PRESS RELEASE: County Won’t Give Back Surplus Generated By Tax Rate Increase

Are you concerned about your steadily rising real estate taxes or rent? If so, you should know why the cost of living in Arlington County is so high.

It begins every year with the County Manager’s allocation of your surplus tax dollars for pet projects.

This year actual revenue received for the fiscal year ending June, 2017 exceeded a third quarter estimate published in April, 2017 by almost $18 million. Of that $5.5 million was due to a 1.5 cent real estate tax rate increase that County Board adopted in April, 2017.

Because the tax rate is set in April, County Board relies on its third quarter estimates in April to gauge how much additional revenue it will need in the next fiscal year. County Board knew in April, 2017 that a 1.5 cent tax rate increase was unnecessary, because its April revenue estimate exceeded the adopted FY17 budget by $7.5 million.

The surplus funds were available then to meet its anticipated FY19 shortfall. With the tax increase and other income and savings, the surplus ballooned to $25 million over the adopted budget by the end of the fourth quarter, June, 2017.

Instead of doing the honest thing and returning some of the surplus to the taxpayers, the County Manager wants to spend it on a list of pet projects that have not been vetted through the normal budget process. The projects earmarked for the surplus include:

  • $2 million for the Detention Center, even though half the money won’t be needed until FY19
  • $1.75 million for retroactive employee compensation, i.e. money that was not approved in the FY17 budget
  • $1.25 million for a County Manager contingent, even though the County maintains reserves in excess of $71 million
  • $.9 million for a study to purchase two properties that have already been studied to death by the Joint Facilities Advisory Commission (JFAC)
  • An additional $5.2 million for the Affordable Housing Investment Fund (AHIF) on top of its very generous budget of $15 million.

In addition the County Manager proposes to give $4.5 million of "new" money to the schools. According to Mark Kelly commenting in ARLnow, this is particularly troublesome:

And it’s not just the County budget that has a slush fund. The schools did not spend $13.6 million of their budget either, but they are still being given $4.5 million of the surplus revenue as well as an additional $6 million appropriations. Added together, school officials have $24.2 million more to spend outside of their annual budget process. No funding gap here either.


If you’re sick and tired of the County’s irresponsible spending, then elect another Independent to the Board. As a fiscal hawk, you can be sure that I will join John Vihstadt in urging the County to revamp the way it allocates surplus funds. I will also lobby for no more tax rate increases.


As an Independent candidate and long-time civic activist–with a Ph.D. in Political Science and service as a Congressional Fellow, I am qualified to fill that role.

Arlington currently has one Independent on County Board, who is well respected among County residents. Let’s make it two!!!

To find out more about my campaign, visit my website. Better still you can make a difference by donating to my campaign, or volunteering to help me on Election Day.

Together we can make the "Arlington Way" more than an empty phrase.

PRESS RELEASE: Tell Them the Independent Candidate for County Board Sent You

October 14, 2017.

A few weeks ago Arlington County initiated the FY 2019 budget process in a press release announcing a series of budget roundtables open to those who register online.

You can be sure that one item not up for discussion at the roundtables are “close-out” funds–unspent money from the current fiscal year that the County routinely spends at the end of the calendar year, instead of allocating it in the next fiscal year’s budget.

Earmarking surplus funds this way bypasses the regular budget process, enabling the County to fund pet projects without the usual level of public scrutiny.

On November 9, 2016 Independent County Board member John Vihstadt offered several amendments to the close-out resolution to defer reallocation of most discretionary close-out funds until 2017. Vihstadt’s rationale was that except for clearly identified emergency needs, the current year’s budget surplus should be allocated in next year’s budget.

Unfortunately for the taxpayers, Vihstadt’s prudent advice was summarily rejected by the Board. The result was a 1.5 cent tax rate increase in April, 2017, when with no more surplus to spend, the County decided it had to increase taxes to cover a budgetary shortfall.

If you plan to attend one of the remaining budget roundtables, please come prepared to ask County staff how it plans to reallocate FY 2018 close-out funds, and tell them that the Independent candidate for County Board sent you.

Also, if you’re sick and tired of the County’s spend now, pay later approach to the budget, then elect another Independent to the Board. As a fiscal hawk, you can be sure that I will join John Vihstadt in urging the County to revamp the way it allocates surplus funds. I will also lobby for no more tax rate increases.

As an Independent candidate and long-time civic activist–with a Ph.D. in Political Science and service as a Congressional Fellow, I am qualified to fill that role.

Arlington currently has one Independent on County Board, who is well respected among County residents. Let’s make it two!!!

To find out more about my campaign, visit my website. Better still you can make a difference by endorsing my candidacy, donating to my campaign, or volunteering to help me on Election Day.

Together we can make the “Arlington Way” more than an empty phrase.

PRESS RELEASE: Tax Hike on the Way, Despite Huge County Surplus

A  hefty tax rate increase is in store for Arlington County residents and businesses, but Independent County Board Candidate Audrey Clement says a tax increase isn’t needed–not until the County spends down its surplus.

April 4, 2017, Arlington, VA.

County Manager Mark Schwartz is asking for a 2 cent tax hike that will increase average residential 2017 real estate taxes by 4 percent or about $300. Yet the latest Consumer Price Index indicates that the annual rate of inflation is only 2.7 percent.

Mark Schwartz argues that increasing school enrollment and declining Metro ridership require taxpayers to step up to the plate. While both schools and Metro are major priorities, these operations should not be balanced on the backs of Arlington taxpayers.

According to the Arlington Civic Federation’s Revenues & Expenditures (R&E) Committee, rising real estate assessments will push the average 2017 tax bill up 2 percent even without a tax rate increase, and taxes have gone up 16.8 percent in the past four years.

Aside from the issue of fairness, there’s a question of need. The R&E Committee reviewed the County’s 2016 Consolidated Annual Financial Report (CAFR), Exhibit 3 and determined that “there is a $114 million surplus of unspent funds-beyond what the County Board budgeted in FY 2016-that could be reallocated.” These funds could easily cover the Metro and APS shortfalls, which the County Manager’s FY 18 budget presentation puts at $5.9 million and $11.1 respectively.

According to civic leader Suzanne Sundburg, County surplus funds do not include Arlington Public School (APS)’s unallocated surplus of $19 million, reported in the Superintendent’s FY18 proposed budget (book 128-29, web 136-37).

Clearly County and School Board accounts are bloated with excess unspent funds that could reallocated to meet current needs.

If elected, you can be sure that I will seek seek a full accounting of the County’s surplus funds. I will use the excess to cover budgetary shortfalls instead of gouging the taxpayers.

To that end, I support an R&E Committee resolution calling on the County Board to reject the County Manager’s proposed tax rate increase and maintain the current tax rate of $.991 per $100 of assessed value.

In addition, I plan to:

  • Seek ongoing tax relief for residents and businesses and stop the exodus of federal agencies from Arlington.
  • Preserve green space and emphasize basic services like: streets, schools, libraries and public safety.
  • Promote transparency by requiring publication of official documents at least 72 hours before board and commission meetings.
  • Provide a voice on County Board for all taxpayers.

As a 13-year Westover resident and long-time civic activist–with a Ph.D. in political science and service as a Congressional Fellow–I have both the experience and independence to promote these reforms.

To find out more about my campaign, visit

www.AudreyClement.com

You can make a difference! Boost my campaign for Arlington County Board by volunteering for or donating to my campaign.

Together we can make the “Arlington Way” more than an empty phrase.

PRESS RELEASE: Vote Clement to Cure Election Stress Disorder

Millions of people are turned off by this year’s presidential election. In fact so unhappy is the public with the major party presidential candidates that psychologists have come up with a new diagnosis–Election Stress Disorder (ESD)–characterized by anxiety over the prospect of electing either one of them!

If you’re an Arlington resident suffering from ESD, a cure is in sight. No. I’m not running for President. But as an Independent candidate for Arlington County Board, I offer local voters a change from business as usual to real reform. Never have Arlington residents been more in need of this remedy.

Continue reading

PRESS RELEASE: County Budget Numbers Don’t Add Up

ARLINGTON, VA – This year’s campaign season is heating up. So I think it’s important to let you know why I’m running against Libby Garvey for a seat on County Board.

The Citizen, Arlington County’s newsletter, recently announced the adoption of a $3.3 billion 2017-2026 Capital Improvement Plan (CIP), highlighting several major projects to be funded over the next ten years, including:

  • new school construction

  • the long planned aquatics center at Long Bridge Park

  • a new community center at Lubber Run

  • more transportation related facilities

  • rebuilding Fire Stations 8 and 10

There is much to like in the capital budget. For example, funding for the aquatics center is limited to the amount already approved by the voters in previous bond referendums. The transportation budget includes funding for expanded and consolidated ART bus service. ART incidentally is the only Northern Virginia transit service that realized a significant increase in ridership this year. 

Nevertheless there are serious problems with the latest CIP. At over $500 million, Arlington Public Schools (APS) CIP grabs the lion’s share of the capital budget. Yet County Board evidently adopted the APS CIP without giving it serious scrutiny. 

For example, the School Board presented a chart on page 19 of its briefing to the County showing that it would erase a projected 4,600 classroom seat deficit by providing 5,661 additional seats by 2025. Yet comparison of this chart with a similar one produced by the Superintendent on page 22 of his proposed CIP and other information in that document shows that no less than 2,216 of the “new” seats have already been accounted for in recently added classroom capacity. Subtracting this number from the projected 5,661 new seats results in a 1,145 seat deficit even after adding a 1,000 seat high school at a location as yet to be determined.

This budgetary sleight of hand should never have gone undetected by County Board members, particularly my opponent, who herself sat on the School 

Board for almost fifteen years.

Another problem with the CIP is the allocation of $46 million for a new Lubber Run Community Center, a four story structure, one third of whose space will house the Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR). In approving this capital outlay, County Board ignored the objections of community leaders who argued that siting office space adjacent to a park is inappropriate and unnecessary, given the county’s current 20% office vacancy rate. Their argument that a community center that met the need could have been built for half the current budgeted amount fell on the deaf ears of County Board members who like to tax and spend.

If elected to County Board, you can be sure that I will scrutinize future CIPs with particular attention to the APS budget, to verify that its projections are accurate. I will also look for pork in the form of new construction projects that do not reflect actual need.

 

In addition, if elected I plan to:

  • Seek tax relief for residents and businesses and stop the exodus of federal agencies from Arlington.

  • Preserve green space and emphasize basic services like: streets, schools, libraries and public safety.

  • Promote transparency by requiring publication of official documents at least 72 hours before board and commission meetings.

  • Provide a voice on County Board for all taxpayers.

As a 12-year Westover resident and long-time civic activist–with a Ph.D. in political science and service as a Congressional Fellow–I have both the experience and independence to promote these reforms.


To find out more about my campaign, visit

www.AudreyClement.com

You can make a difference! Boost my campaign for Arlington County Board by:

  • volunteering for an hour at your polling place on Election Day;

  • donating time or money;

  • planting a yard sign in your yard or window;

  • spreading the word via your PTA, civic association, listserv or blog.

Together we can make the “Arlington Way” more than an empty phrase.

Sincerely,

Audrey Clement, Ph.D.

Independent Candidate, Arlington County Board

www.AudreyClement.com

571-830-8889 cell

Fully Fund Arlington Libraries

First, I want to applaud the County Manager for several initiatives outlined in his message to the County accompanying the FY17 proposed budget.  Among them are plans to consolidate recreation programs and web based services offered by both the County and APS.

Also under consideration are plans to scrap parking stickers and manage real estate records in one place. This is all good, as consolidation of services is the most efficient and least disruptive way to reduce costs.

Another proposed initiative, providing so-called library pop-up space, doesn’t fit that category. It would cost $250,000 while providing only temporary benefits to a limited number of county residents to be paid for out of one time funds (book 12, web 20).

Don’t get me wrong, I am a vocal supporter of Arlington Library. As someone who regularly petitions outside Central Library, I am constantly amazed at the steady stream of residents from other jurisdictions who patronize the facility. My guess is that half the people who frequent Central Library are from out of the County. Ditto for Shirlington Library.

Demand for Arlington library services is strong and growing. But the way to meet the demand is not to add yet another particularized benefit. A much better approach is to expand branch library hours.

Four branch libraries, including Aurora Hills, Glencarlyn, Westover and Cherrydale, are closed on Sundays. I urge the Board to open them seven days a week in FY17 and keep them open the following year if demand warrants it.

Establishing a new library even a temporary one requires additional overhead in the form of rent and administration. Extending existing hours does not. It’s time for the County to treat its library system as the invaluable asset it is instead of a neglected, four eyed step child. Seeking to expand services on the cheap will cost more in the long run.

More Ways To Provide More Classroom Seats

At a projected cost of more than $2 million per additional class room and nearly $19,000 per student per year, APS must reduce its capital and operating outlays to cope with increasing enrollments. At previous School Board meetings, I’ve recommended the use of modular classroom design, historic preservation tax credits, energy efficiency retrofits and renewable energy. All of these techniques have been demonstrated to cut capital and/or operating costs, sometimes by a lot.

Another possible opportunity to explore is the recent closure of St. Charles Elementary School on Washington Boulevard near Clarendon due to declining enrollment. Continue reading

More Ways APS Can Save Money

I was very pleased with the Budget Advisory Council (BAC) end of year report, particularly its acknowledgment that it represents all Arlington taxpayers, not just the subset with children in school. I also welcome the fact that BAC has embraced the recommendations of the 2012 Gibson Report, which evaluated APS on behalf of the Virginia Department of Education. Among the principal findings of that report, BAC cited the recommendation to explore increasing pupil-teacher ratios to address soaring costs:

“The cost of a lower pupil-teacher ratio is significant in terms of staffing. If the APS determined overall teacher positions based on a ratio of 12:1 – a 15 percent increase from the current level of 10.4:1, but still below all but one of its peers – it would need 277 fewer teachers (p. 2-7)”.

The Gibson Report advises that if facility related expenditures are added to instructional expenditures, APS could realize more than $30 million in savings annually by bringing its pupil-teacher ratio in line with neighboring school districts. Continue reading

How APS Can Save Money

Most of the commentary at recent School Board meetings has been about where to construct new schools. There has been virtually no discussion about the estimated $435 million cost, presumably because everyone agrees with the Superintendent that Arlington can raise the money by issuing more bonds.

Even though the cost of the Columbia Pike and Crystal City streetcars has ballooned to $515 million, County Board has assured taxpayers that the project will be financed by leveraging the commercial real estate surcharge tax. So it says school construction will not compete with the trolley projects for bonds financed with residential real estate taxes.

Nevertheless ACB’s latest CIP indicates that $267 million for the trolleys will come from as yet unidentified federal and state grants. If those funds don’t materialize by the time construction is underway, the County will be forced to issue GO bonds or form a taxpayer subsidized Public Private partnership to finish the projects. That could place APS’ classroom capacity expansion project in jeopardy. Continue reading

Debt Service on Trolleys Not Included in County Debt Ratios

The County’s proposed ten year capital budget (CIP) allocates over half a billion dollars for the Crystal City and Columbia Pike trolleys. This represents more than half the transportation capital budget and 19 percent of the total capital budget of $2.7 billion. Yet according to the Underlying Assumptions section of the Debt Capacity Analysis (B-15), the debt ratios utilized to determine the County’s bond rating do “not include revenue bonds anticipated to be issued for transportation projects [including the trolleys] and supported by the commercial real estate tax or the Crystal City TIF.”

In effect the debt service on $137 million worth of bonds to be issued to finance the Crystal City and Pike trolleys is off budget. Why? Continue reading