Category: Budget

PRESS Release: What’s Not to Like About Your Property Taxes?

In a recent editorial, the Sun Gazette warned readers not to be “fooled by [the County’s] budget ballet.” The editorial observed that the slew of budget cuts proposed in this year’s School Board and County budgets . . .

are part of a plan to foment community outrage in order to both grease the wheels for a higher tax rate (to “protect” the programs from the chopping block) and to shield from public scrutiny a host of other government operations that probably could stand a little slicing and dicing, but which top officials want to protect from the budget guillotine.

Sun Gazette Editorial, 4/11/19

Exactly. The Sun Gazette knows that placing vital programs on the chopping block is the best way for County Board to push a tax increase, while concealing real pork in the budget.The April 2, 2019 budget hearing did not disappoint.
On that occasion, dozens of angry residents from organizations dependent on County largesse descended on the County Board room to express their outrage at proposed cuts to their budgets.

The groups were outdone by some individuals who actually demanded a tax increase! These folks evidently don’t care that their taxes are raised every year in the form of steadily rising real estate assessments and that these increases are driving people out of the County.

In fact the County Manager’s own budget report(budget book 144, web 152) together with the annual Consumer Price Index indicate that Arlington real estate taxes have increased more than double the rate of inflation over the past ten years.

Yet every year the County Manager trots out the same canard that the Arlington tax rate is lower than surrounding jurisdictions (budget book 105, web 113).

What matters is not the tax rate, but your tax bill, and by that measure, Arlington tops every other jurisdiction except Falls Church (budget book 147, web 155).

I’m A Fiscal Hawk

Are you tired of your annual property tax increases and bored by the budget ballet that the County puts on every year to justify them? Then you should consider an Independentalternative.
If elected to County Board, you can be sure that I will not approve tax rate increases that exceed the rate of inflation.
In addition, if elected, I pledge to:

  • Seek other 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 15-year Westover resident, long-time civic activist and current member of the Transportation Commission–I have both the experience and independence to promote these reforms.

Quid Pro Quo Needed To Raise Taxes

Comments at Arlington Budget Hearing, April 2, 2019.

The principal fiscal impact of County Manager’s proposed budget is a 1.5 cent increase in the real estate tax. The tax increase approximates $10 million restored to the maintenance capital budget, which was slashed in last year’s budget (book 23, web 31).

Bike commuters like me welcome the restoration of funds for street paving as a public safety measure. But the tax increase is not needed to achieve it.

According to numbers reported in the proposed budget (book 144, web 152) and the annual Consumer Price Index–Arlington real estate taxes have increased more than double the rate of inflation over the past ten years.

Given that rising assessments drive healthy revenue increases every year, the County should not add to the tax burden without extracting quid pro quos from the principal recipients of its largesse—Metro and Arlington Public Schools (APS).

In the case of APS, the County should scrap any increase in the 46.6 % schools transfer (book 104, web 112) absent a commitment to reduce costs. In his proposed FY20 budget, Superintendent Patrick Murphy has offered to do just that through efficiencies, reductions and a modest increase in class size resulting in savings totaling $10 milllion (p. 57).

Unfortunately the same cannot be said for Metro which has been awarded a 12% increase in its operating subsidy (book 25, web 33), beyond a statutorily required 3 percent “COLA”. In return for Arlington County’s generosity, Metro demands even more. Its quid pro quo? A promise to shut down 5 Northern Virginia Metrorail stations feeding Reagan National Airport for three months beginning Memorial Day weekend.

This is unacceptable. Arlington County must deny Metro the 22 percent increase in operating subsidy it demands until/unless it promises an immediate cessation or reduction of planned service disruptions.

Tribute to John Vihstadt

These comments were delivered by Jim Hurysz on my behalf at a tribute to outgoing County Board member John Vihstadt on Saturday, December 15, 2018.

While I’m not enthralled that John Vihstadt voted with the majority of the Board as often as he did, I admired his penchant for fiscal restraint. Unfortunately John’s view on budgetary matters is not shared by the majority of the Board.

In fact at a Board meeting held the day after I lost my run for County Board to Vihstadt’s ally Libby Garvey in 2016, 5 out of 6 motions John made to defer spending of closeout funds to the FY18 budget were defeated. Three of John’s motions couldn’t even get a second, and the other two were voted down 4-1. (more…)

County Manager Got It Right This Time

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting, November 27, 2018

I am delighted that instead of spending the lion’s share of FY18 close-out funds, the County Manager proposes to reallocate $16.5 million of it to next year’s budget. This is in marked contrast to last year’s close-out appropriation, wherein the County Manager allocated over $11 million to pet projects and contingencies.

I would like to think that my criticism of the FY17 close-out proposal had something to do with the County Manager’s fiscal prudence this year. But I doubt it. I think the real culprit was John Vihstadt, who in November, 2016 offered several amendments to the FY16 close-out resolution to defer reallocation of most discretionary FY16 close-out funds until the next budget cycle. Vihstadt’s rationale was that except for clearly identified emergency needs, allocation of the prior year’s budget surplus should be deferred till consideration of the following year’s budget.

While County Board voted down most of Vihstadt’s resolutions in 2016, it is comforting to know that some two years later, the County Manager is listening. (more…)

PRESS RELEASE: The Cost of a More Car Diet

I’m Audrey Clement, the Independent candidate for Arlington School Board, and I want to clarify my position on new school construction in the County.

At the July, 2018 School Board meeting I criticized the design of the $55 million Reed School, because it requires demolishing the existing $20 million school constructed in 2009. It will also force 9 and 10 year olds to march up three flights of stairs several times a day.

When ARLnow published some of my remarks, readers accused me of flip flopping, since I had advocated “Build Up Not Out to Preserve Green Space” as a School Board candidate in 2014.

True. Westover residents were told that the Reed School had to be built up rather than out to preserve green space. But inspection of the design reveals the real reason for building up–namely to expand parking space on an existing lot. While this scheme furthers APS’ commitment to a “more car diet”, it will impose a physical hardship on the students and drive up costs.

The same focus on parking governed the design of Alice Fleet Elementary School off Route 50 and Glebe Road in South Arlington. There a 4 story structure is under construction on an existing parking lot with a two story underground parking garage that has driven up the project cost to an eye popping $59 million. That’s a cost per pupil of $78,457 as compared with the new Patrick Henry Elementary in Alexandria with a cost per pupil of $48,848.

Virtually every recent school construction project in the county has resulted in expanded run off inducing surface parking and massive loss of tree canopy. According to longtime civic activist Suzanne Sundburg:

“Likewise most APS school construction projects result in mature tree loss: at least 94 at Ashlawn Elementary School, almost 80 at McKinley Elementary School, more than 160 at Stratford Middle School, etc.”

APS will tell you that additional costs and degraded surroundings are a necessary sacrifice to provide ample parking for teachers and staff. I disagree.

Parking and drop off facilities could be scaled back if:

  • more teachers took transit, and
  • more kids were bused instead of driven to school.

This would also reduce congestion around schools.

These options aren’t feasible now, because the County is not providing the incentives. If the County had a policy in place like Fairfax County to provide workforce housing to Arlington teachers, and APS changed its school bus policy to pick up kids within a half mile of the school, more people would leave their cars at home.

Other incentives include:

  • replacing school bus routes with ART service, and
  • subsidizing transit use by teachers and staff.

If you like these ideas or are concerned about the steady erosion of green space throughout the county and loss of tree canopy on school campuses–then support my run for Arlington School Board.

I’m a 14-year Westover resident and civic activist–with a Ph.D. in Political Science and service as a Congressional Fellow. I also serve on the Arlington Transportation Commission.

If elected, I pledge to:

  • Promote a school construction program that increases classroom capacity on time and on budget
  • Reduce the need for trailers with an accelerated building program that brings the cost of new classroom capacity in line with the rest of the Commonwealth
  • Cut the fat out of the School Board’s top heavy administration and use the savings to fund needed services
  • Close the achievement gap
  • Mainstream special education programs
  • Implement more efficient school transit alternatives
  • Install renewable energy in all public schools
  • Provide a voice–minus the doublespeak–on Arlington School Board for all taxpayers

If you share my agenda, then:

  • Spread the word about my candidacy
  • volunteer to help
  • Donate to my campaign

If you’re interested in helping out, just shoot me an email or call or text. If you want to find out more about my campaign, visit my website.

Together we can make Arlington Public Schools provide all students with an honest education.

Arlington School Board’s Priorities in Question

Comments at Arlington School Board Meeting on April 19, 2018.

Earlier this year Superintendent Patrick Murphy was confronted with a tough directive from the County Manager. Cut costs in the face of declining County revenue despite burgeoning enrollment. In response the Superintendent proposed a combination of spending cuts and draw downs from reserve accounts. The spending cuts will be achieved through reductions in staff and employee benefits and increasing class size to eliminate 57 teaching positions.

At its April 5 meeting, the School Board resolved to restore some of the cuts primarily through reductions in IT spending and staffing reductions at Arlington Tech. (more…)

Arlington School Board’s Brass Not Included In Budget Cuts

Comments at Arlington School Board Meeting on April 5, 2018.

Consistent with the County Manager’s direction to cut costs, the Superintendent has proposed a balanced budget for FY19. He achieves this through a combination of spending cuts and draw downs from reserve accounts. The spending cuts will be achieved through reduction in employee benefits and increasing class size to eliminate 57 teaching positions.

While I applaud the Superintendent’s general direction, I am concerned about the equity of the proposed cuts. (more…)

Arlington Housing Investment Fund Trumps Other Vital Programs

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting on April 3,2018.

The County Manager’s proposed budget calls for closing a $20.5 million gap with $9.3 million in expenditure reductions, $6.6 million in increased taxes and fees, and $3.9 million in savings.

While I applaud the move to streamline operations, this budget lays an ax to a whole slew of County programs, some of which are critical to County operations. (more…)

School Board Squirreling Away Unspent Funds

Remarks at Arlington County School Board Meeting on January 18, 2018.

Welcome members of the School Board, the Superintendent and APS Staff. Thank you for the opportunity to speak. The Superintendent’s FY17 Closeout Presentation indicates the availability of $18.1 million to spend, consisting of budget savings and increased tax revenue from the County. Of these funds, the Superintendent proposes to allocate the majority–$11.8 million–to reserve accounts, including:

  • $6 million to the Compensation Reserve,
  • $3.8 million to the Capital Reserve, and
  • $2 million to the Debt Service Reserve.

These funds will be added to existing reserve accounts, which–as indicated by the sum of reserve items listed in Resolution 4 before you tonight–total $83.7 million. They will thus bring APS reserve accounts to $95.5 million or 15.5 percent of the adopted FY18 budget of $613.6 million. This is excessive.
(more…)