to rising property values, Schwartz said. Commercial property assessments, by contrast, declined this year.

Homeowners will see an average increase of $29 in stormwater taxes, reflecting a rate hike of 1.3 to 1.7 cents per $100 in property value. The increase will help generate $15.1 million earmarked for stormwater improvements. Eventually, the county plans to eliminate the stormwater tax completely in favor of a fee based on how much impervious surface covers a given property, Schwartz said.

Schools will receive 47% of the tax revenue, or $529.7 million, an increase of $5.1 million over last year.

(Updated on 2/23/21) The pandemic has saved the county money through remote work and online services, which Schwartz said will help fund other programs and services. His budget includes a one-time, $500 bonus for county employees, who will be foregoing merit-based raises.

“Our employees have gone without raises — or a vacation day — for an entire year,” Schwartz said.

After the County Manager submits his proposed budget, the Arlington County Board will vote on an advertised tax rate this Saturday. The Board will be able to ultimately adopt a property tax rate equal to or less than, but not above, the advertised rate.

The Board will then review the budget proposal and conduct a series of work sessions with each county department beginning in March.

There will be two public hearings: Tuesday, April 6, and Thursday, April 8. The final vote on the FY 2022 operating budget is scheduled for Saturday, April 17.

Certain parts of the budget may be revisited, Schwartz said, should additional federal funding become available.

Other highlights from the budget proposal include:

  • More racial equity training, money for a Restorative Justice initiative, and more funding for probation, parole and the Public Defender’s Office.
  • About $1.5 million to implement several recommendations from the Police Practices Group, especially in transitioning mental health-related work from police officers to clinicians.
  • Allowing firefighters to work a shorter week, adding transportation safety officers to the police department, and multiple positions to support the new body-worn camera program.
  • The county elections office is proposed to receive additional staff to support mail-in ballots and absentee voting.
  • Funding for the opening of the Long Bridge Park Aquatics and Fitness Center and the Lubber Run Community Center
  • Increasing the lowest base pay for county employees from $15 to $17 per hour
  • Adding Juneteenth as a County holiday
  • Delayed re-opening of Cherrydale and Glencarlyn libraries, saving $881,000
  • An additional $2.6 million in housing grants, plus $21 million in housing choice vouchers and $8.9 million for the Affordable Housing Investment Fund.

Schwartz’s budget proposal focuses affordable housing efforts on “eviction prevention and direct housing support,” but decreases county funding for Arlington’s affordable housing development fund, as the Washington Business Journal’s Alex Koma noted on Twitter (below).

“4.6% of the County’s operating budget is dedicated to housing and more than 15% is dedicated to safety net services and housing,” a slide from the budget presentation noted.

File photo

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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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