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Tax Hikes and Service Cuts Look Increasingly Likely Next Year, County Leaders Warn

Arlington officials expect a mix of across-the-board service cuts and tax rate increases is the surest way for the county to tackle its widening budget gap next year.

With a funding gap that could ballon as large as $78 million for fiscal year 2020, County Manager Mark Schwartz has repeatedly warned that some tough times are ahead for the county government. He repeated those gloomy projections at a budget-focused town hall with community leaders last night (Wednesday), noting that factors ranging from swelling school enrollment levels to dwindling county revenues to increasing Metro funding obligations will all squeeze county coffers once more.

The question Schwartz (and soon enough, the County Board) is looking to answer is: how should Arlington balance cuts with new tax increases? The answer will set the tenor of the Board’s upcoming budget deliberations, particularly when considering that the county has avoided tax increases in recent years.

“New tax increases are certainly a tool we should be looking at this year,” Schwartz told the group. “It depends on what the Board gives me as guidance, but I’m hoping that they carve out some room for tax increases.”

That’s not to say that Schwartz is only looking at jacking up tax rates — he says he’s asked all of his department heads to sketch out what an 8 percent budget reduction would look like for them, even though he tends to “hate across-the-board cuts” and would much rather “apply a set of principles to choose among departments and decide where to spend our marginal dollars.”

Nevertheless, Schwartz believes the county’s funding squeeze is such that simply slashing expenses can’t be the only answer. In addition to opening three new schools in the coming year and digging deep to cope with money pulled away from the county as part of the new Metro funding deal, Schwartz says the county needs to get creative to address the new costs of public safety pay increases the Board approved last year and new expenses associated with the state’s Medicaid expansion.

“People really have a problem finding something in the budget to get rid of or do less of,” Schwartz said. “It’s not a complaint, but in many cases, we’ve not had a really hard conversation about what we don’t want to do. And at a certain point, efficiencies won’t cut it, and this is one year where it won’t.”

He suggested that both the real estate and personal property tax rates could go up to address those budget concerns, though it’s difficult to know by how much just yet. A great deal depends on the budget the school system delivers to the county, considering that initial estimates suggest a $43 million budget gap from Arlington Public Schools alone — Schwartz encouraged the School Board to consider the hard question of bumping up class sizes and formulating a “revenue-based budget versus a needs-based one,” but the final decision will rest with APS leaders.

Eventually, Schwartz expects that the county’s office vacancy rate will shrink to a point where Arlington isn’t constantly facing such pressures. He noted that the rate has shrunk from 20.8 percent in 2015 to 18 percent as of last month, and as “outdated buildings” in neighborhoods like Crystal City are increasingly refreshed or converted into apartments, he expects the county will soon enough be back on sound financial footing.

In the meantime, however, he urged a focus on more than “nibbling a little bit here and there” and a real focus on “looking at how we do things” to bolster the county’s financial picture.

While the sentiment among county taxpayers is another story entirely, the town hall participants, at least, seemed broadly receptive to paying a bit more to avoid drastic cuts.

“I’m a old, retired coot living on a fixed salary… but Arlington has absolutely fantastic programs for everybody,” said Bill Braswell, a member of the county’s Neighborhood Complete Streets Commission. “I’m ready, willing and able to support a tax increase, because I’m getting far more than I pay in tax increases, and I enjoy it.”

Photo via Facebook

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Arlington’s Car Decal Requirement Set to End Next Year

Starting next year, Arlington drivers won’t need to display a car decal on their vehicles for the first time in decades.

The County Board voted unanimously yesterday (Tuesday) to end the requirement that owners of vehicles parked in Arlington use a sticker to prove they’ve paid personal property taxes.

The “motor vehicle license fee” associated with the decal, which helps the county pull in about $5 million each year, will remain under the Board’s plan. But starting July 1, 2019, the county will now rely entirely on license plate readers to track whether drivers are up to date on their taxes.

“This is truly the end of an era for Arlington,” County Board Chair Katie Cristol said in a statement. “The decal is going the way of the horse-and-buggy.”

The county first began requiring drivers to display a metal tag on license plates all the way back in 1949, moving to a decal system in 1967. Yet, as other localities across the state have increasingly abandoned similar decals, pressure on the county to follow suit mounted.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Board member John Vihstadt said at the meeting Tuesday. “We’re not getting rid of the fee, it’s important to our tax base and enforcement of motor vehicle regulations and so forth. But this will eliminate the nuisance of having a decal.”

County treasurer Carla de la Pava remains confident that Arlington will be able to maintain its low tax delinquency rate even with this change, though it will also mark the end of her office’s annual design competition for the decal, which featured art from local high school students.

“The decal competition was a great collaboration between art, teens, and local government, and I am sorry to see it end,” de la Pava said in a statement.

File photo

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School Board Warns of More Budget Challenges Ahead

The School Board is warning of more tough budget times ahead for the county’s school system.

In a memo to Superintendent Patrick Murphy to be discussed at the group’s meeting tonight (Thursday), the Board urges Murphy to be wary of the fact that the county’s planned revenue transfer to Arlington Public Schools “is not sufficient to meet our critical needs” as “cost pressures” for the system only continue to increase.

The school system only narrowly avoided class-size increases as it set its last budget, thanks to the County Board finding some additional money to keep classes at their current levels. But as APS gears up to start the budget process for fiscal year 2020, the Board expects that, as the school system opens five new schools and programs over the next two years, the change will “increase baseline operating costs significantly.”

“We anticipate that, as budget deliberations continue, additional funding for APS’s critical needs will be a top funding priority,” members wrote.

As Murphy works up his new budget, the Board is also directing him to “if possible” avoid additional class size increases, and find funding for other cuts the school system was prepared to make if the county hadn’t come through with the additional revenue last year.

“No new, major initiatives should be presented,” the Board wrote.

The Board expects that its decision this year to cut back on devices offered to second graders will save some money, and it’s also directing Murphy to “explore longer-term strategies for efficiencies, such as collaboration with the county on swimming pools reimbursement and Transportation Demand Management funding.”

County Board members have frequently spoken about their commitment to finding more money for schools, yet the county’s own tight budget picture, brought about by complications stemming from the Metro funding deal and persistently high office vacancy rates, will likely complicate the debate. County Manager Mark Schwartz has repeatedly warned that more tax hikes will likely be on the table in 2020 and beyond.

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Morning Notes

Ballston Mall LED Screens Nixed — Developer Forest City is, for now, withdrawing a request to install two large, high-definition LED video screens above the main entrance to its still under-construction Ballston Quarter mall. The screens do not comply with Arlington zoning rules. Attorneys for Forest City say they are still hoping that the County Board will eventually amend the zoning ordinance to allow such screens. [Washington Business Journal]

Free ART Bus Rides Thursday — “Think there’s no such thing as a free ride? Not if you take the bus in Arlington, Virginia, and you’re traveling on Sept. 20. Arlington Transit is letting passengers ride free Sept. 20 as a way to celebrate the transit agency’s 20th anniversary.” [WTOP]

Tax Delinquency List — Arlington County Treasurer Carla de la Pava has released her office’s annual list of residents and businesses that have not paid their taxes. The list includes nearly $200,000 in delinquent real estate taxes, $1.3 million in delinquent personal property taxes, $1 million in delinquent business license and property taxes, and more than $500,000 in delinquent meal (restaurant) taxes. [Arlington County]

Celebrating Community and Elders in Nauck — “Celebrating the lives and achievements of the community’s elders was a centerpiece of the 2018 Nauck Civic & Community Pride Day, which brought food, music and fellowship to Drew Model School on Sept. 15. Four community residents who had reached, or were set to reach, the centennial mark – Elizabeth Cole, Novella Cummings, Mary Lockett and Thelma Russell – were honored by the Nauck Civic Association.” [InsideNova]

Critic Praises Shirlington’s Signature — “The Tony Award-winning Signature Theatre — the Arlington troupe known for musicals — shapes up as my favorite D.C. company. I’m not saying Signature is hands-down the best theater in Washington… But Signature showcases a lot of assets, from its singular glam factor to plain old ease of use.” [Washington Post]

Late Night Storms — Thunderstorms that rumbled through Arlington around midnight last night brought a period of frequent lightning and thunder that set off car alarms and awakened some residents from their sleep. [Twitter, Twitter]

Flickr pool photo by Tom Mockler

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Morning Notes

More School Renaming Committees on the Way — Though the Washington-Lee controversy gets all the headlines, the School Board will also soon kick off the process of naming two new buildings and renaming two others. Patrick Henry ES will likely draw the most scrutiny. [InsideNova]

Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe Fundraising for de Ferranti — Virginia’s last chief executive will help Democratic County Board hopeful Matt de Ferranti fill his campaign coffers later this month. McAuliffe, a potential 2020 presidential hopeful, joins Attorney General Mark Herring as another statewide politician lending de Ferranti a hand in his bid against John Vihstadt. [Twitter]

County Treasurer Slashes Tax Delinquency Rate Again — Carla de la Pava has hit new highs by ensuring that more taxpayers are keeping up with their payments than ever before, recording the lowest delinquency rate in county history. [InsideNova]

Arlington Centenarians Still Dancing — The county has at least 47 residents who have passed the 100-year mark, and they say they feel as young as ever. [WAMU]

Flickr pool photo via Erinn Shirley

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Real Estate Tax Break Program for Seniors Set to Change Next Year

(Updated at 1 p.m.) Some changes are on the way for Arlington’s real estate tax relief program for seniors, though officials declined pursue the sort of sweeping overhaul favored by some in the community.

The County Board approved a series of tweaks to the program’s eligibility criteria Saturday (July 14), in a bid to better realize the county’s goal of helping older Arlingtonians stay in their homes even as values, and associated tax bills, creep upward.

Starting next year, the program will be open to homeowners age 65 or older and people with disabilities, with an annual income of up to $99,472 and household assets — excluding the home itself — up to $400,000, a slight increase from the old $340,000 limit. The county is also now letting people apply for an exemption from 75 percent of their tax bill, when the program previously only let homeowners try for an exemption from their full bill, half of it or a quarter of it.

“This is important not just for a compassionate community, but a community that works,” said Board Vice Chair Christian Dorsey.

To make up for some of this expansion in eligibility, the newly revised program stipulates that the top earners eligible to apply for tax relief — households making anywhere from $80,000 to $99,472 per year — can only apply for deferrals on their tax bills, not exemptions. Yet even that change frustrated some in the county, who would’ve preferred to see the Board move to a deferral-only system instead.

“I absolutely cannot understand why we want to help out the heirs in Spokane of people who are receiving an exemption,” Dave Schutz, a local activist and ARLnow comment section veteran, told the Board.

Caitlin Hutchison, an assistant director in the county’s Department of Human Services, said staff and a working group convened on the issue considered such a policy change, but ultimately decided against it. She noted that the city of Hampton moved to a deferral-only system, only to change course after many homeowners with reverse mortgages “almost immediately received notice that foreclosure proceedings would initiate” when tax bills came due.

“I have no interest in protecting inheritances,” said Board Chair Katie Cristol. “I am concerned that folks can stay in their home without a notification of eviction or having to leave the county.”

Hutchison also noted that the program broadly does not serve the wealthiest Arlingtonians — 76 percent of households who applied for the program last year had an annual income of $60,000 or less, and total assets of $100,000 or less. Since the tax relief changes were first proposed, the Board also added new limits on the eligibility of owners of properties valued at $1 million or more.

But Kathryn Scruggs, a longtime affordable housing advocate and member of the working group discussing the issue, argued that the program needs an even more substantial makeover to serve solely homeowners with “low incomes, low asset levels and lower than average home values.”

“There is no justification for increasing the asset limit, that just diverts resources from the people who need it most,” Scruggs said.

The revised program is indeed likely to cost the county an extra $154,000 in tax revenue each year. But Hutchison argued that the asset limit changes will help homeowners keep pace with rising home values, and stay in the county longer.

The tweaks will also help Arlington keep pace with its neighbors, Hutchison said, as both Alexandria and Loudoun County have higher asset limits for similar programs.

And as the county struggles to manage a surge in its student population, Dorsey argued that it can only be a good thing for Arlington to keep older residents in their homes for as long as possible.

“Typically when seniors leave their homes, they’re not replaced by seniors,” Dorsey said. “The more we concentrate our housing stock on families with children, the more it creates pressures in other areas.”

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Arlington’s Car Decal Program Could Soon End, Though Its Fees Would Stick Around

Arlington’s personal property tax car decals coon soon be a thing of the past, even as the tax associated with the tags looks set to stay.

The County Board is now considering eliminating the requirement that vehicles garaged in Arlington display a decal to demonstrate its owner has paid the necessary property tax on the car, effective July 1, 2019.

The county would instead rely entirely on workers using a license plate reading system to determine whether the owner of any given vehicle is up to date on their taxes. Vehicle owners will still need to pay the annual property tax, as well as the “motor vehicle license fee,” commonly known as the “decal fee.”

Commissioner of Revenue Ingrid Morroy’s staff will use the license plate reader technology, which the county first purchased back in 2004, “to more efficiently and effectively ensure personal property tax compliance without vehicle owners displaying a decal,” according to a county staff report prepared for the Board.

Staff also believe the change will “relieve an unnecessary burden on taxpayers,” ending a requirement that’s been in place in the county in one form or fashion since 1949. The move would also mark the end to the annual design competition for the decals, which has given high school students the chance to feature their artwork on the tag since 2005.

Arlington is one of 21 localities around the state to still require the car decals, according to the staff report, and Loudoun County recently eliminated its requirement for the tags.

A decision on the matter is still a ways off, however. The County Board will vote at its Saturday (July 14) meeting whether to call for a public hearing on the question, which would then be set for September 22.

File photo

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Morning Notes

Simple Greek Now Open — Fast-casual restaurant chain The Simple Greek has opened its new Rosslyn location in the Colonial Plaza shopping center. A ribbon cutting ceremony yesterday was followed by long lines at lunchtime. [Twitter, Twitter]

WiFi Available in Underground Metro Stations — As of today, free wireless internet service should be available in every underground Metro station. Per yesterday’s announcement from Metro: “Customers can log-in by selecting the ‘Metro-Public’ network in their device’s Wi-Fi settings.” [WMATA]

Signs Up for Sfoglina — “Coming soon” signs are up for the new Rosslyn outpost of the acclaimed Fabio and Maria Trabocchi restaurant Sfoglina Pasta House. The restaurant is located on the street level of the office building at 11oo Wilson Boulevard. [Twitter]

Water Rescue Near Chain Bridge — D.C. police and firefighters rescued two people whose kayak overturned in the Potomac River near Chain Bridge last night. Both were evaluated by medics but “neither have physical injuries,” per DCFEMS. [Twitter, Twitter]

Fox News Coming to Iwo Jima Memorial — On Sunday, Fox News Channel will broadcast a portion of its America’s News Headquarters program (noon-2 p.m.) from the Marine Corps War Memorial near Rosslyn. Elizabeth Prann will co-anchor “ANHQ” from the Memorial, “where the nation will be preparing for the Fourth of July fireworks celebration,” according to a Fox press release.

Arlington Has Millions in Prepaid Taxes — “The Arlington treasurer’s office still has about $8 million sitting untouched in its coffers, waiting to be applied to future tax payments. But that’s less than half the $17.2 million in total prepayments submitted by Arlington taxpayers in the waning days of 2017, hoping to beat changes to federal tax law that made some mortgage-interest payments non-deductible in 2018.” [InsideNova]

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Morning Notes

Arlington Ridge Power OutageUpdated at 9:25 a.m. — A few dozen Dominion customers are without power in the Arlington Ridge and Pentagon City neighborhoods this morning due to an outage cased by “power line damage,” according to the utility’s website. Electricity is expected to be restored by 1 p.m. A tipster says the the Riverhouse apartments and some of the Pentagon Row shops were affected by the outage. Meanwhile, per Arlington County: “Arlington Ridge Road access from Washington Blvd as well as SB Arlington Ridge at S. Lynn Street will be closed for approximately 2 hours while Dominion Power repairs a damaged power line.” [Twitter]

APS Extended Day Website Survey — Arlington Public Schools is conducting a survey regarding its Extended Day management system. APS is considering a new system that would include an interactive parent portal, online registration, access to family accounts, and a database for family and staff information. [Arlington Public Schools, Google Forms]

Tax Delinquency Rate May Reach Record Low — “Arlington’s treasurer is optimistic that the county’s tax-delinquency rate could fall to another record low when it is reported later this summer… The delinquency rate to beat is the 0.226 percent reported last year, representing the amount of real-estate and personal-property taxes unpaid out of the roughly $800 million that flows through the treasurer’s office each year.” [InsideNova]

New Kettler Iceplex Sign — There’s a new sign on the parking garage in front of Kettler Capitals Iceplex: “Ballston / Home of the Washington Capitals / 2018 Stanley Cup Champions.” [Twitter]

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Real Estate Tax Break Program for Seniors Could See Eligibility Changes

Arlington officials are set to move ahead with changes to the county’s real estate tax relief program, a policy designed to help older Arlingtonians stay in their homes amid rising property values.

The program is currently open to homeowners age 65 or older and people with disabilities, with an annual income of up to $99,472 and household assets — excluding the home itself — up to $340,000.

But the County Board could agree to advertise changes today (Tuesday) that would bump up the total asset limit and change how the county awards tax exemptions by income level.

“This is really for folks who tend to be on limited or restricted income, where their homes have appreciated in value to the point where it makes it hard to stay in that home,” County Board Chair Katie Cristol told ARLnow. “This is not a sweeping overhaul of the program… it’s about efficacy, making sure the program reaches the people who qualify for it.”

The proposed policy changes would increase the asset limit to $400,000 to account for rising home values, and allow the county to adjust that amount annually as property values and the area’s median income level changes.

The Board is also considering allowing people apply for an exemption from 75 percent of their total tax bill, based on their income level — previously, the county only offered a full exemption, relief from half of the tax bill or relief from a quarter of the bill.

For the very top earners allowed to apply for tax relief — households making anywhere from $80,000 to $99,472 per year — the policy change would restrict them to only applying for a deferral from the taxes, not a full exemption. Previously, the policy allowed households making that much to apply for 25 percent or 50 percent exemption, but only if at least four people lived in the home in question.

County staff estimate that about 90 of the 915 households who apply for the program could lose their exemptions under that change, but they expect many would still receive a deferral instead.

Cristol notes that this proposal is the result of roughly two years of effort by a working group convened by the Board to study the issue. She doesn’t expect that the changes will result in some sort of major fiscal impact to the county — staff wrote in a Board report that Arlington will lose about $154,000 in annual revenue under these proposed changes — but merely better target the program at reaching people who need it.

“The goal is to tighten it and make it more effective as a program, not lower obstacles for participation,” Cristol said. “This is not a large scale policy change.”

According to a report prepared by county staff for the Board, 76 percent of households who applied for the program last year had an annual income of $60,000 or less, and total assets of $100,000 or less.

Should the Board approve the request to advertise item on its agenda today, the county would hold a public hearing at the Board’s July 14 meeting.

Photo via Arlington County

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Morning Notes

Family Wants to See Relative Shot By Police — The family of Steven Best, who was shot by police last week after allegedly trying to ram a police cruiser with a van, says they have not been allowed to see him nor have they been given information on his condition. [WJLA]

Legislative Threat Helped Country Club Tax Deal — “The decision by two Arlington country clubs to take their case to the General Assembly helped get all parties to come together on a deal more expeditiously than otherwise might have been the case, the Arlington government’s top legal official said,” reports the Sun Gazette. Arlington clubs, meanwhile, “came away with most of what they were seeking in assessment reductions.” [InsideNova, Washington Post]

Local Sixth Graders Make Headlines — A fourth-period, sixth-grade class at Gunston Middle School is the May Class of WaPo’s KidsPost. [Washington Post]

Marymount Employee’s Boston Marathon Journey — Katie Sprinkel, a lab coordinator and adjunct professor at Arlington’s Marymount University, overcame knee and leg injuries — and a battle with breast cancer — to finish this year’s Boston Marathon. She was back at work the next day. [Marymount University]

Arlington Among Top Walkable Places — Arlington is No. 9 on a list of the most walkable communities in the country. The list was compiled by the travel site Expedia. [Viewfinder]

Major Metro Work Starting Next Summer — “There will be no service on Metro’s Blue and Yellow lines south of Reagan National Airport for 98 days beginning in May 2019, as the transit agency embarks on a platform rebuilding project spanning six stations, part of an effort to refurbish 20 station platforms over three years.” Arlington’s East Falls Church Metro station is also on the list of platforms to be rebuilt. [Washington Post, WMATA]

Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman

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County Budget Nixes Some Proposed Cuts, Boosts First Responder Pay

The Arlington County Board on Saturday unanimously passed a $1.276 billion balanced budget that includes a number of fee increases but no real estate tax rate hike.

The FY 2019 budget notably restores $70,000 in funding for Arlington Independent Media — County Manager Mark Schwartz proposed cutting about $90,000 in county funds for the community TV and radio broadcaster — after AIM collected more than 1,300 online petition signatures against the cut. The Board also boosted first responder pay, particularly starting pay which police and firefighter associations say is low and hurting recruitment, by $1.6 million above the manager’s recommendation, which already included a pay boost.

Funding the increased spending is the reallocation of $2.5 million from proposed renovations to the county government headquarters in Courthouse and the freezing of 16 vacant public safety positions.

Per the manager’s recommendations, the budget also increases parking meter rates and extends metered hours until 8 p.m., while increasing utility taxes, household waste fees and various departmental fees.

“The Board largely accepted the $8.4 million in spending reductions, $6.6 million in fee and tax increases and $5.5 million in funding realignments recommended by the County Manager in his proposed budget,” notes a county press release, below. County Board Chair Katie Cristol called the adopted budget “sustainably progressive.”

County funding for Arlington Public Schools will top the $500 million mark, as the school system continues to face pressures from enrollment growth and the opening of new schools. Metro, meanwhile, will receive a 3 percent increase in funding, receiving $73.1 million from the county’s coffers and state transit aid earmarked for Arlington.

In addition to AIM and first responders, the Board nixed the following cuts proposed by Schwartz, according to the markup record:

  • $620,000 for the Affordable Housing Investment Fund
  • $365,000 for Lee Highway planning and $25,000 for the Lee Highway Alliance
  • $40,000 for the Legal Aid Justice Center, which serves immigrants
  • $200,000 for a body scanner at the county jail
  • $50,000 for the Arlington County Fair
  • $20,000 for community shredding events
  • $40,000 for the Arlington Neighborhood College program
  • $184,000 for a youth mental health therapist

Among the proposed cuts not restored: the elimination of the printed Citizen newsletter, the elimination of two ART bus routes, the elimination of Arlington’s poet laureate and a $555,000 cut to the Arlington Initiative to Rethink Energy residential rebate program.

The latter drew some pushback from Board members.

“The cuts that we’re doing this year to AIRE — nobody’s going to die, there’s nothing fundamentally that any of us are going to lose sleep over or should be ashamed of,” said Erik Gutshall. “But while people don’t die, our planet is dying, its ability to sustain our life at least.”

“In future budgets, while we’re going to continue to make tough choices, we’re not going to let our commitment to the environment fall behind,” he added.

Despite the disagreements, the Board was unanimous in its vote on the budget, which Board members praised for prioritizing key areas while avoiding a tax rate increase. (The tax burden on the average homeowner will still increase by $296.)

“Despite the reductions, there are investments our community can be proud of in this budget,” Cristol said in a statement. “We prioritized funding our public schools, especially teachers, and investing in our workforce, especially public safety personnel. We preserved our social safety net and sustained funding for affordable housing and core services.”

“I see this budget really as a transition from the way we’ve been doing things to the way we’ll need to do things going forward,” said Libby Garvey. “This community has pretty much gotten used to having as much money as we need to do what we want to do. This year it’s starting to change. It’s likely to be even harder in the future with the stresses we have moving forward. I think it’s a good transition to what we’ll be doing moving forward.”

“What I think we’ve done is really weatherize our fiscal house for the inclement weather ahead,” echoed John Vihstadt. “It’s only going to get tougher as we move forward, but we took some important steps here that, while not greeted uniformly favorably, were necessary to be done.”

Arlington Independent Media and public safety associations, meanwhile, expressed gratitude for the additional funding.

Arlington County’s press release about the budget, after the jump.

The Arlington County Board today adopted a $1.276 billion balanced General Fund Budget for Fiscal Year 2019 that includes no increase in the real estate tax rate.

The Board voted 5 to 0 to adopt the budget and 5 to 0 to set the real estate tax rate at $1.006 per $100 of assessed value (including the stormwater tax). The Board’s action culminated months of reviews with the County Manager, departments, commissions and stakeholders. The Board also considered more than 1,000 comments from residents and other stakeholders.

Calling the budget “sustainably progressive,” County Board Chair Katie Cristol said that “with projected growth in community needs — schools, Metro, debt service — outpacing projected growth in assessed property values in coming years, the Board chose to slow the growth in expenditures and close a $20 million budget gap without raising the tax rate.

“Despite the reductions, there are investments our community can be proud of in this budget,” Cristol said. “We prioritized funding our public schools, especially teachers, and investing in our workforce, especially public safety personnel. We preserved our social safety net and sustained funding for affordable housing and core services.”

The Board largely accepted the $8.4 million in spending reductions, $6.6 million in fee and tax increases and $5.5 million in funding realignments recommended by the County Manager in his proposed budget.

“Over the next several years, we will face continued gaps between revenues and expenditures requiring more tough choices,” Cristol said. “As we begin deliberations on the Capital Improvement Plan, and next fall, as we start the Fiscal Year 2020 budget process, we will continue to work closely with our community to establish clear priorities.”

The 3.9 percent increase in residential property assessments in 2018 means that although the real estate tax rate will not rise, the average homeowner will see an increase in taxes and fees from $8,446 to 8,742, a $296 or 3.5 percent increase.

To read the staff reports on the budget,  view the agenda for the April 21, 2018 Regular County Board Meeting. (Item No. 47 A-V).

Utility tax, parking meter rates, other fees increasing

  • Utility taxes: 5 percent increase in commercial rates. Up to a $3 per month increase per utility for residential rates. Revenues to go to affordable housing and Schools.
  • Parking meter rates, hours and fines: $0.25 /hr increase in rates. Hours extend from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Fines increase to $40.
  • DPR, ACFD, DES, CPHD fees to increase at various rates, to begin to achieve full cost recovery.
  • Household Solid Waste fees increased $2/year (full cost recovery). The increase will bring the Household Solid Waste fee to $316.16 per year.

Funding public schools

“Arlington’s public schools are among the best in the nation, and the County Board is committed to the School Board’s efforts to maintain that status,” Cristol said. “That is why the Board cut $2.5 million from the budget for much-needed renovations to the Government Center to add to Schools funding. This difficult de-allocation recognizes the challenges facing APS as it expands existing schools and adds new ones to accommodate ever more students.”

The County’s funding for Schools in FY 2019 will increase by $10.6 million, to $500.8 million. The additional funding will help address budget pressures from continuing enrollment increases.

Funding Metro

The Board approved an increase of 3 percent for Metro, from local sources and the County’s share of state transit aid. The increase will bring the County’s total operating support for Metro to $73.1 million in FY 2019.

“It is a watershed action that the General Assembly provided a dedicated source of funding for Metro,” Cristol said. “But that funding is coming from existing revenues, not new revenues. The General Assembly’s package requires Arlington to shift $12 million  a year from our Capital Improvement Plan to fund Metro. The package also shifts $102 million a year from regional transportation funding to Metro funding. That means Arlington will be competing with other jurisdictions for a smaller pot of regional transportation funding.”

Funding affordable housing

The Board slightly increased funding for the Affordable Housing Investment Fund, the County’s primary funding sources for the creation and preservation of affordable housing. It also increased the percentage of ongoing AHIF funding. Total County funding for AHIF in Fiscal Year 2019 will be $14 .3 million.

Investing in the workforce

The Board provided $1.595 million more in public safety compensation beyond what the Manager had proposed in February, citing the need to compete in an increasingly tight labor market to attract and retain police officers, firefighters and sheriff deputies.

The Board also approved a 3.25 percent increase in merit-based compensation for non-public safety employees.

Restoring proposed cuts

The Board restored funding in several areas that the Manager had proposed reducing. Among the restored cuts:

  • Funding for Arlington Independent Media – the Board restored $70,000 in one-time funding for Arlington Independent Media, the community non-profit broadcasting organization. “AIM is a valued community resource,” Cristol said. “It has trained thousands of Arlingtonians in video production and radio broadcasting, and is an independent voice on cultural, political and social issues in our community. “The Board wants to give AIM more time to work toward economic self-sufficiency.” Noting the decline in cable franchise revenues that for decades have funded Arlington’s Public, Educational and Government (PEG) Access Channel coupled with the rise of the internet and the proliferation of social media, the Board directed the Manager to examine the current structure of the PEG channels and radio station, compare how other nearby localities provide PEG services, and provide options for cuts in funding by December 2018.
  • Funding for Lee Highway long-range planning – The Board restored $365,500 in funding the Manager had proposed cutting for long-range planning along the Lee Highway corridor.
  • Neighborhood College – The Board restored $40,000 in one-time funding to pay for outside facilitators for the County’s popular Neighborhood College program, noting that the facilitators are the linchpin of a program successfully attracts economically, socially and ethnically diverse “students” and trains them to effectively advocate for their neighborhoods with County government.
  • Preserving the County’s free paper shredding service – the Board restored $20,000 in one-time funding for the County’s free paper-shredding service that the Manager had recommended eliminating.
  • Continuing funding for immigrants – the Board approved $40,000 in one-time funding for the Legal Justice Service, to provide legal services to immigrants.
  • Funding a body scanner for the County jail – the Board approved $200,000 to purchase a body scanner for the County jail.
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Morning Notes

Beyer’s GOP Challenger Holding Arlington Event — “Republican congressional candidate Thomas Oh will host a campaign kickoff on Tuesday, April 24 from 5 to 8 p.m. at Spider Kelly’s, 3181 Wilson Blvd. Oh is the GOP challenger to U.S. Rep. Don Beyer (D-8th), who is seeking a third term. He was the only Republican to file for the nomination.” [InsideNova]

Local Scenes on Sale at Arts Fest — Among the artists at the upcoming Arlington Festival of the Arts in Clarendon will be Joseph Craig English, whose “silkscreens and lithographs capture local landmarks and street corners in vivid colors,” including “an architectural juxtaposition of old buildings and new construction in Courthouse; Potomac River vistas; local murals and street signs known to commuters who’ve passed by them for years.” [Arlington Magazine]

Arlington Tourism Surtax Gets Gov’s Signature — “The Arlington County government will be able to continue collecting a surtax on hotel stays to pay for tourism promotion, now that Gov. Northam has signed legislation extending the measure for three more years.” [InsideNova]

Don’t Try This at Home — Per scanner traffic, police officers responding to a call yesterday afternoon were advised that “the suspect is known for using hand sanitizer as an alcoholic drink.”

Nearby: Alexandria OKs More Funding for Metro Station — “Plans to build a new Metro station at Potomac Yard in Alexandria, Virginia, took a crucial step forward Tuesday. Alexandria City Council unanimously approved raising the budget from $268 million to $320 million. The change was made in part to reflect the rising cost of materials and labor.” [WTOP]

Photo by Dwayne Stewart

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BREAKING: Governor Vetoes Country Club Bill

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) has vetoed legislation that would have dramatically reduced Arlington County’s tax revenue from two country clubs.

HB 1204 would have reduced the tax bills for Army Navy Country Club and Washington Golf and Country Club, but would have cost the county’s coffers nearly $1.5 million annually.

The state legislature will now have an opportunity to override the veto.

More from an Arlington County press release:

“We are grateful to Governor Northam for vetoing HB 1204,” Arlington County Board Chair Katie Cristol said. “The governor, by his action to keep authority over local property assessments in the hands of local government, and not in Richmond, has shown real leadership.  This legislation had major implications for all localities across the Commonwealth.”

Arlington encourages all local governments to unify and ask their legislators to sustain the veto when the General Assembly reconvenes April 18 at the State Capitol, Cristol said.

“We are committed to resolving the assessment issue with the golf courses, and we are confident that we can find an equitable solution,” she said. “I want to thank our Arlington delegation for standing strong with us throughout this process.”

In his veto message, Northam says that he expects Arlington and the clubs to reach a compromise soon. The clubs are suing the county, fighting back against what they say is an unfair way to assess what is essentially open space — treating the many acres of golf courses as developable land.

The governor’s veto message is below.

Pursuant to Article V, Section 6, of the Constitution of Virginia, I veto House Bill 1204, which requires the County of Arlington to assess two private country clubs within its boundaries as land dedicated to open space rather than its current method of highest and best use.

This is a local dispute over a local government’s method of assessing land for property taxation. As such, the solution to this dispute should be reached on the local level without the involvement of the state.

I have been assured that an agreement acceptable to both sides of this dispute is close to being reached. I encourage the parties to continue negotiations to find a solution so that similar legislation will not be necessary in the future.

Accordingly, I veto this bill.

Sincerely,

Ralph S. Northam

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Morning Notes

Favola Weighs in on Country Club Tax Bill — State Sen. Barbara Favola (D) said in an op-ed that Gov. Ralph Northam should veto a bill lowering the taxes of Arlington country clubs. She added: “If the country clubs are really interested in preserving open space, Virginia has a successful land preservation tax-credit program. It gives financial incentives to landowners who agree to keep their open space undeveloped, in perpetuity, while ensuring that the space is maintained for everyone’s benefit.” [Washington Post]

Fatal Motorcycle Crash Near Fairlington — A 34-year-old Haymarket man died after he crashed his motorcycle on King Street near Fairlington early Friday morning. Residents said on a local online group that a large group of motorcyclists was riding down King Street at the time of the crash. [Patch, WTOP]

New Ballston Restaurant Serving Nepalese Dishes — Urban Tandoor, which opened last week in Ballston, is serving Tibetan dumplings — or momos — in addition to the traditional Indian fare that makes up most of the menu. [Eater]

Dance Party on Streets of Clarendon — An impromptu group song and dance performance broke out on a Clarendon sidewalk after last call early Saturday morning. [Twitter]

Another Successful E-CARE — Arlington’s E-CARE recycling and disposal event over the weekend collected 83,208 pounds of “household hazards” over the weekend. [Twitter]

Hundreds Give Blood in Ballston — “Hundreds lined up at the Washington Capitals practice facility to donate blood for Inova Blood Donor Services. The drive, held at Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Arlington, was one of several sports-themed drives that Inova holds every year, teaming up with local sports teams to promote blood donation in a fun way.” [WTOP]

Flickr pool photo by Lisa Novak

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