- Jay Fisette delivers final State of County at Chamber of Commerce event
- Cites budget challenges posed by Metro, Schools funding needs
- Urges community to continue to “plan, plan, plan” for the long -term
Arlington County Board Chair Jay Fisette today cited increasing funding needs for Metro and Arlington Public Schools as the biggest challenges facing the County, in remarks made during his “State of the County” speech at an event hosted by the Arlington Chamber of Commerce.
If a funding mechanism for Metro is not in place by next spring Virginia’s “local jurisdictions will be in a bad way,” Fisette warned. Arlington’s Metro contribution for Fiscal Year 2018 increased by eight percent, “and that is unsustainable.” Arlington’s Fiscal Year 2018 Adopted Budget includes a $14 million increase in funding for Metro – from a combination of local sources and the County’s share of state transit aid. The County’s total operating and capital support for Metro in FY 2018 is $71 million.
Metro is key to the region’s prosperity, and therefore “there has to be new funding, and it has to be dedicated funding,” to meet Metro’s capital and operating needs, Fisette said. “If we fail, many dominoes will fall.” Although a funding source has not yet been agreed upon, a one-cent sales tax seems to have garnered the most public support, he noted.
Fisette also expressed concern about the growing funding needs of Arlington Public Schools, which continues to expand existing schools, build new ones and add staff as enrollment climbs.
As the County develops its FY 2019 budget this fall, it will need to look at major budget drivers of the APS budget, he said. The rate of growth in APS’s budget “is not going to be sustainable,” which means “we need to reduce per-student costs,” he said.
It was Fisette’s fifth – and last – “State of the County” speech. He has announced his retirement from the County Board this year. He was first elected to the Board in 1997, and has been re-elected four times.
Fisette said he is proud to have been a part of the leadership that helped transform Arlington over the past 20 years to an “urban success story.” During that time, 9.5 million square feet of office space was developed in the County, and multi-family housing increased to 65 percent of Arlington’s housing stock.
Even as Arlington’s population density and built environment has increased, neighborhoods thrived and Arlington became an even safer place to live or work, he said, noting that the rate of Part I (major) crimes has dropped 57.7 percent – from 8,307 in 1997 to 3,537 in 2016.
“Change is hard” but Arlington protected “the connectedness and compassion of a small town,” even as it managed and guided tremendous change and growth – and weathered shocks such as the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon, the Base Realignment and Closing process, Fisette said.
Turning to the future, Fisette offered his Top 10 List of recommendations to build on Arlington’s success, ranking the need to “plan, plan, plan, plan” at number four. “Continue long-term planning – doing things that make sense, that take time,” he urged. “It’s our bread and butter.” His number one recommendation? “Remain a welcoming, inclusive, compassionate community – we have to maintain our values – this is the soul,” of Arlington, he said. “Without the soul, none of the rest works.”