(Updated at 4:05 p.m.) Arlington’s four candidates for the County Board agree that Arlington County should take more steps to support small businesses.
The County Board hopefuls articulated their plans for supporting the business community and encouraging economic development during an Arlington Chamber of Commerce candidate forum last night (Tuesday).
Candidates suggested providing grants, cutting certain taxes and fees, expanding online permit applications, and improving both the county’s regulatory processes and how county staff help businesses navigate them.
The debate was moderated by Alex Koma of the Washington Business Journal, a former ARLnow reporter. Koma also asked candidates about office space vacancies, housing and development.
Citing his “Freedom and Justice Plan,” Democratic challenger Chanda Choun said he would encourage public-private partnerships that fund grants for startups and minority-owned businesses, which often struggle to get loans. He would also eliminate the Business, Professional and Occupational License (BPOL) tax, which is calculated based on the gross receipts of a business.
“If you’re a small mom and pop, and you generate revenue — not even profit — of $10,000 or more, you have to start paying business license fees,” he said. “It makes no sense.”
Independent candidate and Yorktown Civic Association President Mike Cantwell said the county should eliminate the business tangible tax — which taxes the assessed value of business furniture, machinery, tools and computer equipment — and instead tax specific things like automated checkout machines.
“The business tangible tax takes in approximately 4% of revenue for the entire budget and it is a highly inefficient tax and an administrative burden on small businesses,” he said, adding that “we have a role to play to make sure machines don’t replace humans.”
Perennial independent candidate Audrey Clement supported expanding the Permit Arlington portal, which took some permits process online in 2019 (a dozen others are already slated to go digital through 2022). She said the county needs to keep up its vaccine distribution efforts and review the real estate assessment process.
Democratic incumbent Takis Karantonis called for small business grants; better customer service for people navigating county, state and federal regulations; and — for big businesses — a review of county processes to see if they are efficient.
“We need to create something that will sustain [the smallest, women-owned and Black- and Brown-owned businesses] in the long term,” Karantonis said, adding that continuing a pandemic-era business loan program “would be a signal that we welcome them and are committed to restoring neighborhood retail and retail diversity.”
Mike Cantwell is seeking an Arlington County Board seat.
Arlington’s elections office confirmed Wednesday morning that Cantwell indicated by email his intention to run but hadn’t yet filed paperwork.
Cantwell told ARLnow.com that he’s running as an independent.
A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, he’s held positions with the federal government and currently works for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency as a branch chief. He has two graduate degrees, including one from the U.S. Naval War College.
Cantwell said he wants to “end one-party rule” in Arlington, focus on core services, curb rapid urbanization, support small businesses by lowering taxes, and better fund the county auditor’s office.
He will face the Democratic nominee, either County Board incumbent Takis Karantonis or challenger Chanda Choun, as well as independent Audrey Clement, a frequent candidate for local office.
Democrats will choose their nominee through a June 8 primary. Arlington Republicans have until June 13 to nominate a candidate for the general election.
Cantwell and his wife have three children, ages 21, 19 and 16.
Among his numerous activities within the community, he’s the president of the Yorktown Civic Association and former board member of the Lee Highway Alliance that’s sought to revitalize the corridor to benefit businesses and neighborhoods.
Cantwell has been active with the nonprofit Arlington County Civic Federation, but resigned from his position on the federation’s board last month to pursue a run for County Board. He is also the vice president of FairVote Virginia, an organization seeking election reform, particularly with ranked-choice voting.
The five-person County Board, whose members serve four-year terms, currently consists entirely of Democrats. The last time an independent candidate won a seat there was John Vihstadt in 2014.
Karantonis secured a partial term to the seat in a July 2020 special election, following the death of former Board member Erik Gutshall.
Cantwell and the other three candidates are set to appear together via Zoom for the Arlington Chamber of Commerce’s annual County Board Candidate Forum this coming Tuesday, May 25.
Photo courtesy Mike Cantwell