Press Club
Mummi Ibrahim (photo courtesy Arlington County)

Arlington has hired its first Independent Policing Auditor, though it didn’t go the exact way the county was hoping for.

The county announced today that Mummi Ibrahim, who “has a long history in supporting grassroots organizing efforts” that includes a focus on police practices, has been hired for the position. Ibrahim will serve as the professional staff to the recently-appointed Community Oversight Board, which will review use of force complaints against Arlington law enforcement.

But the hire didn’t exactly go as first envisioned. Ibrahim was hired by County Manager Mark Schwartz, the top county executive in charge of county staff and departments, including the police department.

State legislation passed that would have allowed the County Board to appoint the policing auditor, providing more independence, but that bill was vetoed by Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R). On a party line vote, the state legislature failed to override the veto.

Nonetheless, the Arlington branch of the NAACP lauded the hire.

“One of the most essential and defining concepts of civilian oversight of law enforcement is independence,” said branch president Julius D. “JD” Spain, Sr. “After over a year of deliberations and community engagement, the NAACP Arlington Branch is pleased with the Arlington County Government’s selection of its first Independent Policing Auditor.”

“This is a step in the right direction to restore trust and confidence in the public safety system,” Spain added. “We expect a more complete, thorough, objective, and fair process moving forward.”

More from a county press release, below.

Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz is pleased to appoint Mummi Ibrahim as Arlington’s first Independent Policing Auditor. In this new role, Ms. Ibrahim will provide professional staff support to the newly appointed Community Oversight Board (COB). She will also be instrumental in conducting independent audits of police operations, receiving complaints from members of the public, and participating in investigations as appropriate.

About Mummi Ibrahim

Ms. Ibrahim has a long history in supporting grassroots organizing efforts focused on assessing legislation, legal remedies and policy recommendations related to police practices, as well as campaign strategies for prosecutorial accountability.

Most recently, Ms. Ibrahim served as a senior staff attorney at the Advancement Project, where her work focused on policing issues, including Section 1983 litigation trainings for lawyers seeking to represent individuals who have experienced harm due to police misconduct.

As an organizer and staff attorney at the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana, she ran a campaign to end the practice of sentencing juveniles to life without parole. In this role, she organized a coalition comprised of hundreds of impacted community members and several social justice organizations to lobby for sentencing reform, drive a statewide legal strategy to end juvenile life without parole sentencing, and establish re-entry services.

She has also worked with the City of New Orleans Independent Police Monitor, overseeing disciplinary hearings, data collection, and policy reform within the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD). Earlier in her career, she served as a judicial law clerk for the Honorable Audrey L. Thomas of the Superior Court of the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Ms. Ibrahim is a native of Khartoum, Sudan. She received her bachelor’s degree from Hampton University and her juris doctorate from Howard University School of Law.

Background

In 2021, the Arlington County Board established the Community Oversight Board (COB) to improve transparency, accountability, and community trust in the Arlington County Police Department (ACPD). The COB will have the ability to independently receive, investigate, and make recommendations in response to complaints from the community. The ordinance also calls for an accompanying Independent Policing Auditor to support the work of the COB.

The Community Oversight Board, which was appointed in spring 2022, consists of seven voting members and two non-voting members with prior experience in law enforcement. All COB members are residents of Arlington, are appointed by the County Board, and reflect the demographic diversity of the County.

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The top two leaders at Arlington Economic Development, as marked, are leaving (photo illustration by ARLnow, via screenshot of AED website)

It’s not just Telly Tucker who’s leaving Arlington Economic Development.

Tucker become the county’s Director of Economic Development in January 2020, just before the pandemic, after serving in the same role for Danville, Virginia. He’s now returning to Danville to head the state’s Institute for Advanced Learning and Research.

But Tucker is not the only impending high-level departure from AED. Cynthia Richmond, the Arlington’s Deputy Director of Economic Development, is retiring, AED has confirmed to ARLnow.

“Telly’s here through the end of May. His last day in the office is May 27,” said AED spokeswoman Kelly Rindfusz. “Cindy Richmond announced her retirement earlier this year. Her last day with the County is June 17.”

It’s unclear who will replace the organization’s two top leaders, though AED’s No. 3 appears to be staying put.

“County management is developing a continuity plan and will release it in the coming week,” Rindfusz tells ARLnow. “No other senior management departures. Katie McConnell remains as AED’s Assistant Director along with the Division Directors for the department.”

AED also experienced a series of high-profile departures prior to Tucker’s hiring.

Former director Victor Hoskins and interim director Alex Iams were both poached by Fairfax County, while Christina Winn left for Prince William County.

Hoskins helped to shepherd Amazon’s successful bid for Amazon’s HQ2, which has produced its own gravitational pull of new development and new office leases, particularly in the Crystal City and Pentagon City areas. But the turnover at the top of AED raises questions about whether Arlington is maximizing its economic momentum, particularly at a time when pandemic-era work-from-home trends have caused office vacancy rates to rise.

Asked about the ongoing brain drain at the top of the county’s economic development organization, County Board Chair Katie Cristol deferred to County Manager Mark Schwartz, who issued the following statement to ARLnow.

Schwartz praised Tucker and Richmond’s contributions to economic development in Arlington while promising to recruit “talented and skilled leaders” to replace them at AED.

We have been fortunate to have Telly Tucker in the role as Director of Economic Development for the past several years. Telly has been an incredibly valuable team member, especially during COVID over the past two years, especially in addressing business challenges during the COVID pandemic and implementing our small business emergency grants. He has also been instrumental in attracting  businesses of varying sizes from Microsoft to Zebox, and facilitated the development of the “relaunch program” for small businesses. He has also advanced 5G Smart City/Innovation districts with JBG Smith and advanced the resiliency of our commercial market. While we are disappointed that Telly will be leaving Arlington, we are excited for him to have this new opportunity as the President of the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research (IALR), located closer to his family in southern Virginia. And, while AED’s Deputy Director Cynthia Richmond also has a scheduled retirement after 17 years with Arlington County, we appreciate the strong foundation they have both established for our economic development across the County. We will begin recruitment for both of these senior positions as soon as possible and confident that we will identify talented and skilled leaders to continue to support existing businesses, welcome new companies, and expand the economic development principles in our community.

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Arlington County Board adopts FY 2023 budget on April 26, 2022 (via Arlington County)

The Arlington County Board unanimously approved a balanced $1.5 billion annual budget on Tuesday night.

The FY 2023 budget represents a 7.6% revenue and spending increase over the current fiscal year, which ends on June 30.

The new budget follows County Manager Mark Schwartz’s recommendation to hold the real estate tax rate steady at $1.013 per $100 of value, which is an effective tax hike of 5.3% on homeowners given a steep rise in assessments amid a hot local real estate market.

Weakness in commercial property values, given the pandemic and work-at-home trends leading to elevated office vacancy rates, put pressure on the revenue side of the budget. Assessments were flat for commercial property, which makes up more than a third of the county’s property tax base.

“Although I am glad that we could hold to our property tax rate… among the lowest in the region, I know that we all would prefer to be in the situation of our peer jurisdictions who are less dependent on commercial revenue sources and are therefore entertaining rate cuts this year,” County Board Chair Katie Cristol said at the meeting.

She continued: “But by investing in our people, specifically investing in retention and recruitment for the positions and divisions where quality of service is most threatened” — including law enforcement and the fire department — “and prioritizing the urgent as well as important issues of housing equity and climate, I am optimistic that this budget will be one that doesn’t just bridge the pandemic but begins our journey on the other side.”

Increased costs attributable to inflation, meanwhile, while not mentioned in the county press release (below), will likely put pressure on the expense side of the budget.

The new budget represents a 50% increase in spending over the FY 2012 budget approved 11 years ago, when the county budget first hit the $1 billion mark. During that time, the U.S. has seen inflation, as measured by the Consumer Price Index, of 29%, while the county has seen a population increase of roughly 15%.

The FY 2023 budget largely follows Schwartz’s proposed budget. It includes pay hikes for county employees, and even steeper pay increases for the police department, Sheriff’s Office and fire department.

Other local priorities targeted for increased spending include affordable housing and the environment, with the budget funding a new “Office of Climate Coordination and Policy.”

The climate office will be run out of the County Manager’s office and will “focus on advancing key climate policies and strengthen[ing] interdepartmental coordination across government.”

While many will see a tax hike given rising property values, vehicle owners will see a bit of relief with the new budget.

“The budget also includes vehicle tax relief by adjusting the assessment tax ratio to 88 percent of a car’s value and the elimination of the regressive $33 Motor Vehicle Fee for Arlington residents,” notes a county press release. “These changes are in response to a surge in vehicle valuations, directly related to supply chain issues and rising market prices impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

More details about the budget, from the press release, are below.

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Covid test positivity rate in Arlington (via Virginia Dept. of Health)

In another encouraging sign that we’re near the end of the current Covid wave, Arlington’s test positivity rate has dropped back below 5%.

The trailing seven-day average test positivity rate is now 4.8%, according to new Virginia Dept. of Health data. The local rate has generally stayed below 5% except during this winter’s Omicron-variant fueled wave, last winter’s wave, and the initial spring 2020 wave.

Cases are also continuing to fall, dropping to a daily average of 64 today, a tenth of the Jan. 12 peak of 646 cases per day. The last time the average rate of new Covid cases in Arlington was below today’s level was Dec. 10.

Covid cases in Arlington (via Virginia Dept. of Health)

Covid-related hospitalizations, meanwhile, have fallen to three per week as of this morning. Four Covid deaths have been reported over the past week in Arlington. Deaths are a lagging indicator that generally follow earlier rises in cases and hospitalizations.

At Tuesday’s County Board meeting, Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz said that “Arlington continues to see a decrease in our cases and hospitalizations.”

“While cases continue in the right direction, I just wanted to take the opportunity to remind everybody that they still need to use multiple strategies to keep themselves safe from COVID-19,” Schwartz said. “The best defense that we have against hospitalization and death is still vaccination and staying up with boosters.”

“In Arlington County, approximately 86% of eligible residents have received at least one dose, and 64% of the kids in the 5-11 year old range have at least one dose,” he noted.

Cases are falling across the Washington region. Earlier this week D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced that the District would lift its vaccine mandate for businesses and “dial back” some of its indoor masking rules. Virgina, which has generally had lighter restrictions than neighboring D.C. and Maryland during the pandemic, is set to make masks optional for public school students on March 1.

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Arlington County Mark Schwartz (file photo by Jay Westcott)

Most homeowners will be on the hook for higher property taxes under a budget proposal by Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz.

Schwartz’s proposed 2022-2023 budget would fund raises for county employee amid inflation and competition with other local jurisdictions. It would also provide more funding for schools and spend several million dollars on efforts intended to address climate change.

While Schwartz proposed a property tax rate that’s unchanged from 2021, a 5.8% rise in residential property assessments will result in an effective tax hike for most homeowners.

In all, the average homeowner will see a $505 rise in local taxes in fees compared to last year, including $388 in additional property taxes.

Tax and fee burden under proposed FY 2023 budget (via Arlington County)

The budget proposal focuses on attracting and retaining county employees through raises, bonuses and other actions. It includes larger raises for police, fire and other public safety employees, amid ongoing recruiting challenges.

From Schwartz’s presentation to the County Board on Saturday:

Increases to ongoing salaries:

  • 4.25% for general employees
  • 6.50% for public safety employees
  • 3.0% increase to the minimum and maximum of each grade/range

Other actions:

  • $1,600 gross one-time bonus
  • Funded job studies including administrative, parks programming, and library positions ($0.8 million)
  • $1.5 million for the first year of a multi-year effort to address pay compression
  • No premium increase for the self-insured health plan

The pay compression item is intended to address the issue of new hires sometimes making more than employees who have been with the county for awhile, due to increases in pay scales outpacing annual raises.

Other focuses of the budget include housing, climate change and schools, including:

  • An increase in funding earmarked to prevent evictions
  • $4.4 million in climate change initiatives, including up to 53 new electric vehicles for the county fleet and new EV charging infrastructure
  • A 8.7% increase in the budget transfer to Arlington Public Schools, for a total of $576 million

Under the budget proposal, Arlington’s funding for Metro will remain flat at $46.6 million. Covid-related initiatives, mostly from federal funds, include a $3.25 million tourism recovery grant.

The budget totals $1.47 million, a 5.5% increase over last year. Excluding the school transfer, the county government itself would have an operating budget of $894.1 million, a 3.6% year-over-year increase.

At $1.013 per every $100 in assessed value, Arlington’s property tax rate would be lower than the current rates for neighboring Alexandria ($1.11) and Fairfax County ($1.14). Both of those jurisdictions, which saw steeper growth in property assessments this year while the average home value remains below that of Arlington, will be selecting a new proposed tax rate over the next week or so.

Real estate tax and assessment comparisons (via Arlington County)

The County Board is set to vote on advertising a tax rate cap at its meeting tomorrow, then will hold a series of public hearings on the budget and the tax rate at the end of March before voting on a final budget and rate at its Saturday, April 23 meeting.

The full county press release about the proposed FY 2023 budget is below.

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(Updated at 1:45 p.m.) Arlington’s property tax rate would not increase this year, under a proposal by Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz.

The County Manager’s recommendation for the advertised property tax rate was released ahead of Tuesday’s County Board meeting. The Board will vote at the meeting to advertise a rate, which sets the maximum rate that can be approved in a subsequent budget vote by the Board this spring.

A report notes that due to rises in property assessments this year, setting the same rate will be an effective tax increase on both homeowners and commercial property owners.

“The current base rate is $1.013 per $100 of real estate value,” says the report. “For FY 2023, this tax is projected to generate $852.2 million, which is 6.0 percent ($47.9 million) above FY 2022.”

“The average home value is up 5.3 percent over last year, from $724,400 to $762,700,” the report adds. “Overall, commercial property assessments increased by 0.6% over the previous year. At the current real estate rate of $1.013 plus the $0.017 rate for stormwater, the average Arlington homeowner would pay $7,856 per year in real estate taxes, a $395 or 5.3 percent increase over CY 2021.”

To generate the same property tax revenue as last year — an unlikely prospect given that the county previously referenced a “challenge in balancing the FY 2023 Budget” giving rising expenditures —  the Board would have to lower the tax rate significantly.

“The tax rate which would levy the same amount of real estate tax as last year, when multiplied by the new total assessed value of real estate with the exclusions mentioned above, would be $0.990 per $100 of assessed value,” the report says.

Among Schwartz’s other budget recommendations, the Board will consider lowering the annual Household Solid Waste rate from $318.61 to $307.89, thanks to a rise in the value of recycled material. Additionally, fees for ambulance transport services are set to be raised to between $750-1,000, depending on the level of care, which a Board report says is in line with the fees charged by other D.C. area jurisdictions.

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(Updated at 5:40 p.m.) Arlington County police created a new foot pursuit policy, updated how officers use force and pursue vehicles, and began making more data and information accessible to the public.

Those are a few of the changes at the police department in response to an external report on Arlington’s policing practices publicly released on Wednesday. Some policy updates are still being finalized.

Following a study by the Police Practices Group, a work group that reviewed the police department’s policies and made more than 100 recommendations for changes, an external law enforcement and public safety consulting firm reviewed several areas of the department and made additional recommendations.

The firm, Hillard Heintze, recommended the department create a recruitment policy, better utilize data it collects, and offer training designed for those seeking promotion or special assignments, among other recommendations. They evaluated practices and policies across internal affairs, use of force, cameras, recruitment and retention, training and supervision and data/statistics.

The department has compiled responses to the findings and recommendations, creating a number of new policies, revising others and making information they already have or collect, such as internal disciplinary actions, more readily available.

County Manager Mark Schwartz said ACPD devoted hundreds of hours to providing the firm with what they needed for the study.

“As the report noted, ACPD sets a high standard for behavior and accountability for itself, which is demonstrated by how officers interact with the community,” he wrote in a letter to the community about the report. “In addition, there were suggestions for improved policies and practices which ACPD immediately embraced once identified by HH and the PPG.”

The external review took place while some changes identified were already underway to address the recommendations from the Police Practices Group, which provided its final report early in 2021. The PPG’s report guided appropriations included in the County Board’s 2022 budget, and guided the ordinance that created a Community Oversight Board.

The PPG also influenced ACPD to revise its use-of-force policies to ensure they lined up with best practices and community expectations, according to the report. The policy was updated to include “prohibiting the use of neck restraints unless immediately necessary, clarifying officer’s responsibility to intervene to prevent or stop the use of excessive force, rendering first aid when necessary, highlighting the sanctity of life, increasing focus on de-escalation and other updates.”

Since these updates were already underway, the external firm had no specific recommendations relating to the new use of force policy but did say the department should “closely scrutinize use-of-force incidents, audit use-of-force training to ensure policy is operationalized on the street and ensure it has incorporated the new requirements into training.”

“I truly believe ACPD is an exceptional police department, but recognize there is always room for improvement,” Arlington Police Chief Andy Penn said in a statement to ARLnow. “Many of the recommendations outlined in the external assessment help move us forward in our mission to reduce incidences of crime and improve quality of life and have already been acted on by ACPD.”

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A group of Arlington County first responders and staff from other departments are petitioning the county to reverse course on its vaccine mandate.

Those who elect not to get the vaccine risk losing their jobs come February, per the county’s updated vaccine policy, shared with ARLnow.

Arlington County mandated vaccines for all government employees back in August, requiring those who were unvaccinated to submit to weekly testing. Since then, the county added a deadline to its policy: unvaccinated employees have until Feb. 1, 2022 to get the vaccine or get a medical or religious exemption. Those without a vaccine or an exemption on Feb. 1 will be placed on leave, and if they obtain neither before Feb. 28, 2022, they lose their jobs.

Some 278 of 3,137 permanent county employees are unvaccinated, including an unknown number of religious or medical exemptions, according to Public Health Division spokesman Ryan Hudson.

Those requesting the county to change its policy are asking for “more reciprocal ideas” for ensuring employee health and safety. The petition, started by firefighter Sterling Montague, has garnered nearly 300 signatures, from employees and their friends and family.

“More people came out in the last week than I ever knew of who are in support of the guys who don’t want to get the vaccine,” Montague tells ARLnow, adding that the coalition represents different demographics and opinions, including those who are vaccinated but oppose mandates.

“We aren’t uniformly anything,” he said. “We are anti-mandate for lots of reasons… [and] we have a diverse group that includes African-Americans and Hispanics.”

The petition says the mandate disproportionately harms people of color and it’s unclear what recourse folks have if those forced to take the vaccine suffer side effects. Objections to the shot, meanwhile, include that it was designed for a previous version of the virus and only protects for a short period of time and wanes, requiring an unknown number of additional boosters.

The county maintains that vaccines are safe and the best protection against COVID-19 — something echoed by the vast majority of doctors and public health professionals.

Arlington Public Health Director Dr. Reuben Varghese said mandates work, linking rising vaccination rates among those older than 18 to various mandates during a County Board recessed meeting on Tuesday.

Rather than terminate up to 10% of employees — while the county faces ongoing and predicted workforce shortages among first responders and in other county departments — the petition suggests affordable, at-work tests for unvaccinated folks and those who report to work with symptoms while counting previous COVID-19 cases towards immunization.

Testing isn’t cheap. For the last three weeks, that testing has cost the county about $7,300 per week, but it’s 100% reimbursed under the White House’s COVID-19 Disaster Declaration, Hudson said.

Those opposed to the mandate say these temporary solutions are important as the pandemic and the vaccines evolve and because they’re worried few who applied will be granted religious and medical exemptions.

“It’s like they’re trying to fire us before things change,” Montague said. “If, in a year, this is the same, you’d have a year more credibility to fire us, but it doesn’t make sense to fire us as soon as possible.” Read More

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What appears when a broken link is clicked on Arlington County’s new website (via Arlington County)

Arlington’s County Manager has apologized for the frustrating user experience on the new county website, which has left thousands of broken links in the wake of its launch.

The new website, sporting the new county logo, was implemented one month ago and since then those trying to navigate the site or search for information on the site via Google are frequently getting “Page or Site Not Found” errors.

“Not only are members of the community members frustrated, I’m frustrated — as are a lot of county employees,” County Manager Mark Schwartz told Board members yesterday. “We use the website all the time.”

On Tuesday afternoon, Schwartz provided County Board members with an update on staff’s efforts to restore many of the broken links — 6,634 by the county’s count — to working order by Thanksgiving. Progress is being made and users can expect next week a “marked improvement” to the broken links, as well as the website’s internal search engine, Schwartz said.

Despite knowing broken links would pose a problem, Arlington forged ahead with the move to the new website anyway because the old platform was, according to Schwartz, not secure and on the brink of collapse.

“We didn’t do it on a whim. Our old platform was wobbly and about to fall over,” he said. “We were forced to go a little bit earlier than we wanted to, given that the alternative was that our old website — which everyone now misses — was about to fall over.”

He also tried to take a swipe at ARLnow’s article yesterday about the broken links, which included a screenshot of a platform that tracks broken links to websites.

“If it didn’t make me cry, it was funny, in ARLnow there was an article published today saying there were 900,000 broken links on our website,” he said. “We only have 187,000 [links]. I think there’s something broken in that article.”

The number, generated by a broken link checker on the search engine optimization website Ahrefs, in fact refers to the number of inbound links to the county site — from other websites including those of news outlets, local civic associations, etc. — that are now broken.

Result of broken link checker for the county website (via ahrefs.com)

Those who encounter broken links can reach out to the county or use the reporting function at the bottom of the “Page or Site Not Found” page, officials said.

Board member Libby Garvey thanked those who have already written the county with links to fix.

“It reminds me of snow plowing. There might be cul-de-sac somewhere we might have missed and people let us know,” she said. “I know they’re often upset but that helps us get in there because we really don’t know everything all the time.”

Board Vice-Chair Katie Cristol said she appreciated Schwartz’s explanation of the timing of the website transition.

“People, Board members included, expect a high level of service from Arlington, and are disappointed when it’s not met,” she said. “Understanding there was some urgency, security reasons being part of that, is really helpful context.”

Still, the website launch promised “exciting things to come” and has yet to deliver, Board member Christian Dorsey said.

“You heightened people’s expectations they were going to get a fully finished product,” he said, drawing attention to other unfinished aspects, such as missing photos or icons and inconsistent grammar and syntax.

In response, Schwartz said every department will have someone click through each page to pinpoint those inconsistencies.

Two fixes will take more time, officials said. First, about half of the broken links are associated with old press releases, which are low on the county’s list of things to fix. Second, there are still issues with searching for PDFs uploaded to the website.

“We’re working through the challenges,” Assistant County Manager Bryna Helfer said.

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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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