- Two-cent property tax rate increase recommended to fund Metro, APS “extraordinary needs”
- Up to $22 million increase in proposed Schools funding
- $7.4 million increase in Metro funding
- County operations kept at current level of services
- More funding for streetlight maintenance, street paving, public safety
Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz today previewed his Proposed Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 Budget to the County Board. The $1.2 billion General Fund Proposed Budget is balanced and is a 4.3 percent increase above the FY 2017 adopted budget. The Manager recommended increasing the property tax rate up to two cents to fund the “clearly extraordinary needs of Metro and APS.”
The Proposed Budget “continues the multi-year focus on the three priorities I have laid out: economic development, service delivery and transparency, and strategic budget planning and fiscal sustainability, while addressing the core service demands of the County mainly through budget re-allocations,” Schwartz said.
“It is never easy to recommend an increase in property tax rates,” Schwartz said, “but Metro and our public schools are both vitally important to our County’s continued prosperity, and both are in urgent need of additional funding.”
A two-cent increase per $100 assessed property value would yield $14.8 million in ongoing revenue. That money would be used to help meet “the very serious challenges facing Metro today,” and help Arlington Public Schools (APS) cope with “substantial enrollment growth and the accompanying demands of maintaining its high achievement rates,” Schwartz said.
Should the Board adopt the Manager’s recommendations, the County’s property tax rate (not including $0.013 for stormwater) would increase from the current $0.978 per $100 of assessed value to $0.998 per $100 of assessed value. The fee and tax burden for the average homeowner in Arlington would rise by $308 per year, to $8,613.
The Manager will formally present his Proposed FY 2018 Budget to the Board at its Saturday, Feb. 25 Regular County Board Meeting. At that time, the Board will vote on the proposed tax rate to advertise for Calendar Year 2017. By law, the Board cannot adopt a tax rate higher than what is advertised, although it may adopt a rate lower than the one advertised.
Increased funding for APS
Should the Board accept the Manager’s recommended two-cent tax rate hike and devote one-cent of the increase to Schools, the County’s funding for Schools would increase by $21.2 million or 4.6 percent over the current year, to $485.7 million. Coupled with the strategic use of Schools’ $77.7 million existing cash reserves, the increase “should give APS sufficient resources to address their budget pressures over the near term fiscal horizon,” Schwartz said. The Manager also recommended giving Schools another $655,000 in one-time revenue from increased real estate assessments and an additional $3.7 million in one-time revenue from the proposed one-cent increase in the tax rate for Schools.
Additional funding request from Metro
The Manager warned that increased funding for Metro in FY 2018, if adopted by the Board, “may not be the last request for additional funding from the transit agency. The agency’s FY 2017 Budget is facing severe pressures and the current ridership and revenue trends suggest the possibility that future operating budgets will require additional regional tax support.”
The additional funding for Metro also supports issuance of an additional $22 million in bonds to fund the transit agency’s FY 2018 capital request, the Manager said. “Meeting this request for additional County support is important and critical for our residents and the County’s economy,” Schwartz said.
Streetlight and trail light maintenance funding
The Manager recommended an increase of five positions, two vehicles, equipment, and supplies for streetlight maintenance and consultant funds for a trail light inventory assessment in FY 2018, at a total cost of $910,000.
“Streetlights and trail lights are critical to our neighborhood safety, transportation network, and vitality of our business community,” Schwartz said. “The County is often criticized for not providing an acceptable level of service to the community in regard to streetlight repairs.”
Noting that the number of County owned and maintained streetlights has increased by 40 percent over the last five years, Schwartz said that the County’s response time for repairing streetlights is “much slower than our peer communities,” averaging 30 days for minor repairs and up to 120 days for major outages. In the County’s 2015 Customer Satisfaction Survey, streetlights were one of the top five areas that residents wanted to see improvements over the next two years.
With increased staffing and supplies, the Manager said, routine outage response time will decrease from 30 days to three days and major underground repairs will be reduced from four months to one month.
Funding for roads, facilities, and land acquisition
The Manager continues investment in the County’s capital infrastructure. An increase in Paving funds of $3.3million for a total of $15.2 million for this FY 18 paving program. County facilities & synthetic turf fields ($3.5 million), and land acquisition ($2 million) are also included in the Proposed Budget. “As consistently shown in our resident satisfaction survey, these areas are a high priority for our community,” he said.
More public safety funding
The Manager continues to focus on public safety staffing needs. The FY 2018 Proposed Budget includes seven new Sheriffs, three more Emergency Communication Center call takers, and three patrol officers; all funded through reallocation of existing resources. The Sheriff deputies are funded through the reallocation of funds from the expiring Peumansend Creek Regional Jail agreement. The Fire department is funded for two large recruit classes to meet the current and projected attrition.
In developing the Proposed Budget, staff reviewed County fees to ensure that fees charged for services bear a reasonable relationship to the service for which the fee is imposed. Based on this analysis, the Manager recommended several increases in fees, including:
- Raising the household solid waste rate to $314.16 an increase of $6.88 per year.
- Raising the water/sewer rate by 35 cents to $13.62 per thousand gallons, an estimated annual increase of $24.50 per household.
- Creating a new accessory homestay permit fee of $60.
- Adjusting the Aquatics and Gymnastics program fees to meet the increased capacity in the programs and accommodate the competitive teams staffing needs.
The Manager recommended adding one-time funding of $250,000 for connection grants that would enable businesses to connect to the County’s fiber optic network, ConnectArlington, and recommended adding a position to support BizLaunch and its efforts in the County’s new child care initiative and small business support.
The Board will formally receive the Manager’s Proposed FY 2018 Budget, proposed tax rate and proposed fees at its Saturday, Feb. 25 Regular County Board Meeting, and will vote on advertising the proposed CY 2017 property tax rate and proposed fees. County Board work sessions with departments will begin March 2 and continue through mid-April. The budget and tax/ fee hearings will be held on March 28 and March 30 and the Board will adopt the FY 2018 Budget on April 22. Visit the County website for more information on the FY 2018 Budget.