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JUST IN: Proposed County Budget Would Trim Programs, Keep Tax Rate Steady

Community paper shredding events. Arlington’s poet laureate. The Citizen newsletter.

Those are a few of the relatively small cuts that add up to enough savingsin County Manager Mark Schwartz’s new proposed budget to bridge Arlington’s $20 million budget gap.

The proposed $1.27 billion budget, which is being presented to the County Board today (Thursday), keeps the county’s property tax rate steady — at $0.993 per $100 in assessed value, per the County Board’s earlier guidance — while generating some new revenue through slightly higher utility taxes and additional paid parking hours, rates and fines, among other measures. It includes $775.9 million for the county’s operating budget and $498 million for schools.

Schwartz says his budget cuts 50 county programs and eliminates 48 jobs, including 29 currently filled positions. It includes $8.4 million in spending reductions, $6.6 million in fee and tax increases and $5.5 million in “funding realignments.”

The cuts are necessary, in part, due to budget pressures from Metro and the need to raise employee salaries, particularly in the police and fire departments, to remain competitive with nearby jurisdictions. Arlington’s fast-rising home values, which have helped the county keep up with rising expenses, were offset this year falling commercial property values caused by higher office vacancy rates.

Among the ways the proposed budget increases county revenues:

  • Commercial utility taxes increased by 5%
  • Residential utility tax increased to $3/month per utility (revenue earmarked for schools and the county’s Affordable Housing Investment Fund, which is proposed at $13.7 million, matching last year’s AHIF proposal)
  • Parking rates increased by $0.25/hour
  • Parking meter hours extended to 8 p.m.
  • Parking fines increased from $35 to $40
  • Household Solid Waste fee up $2/year

Among the proposed cuts and “realignments:”

  • The Citizen printed newsletter, sent to all county residents ($82,000/year)
  • Lee Highway planning process scaled back ($500,000)
  • ART routes 54 and 92 eliminated ($350,000/year)
  • Snow blower loaner program eliminated ($30,000/year)
  • Free community paper shred events eliminated ($20,000/year)
  • Arlington Initiative to Rethink Energy residential rebate program cut ($555,000)
  • Poet laureate eliminated along with other humanities programs ($77,000)
  • Long Bridge Park Fourth of July event entertainment eliminated ($50,000)
  • County window washing reduced from twice to once per year ($48,000)
  • In-house pharmacy and lab services cut from Dept. of Human Services ($625,000)
  • Reduction in DHS employment services staffing ($825,000)
  • Eliminate the Office of Community Health in the Dept. of Parks and Recreation ($483,000)
  • Eliminate a youth boxing program ($85,000)
  • Eliminate a parks volunteer office ($197,000)
  • Reduce money earmarked for Crystal City infrastructure, originally intended for the streetcar project, as generated via Tax Increment Financing (about $1 million)
  • Reduce the parks department vehicle fleet ($52,000)
  • Cut county funding for Arlington Independent Media by 20 percent ($91,000)
  • Eliminate the county cable administrator, who receives complaints about cable service from residents ($181,000)

The budget includes raises for many county employees, and even higher raises for most public safety personnel. Police officers, from the rank of sergeant on down, will see an additional 2.5 percent increase in pay, while firefighters will get an extra 4 percent bump over other county employees. Schwartz acknowledged that the departments have been having trouble filling open positions due to competition from other jurisdictions.

Schwartz said he and the county’s economic development office are determined to reduce Arlington’s office vacancy rate, which is back to nearly 20 percent after ticking down a bit from its previous high water mark. Schwartz expects office vacancies will put pressure on the budget for the next several years.

“It remains my primary focus to work on that vacancy rate, to get it down,” he said in a budget briefing with reporters. “We need to work through this problem. We have a lot of economic projects that are coming into the county, but this is the underlying problem that is going to challenge us in coming years.”

The Arlington County Board will advertise a property tax rate on Saturday, setting a ceiling on what the rate may go up to, and will hold various budget work sessions and hearings between now and final adoption on April 21.

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Arlington Agenda: Feb. 20-25

Arlington Agenda is a listing of interesting events for the week ahead in Arlington County. If you’d like to see your event featured, fill out the event submission form.

Also, be sure to check out our event calendar.

 Tuesday, Feb. 20

Optimal Physical Therapy Open House*
Optimal Physical Therapy (1700 N. Moore Street)
Time: 4-7 p.m.

Meet with physical therapists, enjoy light refreshments, and tour the new Optimal Physical Therapy location at the Rosslyn Metro Center building.

Pet Dental Care 101
Aurora Hills Library (735 18th Street S.)
Time: 5-6 p.m.

Clarendon Animal Care presents an pet oral health lesson. It’s national pet dental health month, so now is as good as ever to learn how to take care of your cat’s bad breath.

Toastmasters Open House
Asahi Restaraunt (2250 Clarendon Boulevard)
Time: 7-8:30 p.m.

An evening dedicated to the organization focused on improving public speaking and leadership skills, where interested potential toastmasters can ask questions and learn more over dinner.

Wednesday, Feb. 21

Introduction to Python
Arlington Central Library (1015 N. Quincy Street)
Time: 6:30-8:30 p.m.

Learn the Python programming language for free with this beginner’s course aimed at introducing debugging and other software programming fundamentals. Registration is required.

Arlington Committee of 100: Opioid Crisis Conversation*
Marymount University – Phelan Hall (2807 N. Glebe Road)
Time: 7 p.m.

A dinner conversation focused on addressing the opioid crisis’ causes and effects in Arlington, and what the community and officials can do to stop the epidemic. Dinner is $28 for members, $30 otherwise.

 Thursday, Feb. 22

Pups & Pints*
Latitude Apartments (3601 Fairfax Drive)
Time: 6-8 p.m.

Latitude Apartments presents a free happy hour for you and your puppies, with snacks, drinks, and socializing for all. Be sure to check out the puppy photo booth!

Right Proper Beer and Donuts Night at Sugar Shack
Sugar Shack Donuts & Coffee (1014 S. Glebe Road)
Time: 4:30-9:30 p.m.

Right Proper Brewing brings several of their beers — including their cherry-aged Cheree Berliner-Weissenborn — to the donut shop for an evening of beer pairings, paninis, and pastries.

Black Music Matters
Aurora Hills Library (735 18th Street S.)
Time: 7-8 p.m.

Celebrate Black History Month with Katea Stitt, the program director at WPFW-FM 89.3, as she examines black music’s evolution and the impact it has had on social justice initiatives.

 Friday, Feb. 23

Creative Coffee: Ink Washes
Connection: Crystal City (2100 Crystal Drive)
Time: 11 a.m.-12 p.m.

A casual weekly creative meet-up for artists to experiment and improve their work in a social setting. Bring your own materials to this adult-friendly gathering.

St. Agnes Soup Supper*
St. Agnes Catholic Church (1910 N. Randolph Street)
Time: 5:30-7 p.m.

The church will offer meatless soups and a noodle dish, and more every Friday during the Lenten holiday. Guests are invited to stay for confession and the stations of the cross afterwards.

Val Kilmer: Cinema Twain
Arlington Drafthouse (2903 Columbia Pike)
Time: 7:30 p.m.

Actor and Director Val Kilmer, of Top Gun and Batman Forever, presents a screening on his one-man show, Citizen Twain. Tickets from $30-$75. Through February 24.

Saturday, Feb. 24

Poetry Reading: Douglass & Waters
One More Page Books (2200 N. Westmoreland Street)
Time: 7-8 p.m.

Two award-winning poets — M. Scott Douglass and Jesse Waters, come to the bookstore to read from their books as well as other collections.

Urban Agriculture: Plan & Prepare Your Vegetable Garden
Westover Library (1644 N. McKinley Road)
Time: 10:30 a.m.-12 p.m.

Learn how to bring some gardening techniques to your balcony, roof deck, or larger urban space with the latest installment in the library’s urban agriculture series. This month’s topic will be planning and preparing a vegetable garden. Reservations requested.

Sunday, Feb. 25

A Diana Peterfreund Conversation: Omega City Trilogy
One More Page Books (2200 N. Westmoreland Street)
Time: 3-4 p.m.

Author Diana Peterfreund discusses the final installment of her tween intergalactic adventure series, Omega City. Peterfreund has penned over ten novels for adults, kids, and everyone in between.

* Denotes featured (sponsored) event

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Arlington Agenda: February 12-18

Arlington Agenda is a listing of interesting events for the week ahead in Arlington County. If you’d like to see your event featured, fill out the event submission form.

Also, be sure to check out our event calendar.

 Tuesday, Feb. 13

Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper
St. John’s Episcopal Church (415 S. Lexington Street)
Time: 6-7:30 p.m.

Join the Shrove Tuesday celebration with the traditional pancake feasting prior to the Lenten fasting. Adults pay $5 each and $3 each for kids 6-12. Younger children are free.

Clarendon Mardi Gras Parade
Wilson Boulevard from Barton to Irving Streets
Time: 7-11 p.m.

A family-friendly parade with marchers, bands, and the occasional dressed up dog or pony. Expect lots of costumes and beads thrown from parade floats.

Wednesday, Feb. 14

St. Agnes Ash Wednesday Mass
St. Agnes Catholic Church (1910 N. Randolph Street)
Time: 6:30 a.m. – 7:30 p.m.

Worshipers can attend Ash Wednesday Masses throughout the day, from early morning until mid-evening, to celebrate the beginning of Lent and receive their ashes.

 Thursday, Feb. 15

Archives of American Gardens: Capturing Garden History
Little Falls Presbyterian Church (6025 Little Falls Road)
Time: 11 a.m. – 12 p.m.

The Smithsonian Gardens’ horticulture collections manager, Cindy Brown, will discuss American garden history conservation with photographs and documents. An optional lunch is $5.

 Friday, Feb. 16

Creative Coffee: Mark Making
Connection: Crystal City (2100 Crystal Drive)
Time: 11 a.m. – 12 p.m.

A casual weekly creative meet-up for artists to experiment and improve their work in a social setting. Bring your own materials to this adult-friendly gathering.

Sound Check: Music Bingo
Mister Days Sports Rock Cafe (3100 Clarendon Blvd)
Time: 6 – 8 p.m.

Test your musical trivia knowledge with an aurally-inspired bingo game. You’ll have 30 seconds to figure out a song and match it to your bingo card. Prizes after every round and happy hour pricing.

Chinese New Year Celebration
Long Branch Nature Center (625 S Carlin Springs Road)
Time: 6 – 7:30 p.m.

Celebrate the Chinese New Year with the naturalists at Long Branch Nature Center. There will be live animals, dragon crafts, and a short hike holiday-themed hike.

St. Agnes Soup Supper
St. Agnes Catholic Church (1910 N. Randolph Street)
Time: 11 a.m. – 12 p.m.

The church will offer meatless soups and a noodle dish, and more every Friday during the Lenten holiday. Guests are invited to stay for confession and the stations of the cross afterwards.

Sarah Colonna Live
Arlington Drafthouse (2903 Columbia Pike)
Time: 10 p.m.

Comedian, author, and Chelsea Lately roundtable regular Sarah Colonna performs at the Arlington Drafthouse with three performances over two nights,

 Saturday, Feb. 17

USA-Russia Olympic Hockey Watch Party Brunch
Quinn’s On The Corner (1776 Wilson Boulevard)
Time: 6:45 a.m. – 5 p.m.

The Courthouse sports bar is opening very early for an Olympic USA versus Russia hockey watch party, with $1 champagne flutes and brunch until 5 p.m.

Hamiltunes: An American Singalong
Arlington Central Library (1015 N. Quincy Street)
Time: 12 – 4 p.m.

Sing along to the music of “Hamilton: An American Musical.” Revolutionary War-era costumes encouraged and appreciated. A costume contest will be held during intermission.

Studio Xfinity’s Lunar New Year
Studio Xfinity (3601 Fairfax Drive)
Time: 1 – 5 p.m.

A free celebration at Studio Xfinity for the Year of the Dog, with dragon dancers, calligraphy, a fortune cookie bar, and more activities.

Conversation: Poets Jodie Hollander and Robert Mezey
One More Page Books (2200 N. Westmoreland Street)
Time: 6 – 7 p.m.

Poets Jodie Hollander and Robert Mezey will read from their works. Hollander will share from her collection, My Dark Horses. Poet and critic Mezey will share from his award-winning body of work.

 Sunday, Feb. 18

President’s Day Celebration at Market Common
The Loop at Market Common (2800 Clarendon Boulevard)
Time: 12:30  – 3:30 p.m.

Don’t want to race yourself? Watch the Washington Nationals’ Presidents race around the Loop. Free Nicecream hot cocoa provided, and there will be a photo booth and prize wheel.

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ARLnow Holiday Weekend Discussion

Wreaths on gravestones at Arlington National Cemetery 2016 (Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman)

The team behind ARLnow.com wishes you and yours a very merry Christmas and a happy Hanukkah this weekend.

Barring major breaking news, we will be taking a brief holiday hiatus until Tuesday morning. In the meantime, you’re welcome to discuss the holiday or any other topic of local interest in the comments.

We leave you with the following original poem, written by local resident James Miller in iambic trimeter. It’s entitled “Christmas in Rosslyn.”

Christmas here in Rosslyn.
Lights shine like the dawning.
The wreaths are strewn across
Storefront and the awning.

Christmas here in Rosslyn.
Many a sight be seen
on Wilson Boulevard.
Baubles of red and green.

Christmas here in Rosslyn.
The new buildings in grow.
Progress for the new year.
Concrete with hope, we sow.

Christmas here in Rosslyn.
Iwo Jima lights dark.
Heroes for a nation.
In ground we leave their mark.

Christmas here in Rosslyn.
Cemetery sits cold.
Wreaths lie in remembrance.
The sacrifice of old.

Christmas here in Rosslyn.
The few do still recall.
The true love offered for
The victims of the Fall.

Christmas here in Rosslyn.
May we remember why
The gift we all receive
The day our death did die.

Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman

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Morning Notes

Pedestrian crossing the street in Clarendon in front of traffic

Arcing Insulator at Rosslyn Metro — An electrical issue on the Metrorail tracks outside of the Rosslyn station caused delays on the Blue, Orange and Silver lines during this morning’s rush hour. The arcing insulator prompted single-tracking and a large fire department response. [WJLA]

Beyer to Shadow DCA Worker — Today, from 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m., Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) is expected to “accompany contracted wheelchair agents to learn first-hand their role helping passengers with disabilities at Reagan National Airport.” The workers and their union, 32BJ SEIU, are fighting for a $15 per hour wage. Currently, they receive as little as $6 per hour plus “unreliable tips.”

Samsung Collecting Note 7 at DCA — Electronics manufacturer Samsung has set up a booth at Reagan National Airport to collect their now recalled and discontinued Galaxy Note 7 phones, which are banned from flights due to a propensity to randomly go up in flames. [Twitter]

I-395 HOT Lane Update — VDOT updated the Arlington County Board yesterday on its “managed HOV/toll lanes” project slated for I-395. County staff is currently studying traffic and noise impacts to Arlington and the project’s allocation of at least $15 million per year to transit along the corridor, which the county believes is insufficient. [Arlington County]

Tech Incubator Founder Moves to Arlington — Evan Burfield, the founder of D.C.-based tech incubator 1776, has moved to Arlington with his wife and one-year-old daughter. Burfield chose a $1.6 million home in the Aurora Highlands neighborhood outside of Crystal City, calling it “a great buy on an up-and-coming area.” 1776 has a location in Crystal City that Burfield said is performing well. [Washington Business Journal]

Police: Arlington Man Called Reporter the N-Word — An Arlington man, 21-year-old Brian Eybers, has been arrested in Charleston, South Carolina on disorderly conduct and drug-related charges. A local TV reporter in Charleston says Eybers called him the N-word and then stood in front of his news van, blocking it from leaving. [The State]

Interview with Poet Laureate — Northern Virginia Magazine recently interviewed Arlington’s new poet laureate, Katherine Young. [Northern Virginia Magazine]

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Arlington’s First Poet Laureate Reads a Poem About a Storm

Arlington’s recently-appointed poet laureate read a new original poem at one of last week’s Arlington County Board meetings.

At the Tuesday, July 19 meeting, poet Katherine E. Young read a poem entitled “Evening Storm: Ballston,” which depicts the aftermath of a thunderstorm that felled a tree in the area.

“This poem describes an actual storm that took place near Lubber Run Park but it could very easily serve as a metaphor for where we as a community and we as a country find ourselves now,” said Young, who’s the first poet laureate in the county’s history.

The poem is transcribed below.

All last night, the sirens shrieked.
Fire trucks skittered like water bugs, their plastic eyelids conning streets gorged and rivered by the storm.
Daylight reveals buds, limbs, entire trees shattered where they stand.
Already, chain saws roll their metallic rrrrrs.
In my neighbor’s yard, a fresh cut stump.
The raw wood, cool, wet, smooth to the touch.
Twenty-six rings, 26 years of xylem and phloem ferrying food and water for the care and feeding of this one tree.
It might have stood for years to come, shading this house, shading the houses that follow this one.
All of the houses and the tree itself pretending that the shading of houses is the purpose set out for the tree.
Surely there’s some purpose for everything.
Surely what we do here has meaning.
Why else would we have crept last night from our hiding places to flit along streets littered by downed trees and power lines.
Strange nocturnal insects marking the darkened blocks with the scent of our headlights.

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