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by Mark Kelly — December 1, 2016 at 1:45 pm 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 the Washington Area Boards of Education, Arlington is spending $18,957 per pupil for Fiscal Year 2017. That number went up by $341 over last year. And according to page 31 of the report, Arlington ranks highest in the region, by more than $500 per student.

If Arlington spent only as much per student as Falls Church, the next highest spender, it could save the taxpayers $14.2 million for the year or 2.4%. One local activist pointed out that by lowering our per pupil spending to be even with Fairfax County would lower total costs by $112 million, or 24%.

Lowering spending to Fairfax County levels is neither realistic, nor is it necessarily desirable. It does however provide a valuable data point as does the comparison to Falls Church.

The WABE uses its own formula to calculate the per pupil costs in an attempt to make an apples to apples comparison across the region. Arlington accepts the WABE methodology when reporting its budget to Arlingtonians each year. Who can blame them? It represents a much lower spending level than is actually occurring.

For those of you who like math, here is what Arlington is really spending per student in 2017: $22,032.

That’s the number you get when you divide the total $581.94 million budget by the 26,414 students the budget anticipates. The difference between total cost per student and reported per pupil spending is $3,075 per student, or 16.2%.

Some in Arlington are willing to spend much more on our schools and simply do not care what the topline number actually is. Others think we already spend way too much. Most want a high quality education for our students that gets the best bang for the buck.

So why not report both numbers? If Arlington schools want to be compared to others, then continue to report the per pupil spending that way. But, they should also report the total spending per student cost to give Arlington taxpayers the complete picture of school spending rather than hoping people will not check the math.

by Mark Kelly — November 17, 2016 at 1:45 pm 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.

The Arlington County Board is considering the passage of Airbnb regulations as early as December. The regulations leave a lot of unanswered questions, and here are just a few.

Should Arlington keep the requirement that the location must be the primary residence of the owner? Why couldn’t the owner of a rental unit use Airbnb to fill an empty space temporarily while he was waiting for a long-term renter?

Should Arlington keep the requirement that a homeowner obtain a business license for using Airbnb and should there be a minimum threshold a homeowner must meet before the regulations apply? What if someone just wants to use Airbnb to rent their home out for the Presidential Inauguration or the one week a year they are on vacation? Do we need to force them to abide by the same rules as someone who wants to rent a home four months out of the year?

And how does Arlington County plan to actually enforce the regulations once passed?

But maybe the biggest question is, why the rush to do it now?

Like it or not, Virginia is a Dillon Rule state. And all indications are the General Assembly will address the issue of Airbnb regulation in the 2017 session. The first attempt earlier this year did not result in a final legislative vehicle, but much work has been done on the issue in the intervening months. Since the General Assembly regulation would almost certainly pre-empt any Arlington rules, it could create massive confusion for Airbnb owners who would have to comply with two different sets of rules just months apart.

It is also unlikely that county staff has fully digested the implications of the successful Nashville lawsuit, which struck down the Airbnb regulations in that city in late October. And it’s not just Nashville facing lawsuits.

New York, which is imposing $7500 fines for violations of its regulations, is being sued. Chicago is being sued for an ordinance that among other things, says an Airbnb owner’s residence can be searched at any time without a warrant. San Francisco and other cities are facing lawsuits as well.

Arlington could learn something about what the courts will allow when it comes to regulating these private homeowners, who on average are earning just a few thousand dollars each year. And Arlington could save taxpayers the time and money used to defend itself against a lawsuit.

The emergence of the sharing economy should cause us to rethink our approach toward government regulations. Some may think Airbnb should not be regulated at all. Others may wish the regulations would go even farther.

But with all the uncertainty looming, Arlington would be well-served by taking this vote off the December agenda.

Mark Kelly is the chairman of the 8th District Republican Committee, a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

by Mark Kelly — November 10, 2016 at 1:45 pm 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.

Rarely does this column touch on national issues. But so many, particularly here in Arlington, seem to be in shock at how and why Donald Trump was elected president. You probably have heard it from your friends and neighbors. You saw it all over social media. You may have even heard that your kids were asked how they felt about the election results at school.

It is easy to understand why the results might be confusing to some. If you still watch TV, your airwaves were bombarded with negative ads against Trump. The Washington Post ran one or two anti-Trump editorials every day. Most of your friends on Facebook agreed with you which means your News Feed was probably nearly unanimous in opposition to Trump.

So on election day, it was no surprise to you that 76% of Arlingtonians chose Hillary Clinton while just 17% picked Trump.

However, just a few hours down the road, in the 9th District of Virginia, Donald Trump received 68% of the vote to Clinton’s 27%.

Why such a huge swing between the two candidates? And why were the people in the 9th District, and around America, voting this way?

I suspect that if you could set aside any preconceived notions and had an open and honest conversation over a cup of coffee with a working family or two in Bristol, Virginia, it might open your eyes. I am willing to bet you will hear that people who live outside the beltway view politicians of both parties with great skepticism. You might hear they are unhappy that the people in Washington get richer, while they struggle to make ends meet. What you might even find is Washington is practically a four letter word to many people.

There is no point in rehashing all the charges levelled by both sides. These were not perfect candidates. But if you cut through all the ads, accusations and character flaws, you can find the choice this election offered.

Clinton ran a campaign based on Washington experience and claimed Washington solutions would make our nation stronger. Trump reminded people that Washington experience and Washington solutions are what brought us to where we are as a country today, and that he could use his real world experience to negotiate them a better deal.

When weighing these two options, the people of Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Michigan (likely) and Wisconsin, who had voted for President Obama twice, decided it was time for a change. They opted to give Trump a chance.

No one can predict with any certainty what the next four years will look like. But living in Arlington, we will have a front row seat.

Mark Kelly is the chairman of the 8th District Republican Committee, a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

by Mark Kelly — October 27, 2016 at 1:45 pm 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.

As many as 120,000 Arlingtonians will head to the polls for the November 8th election. Based on the last two presidential election cycles, it is likely 70% or more will vote for Hillary Clinton to become the next president. While many voters will not get past the top of the ticket, a strong majority of Clinton supporters will almost certainly give Democrat Libby Garvey another term on the County Board.

Garvey should be commended for breaking with her fellow Democrats from time to time. Her courage to back Independent candidate John Vihstadt, to stand up against the Columbia Pike streetcar, and to call for more accountability from county government is laudable.

Yet most Republicans recognize that Garvey’s overall governing philosophy is largely in line with her fellow Democrats. She has shown no real commitment to reducing the overall tax burden of homeowners. And she agreed to bring forward a vote on new regulations on homeowners who wish to list their properties on Airbnb even though Virginia General Assembly is likely to supersede those regulations in 2017.

Many Republicans looking to cast a vote against Democrat leadership in the county are likely to vote for Audrey Clement. The perennial Green turned Independent candidate has campaigned for greater fiscal restraint and tax relief. She also cites environmental concerns in opposing commercial real estate development and an additional express lane on 395. And Clement supports expanding Arlington’s efforts to preserve affordable housing.

The School Board race holds even less suspense than the County Board election. Only two candidates are on the ballot for two seats, and they are the two who won the Democratic endorsement earlier this year.

It would serve the community well if a Republican ran for these offices every year rather than leaving them uncontested. An electoral contest provides the voters with the opportunity to hear a real debate on the issues and forces Democrats to make a case for the vote. However, it is understandable that many Republicans who are qualified to serve take a pass on the race when they consider the uphill climb against the Democrat machine in the county.

Here’s a suggestion for Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents who want to vote for a Republican for County Board or School Board: write one in.

It only takes a few extra seconds of your time when you fill out your ballot. And there are many Republicans serving on board and commissions as well as leaders in civic associations who would be qualified to serve on the County Board.

You probably also know an education professional or PTA leader who is a Republican and would bring value to the School Board as well. For me, it will be a “no homework” candidate.

Mark Kelly is the chairman of the 8th District Republican Committee, a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

by Mark Kelly — October 20, 2016 at 2:00 pm 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 month County Board Chair Libby Garvey put forward the idea of giving a raise to County Board Members. Garvey suggested the salaries could be raised from the current $51,500 ($56,500 for the Chair) to the median income of Arlington, around $110,000.

Under our form of government in Virginia, the raise cannot occur until after the 2019 election when two seats are up once again which means any raise would not take effect until 2020. Every single member of the Board will have been elected or re-elected at that point, which would give the public plenty of time to speak on the issue.

Board Member John Vihstadt opposed the massive pay raise and said it was valuable for Board Members to hold other jobs. I agree.

There is no compelling evidence that turning the Board into a full-time legislative body would improve the outcomes, making a full-time salary unnecessary. Moreover, having to hold down a real job puts a Board Member on par with the average Arlingtonian who wants to speak on an issue at 9 a.m. on a Saturday after a long week at work.

While Garvey’s suggestion of essentially doubling the salary may set an unrealistic ceiling for the discussion, giving the Board some level of a raise is not something this fiscal conservative would dismiss out-of-hand. While it is public service, Board Members should be compensated fairly — taking into account that a Board Member cannot go out to dinner or even to a neighborhood block party without essentially being “on the job.”

But if a majority the Board really wants the public to be accepting of any raise, they could start by making a case for why they deserve it in this year’s close-out discussions.

The Board should be given credit for creating a close-out process that seeks more public input. However, they did not address essential questions for the public to consider.

Why is there always a revenue windfall? Why is the automatic assumption that the revenue windfall should be spent? Why not consider using the revenue to lower the tax rate for 2017?

Revenue once again came in significantly over projections — $29 million to be exact. And as I have pointed out repeatedly, this underestimation happens every single year. The money is spent at close-out time. Then the County Manager issues a report telling us we have a mythical budget gap requiring taxes to go up next year. And the cycle continues.

They call the revenue estimates the result of “fiscally responsible budgeting.” But the real result has been a bias towards higher and higher spending fueled by more property tax revenue.

If Board Members want public support for a raise in 2020, they should consider giving the taxpayers a “raise.” The Board should vote to give the next four years of excess revenue back to the taxpayers instead of spending it in the close-out process.

Mark Kelly is the chairman of the 8th District Republican Committee, a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

by Mark Kelly — October 13, 2016 at 1:45 pm 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.

For much of the past decade, many community activists along with some political candidates have called for the County Board and School Board to streamline operations and avoid duplication of services. This month, the two Boards held a joint work session and produced a draft charter for a Joint Facilities Advisory Commission.

The new Commission would be made up of no more than 20 members, appointed to two year terms, who would not serve for more than six consecutive years. The members will be charged with long range planning of facility needs.

The draft charge also reads that the Commission should be a “forum where fresh and creative ideas can be discussed freely,” a directive that should be taken to heart. There should be no room for Commission members who are afraid to challenge the status quo or conventional wisdom.

While this is only a draft charge, it is unlikely to see major substantive changes. Here are some recommendations of changes to make before it is finalized:

  1. The Boards should appoint fewer than 20 members (12 may be ideal). In my experience serving on committees, smaller ones are generally more effective, particularly if the members are appointed for their substantive knowledge, not political considerations.
  1. The Boards should agree to charge the Commission with specific projects to consider each year. The current charge contains projects to be evaluated in 2017 (a list that may actually be a little long to cover adequately in just four meetings). Setting specific projects to be considered with a specific deadline for recommendations will keep the Commission focused.
  1. The Commission should be charged with quantifying savings to the overall county budget gained by consolidating a project. This is one of the main reasons people called for this process — to save taxpayers money (and maybe even return it to the taxpayers through lower property taxes). The budget analysis should also include any impacts joint use would have on the current revenue sharing principles.

While fiscal conservatives may hold out little hope our taxes will go down as a result of this process, we still value government that spends our money wisely. So, kudos to the Boards for bringing the idea one step closer to reality.

Mark Kelly is the chairman of the 8th District Republican Committee, a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

by Mark Kelly — October 6, 2016 at 2:00 pm 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.

Another week brings yet another damaging news cycle for Metro.

This time, it was a series of scathing reports from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). FTA found Metro was not operating trains on a clear traffic pattern during SafeTrack surges. FTA officials were denied access for inspections. Metro officials delayed repairs identified by FTA. And earlier this summer, FTA found some Metro inspectors had been inadequately trained.

Despite the best efforts of Metro’s new General Manager to implement a culture of safety, the message has clearly not permeated through the ranks. And the FTA’s findings are just more bad news for the system.

Metro also announced in August ridership was down 11 percent in the preceding quarter. That’s 8 million trips fewer than the same quarter the year before. For the entire fiscal year, ridership was down 6 percent.

And Metro reported only 42 percent of riders viewed the system as reliable. That number would almost certainly be lower if those who had not already abandoned the system were also surveyed.

Some dissatisfied individuals have simply returned to their own vehicles as fares increased while gasoline prices have decreased. Many have turned to services like Uber and Lyft. Uber launched a carpooling service where multiple individuals share rides at a price that is comparable in some cases to riding Metro, in in most cases much more reliable.

The ridership losses accounted for $58 million in lost revenue for the 2016 fiscal year. And, the agency did not actually have an overall budget shortfall for the year. Yet, Board Chairman Evans called for $300 million more from Congress, and $1 billion overall, to bail them out.

The facts continue to point to mismanagement of the system and a broken culture as the primary reasons for its woes. But WMATA Board Chairman Evans continues to say all would be solved with “more money.”

At some point everyone should say enough is enough and demand a total reboot of WMATA. The last thing we should do is give the current leadership an additional $1 billion with no strings attached.

by Mark Kelly — September 29, 2016 at 3:00 pm 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.

The idea of a “Blue Ribbon Panel” charged with bringing independent thinking to Arlington’s strategic planning process left me cautiously optimistic. A temporary group empowered to break out of a status quo mindset and provide truly independent analysis could have been a good source of insight for Arlington’s leaders.

After initially moving the independent panel forward with the support of all but one of her colleagues, Garvey blinked in the face of pressure from a relatively small group of powerful insiders. And this week, the County Board officially surrendered to those who are afraid of what an independent group might recommend. Instead, the Board charged the County Manager with forming a staff team to review county priorities.

While I appreciate Board Chair Garvey’s desire to reach a compromise that advanced even the smallest of reforms, it seems like even calling it a small step forward is optimistic. This group may very well produce a new idea or two, but not from a fresh perspective. The County Manager will continue to control the process of how existing staff will provide advice to the Board.

Why isn’t the County Manager doing this type of ongoing review already?

And, if it so hard for the Board to agree to an independent panel to make reform recommendations, how hard would it be for them to vote for any real reforms?

Garvey is finding out about the biggest headaches of sitting in the center seat and holding the gavel: Arlington’s Board Chair only serves a one year term and really has only limited power in setting the Board’s agenda. If three of the other Board Members do not like an initiative, they can simply find ways to run out the clock.

This one-and-done tradition is long engrained in Arlington, and may very well prevent as many bad ideas from moving forward as good ones. But often it simply lends itself to allowing “the way we’ve always done it” to march on with little change for the better.

by Mark Kelly — September 22, 2016 at 2:00 pm 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.

Promise to ban homework: through middle school or at least at the elementary school level.

Nothing causes more stress on an ongoing basis in our house then ensuring homework is completed during the school year. Turns out academic studies continue to show it may just be a lot of stress for no (or virtually no) academic benefit in return, particularly in elementary school and quite possibly all the way through high school.

Worse, at the elementary school level, studies have found it has a negative impact on children’s attitudes toward school. And it’s certainly no picnic for parents who often find themselves at a kitchen table 30 minutes past bedtime forcing their child to complete an assignment.

If it’s not providing real benefits to our children, if it threatens to turn our children off to a love of learning and if it decreases quality of life at home, why do we continue to require it?

I have engaged in conversations with other adults about my belief in ending homework. Some were aghast at the suggestion. When I pointed to several academic studies on the topic, they had no real objective arguments in response other than something along the lines of, “well, it’s good for them,” or “it teaches them responsibility,” or “it’s good practice.”

A recent poll asked the following question:

A Massachusetts school system has now ended all homework and extended the school day two hours in hopes of improving student performance. Do you favor or oppose a no-homework policy coupled with a longer school day in your community?

After my informal survey, I’m not surprised that 51 percent of people polled oppose a policy to ban homework in exchange for a longer school day while 33 percent approved.

I cannot tell you whether people are more opposed to banning homework or to forcing kids to be in school longer every day. My best guess is it’s a little bit of both. But I would also venture a guess that a majority of those polled have no idea what the academic research on the topic actually says.

Arlington is among the most educated counties in the country. That should mean we are open to what the research says on the topic of homework. It is certainly worthy of a public debate, and could just be a vote-getter.

by Mark Kelly — September 15, 2016 at 1:45 pm 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.

Recently, Arlington Democrats unanimously backed $316 million in new borrowing proposals. I was not at the meeting, but I would venture a guess that no one asked how much of this money should be paid for out of the regular budget, including road paving, park maintenance, facilities maintenance, landscaping, and street lights?

It is not to say that all of the spending in the bond proposals is without merit. And, the Board deserves credit for publishing a more detailed explanation of the bonds. However, the ongoing practice of pushing what should be annual budget items into bonds should come to an end.

And how much debt do we currently have?

For FY 2017, our total debt burden is $951 million. This round of bonds will push us over $1 billion. By 2021, our total debt will be $1.23 billion — an increase of 29% over current levels.

Currently, the per capita debt is $4,317. In 2021, every man, woman and child will owe $5,270.

For FY 2017, our total annual debt service budget cost is $109.7 million between the schools and general government. It is slated to grow to $143 million over the next five years. And our debt service to expenditure ratio is projected to rise and hover just under the 10% cap credit ratings agencies look to for maintaining our AAA rating.

These bonds will almost certainly pass because Arlington voters have proven time and again to be OK with the borrow, spend and tax philosophy. The voters continue to support the notion that maintaining a never-ending level of “manageable” debt is desirable.

But continuing to max out our credit card is a dangerous game. The current run of historically low interest rates combined with county revenue that has outpaced inflation has fueled this borrowing boom. What happens if there is a spike in interest rates? Or what if Arlington experienced the type of economic recession which makes it impossible for revenue to continue to rise?

Unfortunately, Arlington Republicans have failed to field a candidate for either the County Board or the School Board. Sure, it’s a presidential election year which presses the Democrat advantage to the maximum level in the county. However, without Republican candidates making a case of how to apply our principles to the issues facing the county, voters do not even have an opportunity to hear an alternative vision.

by Mark Kelly — September 8, 2016 at 1:45 pm 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.

Two weeks ago, Paul Friedman wrote a piece on ARLnow claiming Democrats believe voting is a right and Republicans believe it is a privilege. The none-too-veiled suggestion was Republicans were somehow OK with limiting the rights of Democrats, or worse yet, on the basis of race.

Republicans believe voting is a right firmly rooted in the rule of law.

There are clear conditions you must meet to vote. You must be 18. You must be a citizen of our country. You cannot vote in two states in the same election. And in Virginia, you cannot vote if you committed a felony unless your voting rights have been affirmatively restored.

The Supreme Court found that Gov. Terry McAuliffe violated the Virginia Constitution when he issued the blanket order restoring voting rights to all felons who completed their sentence. Unfortunately, what Friedman appears to be arguing is it may just be OK for our governor to circumvent a provision in the Constitution because it achieves a desired outcome. Imagine Friedman’s outrage if a Republican governor were to do so in order to achieve a desired policy objective?

The bottom line is allowing a governor to unilaterally ignore the Virginia Constitution would be a dangerous precedent to set. It was rightly overturned by the court.

What was also missing from Friedman’s analysis was what happens to the rights of other voters when someone who should not be able to cast a vote in Virginia is allowed to. When just one person who is committing voter fraud — or is registered for any other invalid reason shows up the polls — it limits your rights by devaluing your vote.

Because voting is a right, it is meant to be protected. It should not be subject to the whims of an elected official. It should not be devalued by voter fraud.

What McAuliffe should have done was work with legislative leaders to find a process within the law to restore voting rights more easily. Many Republicans, including this one, support such a change, particularly when it comes to non-violent offenders.

by Mark Kelly — September 1, 2016 at 1:45 pm 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, Governor McAuliffe’s office sent a memo to state agencies asking for proposals to trim 5% from their budgets to help close a $1.5 billion budget gap. The gap is roughly 1.5%, but leaders are working to avoid any cuts to education, so some programs will take bigger cuts than others.

This much more realistic approach comes after Republican General Assembly leaders rejected the governor’s assertion that Medicaid expansion would relieve the budget woes.

Medicaid expansion has actually made state budgets worse. In Ohio, Medicaid expansion cost $1.5 billion more than expected in the first 18 months. In Washington it was $2.3 billion more over two years. And in Kentucky, the state had to pay $1.8 billion more for 2014 and 2015 combined.

And, this is before the federal cost share is scheduled to be reduced in 2017.

You cannot blame a Governor for trying to pass his number one priority. But he should not continue to suggest a program that has failed to have positive outcomes in other states will miraculously do the opposite in Virginia.

The Governor should instead go about the business of getting the government out of the way of job creators in Virginia. Then economic growth can drive tax revenue.

But where do independent groups rank Virginia’s economic potential?

13th by ALEC. This study found twenty-nine states have a lower top marginal corporate income tax rate and twenty-five states have a lower property tax burden.

15th by Wallet Hub. The group found Virginia ranked 21st in “Innovation Potential.”

13th by CNBC. CNBC found Virginia in 36th place when it comes to the cost of doing business.

And, we continue to slide in the wrong direction.

The ongoing (and bi-partisan) effort focusing on economic development incentives is not doing the trick. Nor should we seek out higher, and debt-financed, federal government spending. Instead, our leaders must work to create a more favorable environment for the economy to thrive for all businesses.

by Mark Kelly — August 25, 2016 at 1:45 pm 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.

 Arlington voters will almost certainly approve another bond for Metro this November. Often voters vote for it without a second thought.

The Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) is fighting to reinstate the mechanic who was fired for failing to report that the ventilation fan at L’Enfant Plaza was not working properly and later allegedly lying about it to investigators.

One disturbing allegation made by the mechanic is that that supervisors pressured him to falsify his report after the smoke incident at the stop. One has to ask, did Metro look into these allegations, have the supervisors in question been admonished in any way, and what steps have been taken to ensure there is no temptation to engage in a cover up in the future?

Those questions aside, ATU is suing in federal court for wrongful termination and to have an arbitrator’s ruling upheld that would require Metro to reinstate the mechanic. Last week, Metro filed a counter suit to vacate the arbitrator’s ruling.

The union contract has long appeared to be a substantial impediment to Metro’s ability to move forward. Not only has the union locked in pay scales and overtime provisions, but also makes it extremely difficult to make necessary workforce adjustments as Metro faces ongoing financial strain. Or in this case, seemingly is making it next to impossible to fire employees for cause.

This legal proceeding will put the union contract to the test and may answer the question of what’s more important, a union contract or rider safety?

If a judge finds Metro can fire this mechanic, then the precedent will be set that Metro has the authority to hold union employees accountable and everyone will be put on notice. If the court rules for the union, Metro will be essentially powerless to truly make rider safety a priority.

If the court sides with the union, it may be time to revisit the issue of whether Metro should be dissolved so it can start over.

by Mark Kelly — August 18, 2016 at 1:45 pm 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.

Last month, Peter Rousellot wrote a column calling for a phase out of the Neighborhood Conservation Program. I agree.

While the idea of neighborhood input is a long-standing and worthwhile tradition in Arlington, the implementation of this particular program has never made sense to me. As Peter notes, the county’s consideration of a project is totally dependent on the quality of civic association leadership. But even then it could wait up to a decade to receive funding — at a much higher cost than if the county had been able to address it in a more timely fashion.

“Progressive” is a buzzword that the party in power likes to throw around. But we should never confuse “progressive” with “willingness to make positive changes.” So while it might make eminent sense to rethink a 52 year-old county program and reconsider the way Arlington addresses neighborhood needs, you might not want to not hold your breath waiting for it to change.

Former Delegate Krupicka outlined a number of issues for job creators trying to do business with the county government. These issues have been well-known among the business community for years, but the county has been slow to address them.

Last year, a move by Board Members Garvey and Vihstadt to re-examine the close out spending process was defeated. The Board voted to continue spending tens of millions of dollars outside the more intense public scrutiny of the annual budget process.

Earlier this year the County Board created a panel to rethink the evaluation of the Comprehensive Plan. This Blue Ribbon advisory panel was not going to be charged with changing policy. It would merely have been formed to make recommendations on how better to allocate county resources. But those who benefit from the current way of doing things rose up in vocal opposition and the Board reversed course, refusing to seek the advice of an independent group.

If nothing else, the County Board should evaluate whether reform to the Neighborhood Conservation Program is needed. However, we should all be aware that such a move would meet significant resistance if not outright opposition.

by Mark Kelly — August 11, 2016 at 1:45 pm 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.

Upon first hearing that some wanted to run gondolas across the Potomac between Rosslyn and Georgetown, my first thought was to dismiss it out-of-hand. But when the backers commissioned an initial $215,000 feasibility study back in April, the project landed on my radar.

The long running battle over the Arlington streetcar seems like a distant memory. One thing I do remember is that streetcar proponents always cited Portland as an example of why we should implement the system in Arlington.

Never mind the fact that Portland’s streetcar construction, expansion and ongoing operations consistently cost more than projected when presented to the taxpayers. Auditors have raised questions about costs, ridership numbers and transparency in general. And of course nearly every city has had similar problems with their streetcar lines: Washington, Atlanta, Charlotte, Virginia Beach, Milwaukee, etc.

The first public meeting was held on the proposed gondola project in July. The meeting brought out many concerns from the public. Is there a need? Who will pay? Where will the stations be located? What will the connections be to Metro? Is it much faster than walking over the bridge?

As I reviewed the public meeting presentation, I was not surprised to learn that one of two city gondola projects currently operating in the U.S. was in Portland.

What happened when Portland constructed a gondola? According to news reports, the Portland Aerial Tram construction cost of $57 million was nearly four times the initial estimate of $15 million. Operating costs are nearly twice the original projections. And the fee charged to paying customers ended up coming in closer to three times the initial estimate as well.

The problems do not seem to stop Portland residents from coming back for more taxes and spending. In May, Portland voters approved a 10 cent per gallon gas tax to put toward transportation improvements. The Portland gas tax is projected to raise $64 million over the next four years. Here’s a guess, the revenue projection won’t hit the mark. Savvy consumers, particularly the 48.4% of the voters who voted against it, will remember to fill up outside the city limits whenever possible to avoid the tax.

When Arlingtonians are pointed toward Portland as an example, they should keep the full Portland experience with these projects in mind. However, like residents in Portland, a majority of Arlingtonians seem relatively immune from the argument that our tax rate, or debt, is too high or that shiny object projects often fail to meet expectations.

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