Category: Uncategorized

PRESS RELEASE: Arlington County Says Governor Calls the Shots During COVID Crisis

May 2, 2020

I’m Audrey Clement, the Independent for County Board on November 3, and I’m unhappy that County Board continues to waffle in its response to COVID-19.

At the April 25, 2020 County Board meeting, County Attorney Steve MacIsaac insisted that Governor Northam’s March 12 declaration of a state emergency superseded the County’s authority to act on its own.

While Title 44 of Virginia Code does require localities to coordinate with the Governor for goods or services they can’t procure themselves, there is no limitation on their power to act using their own resources during either statewide or local emergencies.

Also if the County Attorney’s reading of Title 44 is correct, why did the County Manager himself declare a local emergency on March 13, a day after the Governor’s March 12 declaration supposedly superseded his own authority?

Nothing in Virginia code prevents local authorities from taking action in local emergencies, and failure to do so can have dire consequences.

For example, because the Governor did not close bars and restaurants until March 24, the pandemic continued to spread along the R-B corridor and Crystal City for a full ten days. This period included Saint Patrick’s Day, which probably generates more disease spreading, bar hopping activity in Arlington than any other day of the year.

If Arlington had exercised its local emergency powers between March 12 and March 24, when the Governor finally shut the bars down, it might have enjoyed a head start in flattening the curve.

Now I know that’s water over the dam. But health experts are predicting another COVID-19 wave in the fall. If and when that happens, we need a County Board that is proactive rather than reactive.

Also the Virginia Health Department reports that a few jurisdictions in northern Virginia account for more than half the cases statewide. This situation begs for mutual aid or coordinated action among neighboring counties, which is already authorized under Title 44.

Yet my opponent Libby Garvey downplayed mutual aid at the April 25 County Board meeting, indicating that coordinated efforts are difficult. If Libby’s right, that could explain why the COVID curve continues to march up rather than down in northern Virginia.

If I am elected before the COVID-19 crisis abates, I will:

  • insist that Arlington County exercise its duly legislated authority to contain the spread of the pandemic;
  • engage in mutual aid efforts with neighboring jurisdictions; and
  • demand that the Governor provide enhanced support to the Northern Virginia region.

I will also:

  • Seek more tax relief for County residents.
  • 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 16-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.

Arlington County to Eliminate Tax Incentive for Apartment Renovations

Comments At Arlington County Tax Hearing, April 23, 2020

Buried in the FY21 Budget Book, is the proposal now before the Board to repeal the partial tax exemption for renovation of multi-family properties.

At a recent County Board meeting I commented that this initiative is directly contrary to several goals outlined in the Affordable Housing Master Plan, among them to:

  • “1.2.1 Incentivize the production of moderately-priced ownership housing through land use and zoning policy.
  • “1.2.2 Encourage production and preservation of family-sized (e.g. 3+bedroom) moderately-priced ownership units.”

Christian Dorsey responded that the partial tax exemption incentive is never used. Yet according to the County Manager:

Repeal of the ordinance will not impact the FY 2021 Budget. Current applications will be allowed to continue to utilize the tax exemption. It is estimated that the collection of otherwise foregone revenue will not be realized until FY 2022 or FY 2023. (Budget Book 87-97)

Mark Schwartz, Arlington County Manager

If indeed the incentive is not used, then no past revenue has been foregone and no future revenue will be realized. What then is the purpose of the ordinance other than to cut off the only remaining mechanism for preserving market rate affordable housing in the County?

***

Arlington County thinks it’s doing taxpayers a favor with no increase in the real estate tax rate this year. Yet comparison of the numbers in the County’s own FY21 budget book with Bureau of Labor statistics indicates that taxes have increased at double the rate of inflation over the past ten years (web 119).

This taxpayer rip off can be absorbed in a thriving economy. But the unemployment rate has skyrocketed, and there is no end in sight to the pandemic that has throttled the U.S. economy.

As a result, hundreds of people may be faced with foreclosure before the year is out. Under these circumstances County Board should reduce the current tax rate not maintain it.

Arlington County Manager Right Sizes FY21 Budget

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).