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.

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Support a 1 Cent Tax Rate Cut

I support the recommendation of the Arlington County Civic Federation Revenues and Expenditures Committee to reduce the County’s FY 2017 real estate tax rate by 1 cent from 99.6 cents to 98.6 cents per $100 of assessed value.

Among the facts laid out in R&E’s resolution, are the following:

  • Arlington homeowners have seen a 5-year total increase of over $1,000 per year in additional taxes and fees.
  • Arlington County ranks 3rd in median property taxes out of 134 Virginia counties;
  • To realize the same amount of real estate tax revenue as last year, the County would have to cut taxes by 2 cents instead of the 1 cent tax reduction that R&E proposes.

In addition, the regional comparison in the Revenues section of the Budget Book shows that Arlington has the highest tax and fee burden of any county in Northern Virginia except the City of Falls Church. (Book 116, Web 124).

While R&E is seeking tax relief on behalf of residential taxpayers, the effect of a tax rate reduction would fall equally on commercial taxpayers, because commercial enterprises still comprise almost half the real estate tax base.

The County Manager touts the reduction in the commercial vacancy rate by 1.6 percent in the past year, with a concomitant increase in real estate revenue of $5.4 million.

To accomplish this Arlington Economic Development (AED) hired 4 additional staff for its Business Investment Group (BIG) to retain and recruit new commercial tenants at a cost of about $500,000. The Budget Book reports the retention or addition of 5,000 jobs in 2015 half of which were attributable to the retention of one large employer, Corporate Executive Board (web 673).

But at more the 20 percent the commercial vacancy rate is still double the historic average. To attract more commercial tenants, the County Manager proposes $1.5 million in one-time grants for small startup companies. But that is just a drop in the bucket compared to what neighboring jurisdictions are spending.

For example, the County Manager’s Message to the County indicates that PG County has a $50 million incentive fund that awards $7-$11 million per year to small and medium businesses. DC awards $1 million modernization grants along with a tax rebate program that provides up to $5 million in total incentives per eligible business (Book 26, Web 34).

The only way Arlington can compete with those giveaways is to reduce the tax rate to keep its commercial tax base.

Arlington Needs Commercial Tax Relief

The County Manager’s proposed budget indicates that commercial real estate tax assessments dropped by $537 million in 2014 or 2.6% from the previous year. This is the first significant drop in commercial real estate assessments since the BRAC closures in 2011-12 and reflects the 23% office vacancy rate reported by the Washington Post in September, 2014.

Clearly the County must consider business tax relief or otherwise face the likely exodus of more commercial tenants like NSF and Fish and Wildlife Service. One candidate for elimination is the 12.5 percent commercial real estate surcharge tax, the proceeds of which go to the Transportation Capital Fund for projects like new ART buses and the scuttled Columbia Pike trolley.
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