(CORRECTION: This release was corrected to state that the days and hours for “Library Express” service planned to begin at two two branch libraries have not yet been determined.)
The Arlington County Board has directed County Manager Mark Schwartz to focus on supporting residents and businesses hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic as he prepares his Proposed Fiscal Year 2022 Budget.
“Our challenge in Fiscal Year 2022 will be to support our community as it continues to deal with an unprecedented medical, economic and educational emergency, even as the County faces continued fiscal uncertainty,” Board Chair Libby Garvey said. “Our guidance to the Manager today starts what I expect to be a difficult conversation with our community about priorities, cuts to programs and services, and potential tax increases over the coming months, as we focus our limited resources on defeating this deadly virus, preserving our social safety net, protecting public health, and supporting our students and those in our community who face food and housing insecurity.”
Providing guidance to the Manager during the November 17 Recessed Meeting, the Board asked that his proposed budget reflect “a range of economic forecasts from a worst-case to a best-case assessment.” Noting the uncertain times, the Board directed the Manager to use one-time funding, such as additional COvID-19 relief funds from the state and federal governments and the County’s Stabilization Reserve, to cover up to half the anticipated budget gap of $41 – $56 million.
“While the budget situation is serious, Arlington’s financial fundamentals remain strong,” Garvey said. “The County’s Triple-AAA bond rating was recently reaffirmed, and our tax base remains solid. We believe that by acting prudently now, and focusing on essentials, we will position ourselves to better recover from the recession.”
The Board voted unanimously to approve the FY 2022 Budget guidance. To view the staff presentation, visit the County website. Scroll to Item no. 41 on the agenda for the Tues., November 17 Recessed County Board Meeting. View the Board’s full FY 2022 Budget Guidance here.
Service, program reductions, tax-rate increases possible
The Manager should consider reducing programs and services where necessary, the Board said, starting with services that have been reduced during the pandemic and facilities that have been closed. He should consider a real tax rate increase, increased cigarette taxes, and a plastic bag tax “to support the community’s response to COVID-19 and resilience.”
Investment in affordable housing
The Proposed Budget should include options to fund affordable housing, with a primary focus on preventing evictions and providing housing grants, while maintaining the FY 2021 level of $8.3 million in funding for the Arlington Housing Investment Fund, the County’s chief financing tool for creating and preserving affordable housing.
Food assistance, COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, personal protective equipment, and an anticipated vaccine program for the virus should all be funded, the Board said.
Lubber Run, Long Bridge Aquatics and Fitness Facility operations
The Board directed the Manager to provide options in his proposed budget for when the Lubber Run Community Center could be opened, as part of a comprehensive approach to support targeted services at appropriate community facilities. The budget should anticipate opening the Long Bridge Aquatics and Fitness Facility during FY 2022 with the use of funds provided by the Boeing Corporation, the Board said.
Funding new initiative on voting, collective bargaining, police reforms
Funding also should be provided in FY 2022 to implement Rank Choice Voting in Arlington and to fund staffing to support the implementation of collective bargaining and the Police Practices Group’s recommendations, the Board said.
Stormwater, equity, schools
The Board directed the Manager to evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of moving to a utility model for funding stormwater management in the County and to provide options for fee levels and impacts on different property types compared to the current stormwater tax rate. The Manager will identify the funding necessary, including an increase in the stormwater tax rate, to support the near-term stormwater capital projects approved as part of the November 2020 bond referenda.
The Proposed Budget should be consistent with the Board’s 2019 Equity Resolution and should provide funding consistent with the Principle of Revenue Sharing between the County and Arlington Public Schools, with 53 percent of funding going to the County and 47 percent to APS, the Board directed.
With the Board’s guidance providing a framework, the Manager will begin to build his proposed budget. Public engagement on Fiscal Year 2022 Budget priorities will begin with a virtual Budget Community Forum with the Manager on Dec. 9. After gathering input from the public, the Manager present his proposed budget to the Board in February. The Board will review all aspects of the proposed budget through a series of work sessions with the Manager, County departments, Constitutional Officers, and Arlington Public Schools. The Board will hold public hearings on taxes and the budget before adopting the FY 2022 in April. The 2022 Fiscal Year will begin July 1, 2021. Email your comments on the budget to the Board at CountyBoard@arlingtonva.us.
FY 2020 Close-out funding focus on pandemic relief
The Board unanimously approved using most of the $22.4 million in funds available with the close-out of the FY 2020 Budget to address needs associated with the coronavirus pandemic in FY 2021 and FY 2022. $13.4 million will be used to help close the significant revenue shortfall in FY 2021 based on revised revenue estimates provided in September by the County Manager. Another $5 million will be used to offset anticipated costs in FY 2022 of continued COVID-19-related impacts on health, safety, and the economy. The Board also approved an employee separation contingent of $1.8 million and an operating contingent for the County Manager of $2.0 million for unforeseen needs.
Funding “Library Express” operations in Westover, Shirlington
The Board changed the Manager’s recommended allocations to shift $170,000 from the Manager’s proposed employee separation contingency allocation to fund the opening of the Westover and Shirlington branch libraries as “Library Express” locations. The facilities will provide safe, sustainable walk-in services in areas where data shows there is the most need for such services. The County plans to open the two branches in January. There will be a 30-minute limit for patrons inside the library, and capacity will be limited to 25 percent. To read the staff report on the 2020 close-out, visit the County website. Scroll to Item No. 40 on the agenda for the Tues. Nov. 17, 2020, Recessed County Board Meeting.