Beyer Blasts GOP Tax Bill — Says Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) regarding the tax bill that passed the House yesterday: “I am adamantly opposed to the House Republican tax bill, H.R.1. The bill will raise taxes on millions of middle class Americans in order to fund tax cuts for the wealthy, and yet still manages to explode the deficit.” [Rep. Don Beyer]
Crystal City Scores 320 Jobs — A Georgetown-based nonprofit is moving much of its staff to a new office in Crystal City, leasing 90,000 square feet and adding 320 jobs in Arlington County. The move was announced by Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who approved a $500,000 state grant to assist Arlington with the project. [Virginia Business, Bisnow]
Dems Seek Ways to Defeat Vihstadt — “John Vihstadt, who in 2014 broke the Democratic stranglehold on the Arlington County Board, is ready to go back to the voters in 2018. And Arlington Democrats already are strategizing on how to oust him from office.” [InsideNova]
Charges Dropped Against ‘Laughing Librarian’ — Arlington librarian and Code Pink activist Desirée Fairooz, who was arrested after laughing during the confirmation hearing of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, has had the case against her dropped by the Justice Department. [American Libraries, NPR]
Incident at Kenmore Middle School — A tipster tells ARLnow.com that a Kenmore Middle School student was arrested yesterday afternoon for assaulting a PE teacher. An Arlington Public Schools spokesman, however, did not confirm that an arrest was made, saying: “There was an incident earlier today between a student and a teacher. Staff is following normal disciplinary procedures. But beyond that, we can’t disclose anymore because it is a student matter.”
Flickr pool photo by Michael Coffman
At the Arlington County Board’s meeting yesterday (Tuesday), Schwartz projected revenue will grow by 2.9 percent in FY 2019, but the county’s expenditures will grow by 4 percent. That would result in a funding gap of between $10 million and $13 million.
The funding gap assumes the current real estate tax rate of $1.006 per $100 of assessed value will remain the same. County staff is also projecting “modest growth” in assessed property values.
The projections are only for county government, and do not include revenues and expenditures for Arlington Public Schools. The forecast largely keeps the county’s operations and services budget the same, with the exception of expansions in transit service as laid out in the Board-adopted Transit Development Plan.
“This is a preliminary projection — it’s still early in the budget-building process,” Schwartz said in a statement. “We have additional information that will come in the next few months — including actuarial reports for our pension and retiree healthcare, state budget proposals as well as Metro’s updated financial forecast.”
Through November 22, residents can share feedback online about the FY 2019 budget, in addition to the series of public roundtables that end this week.
The county is also seeking feedback on Schwartz’s plan to spend the $11.1 million surplus from this past year’s budget between five “near-term needs,” including affordable housing, facilities studies, public safety employee compensation, a fund for “unforeseen needs” and a security system upgrade at the county’s Justice Center.
Residents can email [email protected] with comments on the plan. Those comments will then be compiled and shared with the County Board before its November meeting, where members will vote on close-out spending.
County staff said $11.1 million is left over, 1.4 percent of the county’s FY 2017 General Fund budget, excluding money appropriated to Arlington Public Schools.
The county collected just over $1.022 billion in revenue from property, business, sales taxes and other sources, having projected in April it would collect just over $1.004 billion. That is 1.8 percent more than projected.
“It is the lowest as a percent of total budget in recent years; in FY 2016, available funds totaled $17.8 million, or 2.4 percent, and in FY 2015 available funds totaled $21.8 million,” staff wrote. “This reflects diligent focus on executing the adopted FY 2017 budget.”
Schwartz is recommending the Arlington County Board use the leftover funds in the following ways:
- Affordable Housing Investment Fund: $5.2 million in one-time funding to be set aside for the FY 2019 budget.
- Critical Life Safety Needs: $2 million for unanticipated security system upgrades to the county’s Justice Center in Courthouse.
- Employee Compensation: $1.75 million to reflect changes in federal law on several position classes in public safety.
- County Manager Operating Contingent: $1.25 million to address “unforeseen needs that arise during the fiscal year without reprioritizing or cutting other programs.”
- Facility Studies: $900,000 to primarily fund additional site analysis at the Buck and Carlin Springs sites, as directed by the Board.
“As was started with housing grants as part of the FY 2018 budget, it is important to move to a higher level of ongoing funding for AHIF in the future,” staff wrote. “This transition to a higher amount could take several years, and the transition can be eased with reliance on available one-time funding.”
Certain community members and some County Board candidates have criticized the closeout practice in Arlington, and instead suggested the extra money should be given back to residents and businesses as tax relief, or at least applied to the next year’s budget.
The County Board will consider its options at its recessed meeting tomorrow (October 24), although numbers are preliminary until the county’s independent auditors complete their work at the end of the month.
— ArlingtonVA (@ArlingtonVA) October 10, 2017
Funding for schools, Metro and public safety officials weigh heavily as Arlington County’s initial budget conversations continue.
In an infographic released yesterday (Tuesday) ahead of more public roundtables to discuss the FY 2019 budget, county staff highlighted how the county spends its money and the challenges ahead.
According to the data, the biggest expense in the county’s operating budget is Arlington Public Schools, which is allocated $490.2 million by the county, or 39 percent of its budget. Human services and public safety are second and third, around $140 million each, or 11 percent.
Among the challenges ahead, staff said APS enrollment has grown by 850 students a year for the last five years, and it takes up almost all of the $510 million raised from real estate taxes on homes, condos and apartments.
And with Metro needing more money and an office vacancy rate of 17.8 percent, which keeps commercial real estate revenue down, county leaders are expecting some tight fiscal times and hard budgetary decisions.
A number of groups will be looking to influence county leaders’ thinking during the budget discussion. Among them is IAFF Local 2800, the Arlington Professional Firefighters and Paramedics Association.
In a tweet Tuesday, the group said firefighters, paramedics and police officers need a market adjustment to their salaries — a pay rise to keep up with inflation and the rising cost of living — to “remain competitive.” The last adjustment was in 2013.
According to figures provided to ARLnow.com by IAFF Local 2800, starting pay for county firefighters is 20 percent below the regional average and only $2 more per hour than the county’s minimum wage.
Since the last “market adjustment,” the group said, inflation in the region is up almost 5 percent, the cost of family HMO health insurance for county employees has increased over 45 percent, and the cost for HMO coverage for retirees and their spouses has increased over 55 percent.
Local 2800 added that new firefighters will earn 12 percent less per hour over a 20-year career compared to their peers in Fairfax, Prince William, Prince George’s and Montgomery Counties, the City of Alexandria and D.C.
“Arlington invests a tremendous amount of money in hiring, training and developing its firefighters,” said Brian Lynch, President of Local 2800. “Every time a firefighter leaves the department for another opportunity or does not complete their probationary period, we consider this a loss of an investment in human capital. If the department’s physical capital, vehicles, tools etc. were being lost the way we are losing our people, it would be considered common sense to try to stop the losses. There is not only a moral imperative to fairly compensate those who risk their lives to protect the community, there is also a fiscal imperative.”
Two major property tax deadlines are next week.
Thursday, October 5 is the final due date for the payment of both vehicle personal property tax and the second installment of real estate tax. Payments postmarked after October 5 are subject to penalties and interest charges.
Residents can manage and pay their bills online on the county’s Customer Assessment and Payment Portal.
And the deadline for displaying the new car decals is Wednesday, November 15. This year’s decal is entitled “Arlington Sees Stars,” designed by Amy Kohan in the county’s 13th Annual Decal Design Competition.
The county treasurer’s web site has more information about paying tax bills and about the county’s Taxpayer Assistance Program. Residents can also contact the Treasurer’s Office directly by calling 703-228-4000 or emailing [email protected].
Tourists spent more than $3 billion in Arlington County last year, supported more than 25,000 jobs and produced over $200 million in local and state tax revenues, all record highs.
According to figures released by the U.S. Travel Association, tourism in the county generated $3.12 billion in 2016, up 2 percent from the previous year. Arlington continued to lead all Virginia counties in visitor spending, as it has since 2009.
“Tourism continues to be an incredibly vibrant sector in Arlington’s economy,” Arlington County Board chair Jay Fisette said in a statement. “Through jobs, spending at Arlington businesses and tax revenues that support local schools and services, tourism will always be a key to our economic growth.”
The 2016 tourism data is based on spending by visitors from inside the United States, from trips taken 50 miles or more away from home.
“These excellent results are a testament to the strength of our hospitality community and its longstanding collaboration with the County in marketing Arlington to potential visitors,” Arlington Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Kate Bates said in a statement. “We are proud of the exceptional work of our hotels, whose dedication to top quality service continues to attract more visitors to our area.”
Victor Hoskins, director of Arlington Economic Development, said support from the County Board and Chamber for increased investment in tourism promotion has been crucial.
“It has dramatically expanded our ability to showcase Arlington and its businesses to meeting planners, consumers, tour operators and journalists – domestically and around the globe,” Hoskins said in a statement.
Flickr pool photo by Starbuck77
It’s September — As if to emphasize that today is the start of September and the first day of meteorological autumn, mother nature has dialed up a crisp start to the morning and a cool day overall in the D.C. area. [Twitter, NOAA]
Arlington Seeing Airbnb Tax Revenue — The recently-implemented enforcement of the transient occupancy tax on Airbnb-style rentals in Arlington County is producing revenue: nearly $18,000 through July. County tax enforcers think taxes on Airbnb and other short-term rentals may eventually bring in $250,000-$1.5 million per year. [InsideNova]
HS Football Kicks Off — The high school football season has kicked off for Arlington’s high schools. Wakefield defeated Washington-Lee 37-27 last night at the Generals’ home turf. The game was attended by a number of Arlington Public Schools officials, including Superintendent Dr. Patrick Murphy. Also Thursday night, Yorktown defeated D.C.’s Wilson High School 20-14. Arlington-based private high school Bishop O’Connell lost its season opener. [Twitter, Twitter, InsideNova, InsideNova]
Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman
Commonwealth Joe Gets $2.5 Million — Local nitro cold brew coffee purveyor and Pentagon City cafe operator Commonwealth Joe has landed a $2.5 million round of funding. The Arlington-based firm says it plans to use the investment to expand its cold brew business, which includes distributing kegs of the sweet, smooth chilled coffee to offices. [Washington Business Journal]
Local Holocaust Survivor Reunited — An Arlington man was reunited with a Dutch couple that hid him and his sister, who are both Jewish, from the Nazis in 1945. The reunion took place at the U.S. Holocaust Museum and happened thanks to a high school project undertaken by the couple’s grandson. [NBC Washington]
Raise for Arlington County Board Members? — There is renewed discussion of a significant raise for Arlington County Board members, in recognition that their job, rather than being part time as originally envisioned, now involves full-time hours. There are even “whispers” that Board salaries could be nearly doubled, to reach six-figures, according to one report. [InsideNova, InsideNova]
Tax Delinquency Rate Hits Historic Low — Arlington County’s 2017 tax delinquency rate has hit a record low of 0.226 percent, County Treasurer Carla de la Pava announced. That’s the lowest rate in Virginia and the lowest rate ever in Arlington, she said, touting it as “good for the county” and “good for taxpayers.” The news led Del. Patrick Hope to declare de la Pava the “best treasurer in the Commonwealth.” [Twitter, Twitter]
Remembering the Ballston Mall’s Past — First known as Parkington, then Ballston Common Mall, and soon (next year) to be reopened as Ballston Quarter, following extensive renovations, Ballston’s shopping mall has a long history that dates back to the early 1950s. [WETA]
Nearby: Legislation on Confederate Monument — State Sen. Adam Ebbin says he will introduce legislation “to give Alexandria the authority to relocate the Confederate statue in Old Town” Alexandria. “It is past time that we address the impact that lionizing the Confederacy has had on the character of our Commonwealth,” Ebbin said. [Twitter, Twitter]
Arlington County will not be asked to pay for more from its local coffers to cover dramatic funding hikes for Metro, the agency’s general manager promised Tuesday night.
Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld said he hoped to cap any requests for increased contributions from the various jurisdictions that make up the transit authority at 3 percent per year.
More money for Metro was a factor in the Arlington County Board’s decision to hike property taxes by 1.5 cents, meaning residents can expect to pay an extra $277 on average. Arlington will contribute $70.7 million for FY 2018, compared to $56.6 million in FY 2017.
And while Wiedefeld’s pledge does not rule out Arlington’s contribution rising, it would be a lower increase than the 23.85 percent hike taxpayers funded for Metro’s fiscal 2018 budget.
Wiedefeld, during his presentation to the County Board, said smart fiscal management would avoid asking jurisdictions for more money, as would a new dedicated revenue source. The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments adopted a resolution earlier this month calling for a dedicated funding source, but it would need buy-in from Maryland and Virginia’s state assemblies as well as D.C.’s government.
County Board Chair Jay Fisette said the FY 2018 contribution was a “big number for a locality like Arlington,” and said he welcomed a cap on funding.
Board Vice Chair Katie Cristol said she was “delighted to see [the promised funding cap] having just gone through a pretty difficult budget process and like many other jurisdictions are struggling with the idea of trying to do that again.”
Wiedefeld also promised that local riders of the Blue and Yellow lines would see more frequent trains as Metro looks to adjust its rail service, starting June 25. He said that the plan is for the Blue Line to arrive on platforms every eight minutes during rush hour, instead of every 12 minutes, as is current practice to accommodate the Silver Line.
Board member John Vihstadt pointed out that riders of the Blue and Yellow Lines in Arlington might have “a little different perspective” on Metro’s reliability from those who use the Orange and Silver Lines in the county.
“I think we have to roll this out in June, let’s start to rebuild the base around that, deliver that and be much more consistent in that service, and then as we start to get better and better we can look at ways we can expand that,” Wiedefeld said. “But we have to start with looking at the realities of where we are.”
On ARLnow’s 26 Square Miles podcast last week, County Board and Metro board member Christian Dorsey said that while Metro still has work to do to increase reliability, delays have decreased as SafeTrack has wrapped up.
‘Love Letters’ Along the Pike — The “Virginia Is For Lovers” tourism campaign has installed the person-sized letters “LOVE” along S. Walter Reed Drive, ahead of this weekend’s Columbia Pike Blues Festival. [Facebook]
News Orgs Confuse Arlington and Alexandria — A number of news organizations mistakenly stated that yesterday’s shooting in Alexandria happened in “Arlington, Virginia.” Though somewhat inexplicable, the confusion happens frequently. [Twitter]
Regional Metro Tax Mulled — The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments has approved a series of principles that could be the basis for a region-wide tax that can provide dedicated funding for Metro. Without it, WMATA says it will face budget shortfalls by 2019. [WTOP]
The Arlington County Board will discuss Saturday whether to move forward with a plan to extend a partial real estate tax exemption for Bloomberg BNA.
Bloomberg BNA is a major employer in the neighborhood with 972 employees and a 200,000 square foot office at 1801 S. Bell Street. It signed a deal earlier this year to stay in Arlington, invest $5.5 million and create up to 125 new jobs.
Under the proposal, Bloomberg BNA would be allowed to continue its partial property tax exemption, which expires at the end of this year, for another five years. Arlington first offered BNA an exemption in 2006 to lure it to Crystal City.
The company provides legal, tax, regulatory and business information to professionals who work in fields like the law, taxation and the environment among others.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) approved a $500,000 grant from the Commonwealth’s Opportunity Fund to assist with the project, which came as Bloomberg BNA was looking to explore its options for future locations in the region. An extended tax exemption is part of the package of incentives.
The exemption took effect in 2008, and costs the county approximately $400,000 a year. Under the terms of the extension, BNA would need to keep at least its current staffing levels and occupied office space. If not, the County Board could withdraw from the exemption or reduce it.
If the County Board moves ahead with staff’s recommendation to advance the plan, a public hearing would be held in July.
Photo via Google Maps
Budget Plan Has Slightly Lower Tax Rate Hike — The 2017-2018 county budget that Arlington County Board members are set to vote on this weekend includes a 1.5 cent tax rate hike, a half cent lower than first proposed. The budget includes increased funding for schools, Metro, county employee raises, land acquisition and services for immigrants faced with deportation. It raises the tax burden on the average homeowner by about $300. [InsideNova, Washington Post]
No Easter Egg Roll Tix for APS — Arlington Public Schools received hundreds of tickets to the annual White House Easter Egg Roll under the Obama administration, but did not receive any for President Trump’s first egg roll this year. D.C. Public Schools also were not invited. Critics say minority children were under-represented at the event. [Patch]
Big County Events This Weekend — Among the events in Arlington this weekend are a trio of major annual happenings: the Arlington Homeshow and Garden Expo at the Thomas Jefferson Community Center, the Arlington Teen Summer Expo at Wakefield High School and the Arlington Festival of the Arts in Clarendon.
Blue Virginia’s County Board Endorsement — Influential local Democratic blog Blue Virginia has endorsed Erik Gutshall in the race for Arlington County Board. A party caucus will be held next month for the four-way Democratic contest. [Blue Virginia]
John Glenn to Be Buried Today — Astronaut, U.S. senator and one-time Arlington resident John Glenn will be interred at Arlington National Cemetery this morning. Glenn died in December at the age of 95. Arlington County Police Department motor units are assisting with rolling road closures for the funeral procession. [Rare]
CivFed Rejects Tax Hike — The Arlington County Civic Federation voted “overwhelmingly” to call on the County Board to reject a proposed property tax rate hike and instead tap into reserve funds to provide needed funding boosts for Metro and Arlington Public Schools. [InsideNova]
Tears for Casual Adventure — Long-time customers, employees and owners of Casual Adventure in Virginia Square are all shedding tears as the 61-year-old store prepares to close. The outdoor retailer is holding a store closing sale to liquidate its inventory. [NBC Washington]
Lawsuit: Sexual Harassment in Arlington Apartment — A lawsuit alleges that a 72-year-old official with a small graduate school in D.C. coerced students “into sexually explicit physical examinations at his Arlington, Va., apartment, ostensibly to keep their jobs and advance their careers.” [Washington Post]
Buckingham Profiled by WaPo — Buckingham is a diverse, relatively affordable community near Ballston and the Orange Line. But its civic association president does not like the direction the neighborhood is headed — and he didn’t mind expressing that in the Washington Post’s “Where We Live” community real estate profile. “For Bernie Berne… the biggest issue is the ‘destruction of the neighborhood by affordable housing,'” the paper wrote. “Berne… said he believes the ‘increase in the density’ of the area ‘takes away open space and trees.'” [Washington Post]
CarPool Now Closed — A line out the door marked CarPool’s last day in business on Monday. The Ballston bar hosted a large crowd of patrons there to watch the Nationals opening day and the NCAA men’s basketball championship, and to say goodbye to the long-time watering hole. [Twitter]
Clement Opposes Tax Rate Hike — Independent Arlington County Board candidate Audrey Clement says she does not support the proposed property tax hike, which Arlington’s county manager says is necessary to fund Metro and Arlington Public Schools. [InsideNova]
Developments in School Board Race — Former congressional candidate Mike Webb has gathered the petition signatures necessary to get on this year’s Arlington School Board ballot, although he still has a couple of paperwork hurdles before he officially qualifies. Meanwhile, incumbent James Lander has received the endorsement of the Arlington Education Association as he faces two challengers in the Democratic endorsement caucus. [InsideNova, InsideNova]
Arlington’s Trees By The Numbers — “The County is proud home to some 755,400 trees of at least 122 species. If you had to put a price on all that priceless foliage, it’d be worth more than $1.4 billion.” [Arlington County]
Tour of the Trades Center — The latest “Around Arlington” video from the county gives viewers a tour of the Arlington Trandes Center near Shirlington, where school buses are housed, police cars get repaired and salt trucks get refilled. [YouTube]
Police Chief: See Something, Say Something — Although the vast majority of calls about suspicious people or circumstances turn out to be nothing, Arlington’s police chief is still encouraging residents to call the police non-emergency line at 703-558-2222 if they see something out of the ordinary. Said Chief Jay Farr: “Do not hesitate to call us about something suspicious. Some say, ‘I didn’t want to bother you,’ but I say, `Bother us.'” [Falls Church News-Press]
The following letter was sent to members of the County Board, ARLnow.com and other community organizations by Bluemont resident and local activist Suzanne Smith Sundburg, who says the proposed tax rate hike is regressive and unnecessary. Arlington County is in the midst of its annual budget process.
Dear Chair Fisette and members of the Arlington County Board,
Meaningful discussion of revenue (the real estate tax rate) without any discussion of expenditures (the budget) makes little sense, as these two items are inextricably linked.
For FY18, the effective advertised real estate tax-rate (assessment increase + 2-cent rate increase) is equivalent to a 4-cent hike in the real estate tax rate. Over the past decade, Arlington County homeowners, commercial property owners, and renters have been asked to shoulder ongoing increases in the tax and fee burden.
With a 2-cent increase, the average homeowner would see the tax and fee burden rise from $8,305 in calendar year (CY) 2016 to $8,613 in CY 2017 — a 4% increase, or about $492 — and will have absorbed a cumulative, 5-year increase of $1,613 in additional taxes and fees (CY 2013-CY 2017).
Commercial property owners (and the businesses that rent from them) face an even greater burden with the 12.5-cent transportation surcharge and (where applicable) BID assessment.
At a March 9 budget work session with the commissions, the manager agreed that real estate tax increases are passed through to commercial office tenants and that taxes are one driver of the county’s stubbornly high vacancy rate. However, he could point to no specific data or recent analysis predicting the impact of a 4-cent (or lesser) effective tax-rate increase on Arlington’s vacancy rate.
Likewise, in answer to another question on March 9, the manager also agreed that raising the real estate tax rate would increase the cost of housing for the county’s affordable housing community — even as the county is simultaneously subsidizing this cost. Increases in Arlington’s tax and fee burden makes housing less affordable for all Arlingtonians, and this burden disproportionately affects those living on lower and fixed incomes, including elderly and disabled residents.
Given the large amount of cash on hand, as outlined below, it would seem highly likely that the manager could (with Board concurrence) cover all new proposed spending by reallocating a small portion of these funds to cover limited-duration and nonrecurring expenditures in the general fund budget rather than raising the tax rate for FY2018.
Using cash already on hand, the manager’s proposed budget could be funded without any spending cuts or a tax-rate increase. I therefore urge the Board not to increase the tax rate and to ask the manager to identify expenditures that are appropriate for alternative cash funding and to trim any unnecessary spending, using public money efficiently and effectively to minimize the need for future tax increases (or spending cuts). Below the list of several sources of cash on hand, I have identified a few cost savings and efficiencies as well.
CASH ON HAND
- $191.2 million — Fund Balance. (See Exhibit 3, FY16 CAFR.) I am not asking the board to tap the county’s 5% operating reserve of $58 million or similar required reserves. There is a great deal of money in the fund balance beyond required reserves. Since FY09, the county has been carrying an unspent fund balance of at least $100 million. (See Exhibit 5, FY09-FY16 CAFRs.) Since FY06, the fund balance has generated a net positive surplus, even at the height of the real estate crash when revenues were $72 million less than expenditures.
Thus, over the last decade the county historically and consistently has taken in more money than it has spent. FY18 will likely continue this trend as the manager has presented a “balanced budget that continues the current level of service within existing tax rate” of $0.991 per $100 of assessed value.
- $77.7 million — APS reserves. APS has its own $77.7 million cash reserves (on top of county reserves), which are defined/described in the superintendent’s FY18 proposed budget. The superintendent has set aside approximately $24 million in cash for “future budget years,” $19 million of which is unallocated and presumably will be carried over into FY19.
- $157 million — Transportation Capital Fund. (See Exhibit X, FY16 CAFR.) The TCF is expected to generate another +/-$26 million in revenue in FY18. On March 9, the manager confirmed to me that at least some of the 1-cent proposed increase for Metro could alternately be funded by TCF dollars. When we know that borrowing costs are likely to rise, why would we want to float more new bonds than strictly necessary, particularly when we have so much unspent money in the TCF?
Surely out of a $1.24 billion budget, the county can find $14.8 million in limited-duration and nonrecurring expenditures that could be otherwise funded from cash already on hand. If it’s a choice between making cuts and finding expenditures that qualify for an alternative funding source(s), my guess is that the county’s departments will be able to provide a list of items that would qualify.