Category: Budget

PRESS RELEASE: County Board Authorizes a Pay Grab

Did you know that on June 18 Arlington County Board voted to increase its salary cap from $57,337 to $89,851 for members and from $63,071 to $95,734 for the chair–for an increase of more than 50 percent?

When these caps are translated into actual pay increases, Arlington County Board members will have awarded themselves salaries on a par with the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, which pays its members $95,000 and its chair $100,000.

As a candidate for Arlington County Board myself, I think this is excessive, because at $4.6 billion Fairfax County has more than 3 times the $1.4 billion operating budget of Arlington County and presumably 3 times as much work to do.

Arlington County Board members are evidently unconcerned about whether their actual work load justifies the salary increase, because they have a guaranteed revenue stream in the form of rising tax assessments.

Double Digit Real Estate Tax Increases On the Way

According to a June 13 report from the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors, housing price appreciation is expected to reach 17.2 percent in Arlington this year due largely to Amazon’s decision to open a new headquarters to Crystal City. This means a 17.2 percent increase in real estate tax assessments for everyone.

It’s up and out for those who can’t pay their tax bills. If you want to stay in Arlington and are concerned about whether you can afford to do so, then you should consider an Independent alternative.

If elected to County Board, you can be sure that I will seek tax relief for people priced out of their homes.

In addition, if elected, I pledge to:

  • Say NO to more tax rate increases and stop the exodus of businesses and 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.

County Board Bids to Boost Pay

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting, June 18, 2019

Note: After hearing from the public, the Board voted to increase its salary caps from $57,337 to $89,851 for members and from $63,071 to $95,734 for the chair–for an increase of more than 50 percent. When these caps are implemented, Arlington County Board members–with one quarter the budget to oversight–will have awarded themselves salaries equivalent to Fairfax County Board.

I’ve reviewed the comparative salary data in the staff report for item 36 [the proposed pay increase] using data published on the Internet, and I can vouch for their accuracy. However, one important data vector is missing, namely the budgets of Arlington and its neighboring jurisdictions.

Budgets are critical in estimating board member salaries, because higher budgets are associated with more work. Attached is a table showing Arlington board member salaries and operating budgets relative to those of Alexandria, Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William, Montgomery County and DC. It shows DC with a $13 billion budget as compared with $4.64 billion for Fairfax County and $1.4 billion for Arlington. The corresponding board chair salaries are: $210,000, $100,000 and $60,662.

The question is whether Arlington board members are compensated fairly relative to their peers and if not, how much additional compensation is needed.

To answer this question, I did a least squares regression analysis with the Excel LINEST function using operating budget to estimate salary. I then used the coefficients produced by the regression analysis to predict Arlington board member and chairman salaries. The predicted salary for Arlington board members is about $57,000 and that of the chair is about $58,000. Admittedly the data are sparse, producing large standard errors. Nevertheless these numbers are in line with the Option (1) Raising the salary cap for Board Members to $61,034 and for the Board Chair to $67,464.

Therefore I recommend Option (1) as consistent with past practice and objective analysis based on local jurisdictional operating budgets.

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

In a recent editorial, the Arlington 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…)