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by Mark Kelly — July 30, 2015 at 1:45 pm 662 0

Mark Kelly

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

You may not have heard much about it, but the State Board of Elections (SBE) is considering changes to the Virginia voter registration form and accompanying regulations in advance of the 2016 elections.

Under the Virginia Constitution, Article 2, Section 2, the Commonwealth “shall require the applicant to provide the following information on a standard form: full name; date of birth; residence address; social security number, if any; whether the applicant is presently a United States citizen; and such additional information as may be required by law.”

The proposed regulatory changes say that failure to provide some of these items, say a social security number for instance, is no longer a material omission, or bright line rule, that would stop someone from registering to vote. Worse, the regulations say that no registrar may disqualify a voter if they simply sign the form in the appropriate place.

While some may support removing the social security number requirement, or others, from the current voter registrations forms and regulations, SBE has no authority to remove it. The idea that an agency or department can simply write a regulation that re-writes the law is something we are seeing more and more of in America, but it should be unacceptable.

Governor McAuliffe supports the changes. His office said the changes were proposed by the staff at SBE, not the political appointees, in hopes of streamlining the registration process.

But well over 5 million Virginians are currently registered to vote under the existing system. Prior to these proposed regulations, there was not a stream of stories claiming the process was in any way a burden new voters are somehow unable to bear.

And according to the public comments thus far, Virginia Registrars are generally opposed to the changes. These are the public servants charged with reviewing the credentials of potential voters to ensure our elections are fair.

While voter fraud is relatively rare, it does happen. Creating a form that makes it the least bit easier to commit voter fraud is not only bad public policy, but it also undermines the public’s trust in the system. Whether intentional or not, when an ineligible voter is allowed to cast a vote, it improperly dilutes the vote of every eligible voter who goes to the polls.

While registering to vote and voting should be relatively easy, there must be safeguards in place to protect the sanctity of the vote. I am not prepared to declare this a Democratic conspiracy to propel Hillary Clinton to a win next November, but the changes raise serious questions and SBE should go back to the drawing board.

by Mark Kelly — July 23, 2015 at 1:00 pm 1,005 0

Mark Kelly

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

This week, outgoing County Board Member Walter Tejada voted against the creation of an independent County Auditor. He blamed the new office on Republicans.

The County Auditor was not a partisan idea. It started with the Civic Federation. And as John Vihstadt pointed out, Delegate Hope, Governor McAuliffe and three other Democrats on the County Board ultimately supported it.

 Mr. Tejada contends the office only became a reality because Republican have passed out some sort of anti-government “Kool Aid.” Tejada further contends that hiring an auditor will only further cause a “timid and stagnant era of distrust.”

 Tejada’s speech reminds me of many of the speeches of his former Board colleague Chris Zimmerman. He often laid the blame of pretty much anything that went wrong at the feet of Republicans in Richmond or in Washington or in general.

 In Arlington, the math is simple. There are about two Democrats for every Republican and independent voters tend to lean to the left. The Democrats have essentially controlled the County Government for at least three decades. No amount of blaming Republicans for decisions in Arlington is going to change who is responsible for the decisions that have been made.

 If people in the community distrust Arlington’s government enough to elect a non-Democrat to the Board while Mark Warner was racking up 70% of the vote here, Mr. Tejada has no one to blame but himself and his own party. The Artisphere, the million dollar bus stop, the ill-conceived trolley, the overpriced dog parks and gold-plated aquatics center were not Republican ideas. And, Republicans alone were powerless to stop them despite our best efforts.

 The Zimmerman-Tejada line of thinking, though, really goes much deeper. They claim that Republicans hate all forms of government.

 Republicans believe government is necessary, but should be limited. We believe that government closest to the people is best. And we believe that government at all levels should be efficient, not wasteful. After all, the government is using money they have the power to take from us.

Republicans remember what our Founding Fathers warned us about — that the power to tax is the power to destroy. We know it is the duty of the people to be vigilant in watching carefully those who hold that power.

 So, if Mr. Tejada wants to oppose increased transparency and accountability and give credit to Republicans for creating the County Auditor’s office, then on behalf of the Republican Party — I accept.

by Mark Kelly — July 16, 2015 at 1:45 pm 472 0

Mark Kelly

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

The Arlington County Board announced it is ramping up to hire an independent County Auditor. The Auditor is to be independent in the sense that the office is slated to report directly to the Board rather than going through the filter of the County Manager’s office.

For good or ill, the Auditor would operate along with an Audit Committee of up to seven other people representing the Board, the county staff and citizen advisors. In general, the larger such a committee is, the less efficient it will be. Let’s hope the Committee does not restrict the ability of the Auditor to be effective.

It is particularly good to see that the reports will be published online in a timely fashion. That will give the community the opportunity to review the findings and draw their own conclusions.

Arriving at this point began with the Arlington Civic Federation who first called for an Auditor a few years back. Several candidates, including myself, made it a part of our campaign platforms when challenging the all-Democrat County Board. As with the other changes, including the end of the streetcar project, it did not come to fruition until voters put an end to the one party rule on the Board.

Libby Garvey got on board with the concept after John Vihstadt’s election, and the two convinced their colleagues to consider it. To his credit, Delegate Hope then carried a bill to ensure Arlington had the authority to create the position. The effort has truly been bi-partisan. And it proves that good ideas in Arlington can come from outside the Board or the current power structure within the Democratic Party.

The true test will be when the Auditor finds waste or inefficiencies in the current county government. The question will be, just how committed is the Board to making positive changes that will save taxpayers money? And if the Board is willing to reduce or eliminate certain spending, will they find other ways to spend it or will they actually consider lowering tax rates?

Also, will the Board charge the Auditor to take an honest look at the regular annual budget process and the less well understood closeout process? As I have argued here, the closeout process itself unnecessarily drives up spending outside of the regular budget process. It is not difficult to imagine that we could change the way county staff builds budgets to the benefit of taxpayers.

While questions remain, we should be cautiously optimistic that an Auditor will increase transparency and accountability and even keep a few more tax dollars in the pockets of the people who earned them.

by Mark Kelly — July 9, 2015 at 1:00 pm 492 0

GOP county board candidate Mark KellyThe Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Delegates Hope and Sullivan announced they would work across the Commonwealth to cut into the massive GOP majority in the Virginia House of Delegates.

Delegate Hope previewed his stump speech saying “Republicans are killing their constituents.” Hope’s over-the-top reference was reportedly to GOP opposition to expanding the Affordable Care Act and supporting coal.

Setting aside the Supreme Court’s failure to uphold the plain meaning of words as well as the fact there is nothing affordable about the law, it seems that the recent health care ruling breathed new life into this issue for Virginia Democrats. The wisdom of campaigning for this Washington program anywhere outside of the beltway remains to be seen.

Coal not only helps fuel the economy of southwestern Virginia, but shutting down all coal-fired power in the United States any time in the near future would cause utility rates to skyrocket. Higher electric bills impact those at the bottom of the economic ladder with the least amount of disposable income the most. In addition to home heating and cooling bills, it would drive up the price of every other good and service they need. Seems like a losing argument most places across the Commonwealth.

On balance, if Hope and Sullivan are going to bring their brand of being a Democrat to the campaign trail outside of Northern Virginia, GOP Speaker Howell might pay their way to stump for Democratic challengers. Their far left positions may play well in Arlington, but not in most, if not all, GOP-held seats.

Sullivan did argue the GOP would not change unless they lost elections over a specific issue. This is an argument I made about the Democrat-controlled County Board on the Columbia Pike trolley, and it proved to be true.

Mobile App “Saved”

Yesterday’s “breaking news” was that Arlington Public Schools mobile app has probably been saved from budget “cuts.” It seems as if Blackboard is willing to provide it for free.

You have to wonder whether or not the APS staff explored this possibility with Blackboard before announcing it would cut the $12,000 expenditure or whether Blackboard made the offer after APS notified them?

Whether it is a $12,000 mobile app or $1.2 million for Macbooks, the staff at APS owes it to Arlington taxpayers, students, parents and teachers to always look for innovative ways to save money, even though they have plenty of it.

by Mark Kelly — July 2, 2015 at 1:00 pm 520 0

GOP county board candidate Mark KellyThe Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

This week the Arlington School Board voted unanimously to add gender identity to its employment and harassment policies. The School Board did so rather quietly, adding it initially to its consent agenda before eventually holding a separate up or down vote.

Also included as part of the policy updates, the School Board made three additional changes related to the hiring of staff that received no coverage either before or after the fact.

On both the goals policy, which describes the staff the School Board seeks, and the equal employment opportunity policy they added “economic status” to the list of things the Arlington Public Schools would not take into account in hiring decisions.

Certainly, this is a change that would have widespread support. It is also almost certainly a change with no practical impact other than to comply with suggested legal language. No one would imagine discrimination of this type currently exists in the Arlington Public Schools (APS).

On the goals policy, the School Board struck “political affiliation” and “affiliation with an employee organization” from the same list. The accompanying memo did not state a reason for these changes other than to “align language across policies.”

While those items were never a part of the equal employment opportunity policy, it seems odd that the School Board would find a need to strike them from our goals.

Does the change mean the School Board now thinks it is ok for APS to consider whether or not an applicant voted in only Republican or only Democratic primary elections?

What about requiring an applicant to be, or not be, a member of the Virginia Education Association or another state’s teachers union as a condition for employment?

No, I do not think Superintendent Murphy will put these items on the job application or that he will assign a staffer to do a political background check. Yes, it is possible a lawyer told them they were better off to have the two lists match exactly.

But goals are just that, goals. It is disconcerting that protecting an APS staff member’s First Amendment free association rights are now somehow less worthy of a mention.

by Mark Kelly — June 25, 2015 at 1:00 pm 644 0

Mark KellyThe Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

According to CNBC’s rankings, Virginia continues to slide down the list of the best places to do business. Last year, Virginia was ranked 8th. Now, we are ranked 12th. This is consistent with a trend noted in this column in April.

In 2013, Governor McAulliffe campaigned on the platform that he could take his successful business acumen and transfer it to the Governor’s mansion. At the time, many of us disputed McAuliffe’s claims that he was successful in building any businesses, though he always ended up making money for himself. The voters disagreed and sent him to Richmond.

Unfortunately for our economy, the latest business rankings come on top of the recent report that 2014 showed zero GDP growth in the Commonwealth. Last year, Virginia ranked 48th in economic growth according to the Commerce Department, just ahead of Alaska and Mississippi.

Governor McAuliffe may be trying, but it is clear the path we are on is heading the wrong way.

Here in Arlington, it was reported this week that our new Director of Economic Development Victor Hoskins has a plan to effectively cut our office vacancy rate in half over the next 75 months.

Arlington’s leaders should not act surprised at the 21% office vacancy rate today. It is no secret that we are never going to return to spending at 2009 federal government stimulus levels, nor should we. Federal deficits are still running nearly half a trillion dollars every year, and they are projected to rise to nearly a trillion over the next decade despite taking in record levels of your tax dollars. Arlington will also not get back the federal occupants of office space lost to BRAC.

The Board has been aware of this changing federal presence for years and has seemingly done little to stem the tide. While the details of the new plan were not reported in the Washington Business Journal, it was described as ” A mix of much more aggressive marketing efforts, incentives and other government aid, and the help of “frenemies” in competing local governments such as the District and Alexandria.”

Use of the word “frenemies” aside, nowhere does it appear that Hoskins is proposing that the County Board change policies to make Arlington more competitive. For example, abolishing the BPOL tax is not under consideration.

Arlington remains some of the most valuable real estate in the United States. The federal government will continue to provide us with a foundation of economic support, but location is not enough. And to be competitive for businesses, you cannot just throw some marketing plans, incentives and other shiny objects around.

Arlington is learning the hard way that if you are not improving your overall business climate, you are going to lose out to neighboring jurisdictions. Like our elected officials in Richmond, we must create a more favorable tax climate and a regulatory structure that is consistent and not overly burdensome. Whether at the state or local level, the fundamentals count.

by Mark Kelly — June 18, 2015 at 12:15 pm 1,807 0

Mark Kelly

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

A while back, I made brief mention of the County’s decision to take away a travel lane in each direction on Eads Street in Crystal City. While it certainly can be frustrating to wait an extra handful of minutes on Eads Street each day for those of us who live there, it sounds like Wilson Boulevard is even worse, with reports of adding 20 minutes or more to the commute.

The County said it anticipates traffic will improve on Wilson, but it is hard to imagine taking a lane of travel away during rush hour will ever improve traffic flow.

Cynically one might say Arlington County transportation policy is to make it so miserable to drive a car that more people will give up their cars for public transportation out of frustration. The County almost certainly also believes that creating dedicated bike lanes will encourage more bike usage. And no doubt, this is part of the “greening” of Arlington.

Unfortunately, Metro is an unreliable, expensive and often unpleasant experience.  And the eye test on Eads says that increased bike use during rush hour is not happening so far.

The fact is most people are still driving their cars, just sitting in longer backups to do it. The result is more idling while backups occur. Idling means each driver will burn considerably more gasoline which adds cost to their monthly budget and puts more CO2 into the atmosphere. Instead of CO2 savings from bike usage, these decisions are actually going to end up being worse for the environment and our wallets.

Some drivers could also begin looking for alternate routes that will involve cutting through residential neighborhoods during heaviest traffic times. That means any small amount of safety for bikes gained along the main roads could be lost to pedestrians and bikes on residential streets.

Arlington continues to add density in its development. This new development here and in the surrounding communities is going to only increase traffic that must move through.

Yet, Arlington regularly adopts transportation policies that do not increase our ability to move this traffic through our roads efficiently. Arlington opposed the 395 HOT lanes and opposed measures to improve 66. Now, we are narrowing non-highway surface streets.

Of course, these decisions are brought to you by many of the same people who insisted that putting a fixed rail line down existing lanes of travel on Columbia Pike would make traffic flow better.

The County is putting a lot of time and effort into these so-called “Complete Streets” projects. As they are being rolled out, maybe it is time to re-evaluate whether or not this actually represents the best path forward.

by Mark Kelly — June 11, 2015 at 1:15 pm 1,745 0

Mark KellyThe Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

What did Tuesday’s primary results mean? According to the Chairman of the Arlington Democrats, it meant that affordable housing will be the central issue of the fall election.

Chairman Malinosky’s job is to spin the election results in a way that he sees as benefitting his party. But reading into the results of a six way primary for two spots is virtually impossible, particularly when five of the six candidates received a substantial share of the vote.

When there is little substantively differentiating the candidates on issues, these elections are won by the quality of the candidate and the quality of the campaign operation. Cristol and Dorsey simply outperformed their opponents on the campaign trail to claim the top two spots.

Election analysis aside, what about affordable housing?

Throughout the last decade, the County Board has had a stated goal of improving housing affordability. And, this has been a County Board controlled exclusively by Democrats until last year. Yet, there is little the County Board has tried on the housing front over the last decade has changed the trajectory of housing affordability. In fact, our Board relies on these ever-increasing property values to fund its lavish spending habits.

If in fact, it has become the top issue for the voters in Arlington, it could be argued it is because of a major failure of Chairman Malinosky’s own party. Is the Chairman of the Arlington Democrats actually making the case that the voters should reject his nominees and add two more Independents to the County Board?

Probably not. But, if Cristol or Dorsey stand up at a forum and say they are going to address affordable housing, will they be able to answer the question: what would you try that is different than the policies that have already failed?

Maybe a majority of Arlingtonians would commit to higher taxes in the name of spending hundreds of millions more over the next decade to subsidize housing. You would be right to be skeptical that Cristol, Dorsey or even Malinosky will make that their topline talking point.

Yes, we can continue to do the things we have been doing that have met with limited success. We can revisit the approval of accessory dwelling units and in-law suites. The Board can even approve the development of micro units in Crystal City as Katie Cristol suggested.

At some point, maybe we will all just admit that housing is simply not going to be affordable in Arlington over the long haul. It is the laws of supply and demand at work. Arlington is conveniently located to our nation’s capitol and people are willing to pay a premium to live here. At the same time, governments have been trying to change the laws of economics for years, so I wouldn’t look for the Arlington County Board to stop claiming it can now.

by Mark Kelly — May 28, 2015 at 1:30 pm 1,326 0

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Mark KellyThe County Board’s last minute decision to sell the Reevesland house has caused quite a stir.

The neighborhood objected because the County was abandoning its promise to find a way to open it up for public use. Others objected because it was yet another example of a tin ear method of operation by the Board.

This decision very well may make financial sense. But driving by the million dollar bus stop on Columbia Pike again the other day, I could not help but think of all the money wasted over the years by our elected officials. So newfound urgent fiscal concerns, particularly by our current Board Chair, ring a little bit hollow.

A four month delay to proceed with the sale may not have been in order, but clearly the Board’s intent to consider decision could have been noticed for the June meeting at little additional cost to the taxpayer. It would have given the community ample time to plead their case.

Hopefully, the public pushback is a reminder to Board members of why they should always do things in a more transparent manner. It is not the first time little notice was given before a controversial Board decision, but it should be the last.

The story making even bigger headlines is the lease for a gun store in Cherrydale.

What do we know?

Nova Firearms has signed a lease for the storefront. The Constitution protects our right to own or not own a firearm while the Supreme Court allows the government to impose some restrictions on sales and possession. And from all indications, Nova Firearms is a legitimate business that obeys all relevant laws governing the sale of firearms.

The Constitution also protects our right to free speech. Those protesting the store’s opening have every right to express their opinions. Those supporting the store can do the same.

What will happen?

Ultimately, we are still, and should always remain, a nation of laws. And in this matter, the law seems pretty clear.

Despite news reports that the shopping center owner may be trying to break the lease, it appears to be a legally binding contract between the two parties. Unless the owner finds a legal loophole or talks Nova Firearms into pulling out of the lease voluntarily, the store is almost certainly going to open as planned.

Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

by Mark Kelly — May 21, 2015 at 1:45 pm 647 0

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Mark KellyThumbs Up to the County Board for delaying consideration of the proposal to extend parking meter hours from 6pm to 8pm. After watching ground floor retail space sit empty, hopefully the Board will scrap this idea altogether when they reconsider it this fall.

Thumbs Up to Board Members Vihstadt and Garvey for refusing to vote for the Washington Redskins resolution.

There is no shortage of strong opinions as to whether the Washington Redskins should change their name. But when it comes to Members of the Arlington County Board, their personal opinions on the matter have nothing to do with their responsibilities to take care of the needs of Arlington County. Our fortunes will not rise or fall on the name of Washington’s professional football team whose stadium is in Maryland.

The resolution did support the team’s move to Virginia, provided it had a new name. Of course, when FedEx Field was constructed Arlington’s elected leaders ultimately opposed a site in the County and would almost certainly do so again.

Thumbs Down to meaningless resolutions from our County Board.

Telling a football team what to do with its name is not the first time the Board has taken up this type of resolution. In 2012, for example, the Board called on Congress and the American people to pass a Constitutional Amendment limiting the ability of corporations to enjoy the protections of the First Amendment and make political contributions. That resolution essentially called the Citizens United Supreme Court case a threat to our democracy. Though to my knowledge, no County Board Member who voted for that resolution ever refused to accept corporate contributions to their own campaigns as allowed by Virginia law.

Thumbs Down to the Board for unanimously adopting a plan to build an inadequate ART bus facility. As the County’s press release noted, “The new ART bus facility will not be large enough to meet all the County’s projected needs for ART facilities. It can house neither the entire existing ART fleet, nor accommodate all of the buses that will expand the fleet over the next decade.”

The total cost of the ART facility and surrounding street improvements will cost at least $17.6 million, but will only save the taxpayers $57,000 per year.

Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

by Peter Rousselot — May 21, 2015 at 1:00 pm 386 0

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter Rousselot

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe continues to display effective leadership by tirelessly promoting economic development. McAuliffe is:

1. Working to end Virginia’s over-reliance on federal defense spending, and
2. Seeking to diversify Virginia’s economy to take up the slack.

McAuliffe was here in Arlington two weeks ago highlighting cybersecurity and biotechnology as two areas particularly poised for growth.

According to the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University, the decline in federal spending has contributed to a region-wide shift from higher-paying jobs — government contractor and subcontractor — to lower paying jobs:

The shift has helped drive down the region’s gross regional product, an indicator of an economy’s health, by nearly $243 million since last year. Fewer highly paid workers, in turn, has led to … higher office vacancy rates and–year after year–reductions in the projected flow of tax dollars that help pay for schools, roads and other government services.

Stephen Fuller, the Director of the Center for Regional Analysis, underscored the problem:

“We’ve just had it easy for so long that we’ve never had to work at this.” Steady increases in federal spending, which reached a peak of $80.7 billion in 2010, kept the Washington region relatively stable during the recession. But it also fostered a false sense of security. “The message is clear: We need to rebrand ourselves and promote our assets.”

Fuller’s message is exactly the gospel that McAuliffe relentlessly continues to preach:

We have to build our own new economy, less reliant on the federal government, bring in new businesses, new interests. That’s what [my] focus has been since taking office in 2014. In slightly more than a year as governor, there have been 350 economic development projects and $6.3 billion in economic activity.

McAuliffe has stressed the importance of workforce development, credentialing, and apprenticeships: “Virginia needs to keep pace with employers’ needs if it wants to retain large companies. [We] need to cater to the large veteran population in Virginia by offering certifications for skills learned in the military.”

He is working closely with Senators Kaine and Warner to block the next round of federal automatic across-the-board sequestration cuts. Those cuts currently are scheduled to take effect on October 1, 2015. In a nutshell, McAuliffe’s message on sequestration is: “there have to be smarter ways to cut the federal budget.”

Conclusion

The Arlington County government cannot rely on the federal government gravy train the way Arlington has in the past. We need to spend every one of our tax dollars wisely. Kudos to Governor McAuliffe for:

  • candidly explaining the situation, and
  • highlighting what all Virginia leaders must do to adjust to our new economic realities.

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

by Mark Kelly — May 14, 2015 at 1:15 pm 945 0

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Mark KellyThis Saturday’s Arlington County Board Agenda will take more money from your pockets, raise your debt unnecessarily, and spend irresponsibly.

Parking is About to Get More Expensive

If the County Manager’s proposal on parking meters is adopted, Arlington hopes to add over $1.6 million annually to its coffers. The rates have not been changed since 2011, so it is not unreasonable to give them another look.

The more troubling part of the proposal is the effort to extend the hours from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. The extended hours certainly do not create a welcoming environment for evening patrons to our retail and dining establishments.

Yes, people will ultimately feed the meters after 6:00 p.m., but is the extra $675,000 per year really necessary in a county already flush with cash?

Bonds to be Issued

There is a strong argument to be made that many of the items the County Board issues bonds for should be funded out of the regular budget. Parks and facilities maintenance, HVAC and roof repairs for our schools, and non-construction improvements to the Water Pollution Control plant should not be funded in the same way as infrastructure like school construction or replacing aging sewer lines.

Maintenance should be treated as regular and ongoing operating costs that the county and School Boards should budget for each year rather than borrowing money to pay for it. If you build a school or put a park in service, you should expect to have to pay to maintain it rather than adding to our already hefty debt service burden.

The county noted the bonds will not be issued until we get our annual bond ratings check-up that reaffirms our highest possible debt rating. Yes, that is in order to get us the lowest possible interest rates — a good thing when borrowing money.

But, the county often touts this rating like it is a measure of fiscal discipline. It’s not. It is a measure of the County’s ability to raise taxes on us to pay off the debt.

New ART Bus Facility

According to the County’s press release, building our own bus facility will save Arlington $57,000 per year. It will cost $14.2 million to build it.

In other words, in about 250 years this bus facility will have paid for itself. That’s one very generous definition of “long range planning.”

No one should argue with a straight face that this is some sort of cost saving measure. Sure, the funds to pay for the facility are not all at the expense of local taxpayers as Virginia is kicking in state funding. However, Arlington taxpayers are paying for that, too.

Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

by Mark Kelly — May 7, 2015 at 12:15 pm 2,262 0

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Mark KellyAround 2000, I sat down to eat in the now-closed Taco Bell on Wilson Boulevard. A few minutes later, one of my fellow patrons sprinted out of the restaurant as his car was being hoisted into the air by a tow truck. Later we learned an “unmarked spotter” had identified his car for towing because he had first walked to the ATM next door to get cash before ordering his Taco Bell dinner.

The car owner showed the tow truck driver his Taco Bell receipt, but was told it did not matter because he had left the premises. Once the tow truck was called, the driver explained, it was his job was to tow the car. So, the car owner stood directly in front of the tow truck refusing to move for more than 15 minutes until the tow truck eventually dropped the car and left.

Needless to say, reports of “predatory towing” are not a new problem in Arlington. But, with social media and some cases recently going viral, the practices have been thrust into the spotlight. Almost certainly, today a video of the car owner standing defiantly in front of the tow truck at Taco Bell would have been posted to YouTube or Facebook and retweeted on Twitter.

Enter County Board Member Jay Fisette, who this week said he would look at changes to these towing practices. Specifically, he said it may be in order to have the property owner sign off on each tow.

While towing companies will oppose any changes to the regulations that impact their business model, Fisette’s approach is worthy of consideration. It protects a private property owner’s unquestioned rights to control their parking spaces while ensuring that same property owner cannot simply blame a tow on a third party spotter who gets it wrong.

As Fisette noted, it is not in a retail property owner’s best interest to get it wrong when it comes to towing. There is a good chance the car owner never went back to that Taco Bell after the parking incident. Why patronize a business that appears to care more about its parking spaces than its customers?

Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

by Mark Kelly — April 30, 2015 at 1:45 pm 932 0

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Mark KellyOur education record in Arlington is a pretty good one. According to the Washington Post, we spend the most per pupil in the region, and second place is not close. Our average teacher salary ranks first. Our average class size is below the regional average. And, our average SAT scores rank third.

Arlington is proud to do it again next year for $18,558. That is the cost per pupil trumpeted by both the Arlington School Board and Arlington County Board as they passed the FY 2016 budgets.

Except $21,814 is the actual total cost per pupil. You arrive at the more accurate figure when you divide the projected enrollment of 25,626 by the total spending of $555.9 million.

$3,256 is the difference when you subtract what we are told our cost per pupil is with what it actually costs taxpayers for every child in the public schools. $83.4 million is the total amount of spending reflected by the difference of the reported per pupil cost and the actual per pupil cost.

Yes, Arlington reports the numbers this way because that’s the way everyone else does it — in accordance with some bureaucratically defined formula. Whether everyone else does it that way or not, should not be the point. The average person who takes a county-generated press releases at face value almost certainly believes it represents the total cost per pupil.

Would Arlingtonians demand more spending accountability from the School Board based on the use of a higher number? That is an open question.

There are certainly questions being raised about when and under what conditions every APS student will receive a notebook or laptop. Who gets them and when? How much will it cost? What safeguards will be in place? How will we equip teachers to carry out the digital learning plans?

What of the rest of the APS budget? Class sizes will remain the same and staff will receive raises. Washington-Lee, which rolled in trailers when it opened because it was not built big enough initially, will soon undergo a costly expansion.

And, the School Board allocated $67,000 to hire temporary help to communicate better with the community. Certainly, it is not on the same scale as the PR campaign employed by the County Board to try and save the trolley. But, shouldn’t the School Board already be able to communicate the rationale for the policies they vote to implement?

Bottom line, we could probably better spend the $67,000 in the classroom.

Arlingtonians certainly support their schools and deserve maximum transparency and accountability in return.

Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

by Mark Kelly — April 23, 2015 at 1:00 pm 689 0

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Mark KellyWith the passage of the budget, the average property tax burden will rise in Arlington by 4 percent. Last year, it increased by 4.6 percent, even with the rate cut.

John Vihstadt summed up his first year on the County Board with this statement, “the problem is not that we are taxing too little but that we are spending too much.” After a year on the Board and looking at how Arlington budgets, Vihstadt understands that more could be done to spend our tax dollars more wisely.

With big ticket projects now shelved or eliminated altogether, other areas of the budget should be subjected to greater scrutiny. It may not be as newsworthy to find $100,000 examples of wasteful spending as a $1 million bus stop, but they are equally as important. It is one of the reasons Vihstadt pushed so hard for the independent audit function in Arlington.

Vihstadt also called for re-evaluating how we build our budgets. Fiscal watchdogs agree. It is no secret that I believe Arlington should revamp the revenue estimating process and start returning closeout funds to taxpayers rather than always using them to increase spending.

But, Mr. Vihstadt cannot do it alone. It is clear from statements from other Board Members, there is no rush to lower tax rates again any time soon. With two seats open on the Board this fall, it is time for another fiscally responsible Republican or Independent to join Vihstadt, perhaps even two.

It is not just the two Board seats that are open. Each of Arlington’s Constitutional Offices are up for re-election as well, including the Clerk of the Circuit Court, which is elected once every eight years.

Electoral competition is healthy and brings greater accountability. But, voters will not be able to truly examine the job each of these elected officials are doing unless a challenger emerges to contest each office.

For years, qualified, community-minded Republicans and Independents did not step up to the plate and run in Arlington. The conventional wisdom was that the Democrats’ nominee would secure the general election victory. Last year’s results made it clear that voters are open to a clean slate and will give them a fair look.

Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

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