- $13.2 million increase in schools funding
- $1.6 million increase in public safety funding
- New funding for streetlight repair, concrete maintenance
- Options for tax rate reduction, additional investments
Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz today previewed for the County Board a proposed $1.19 billion Base Budget for FY 2017 that is balanced and is a 2.8 percent increase above the FY 2016 adopted budget. The manager also proposed that the $6.2 million in higher-than-projected revenues now expected be used to fund a tax rate reduction and more investments.
The core budget (not including the $6.2 million) includes $13.2 million more funding for Arlington Public Schools, hiring of police, fire and sheriff staff, and increased investment in infrastructure and economic development.
“Arlington’s economy is strong and its finances are in excellent shape,” Schwartz said. “The strong performance of our retirement plans and revenues made it possible for us to increase investments in our schools, public safety, infrastructure and economic development.”
Schwartz previewed the Proposed Budget at a work session with the Board, and will formally present it at the Tuesday, Feb. 23 County Board Meeting, where the Board will also consider requests to advertise proposed taxes and fees for FY 2017.
Proposed multi-year evaluation of programs, services
The manager also proposed a multi-year, systematic evaluation of programs and services, with the goal of reducing or eliminating programs and staffing, and proposals to eliminate duplication and inefficiencies. Initial steps include an early retirement incentive, included in the Proposed Budget.
Public safety funding boost
The Manager’s base budget includes a comprehensive investment in police, fire and the sheriff’s office – an additional $1.6 million – and the addition of 19 fulltime employees. “This will begin to address the growing core service needs from a growing population and changing demographics,” Schwartz said.
Among the proposed increases:
- Eight new firefighter/Emergency Medical Technicians positions that would bring all 14 fire suppression units to four-person staffing levels – two are currently at three-person staffing. This would bring the County in line with national safe staffing standards.
- Six new police patrol officers – to augment staffing that is the same authorized strength as 1998. Schwartz noted that the Arlington County Police Department has seen a 400 percent increase in backfill overtime in the past three years to meet its core job functions. “The increased demands on a depleted workforce has resulted in increased fatigue, reduced morale and burnout,” Schwartz said.
- Four uniformed Sheriff’s positions – in the second year of a multi-year plan to address staffing issues at the detention center and in the Sheriff’s court operations.
The Manager included nearly $430,000 in ongoing funding for basic services, such as streetlight repair and concrete maintenance. For the first time, Schwartz said, funding was included to catch up with a backlog of failed street infrastructure that is important to safety and the County’s transportation network.
Economic Development funding increase
Citing Arlington’s “unacceptably high” office vacancy rate, Schwartz proposed adding $1.5 million in one-time funds to the County’s economic development efforts “to continue the incentive strategy that has been successful to date, as evidenced by the recent decline in the commercial vacancy rate.”
Schwartz proposed merit increases for County employees, and said the grade and step structure of compensation will be replaced with open ranges “which I believe will both increase our competitiveness and benefit our employees.”
$13.2 million increase in Schools funding
The Manager’s Proposed Budget includes a total of $464.9 million in funding for APS — a $10.8 million increase in ongoing funds and an additional $2.4 million in one-time monies.
Proposals for expected additional $6.2 million in revenue
Tax revenue growth is projected to be 3 percent higher than in 2016, slightly higher than the 2.4 percent increase initially projected last fall, Schwartz said. The Board, in its November Budget guidance to the manager, directed him to set aside these funds and provide recommendations to the County Board for how to use them.
“The direction from the County Board was that if this additional revenue materialized, I should propose either tax cuts, program enhancements or a combination of both,” Schwartz said. “My suggestions for these funds include a half-cent reduction in the tax rate, as well as additional investments and also leave close to $1 million unallocated.”
The manager proposes using $3.5 million of the additional projected revenues to fund a half-cent tax rate reduction for Calendar Year 2016 tax rate. This would lower the real estate tax rate to $0.991 per $100 of assessed value. Because property assessments rose in 2016, the average homeowner would still see an increase in his or her property tax bill of $133 annually, or 2.3 percent. Without the proposed reductions, the increase would be another $30 annually.
Other recommendations by the County Manager for use of the $6.2 million include more funding for Schools ($1.3 million), increasing the hours for School Health Clinic Aides ($140,000), an additional Fire medic unit to serve the daytime peak hours ($300,000), funding to expand the streaming of County meetings ($100,000), and an unallocated contingent for County Board and community consideration ($900,000).
Minor changes are proposed for fees in FY 2017. The Manager is recommending that the Household Solid Waste rate increase by $36.24 to fund the adopted expansion of year round yard waste; an increase in ambulance transport fees to fund additional fire suppression unit staffing; miscellaneous Park & Recreation fee adjustments, and adjustments to Library fines so all material late fees are consistent at $0.30 per day.
To learn more about the Proposed FY 2017 Budget, and view the manager’s Feb. 18 presentation to the County Board, visit the County website. The manager’s Proposed FY 2017 Budget will be posted on Saturday, Feb. 20.
The Board will hold two public hearings on the FY 2017 Proposed Budget, on Tuesday March 29 at 7 p.m. in the County Board Room on the Third Floor of 2100 Clarendon Blvd., and at 7 p.m. on Thursday, March 31, also in the County Board Room. The Board will adopt the Budget on April 16. To share your thoughts on the Proposed FY 2017 Budget, visit the County website.