Comments at Arlington County Budget Hearing, April 23, 2020
I commend the County Manager for his revised FY21 budget proposal. Anticipating a $56 million drop in tax and fee revenue due to COVID-19, the Manager has reduced expenditures and allocated some of the savings, as well as reserve and unspent funds to COVID relief.
The revised budget economies include:
- Maintaining staff and salaries at current levels;
- Reduction in the schools transfer by $21 million;
- Maintaining AHIF funding at $16 million;
- Deferral of new bond sales in the current, chaotic market;
- Deferral of the opening of expensive new facilities;
- Deferral of short term PAYGO capital projects;
- Preservation of the General Operating Reserve for future needs.
Reduction of the school transfer has forced APS to increase class size by 1 student. Since APS has the single smallest secondary class size and the single highest cost per pupil of any jurisdiction in the region, this reform is long overdue.
Maintaining AHIF funding at current levels will enable the County to redirect housing funds to rent subsidies for those faced with eviction and is a far more efficient use of taxpayer money than building new committed affordable units (CAFs) at $400,000 a pop.
Foregoing the use of the operating reserve at this time is wise, considering that it will maintain the County’s debt rating and may be needed later.
My only quarrel with the revised FY21 budget is that it should be the norm rather than the exception. If the County had implemented some of these cost cutting measures ten years ago, Arlington taxpayers would not have seen their taxes rise on average at twice the rate of inflation (FY21 Budget Book, web 119).