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Morning Notes

Sunset along Columbia Pike near the Air Force Memorial (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

County Fair Starts Today — “The Arlington County Fair will take place from August 17 – 21 at Thomas Jefferson Community Center located at 3501 2nd Street S. The Arlington County Police Department will conduct the following road closure to accommodate the event: From approximately 8:00 a.m. on August 17 to 11:00 p.m. on August 21… 2nd Street S. closed between S. Jackson Street and S. Irving Street.” [ACPD]

Fewer Car Tax Notices — “Arlington County Board members as part of their annual budget process eliminated the $33-per-vehicle decal fee… About 20,000 vehicles will thus have nothing owed on them, and the treasurer’s office has decided not to send notices to them. An additional 30,000 county residents who own two or more vehicles under the same name will see their billing information consolidated into a single mailing in order to achieve ‘significant savings on paper and postage,’ Treasurer Carla de la Pava said in an Aug. 15 letter.” [Sun Gazette]

Senators Hail New Law — “U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) released the following statement after President Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act into law: ‘We’re proud that this law will lower the price of prescription drugs, reduce the deficit, bring down energy bills and fight climate change… We will continue to look for ways to support the health and well-being of our communities, decrease inflation, and lower costs for Virginians.'” [Sen. Mark Warner]

Opera Making a Comeback? — “Supporters of Northern Virginia’s opera scene are hoping to reanimate the dormant Opera Guild of Northern Virginia, which through the years has raised funds and provided other support to opera organizations as well as promoting fellowships among those who appreciate the art form and introducing children to the unique and inclusive nature of opera.” [Sun Gazette]

It’s Wednesday — Partly cloudy throughout the day. High of 81 and low of 65. Sunrise at 6:26 am and sunset at 8:02 pm. [Weather.gov]

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Pentagon City mall and S. Hayes Street (file photo)

Virginia’s annual back-to-school tax holiday is coming up this weekend and one local shopping center is using the occasion to hold a donation drive.

This year’s statewide sales tax holiday is taking place from Friday through Sunday (Aug. 5-7). Those shopping in Virginia can rack up tax savings on eligible products, including back-to-school clothing and supplies, emergency preparedness items, and certain energy- and water-efficient home appliances and fixtures.

More from the state’s website:

What items are eligible?

Detailed lists of qualifying items and more information for retailers can be found in the Sales Tax Holiday Guidelines.

“During a time of high inflation and gas prices, Virginians will receive some needed tax relief this weekend as they support local businesses across the Commonwealth,” Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) said this afternoon in a statement. “Lowering the cost of living remains a top priority for my administration as we work together to make Virginia the best place to live, work, and raise a family.”

Locals taking advantage of tax-free shopping at the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City, meanwhile, are being asked to bring their used denim with them. Denim clothing can be donated at the mall between Aug. 5-14.

“Fashion Centre at Pentagon City encourages shoppers to bring any type of denim apparel items to the Do Good With Denim drive,” mall operator Simon said in a press release. “Shoppers can recycle their used denim at various bins throughout the center. Stations will be located throughout the center for shoppers to custom embroider their denim. Donations will be given to the Salvation Army.”

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Morning Notes

Sunset along Columbia Pike at the Arlington National Cemetery expansion site (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Arlington Resident Moving to San Diego — Baseball superstar Juan Soto, who recently moved to Arlington, has been traded by the Nats to the San Diego Padres. He’ll presumably take with him some photos and art that were framed at a Clarendon frame store. [MLB]

Fairfax Barricade EndsUpdated at 9:25 a.m. — A man reportedly barricaded in a condo with a rifle near Lake Barcroft has been taken into custody. The barricade situation prompted a Fairfax County police helicopter to circle over parts of Arlington for hours. [FFXnow, Twitter]

County Getting Part of Opioid Settlement — “It’s not a princely sum, but cash is cash and the Arlington County government is set to receive its share of a new payment based on a legal settlement with a number of opioid distributors… Of the first settlement payout, about $9.94 million will go to the state government’s Opioid Abatement Authority and about $4.07 million will be distributed to localities. Arlington is entitled to 1.378 percent of that latter figure, which works out to $56,034.” [Sun Gazette]

Ballston Quarter Gets Small Tax Break — “Owners of the Ballston Quarter retail-restaurant-and-entertainment complex came away from a recent Board of Equalization hearing with a very partial victory, as that body reduced the property’s assessed valuation but not nearly as much as its owners had sought. On a unanimous vote, Board of Equalization members on July 13 voted to reduce the assessment rate – which is used to calculate the property’s annual tax bill – from $91.1 million as determined by staff to $86.7 million.” [Sun Gazette]

Va. Sens. Celebrate Vets Bill — “Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine celebrated Senate passage of the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act of 2022 following obstruction efforts by Senate Republicans last week. This legislation will expand health care and benefits for toxic-exposed veterans under the Department of Veterans Affairs.” [Sen. Mark Warner]

YHS Grads Makes Youth National Team — “Yorktown High School graduate Lauren Flynn was named to the U.S. Under-20 Women’s Youth National Team soccer roster for the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Costa Rica from Aug. 10-28.” [Sun Gazette]

Feedback Sought for Eco Plan — “Arlington County would like your input on the draft Forestry and Natural Resources Plan. To assure future generations of Arlingtonians enjoy the benefits of nature, the County must identify what needs are urgent, what are aspirational, and how each can be addressed through both long-term initiatives, incremental change and immediate action.” [Arlington County]

Crash in D.C. Shut Down Chain Bridge — From WTOP’s Dave Dildine: “Chain Bridge closed both ways along with Canal Road and Clara Barton Parkway at the bridge. A crash occurred when traffic signals were malfunctioning. Witnesses say an officer was struck under the malfunctioning signals. These lights fall out of phase frequently.” [Twitter]

It’s Wednesday — Another hot and humid day. High of 90 and low of 71. Sunrise at 6:13 am and sunset at 8:19 pm. [Weather.gov]

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As commercial and office vacancy rates continue to soar, the county is looking to food delivery staging areas, urban farms, breweries, and small warehouses as potential solutions.

At last week’s Planning Committee meeting, county officials expanded upon a County Manager initiative first announced in April to modernize, simplify, and add flexibility to the county’s zoning approval process. The efforts are being called “commercial market resiliency.”

The last two plus years have seen a lot of change in terms of how commercial space is used, said Jill Hunger from the Dept. of Community Planning, Housing and Development (CPHD).

“We are experiencing rapid shifts, a lot of it was accelerated [due] to Covid,” Hunger said. “Where and how we work have changed as well as general consumer behavior and expectations.”

This has led the county to consider less traditional uses of spaces that could be approved quickly, like micro fulfillment centers (small-scale warehouses), maker spaces, data centers, animal boarding, urban agriculture, and breweries.

These types of uses would require, according to a presentation by CPHD, only “minor tweaks” to already-approved zoning uses and, in some cases, are already allowed in neighboring jurisdictions. Another advantage is that these types of uses could also be approved within six months, which is considered a quick timeframe.

By more quickly approving a larger variety of commercial uses, it could help bring down commercial and office vacancy rates that have hit nearly 21%.

“We are still facing tremendous headwinds, especially with commercial office vacancy,” said Marc McCauley, Arlington Economic Development’s (AED) director of real estate development. “[There’s] uncertainty of when people are returning to the office and how they are going to use the space differently.”

Nearly half of Arlington’s local property tax base comes from commercial properties, which helps to keep taxes on residential properties lower than would otherwise be needed to provide the current level of local government services.

AED told ARLnow earlier this week that the department is continuing to work on reducing commercial and office vacancies.

As was noted several times during the Planning Commission meeting, the proposed changes would be similar to those that were approved for Columbia Pike late last year.

In November, the County Board approved changes allowing for more retail variety on the ground floors of buildings along Columbia Pike. This might lead to businesses more often seen in industrial districts, like a brewery, distillery, or a shared commercial kitchen opening on the Pike.

“We started out hearing that Columbia Pike was unique but what we heard from a lot of [people], including this commission, ‘why isn’t this good for everywhere?'” said Marc McCauley of AED.

To this end, CPHD is looking to institute a pilot program that would allow micro-fulfillment centers, where all deliveries would be by bike or foot, to quickly move into these commercial spaces.

The hope is to go through the approval process in four months, starting with a request to advertise this month, so that this pilot would come before the Planning Commission and County Board for final approvals in October.

As the county, region, and nation continue to grapple with how the pandemic impacted office vacancies and changed the economy, officials are realizing the old ways of approving commercial uses may no longer work.

“What we are trying to achieve is… when we are building spaces and suggesting different uses that we are not precluding anything,” said Hunger. “We are trying to be more inclusive and not exclusive about what can and can not go in.”

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Flags outside county government headquarters in Courthouse (photo courtesy Arlington County)

(Updated at 3:45 p.m.) A printing vendor accidentally mailed tens of thousands of duplicate property tax bills to Arlington property owners, the county said today.

ARLnow started getting reports from readers earlier this week about the rogue mailings.

“We received a duplicate real estate tax bill today and contacted a couple of friends who also don’t have mortgages and they did too,” said one reader. “All of us have already paid and, in any case, the taxes aren’t due until 6/15.”

“Isn’t this a terrible waste of time and postage expense of our tax dollars by the county?” the reader added.

In each case, the readers said they countacted the county, which confirmed that they had in fact paid and the mailings were sent in error.

Arlington County Treasurer Carla de la Pava tells ARLnow that her office is not at fault and taxpayers won’t bear the extra expense, though she apologized for the confusion the letters caused.

The county treasurer’s office is issuing the following statement this afternoon.

The Arlington County Treasurer’s Office discovered yesterday, May 31, 2022, that an error made by our external print vendor resulted in the printing and mailing of approximately 26,000 duplicate letters to our taxpayers.  The vast majority of these duplicate letters were real estate tax bills, and we regret the confusion and inconvenience that this error has caused our customers.

The Treasurer’s Office routinely sends test files to our outside print vendor before major billings like the recent billing for 1st installment real estate taxes.  Although our office followed established procedures, unfortunately our external print vendor did not. A print vendor employee mistakenly printed and mailed letters from the test environment, and Arlington County customers began to receive the letters last weekend.

Arlington County taxpayers will not bear any of the cost of printing and postage resulting from this error. In addition, we will work with our print vendor to improve their internal control procedures to prevent errors like this from occurring in the future.  If you are concerned about a particular bill, please email us at [email protected] or call 703-228-3702.

De la Pava estimated the total cost of the mailing, had the county been on the hook for it, at around $14,000.

A similar incident involving a “significant number” of duplicate tax bills happened in 2016. It was blamed on “a glitch” in sending data to the printing contractor.

“We are currently having conversations with [the contractor] to find out what processes and procedures they have in place, or can put in place, to stop duplicate files from being printed and mailed,” de la Pava told the Sun Gazette at the time.

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Decal design competition presentation in 2018 (file photo)

Arlington County has not required a tax decal on cars since 2019, but that has not ended the annual $33 per-vehicle decal fee — yet.

Also known as a “motor vehicle license fee,” the yearly charge is assessed for all cars kept in Arlington regardless of their value, unlike another annual vehicle expense, the Vehicle Personal Property Tax. But the former is now on the way out.

The County Board is set to vote Saturday to eliminate the $33 fee, following the approval of the new Fiscal Year 2023 budget last month. The lost revenue is being offset by “a portion of the additional personal property tax revenue projected due to rising vehicle assessments,” according to a report to the Board.

More from the report:

The MVL fee was originally known as the decal fee due to the previous requirement to display a decal on the windshield of all vehicles having situs in Arlington County as proof of payment of the annual MVL fee. The fee was intended to help cover the cost of compliance efforts related to the filing and payment of vehicle personal property taxes. In FY 2008, the initial fee of $25 was increased to $33, the maximum amount allowed per Virginia Code. Due to the automation of compliance efforts in FY 2019, the decal requirement was repealed and the fee remained payable with vehicle personal property tax bills due each year on October 5th.

“Since this flat fee of $33 ($18 for motorcycles) is applied to all vehicles each year, households with cheaper and older cars are burdened the same as affluent households owning more expensive vehicles,” the report goes on to say. “The removal of this fee, with revenue offset by the more progressive tax (personal property tax), continues the County’s priority of more equitable tax burden in our community.”

Currently, Falls Church, Fairfax County and Prince William County each collect a $33 annual license fee, like Arlington, while Alexandria does not collect the fee.

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Morning Notes

Kayakers on the Potomac near Key Bridge (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Driver Crashes into Trooper’s Cruiser — A Virginia State Police trooper was radioing in a license plate during a traffic stop on I-395 near Shirlington when his cruiser was rear-ended. The trooper finished giving the tag number before telling the dispatcher about the crash. [Twitter]

Circulator Strike Continues — “The first day’s negotiations between a bus drivers union and the operator of D.C. Circulator since workers began striking were unsuccessful through Wednesday evening, increasing the prospects of a potentially lengthy outage of the city’s only public bus service.” [Washington Post]

Marymount Planning Child Care Center — “Marymount University is setting up a new child care center on campus in a renovation project that it said is designed to fill a critical, and deepening, local workforce need as those with young children return to the office. The Marymount Early Learning Academy for children aged 3 to 5 will open in the summer or fall of 2023, reviving the idea of an on-campus preschool that the university used to run in the 1990s before it closed down.” [Washington Business Journal]

Sexual Battery Incident in Pentagon City — “500 block of 12th Road S…. at approximately 11:40 p.m. on April 29th the male victim had entered into the elevator of a secure residential building when the unknown suspect followed behind him. The victim exited the elevator and walked down the hallway, during which the suspect grabbed his buttocks. The suspect then fled the scene.” [ACPD]

Air Force Colonel on Trial — “An official with the California National Guard charged with indecent exposure in Arlington in March is scheduled to go to trial in Arlington on July 18… the suspect entered the business and exposed himself to female victims, according to the ACPD.” [Patch]

Falls Church Lowers Property Tax Rate — “On Monday night, the Falls Church City Council approved a $112.8 million Fiscal Year 2023 (FY23) that invests in public schools, core government services, walkability and traffic calming, environmental sustainability, and more, all while reducing the real estate tax rate by 9 cents… To mitigate the 11 percent overall increase in real estate assessments, the adopted budget includes a decrease in the real estate tax to $1.23 per $100 of assessed value.” [City of Falls Church]

It’s Cinco de Mayo — Mostly cloudy, with a high of 67 and low of 56. Sunrise at 6:07 am and sunset at 8:06 pm. [Weather.gov]

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Morning Notes

Washington Blvd and N. Nelson Street at night (Flickr pool photo by Cyrus W)

APS Looking for New Academic Officer — “The Arlington school system is on the hunt for a new academic chief, after the incumbent in the position was dispatched to serve for a second tour of duty as a middle-school principal. Bridget Loft, the current chief academic officer, on April 28 was appointed principal at Swanson Middle School, a post she held from 2011-17 before moving on to serve as principal at Yorktown High School and then hold the school system’s top academic-focused leadership post.” [Sun Gazette]

Taxes Up By a Sixth in Three Years — “Another year of no reduction in the Arlington real-estate tax rate to offset spiraling assessments means that the typical county homeowner will be paying 17 percent more in taxes to the government compared to three years ago.” [Sun Gazette]

Cristol Weights in on Possible Roe Decision — From Arlington County Board Chair Katie Cristol: “Anticipating the impending decision to fully overturn Roe vs. Wade didn’t make it any less shocking. The reality that our nation is moving backwards on the fundamental right of women to exist in a democratic society without being forced by the state to give birth is chilling.” [Twitter]

It’s Wednesday — Possible light rain in the morning and storms around midday. High of 77 and low of 60. Sunrise at 6:08 am and sunset at 8:05 pm. [Weather.gov]

Flickr pool photo by Cyrus W

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Morning Notes

Cherry blossoms in Pentagon City (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Changes Coming to ‘Crossing Clarendon’ — “Our central greenspace, The Loop, will be expanding to offer more spaces to walk, shop, relax and explore The Crossing Clarendon. This renovation includes natural planting and landscaping, a modern play structure for the kids, upgrades to the water feature, increased pedestrian zones, and updated seating for our visitors. Construction is slated until late 2022.” [Instagram]

HQ2 Is Attracting Companies, Investors — “The National Landing area, which encompasses Crystal City, Pentagon City and part of Potomac Yard in Arlington, has an $8B development pipeline, $2.5B of which is from Amazon, National Landing BID President Tracy Sayegh Gabriel said… Neighborhood leaders, developers and brokers said that HQ2 is drawing new global investors and commercial tenants to seek opportunities in the area.” [Bisnow]

PSA: Close Your Garage Door — “2600 block of S. Joyce Street. At approximately 6:17 p.m. on March 24, police were dispatched to the late report of a breaking and entering. Upon arrival, it was determined that between approximately 10:00 a.m. and 12:00 p.m., the two unknown suspects entered into the victim’s open garage and stole numerous power tools.” [ACPD]

Expect ‘Manageable’ Local Growth — “Northern Virginia localities should expect moderate levels of jobs growth in the coming two decades, with the metropolitan area as a whole adding perhaps 880,000 new ones by 2045. ‘We are a 1-percent-a-year, on average, growing region. This is not too fast, this is not amazingly high. This is actually a very manageable pace,’ said Arlington County Board member Takis Karantonis, parsing new data at the board’s March 22 meeting.” [Sun Gazette]

‘Women of Vision’ Winners — “On Wednesday, March 30, 2022, the Arlington County Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) will honor four women for their commitment and leadership in the Arlington community with 2022 Arlington County Women of Vision awards… BUSINESS: Karen Bate and Evelyn Powers… NONPROFIT: Natalie Foote… GOVERNMENT: Tara Magee.” [Arlington County]

County Scaling Down Vax Site — “With the demand for COVID vaccines at least momentarily on the decline across Arlington, local leaders have announced plans to reopen one community center for other uses, and are working on opening up more spaces in another. County Manager Mark Schwartz on March 22 announced that, as of April 5, the Walter Reed Community Center will open for pickleball, volleyball, basketball and table games like bridge and mah jongg.” [Sun Gazette]

Governor Signs Car Tax Bill — “Governor Glenn Youngkin signed into law HB1239 sponsored by Delegate Phillip A. Scott, empowering localities to cut car tax rates and prevent huge tax hikes driven by driven by dramatic increases in used vehicle values… If local government leadership does not address the increased value of used vehicles, then taxpayers are facing significant tax increases, as the Commonwealth of Virginia constitutionally mandates 100% fair market value in property tax assessments.” [Governor of Virginia]

It’s Tuesday — Clear throughout the day. High of 46 and low of 24. Sunrise at 6:58 am and sunset at 7:30 pm. [Weather.gov]

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Virginia Capitol in Richmond (staff photo)

Good news: Virginia is flush with cash.

State tax revenues have been unexpectedly robust — billions more than first anticipated — and that has Republicans and Democrats in Richmond at loggerheads over what to do with the money.

From the Virginia Mercury last month:

Virginia’s new governor marked his 30th day in office with a state tour meant to build support for his tax-cutting plans, which have gotten a mixed response in the politically split legislature.

Parts of it, such as a plan to give every Virginia taxpayer a one-time rebate of $300, have passed with strong bipartisan support. Other proposals, like eliminating the state’s grocery tax and suspending a scheduled increase in the gas tax, have been a tough sell in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

The budget remains in flux, with the state legislature adjourned until a special session is called, allowing lawmakers to work out their differences. While Republicans are calling for nearly $5.5 billion in tax cuts and rebates — plus, more recently, a temporary gas tax holiday — Democrats want more modest tax cuts, targeted to those with lower incomes, while boosting funding for priorities like education.

From the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

The House budget includes almost $5.5 billion in tax cuts and rebates, but the Senate continues to insist on deferring the centerpiece of the governor’s tax plan — the doubling of the standard deduction for income tax filers — until a joint subcommittee completes a comprehensive study of Virginia tax policy in the coming year. Doubling the standard deduction would reduce state revenues by $2 billion over two years.

The Senate has agreed to partial repeal of the 2.5% sales tax on groceries, but has balked at eliminating the 1% that goes directly to local governments and has approved a less generous tax exemption for military retirement income than the House. It also has approved smaller tax rebates this year than the House and rejected a 12-month rollback in the gas tax as meaningless to soaring prices at the pump.

In general, what do you think the state should do with its unexpected extra revenue, if you were to select one thing as Richmond’s top budget priority?

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Arlington County Mark Schwartz (file photo by Jay Westcott)

Most homeowners will be on the hook for higher property taxes under a budget proposal by Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz.

Schwartz’s proposed 2022-2023 budget would fund raises for county employee amid inflation and competition with other local jurisdictions. It would also provide more funding for schools and spend several million dollars on efforts intended to address climate change.

While Schwartz proposed a property tax rate that’s unchanged from 2021, a 5.8% rise in residential property assessments will result in an effective tax hike for most homeowners.

In all, the average homeowner will see a $505 rise in local taxes in fees compared to last year, including $388 in additional property taxes.

Tax and fee burden under proposed FY 2023 budget (via Arlington County)

The budget proposal focuses on attracting and retaining county employees through raises, bonuses and other actions. It includes larger raises for police, fire and other public safety employees, amid ongoing recruiting challenges.

From Schwartz’s presentation to the County Board on Saturday:

Increases to ongoing salaries:

  • 4.25% for general employees
  • 6.50% for public safety employees
  • 3.0% increase to the minimum and maximum of each grade/range

Other actions:

  • $1,600 gross one-time bonus
  • Funded job studies including administrative, parks programming, and library positions ($0.8 million)
  • $1.5 million for the first year of a multi-year effort to address pay compression
  • No premium increase for the self-insured health plan

The pay compression item is intended to address the issue of new hires sometimes making more than employees who have been with the county for awhile, due to increases in pay scales outpacing annual raises.

Other focuses of the budget include housing, climate change and schools, including:

  • An increase in funding earmarked to prevent evictions
  • $4.4 million in climate change initiatives, including up to 53 new electric vehicles for the county fleet and new EV charging infrastructure
  • A 8.7% increase in the budget transfer to Arlington Public Schools, for a total of $576 million

Under the budget proposal, Arlington’s funding for Metro will remain flat at $46.6 million. Covid-related initiatives, mostly from federal funds, include a $3.25 million tourism recovery grant.

The budget totals $1.47 million, a 5.5% increase over last year. Excluding the school transfer, the county government itself would have an operating budget of $894.1 million, a 3.6% year-over-year increase.

At $1.013 per every $100 in assessed value, Arlington’s property tax rate would be lower than the current rates for neighboring Alexandria ($1.11) and Fairfax County ($1.14). Both of those jurisdictions, which saw steeper growth in property assessments this year while the average home value remains below that of Arlington, will be selecting a new proposed tax rate over the next week or so.

Real estate tax and assessment comparisons (via Arlington County)

The County Board is set to vote on advertising a tax rate cap at its meeting tomorrow, then will hold a series of public hearings on the budget and the tax rate at the end of March before voting on a final budget and rate at its Saturday, April 23 meeting.

The full county press release about the proposed FY 2023 budget is below.

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