Arlington County Board candidates say they would like more coordination and transparency from the School Board when it comes to annual budgets and long-term plans.
The discussion arose last night (Wednesday) during an Arlington Committee of 100 candidate forum.
Candidates were asked if they support increasing the share of tax revenue the county transfers to Arlington Public Schools to, among other reasons, further tackle Covid-era learning loss. They were also asked how they would promote sustainable growth in Arlington County with an eye toward how that impacts the school system.
In their responses, Democratic candidates Maureen Coffey and Susan Cunningham hinted at closer scrutiny of the budget but pointed to a different issue they would to address: county-school coordination. Independent Audrey Clement and Republican Juan Carlos Fierro, meanwhile, said it may be time to revisit how much money the schools receive.
Every year, the county transfers money to APS, which it uses to fund most — around 75-79% — of its annual budget. The percent of revenue shared has remained fairly constant in the last two decades.
The dollar amount transferred, however, has risen steadily in the last three budgets after more modest upticks between 2017 and 2020.
Given the recent increases, Fierro says it is time to study the county’s revenue share to APS, which currently sits at 46.8%.
“That, plus the allowance we have to give to Metro, is a lot for Arlington County,” he said. “We have to find a way to study how we can try to lower that amount, but of course, the quality has to be the same.”
Fierro contrasted the rising contributions to APS with the county’s budget surplus, suggesting residents may be over-taxed. At the close of each fiscal year, the county puts surplus, or “closeout funds,” toward a variety of expenses, a practice that has its critics, who say it should instead help stave off tax increases.
“It’s a lot of money,” he said. “One of my radical ideas is that this money goes back to taxpayers. We’re living in challenging times.”
Clement said she agreed.
“We are really imposing a huge tax burden on our residents,” she said. “I believe it is unsustainable because it’s over twice the rate of inflation and I think we ought to look at ways to streamline our budget, not ways to increase it.”
Clement further argued against increasing the budget for APS, citing falling enrollment projections over the next decade.
“I understand that the greatest problem facing our schools is the achievement gap, which grew significantly during Covid,” she said. “I don’t think throwing more money at that particular problem is going to solve it.”
Coffey and Cunningham were modest in their suggestions to review county transfers to APS but said they were open to that conversation.
Like Clement, they said the main issue county leaders need to address regarding the school system is poor coordination. They argued this can lead to redundant spending and service gaps.
After a summer lull, politicking in Arlington is back in full swing.
For candidates, the first big stop on the campaign trail was an in-person and virtual forum hosted by the Arlington County Civic Federation, or CivFed, last night (Tuesday).
Democrat and Republican candidates for the state legislature outlined their top social and economic goals, while the four Arlington County Board candidates, meanwhile, were quizzed on more local topics, including government transparency — a key issue for CivFed that roiled the organization earlier this year.
State senate challengers emerge
Two Republicans are challenging Arlington’s two long-time incumbent Democrat state senators: Sophia Moshasha, vying for the 39th District seat against Adam Ebbin, and David Henshaw, going up against Barbara Favola for the 40th District seat.
Last night, the four candidates staked out their party-line positions on center-stage social issues, including abortion, gun violence, public education and crime.
Favola and Ebbin say they are both focused on codifying abortion rights and banning “assault-style” weapons.
Ebbin said his other top priorities “are a state government that fights for Virginians and an economy that works for Virginia, but we need to keep improving our K-12 public education system.”
Both incumbents pointed to their years of experience legislating under Republican and Democrat governors as reasons voters should re-elect them.
“I have always been very pragmatic,” Favola said. “I think I’m one of the more successful lawmakers in terms of gaining bipartisan support for my bills, and actually having my bill signed.”
Both Republicans styled themselves as “political outsiders.” Echoing similar language from GOP Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin during his race and tenure, the candidates called on the state to safeguard the rights of parents to “have a say” in their child’s education. They both also called for increased funding for law enforcement to address crime.
“I am concerned — and a little bit upset — with the direction that our country and our state are going, particularly with regard to education, the high cost of living and crime,” Henshaw said. “Arlington deserves a choice in the election coming up.”
Criticizing Favola’s support of abortion rights, Henshaw said he supports a 15-week abortion ban, with exceptions for the health of the mother as well as rape and incest, as well as lower state taxes.
Moshasha, meanwhile, has made technology and science a marquee issue. Going up against Ebbin, who chairs two senate committees focused on technology, she says she will push for more STEM programs at all educational levels and more policies to attract emerging industries to Virginia.
“I am not a career politician. I focus on the things that we need to move our economy and our community forward,” she said. “I think it’s time to get a fresh voice, a fresh perspective and an innovative mindset with the energy that will get things done on behalf of the greater community.”
Arlington County Board candidates on transparency
The County Board forum began with topics such as police staffing and the office vacancy rate, but heated up during a later question about transparency.
Two months ago, the County Board allowed the by-right construction of 2-6 unit buildings on lots previously zoned for single-family homes.
Prior to voting for the changes, Board Chair Christian Dorsey and member Katie Cristol announced that they would not be seeking reelection. Those vying to replace them vary widely in their stances on Missing Middle, though a forum last week hosted by Arlington County Democratic Committee revealed areas of common ground.
Some Democrat hopefuls opined about how the process leading up to the zoning changes divided the community and revealed how renters are underrepresented in civic life. Mostly, the candidates suggested that they are focused on life after Missing Middle and supporting other policies to help people afford to live in Arlington.
“We don’t get a do-over. There is no do-over, there is only a do-next,” said policy analyst Maureen Coffey. “We need to learn from this process, what went wrong — never repeat that ever again — and move forward, bringing everyone to the table to talk about how this is going to play out and what we need to solve our housing and larger issues.”
All of the candidates agreed the county will need to analyze data before deciding on next steps.
“Monitoring closely is going to be really important — especially monitoring on elements of diversity and affordability,” said Susan Cunningham, who has run for County Board before as an independent and criticized the zoning changes.
Cunningham suggested modifying rules for accessory dwelling units and for lot coverage, which could curb the development of large homes oft-derided as “McMansions.”
“My biggest problem with Missing Middle was not just the process but the fact that we did not do a comprehensive look at housing,” Cunningham said. “Housing is complicated and housing this whole community in its diversity and amazingness is also complicated, and we oversimplified that in my opinion.”
To that end, another candidate opposed to the changes, real estate agent Natalie Roy, detailed her views on housing in a three-part plan. It includes implementing a proposal from the Arlington branch of the NAACP to prevent the displacement of low-income residents.
Roy said the county should provide a public dashboard showing where and what kind of permits are issued, as well as the selling price for completed units. Arlington County has already committed to publishing this data once it becomes available.
Missing Middle supporter Jonathan Dromgoole said he too is watching where the units are built. Next, he said, the county should focus on shoring up the dwindling supply of relatively inexpensive, market-rate units. This is something Arlington County is already looking at as these units are continuously lost to redevelopment and rehabilitation.
Former NAACP Arlington Branch president Julius “J.D.” Spain, Sr. said he is thinking farther outside the box.
Have you ever showed up to a date and realized you had been stood up?
The Arlington County Board nearly did yesterday (Thursday) during a hearing on the proposed property tax rate.
The county proposes a rate of $1.013 per $100 in assessed value. While flat over last year, the average Arlington homeowner would still see taxes go up $454, owing to rising residential property assessments and other fees.
“Madame Clerk, do we have any speakers this evening?” asked Board Chair Christian Dorsey.
“We do. We have one speaker,” said the clerk.
“Terrific,” he rejoined.
That speaker was Hamilton Humes, the commissioner of the Youth Ultimate League of Arlington, an ultimate frisbee league. Addressing the board in gear suggesting he had just been out slinging a disc — or would be soon — he expressed his thanks for the County Board’s work and approval for the fees levied to maintain local playing fields.
“We appreciate all the effort to provide playing fields,” said Humes. “I speak for all the youth athletic organizations to say that… The only issue, which is not in your purview, is the scheduling between Arlington Public Schools and the Dept. of Parks and Recreation, but you all know that.”
There was no mention of the property tax rate.
The Board took a break to wait for more speakers. Eventually, a man called in to ask why the real estate assessment on a church property he recently purchased along Route 50 had increased by more than 17% — compared to increases of 3.5.-5.5% in previous years.
He prefaced his brief comments by apologizing for possibly bringing this up in the wrong avenue, saying he had never done anything like this before. After he finished speaking he was informed that it was, in fact, the wrong venue for challenging property assessments.
“We have a no wrong door policy,” Dorsey assured him. “We’ll be sure to communicate with you via email about the exact route for [appealing the tax assessment]. We’re happy you joined us however you come to us.”
Last night’s meeting is a far cry from Missing Middle hearings last week, which saw north of 200 speakers, as well as yesteryear’s tax rate hearings. A hearing in 2010 drew 26 speakers, the most of any meeting dating back to 2008 with minutes available on the county website.
In these meetings, people often requested higher taxes to cover school spending or affordable housing, while others have advocated for lower tax rates or holding the current tax rate steady to provide relief to people on fixed incomes and small business owners. Those opposed to tax hikes would often also speak in favor of reducing county spending.
The number of speakers has since declined to seven, four and six speakers in 2020, 2021 and 2022, respectively — years that coincided with introspection and concern about the county’s pathways for citizen engagement, called the “Arlington Way.”
Meeting minutes showed about a half-dozen people who used to speak reliably against increases: In first place, with at least eight appearances, is former independent Congressional candidate Jim Hurysz; in second is former independent County Board candidate Audrey Clement, with at least seven.
While lacking in speakers passionate about taxes and county finances, the meeting had one memorable moment.
Arlington’s youngest-ever Sergeant-At-Arms — County Board member Katie Cristol’s son — banged the gavel to start the hearing at 7 p.m. As he continued banging the gavel, Cristol intervened.
“Okay, you don’t have to keep doing it,” she said.
He happily sat on Cristol’s lap, sipping juice until his father took him home. Board members continued chatting among themselves between the speakers and the adjournment at 8 p.m. sharp.
Several hundred people gathered early Sunday afternoon at Innovation Elementary School for what was dubbed the “Reality Check Rally.”
As others were glued to their TVs for the last day of the NFL regular season and its playoff implications — or going about errands, children’s activities, or jobs — the attendees spent their afternoon hearing a dire picture being painted about the proposal to allow multifamily housing of up to 8 units per property in single-family home neighborhoods, also known as Missing Middle.
As outlined in a press release from organizers Arlingtonians for Upzoning Transparency and Arlingtonians for Our Sustainable Future, plan critics are concerned that it will “accelerate gentrification, reducing Arlington’s diversity; displace moderate-and low-income households, including seniors, persons with disabilities and renters; raise property values and taxes; reduce tree canopy and greenspace; and further overload schools, infrastructure and services.”
Of course, not everyone agrees.
A handful of Missing Middle supporters also showed up at the event, according to Patch, including those representing the Arlington branch of the NAACP. Supporters have also showed up to pivotal County Board meetings, albeit not in the numbers seen at Sunday’s rally.
Meanwhile, in November’s County Board election, the two candidates supportive of Missing Middle to various degrees — incumbent Matt de Ferranti and independent Adam Theo — took about 71% of the vote to 28% for independent Audrey Clement, who based her campaign around her opposition to Missing Middle.
The Missing Middle debate in Arlington is a particularly pitched version of debates that often play out here and elsewhere across the country, particularly when it comes to proposals to build infrastructure, build new housing, or change the physical built environment in general.
It raises the question of just how local governments should handle such opposition.
Often, opponents of such projects will make the case that their numbers, their passion, and their arguments should be enough to put a stop to what they’re protesting, or at least to grant additional time for more studies and community input. (An online petition against Missing Middle in Arlington has more than 5,000 virtual signatures.)
On the other hand, those who are supportive of building — more housing, in particular — have been saying that there is a well-formed playbook for stopping things from being built and that elected officials should not be so quick to grant those with the loudest voices and largest crowds what they want. They argue that there is a mostly silent majority that’s okay with things being built — a group that does not have the time, desire nor, in some cases, economic ability to wage a support campaign to counter the opposition.
I’ve been really compelled recently by Leonora’s idea to do “community input” for housing/planning through a (mostly) randomly selected, paid, and time-boxed group.
Community input should be more like jury duty, and less like the Nextdoor comments section at Black Friday sales. https://t.co/njrQjGuG3F
— fry (@anniefryman) October 24, 2022
It’s difficult to boil this very fundamental debate about the role of local government and community input — a county-specific form of which is known as the Arlington Way — into a concise poll. But today we’re going to try!
In general terms, how pivotal should community input be to county decision making, when there’s a large contingent that opposes a given proposal?
During a debate hosted by the Arlington Chamber of Commerce last night (Wednesday), incumbent Matt de Ferranti (D) and his two independent opponents, Audrey Clement and Adam Theo, explained to a 30-person audience how they would extend a helping hand toward area businesses.
Clement emphasized office-to-residential conversions as a way of reducing the office vacancy rate, which reached 20.8% in the last quarter, and “deal with our housing crisis at the same time.”
“Office-to-residential conversion is a smart approach that both Alexandria and the District of Columbia are implementing,” she said. “There are many reasons this is a sensible strategy, and Arlington’s Missing Middle is not.”
Office buildings are readily available, have more parking than most new apartment buildings and are close to Metro, she said.
“I don’t believe honestly there’s disagreement that we should do office to residential. It’s how we do it,” de Ferranti said. “We are already working on that, but we need to move more quickly.”
Seeing as empty offices are spread throughout buildings, Theo said “conversions are not a silver bullet” and suggested filling these vacancies with schools.
“That is something that’s much easier to renovate for than residential and it helps to tackle our school overcrowding that we’ll be facing over the next decade or two,” and makes more opportunities available to young families in urban areas, he said.
All three, meanwhile, say they would change how businesses are taxed.
“I am concerned about excessive taxation, particularly real estate taxes, but if you can start with shaving off some of those business taxes, that would be just fine with me,” Clement said.
Theo called for removing the business tangible tax, a tax levied on property used in business that requires maintaining records of nearly every item of value that a business owns.
Business tangible tax assessments are expected to increase by 16% this fiscal year, according to the 2022-23 budget. But Theo said the $40 million it netted last year is not worth squeezing support businesses with thin margins.
“The county sneezes and it spends $40 million,” he quipped.
De Ferranti advocated for increasing the threshold for Business, Professional and Occupational License (BPOL) tax, which comprises about 5% of the county’s revenue for this fiscal year, and has been steadily rising over the last decade.
Under the tax — which has long had critics both on the right and the left — businesses with revenue of less than $10,000 owe nothing, while those grossing up to $50,000 pay $30 and those grossing up to $100,000 pay $50. Beyond that, most businesses pay $0.36 per $100 in gross receipts, regardless of whether the business is profitable or not. Some businesses, like stores and restaurants, pay a lower rate while others, like printed newspapers, are exempt.
De Ferranti, however, balked at other tax cut suggestions.
“But broad statements like, ‘We should cut’ — first, our real estate tax rate is the lowest in the region,” de Ferranti said. “Our property values are so high, so that’s why our total bills are higher than some other localities. We have to keep investing when there’s a challenge in our economy.”
For voters, evaluating Arlington County Board candidate views of Missing Middle will look a lot like Goldilocks sampling porridge.
Three familiar names are vying for a seat on the County Board: incumbent Matt de Ferranti and his independent challengers Audrey Clement and Adam Theo, who have both ran for a seat on the Board before — Clement numerous times before.
Now, potential Missing Middle zoning changes are becoming a key battleground for the candidates, as both community support and opposition intensifies. The two-year study is entering a final phase of community discussion before it is slated to go to the Planning Commission and County Board for consideration as early as this year.
County Board, School Board and congressional candidates fielded multiple questions from members of the Arlington County Civic Federation last night (Tuesday) during its annual candidates forum. The Civic Federation previously took up the issue of Missing Middle, passing a resolution saying residents need more negotiating power during upzoning and land-use proposal proceedings.
During Tuesday night’s questioning at the Hazel Auditorium in Virginia Hospital Center, Theo said he is “a huge fan” of Missing Middle because “it’s about not squeezing the middle class anymore, of allowing opportunities, options and housing types.”
Clement reiterated her equally entrenched opposition to it as “a scheme to rezone Arlington’s residential neighborhoods for much higher density multi-family dwellings,” which will keep housing types out of reach for anyone not making six figures.
De Ferranti, meanwhile, says he supports the construction of low-density units up to a point.
“Your input has led me to oppose eight plexes as not being worth the cost,” he added. “Your input has led me to tier the ideas so that the smallest lots would have duplexes and as you get to the largest plots, more density would be allowed.”
None, however, pronounced the county’s community engagement efforts as “just right.”
The Goldilocks principle reappeared when candidates discussed whether to do away with first-past-the-post voting for their seats and replace it with ranked-choice voting (RCV) for County Board elections.
Under this system, which has support from some current Board members and which the county has tested out, voters rank candidates by preference and a winner is selected over the course of many elimination rounds.
Clement, an independent, said it would increase competition in otherwise predictable election cycles. Theo agreed.
“Ranked-choice voting has potential, and I want it now in Arlington County,” he said.
Both independents support the change for general elections, while de Ferranti said he is supportive of it for primaries and more cautious about using it for the general election.
“It’s something I’m supportive of,” de Ferranti said. “There are fair critiques with respect to the simplicity and timeliness — as we just saw in Alaska — of the results.”
The County Board may consider ranked-choice voting before January, de Ferranti said.
While expressing support for ranked-choice voting, Clement claimed it would not work in Arlington because of media bias.
“Unfortunately, ranked-choice voting only works in competitive elections, where the media are unbiased and endorse candidates on their merits. That is not how media operate in Arlington,” Clement said. “A continual stream of press releases by and features about those who promote the status quo are published as news, together with biased editorials, all but guaranteeing the defeat of their challengers.”
(ARLnow no longer publishes opinion columns and has never endorsed candidates for office, though the Sun Gazette routinely publishes editorials and letters to the editor.)
“A change I might make is to make sure we have multiple ways for people to engage and we are deliberately transparent as to how all that engagement has factored into the board’s decision making,” said Sutton, who received the endorsement of the Arlington County Democratic Committee after another candidate, Brandon Clark, withdrew from the caucus and then the election entirely.
Rives, meanwhile, said the School Board needs to vote on all “massive decisions,” such as extended school closures or starting a new school.
Sutton and Rives both said a chief concern is addressing student mental health. Both said APS can tighten security at school entrances, while Rives supports reinstating School Resource Officers and Sutton called for clear, consistent emergency communications.
The School Board removed school-based police officers last summer, citing racial disparities in juvenile arrests in Arlington. Following the decision, the Arlington County Police Department said it would be a challenge to staff the program again.
The new chair of the Arlington School Board has nixed the public comment section of board meetings for the remainder of the summer.
The Sun Gazette reported this week that Reid Goldstein is doing away with public comment until September to speed up meetings.
“We are not taking public comment during the summer meetings,” Goldstein said, so the School Board could “focus on conducting the necessary business promptly.”
Public comment will return Sept. 8, said Goldstein, who rotated in for a one-year stint at chairman on July 1.
A number of people have contacted ARLnow about the report, apparently upset at Goldstein’s decision, though the move is temporary and those who wish to provide feedback to the School Board in the meantime can still do so via email and other means.
Both the Arlington County Board and the School Board provide a designated time for members of the public to opine on topics of their choosing. The process can sometimes take upwards of an hour depending on the number of speakers.
The County Board also made Sun Gazette headlines over the past couple of months, as chair Katie Cristol tried to enforce a longstanding rule against multiple speakers weighing in on the same topic, then relented.
After getting pilloried a month before for what critics called a heavy-handed approach to enforcing rules on public comment, County Board Chairman Katie Cristol on July 16 loosened her grip on the gavel just a bit.
Cristol acknowledged that she was being a little more loose in her interpretation of rules for the July board meeting than she had been in June, when she shut down comment on the government’s Missing Middle housing proposal after just two speakers at the public-comment period.
County Board rules for the public-comment period allow for only one speaker per topic on items not scheduled for public hearings (which have their own comment periods later in the meeting). Board members over time have allowed, on topics of controversy, for one speaker on each side of the issue.
Today we’re wondering what the general public thinks of public comments periods at School Board and County Board meetings.
Are you okay with restrictions like this or would you like a more open forum? Alternatively, would you advocate for nixing public comment altogether or moving it to its own dedicated meeting, when agenda items are not being voted on?
Summer Camp Registration Woes — “There were technical problems with the online registration system for Arlington Dept. of Parks and Rec summer camps this morning, readers tell ARLnow. From a parks dept. spokesperson: ‘Our online registration system experienced some technical issues this morning during the first hour of registration, but it was fixed by approximately 8:05am. By noon, over 8,300 registrations were completed.'” [Twitter]
Reminder: HQ2 Phase 2 Meeting Tonight — “The County is kicking off a public review process for the proposed next phase of Amazon’s HQ2. Thursday at 6:30 p.m. join an virtual community meeting to learn more about the plan, how the review process works, and when you can share feedback.” [Twitter, Arlington County]
‘Our Revolution’ Joins Civic Federation — “You say you want a revolution? Upon further review, the Arlington County Civic Federation has decided… it does! At the organization’s March 13 meeting, a vote on the membership application of the left-leaning political group Our Revolution Arlington came up for consideration by federation delegates. The final vote was 40 to approve, 11 to reject, eight abstentions and one non-response.” [Sun Gazette]
New GOP Entrant in Delegate Race — “The district trends Democratic in the same way Chicago winters trend cold, but a Republican has stepped up with plans to contest the 45th House of Delegates district in November. J.D. Maddox, a small-business owner and former Central Intelligence Agency official, announced March 23 he planned to seek the seat currently held by Del. Mark Levine, a Democrat.” [Sun Gazette, ALXnow]
Death Penalty Repealed in Va. — “Gov. Ralph Northam on Wednesday signed legislation to officially abolish the death penalty in Virginia, making it the first Southern state to ban capital punishment. ‘Justice and punishment are not always the same thing, that is too clearly evident in 400 years of the death penalty in Virginia,’ Northam, a Democrat, said during remarks ahead of signing the legislation, saying that it is both the right and the moral thing to do.” [NBC News, Commonwealth of Virginia]
Two Library Branches Are Back Open — “County officials on March 9 reopened the Shirlington and Westover branch libraries, albeit with curtailed hours and limiting the public to no more than 15 minutes inside at any one time. Where the reopening plan goes from here is anyone’s guess. ‘All other branches remain closed at this time, and a reopening date for the remaining branches has not yet been determined,’ library officials said.” [Sun Gazette]
Arlington Vultures Make National News — “When [Harvard University] closed because of Covid-19 in midsemester last spring, I relocated to my wife’s home in Arlington, Va… What I had not anticipated was that shortly after my arrival, my wife and I would be joined by a pair of black vultures, who thought the attic of her garage would be the ideal place to raise a family. And that’s just what they’ve done.” [Wall Street Journal]
Public Meeting on HQ2 Phase 2 Planned — “Arlington County is looking for public input on the next phase of new construction for Amazon’s second headquarters — including plans for a futuristic, spiral-shaped building called ‘The Helix.’ A virtual ‘Community Kick-off Meeting’ is now planned for March 25 at 6:30 p.m. It will be the start of a lengthy public review process that will take several months to complete.” [WJLA]
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Reopens — “Arlington National Cemetery (ANC) will reopen the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier plaza to the visiting public [on] March 9, 2021. ANC is taking this action as part of a gradual reopening under improved COVID-19 conditions. Reopening the Tomb plaza to the public, while continuing to maintain current health protection conditions, is an important element of the yearlong centennial commemoration for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which culminates on Veterans Day 2021.” [Arlington National Cemetery]
Residents Hold Nightly Pandemic Happy Hour — “They’re bundled up and socially distanced in front of a roaring fire, with drinks in hand. In this Arlington neighborhood, residents have met for a happy hour called Six Feet at 6:30 every night for nearly a year. ‘It’s been my therapy,’ Mary Stump said.” [NBC 4]
Big Metro Cuts Averted By Stimulus Bill — “Metro expects to avert service cuts and layoffs that had been proposed in its FY22 budget thanks to new federal relief approved by Congress today. ‘Congress has once again stepped up to address the needs of Metro and the regional transit systems that will be critical to our region’s economic recovery,’ said Metro Board of Directors Chair Paul C. Smedberg. ‘While it will take more time to work out all the details, including Metro’s exact share of this funding, the $1.4 billion provided by the American Recovery Plan for our region’s transit agencies will allow us to avert the painful service reductions and layoffs that were on the table.'” [WMATA]
Arlington County is giving residents a chance to respond to proposed changes to the towing code ahead of a County Board vote.
People can share their thoughts in a short online survey before the issue is slated to go before the Board during its regular meeting on Saturday, Feb. 20.
The proposed changes are billed as getting the local code in line with the latest state law, protecting consumers and adjusting to rising costs in the towing industry, according to a staff presentation and additional materials.
Basic towing fee increases are being proposed, from $135 to $150, as well as an increase of the additional fees for night and/or weekend towing, from $25 to $30. That brings the maximum possible towing fee to $210, for a vehicle towed on a weekend night. The “drop fee” for discontinuing a tow in progress, however, will be lowered from $25 to $10.
The online survey has three questions. Among them:
- “Do you support reconciling the County ordinance with state code for purposes of improving enforcement and making the ordinance easier to understand?”
- “Do you support the consumer protection measures included in the proposal? These include enhancements to lighting, safety, accessibility and transparency.”
- “Do you support towing fee increases given the provided financial justification?”
The survey gives the following justification for the fee increases:
In this provided justification, towing operators have indicated increased costs. Staff have included supported materials from towers and Consumer Price Index data has indicated an inflationary increase in our area. Given these economic factors and regulatory requirements that towers have to be within a 3.25 mile radius of Arlington to support private businesses, do you support raising the tow fees to the maximum fees as regulated by state?
These proposed changes come after the county determined, among other things, that some towing and pricing practices are unfair and predatory, signage about towing is inadequate, and people do not have many ways to fight back when their cars are improperly towed and stored, according to a staff report.
“The County Board has found that some members of the public and their property have been placed at risk in circumstances where their vehicles have been towed from private property without their consent and placed in storage,” the report said.
Included in the code would be an updated definition of “immobilization” to mean anything “that does not damage the vehicle,” including using barnacles.
The recommendations were made by county staff with the Trespass Towing Advisory Board.