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
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
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
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. Continue reading
The Arlington County Manager’s FY14 budget touts Arlington County’s low tax rate relative to other localities. Yet the Revenue Summary shows that even before the proposed tax increase, the tax and fee burden of Arlington residents is greater than any jurisdiction in Northern Virginia except Falls Church (p. 123).
Closeout funds from excess prior year taxes will be used to fund a variety of capital projects, including:
• $1.25 million for play features for Long Bridge Park
• $4 million for a firing range at Dulles Airport; Continue reading
One of the key questions before the voters on November 6 is whether to approve four bond referenda that will fund transportation, parks and recreation, community infrastructure and the public schools. The Sun Gazette reports that 70% of Arlington County bond issues are approved. But the fact that the voters are uncritical of bond referenda doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be. Continue reading
On November 29, the Artisphere Task Force appointed by the County Manager last April presented its report on the troubled Rosslyn entertainment venue and its recommendations for making it financially viable. At first blush the report seems like a refreshing change from business as usual, as it presents an unvarnished appraisal of the flawed planning that went into the project. Continue reading
At its April 16 meeting, Arlington County Board voted unanimously to adopt a budget for FY12 that includes no real estate tax increase and very limited restoration of library and public safety cuts enacted in 2009 and 2010. In doing so County Board Chairman Chris Zimmerman repeated the carnard that county residents pay lower real estate taxes than other Northern Va. jurisdictions.
Unfortunately Zimmerman is wrong. Continue reading
Arlington County Board is trumpeting the fact that its FY12 budget contains NO real estate tax increase. So what’s there to complain about? Well for one thing, the current tax rate is high. In fact at $4,821, the average Arlington household’s real estate tax burden is higher than any other Northern Virginia jurisdiction, including Fairfax County, City of Fairfax, City of Alexandria, Prince William County and Loudoun County. This may come as news to anyone who read the Revenue Summary and Detail report on the county’s FY12 budget website. A chart on page 43 shows Arlington with a lower tax and fee burden than all nearby jurisdictions except the City of Fairfax.
These numbers are wrong. Continue reading