The controversy over a $1 million bus stop on Columbia Pike has eclipsed other boondoggles that taxpayers will pay for with the 3.5 cent real estate tax increase just approved by County Board. But the bus stop on the Pike is just the tip of the iceberg. Other wasteful projects include the Artisphere, Long Bridge Park, the year round homeless shelter, the Black Box theater and a firing range 25 miles away in Dulles, Virginia.
Some of these projects have merit. A year round homeless shelter is definitely needed, as was remediation and landscaping of Long Bridge Park. Nor would any sensible person doubt that Arlington police need proper firearms training. The question is one of cost. Spending $121.4 million for a swimming facility on a contaminated flood plain, $10 million on a homeless shelter that should cost no more than $5 million, and $7 million on a state of the art shooting range when a facility upgrade would have done the job, calls into question County Board’s financial prudence.
In the case of the homeless shelter, did the County perform due diligence in determining that there were no less expensive alternatives at or near a Metro stop? Did the County consider that the NRA has a state of the art shooting range available to law enforcement personnel just off the Route 50 interchange on I-66? Did the County consider the suitability of siting a massive structure on an unstable foundation consisting of a mined out clay quarry? If the answer is yes, I’d like to see the reports.
Going forward, I recommend that the County hire an Inspector General to audit the books not just for financial improprieties but to review new capital projects to determine whether an adequate cost benefit analysis was done to justify the expense.
The April 11 edition of ARLnow quoted a report by longtime CivFed member Suzanne Sundburg indicating that the County eliminated two internal auditors in 2011 and plans to hire an internal auditor in 2014 on a one time basis only.
Sundburg reports that both Fairfax and Montgomery Counties each have two internal auditing offices. The Fairfax Financial and Program Auditor of the Board reported savings of almost $15 million on an outlay of $847,000 over the last three years. These savings are impressive. So I endorse Sundburg’s recommendation that the County hire a permanent internal auditor that will obviate the need for future tax rate increases.