County Manager Mark Schwartz’s proposed budget for the 2021 fiscal year includes no change to the current tax rate while focusing on the foundational areas of Arlington County Government.
In addition to increased funding for schools, Metro, housing and public safety, the proposed budget recommits to shoring up key County infrastructure and services that have been impacted by the County’s leaner budget years. The Manager’s proposal is consistent with the Arlington County Board’s budget guidance.
In all, the proposal details $1.40 billion in General Fund spending, a 2.9-percent increase over FY 2020. Nearly 40 percent of the budget ($550 million) will go to Arlington Public Schools. That transfer represents a $23.8 million increase in ongoing funding over FY 2020. The remainder of the budget funds a broad range of public programs and services, from long-standing successes to innovative pilots.
“The past few years we have seen the affects of a record-high commercial vacancy rate,” County Manager Mark Schwartz said. “Now we are beginning to see the results of our commitment to economic development and spending realignments. This budget represents an investment in the cornerstones of County government with an eye toward an innovative future in Arlington.”
Responding to County, Community Priorities
The proposed FY 2021 budget is the result of months of study and evaluation to determine where to best invest in the community.
The proposal also reflects feedback heard from the community during a months-long engagement process, where residents identified infrastructure, schools, transportation and housing as their top priorities.
Investments in the proposed budget include:
- Housing Affordability: Options for up to $9.1 million in additional funding for housing affordability initiatives, per the Board’s guidance, to develop innovative tools and policies to meet the challenge of rising housing costs, including $2.7 million for the Affordable Housing Investment Fund (AHIF), more than $800,000 to meet housing grants demand and to respond to increasing rents, more than $400,000 to support housing and supportive services for those with disabilities, and additional staffing and consulting resources for the Housing Arlington initiative.
- Traffic and Road Safety: Six new positions in the Police Department for traffic enforcement and control and new staffing in Traffic Engineering and Operations, including streetlights and traffic lights.
- Metro: $49.3 million, a 4 percent increase from last year, for the County’s share of Metro’s operating budget and Phase 2 of the Silver line.
- Trees: $250,000 to improve tree pruning and tree pest management and funding for an additional urban forester.
- Public Safety Workforce: 5 percent merit pay increase for public safety employees; 1 percent market pay adjustment for most public safety employees; nine positions to continue the implementation of the fire department “Kelly Day” staffing plan which will allow firefighters to work a shorter week and remain competitive in the region; 5 percent increases in pay minimum and maximums for all employees to stay competitive regionally.
- Stormwater: Two pilot programs to implement flood sensors at two priority intersections in the County and provide low-cost flood sensors to high-risk homes with below grade bedrooms and living areas.
Investment in New Approaches
The proposed budget seeks new approaches to County programs and services, including the elimination of library fines to make the system more accessible to all, declaring Election Day 2020 a holiday, and a pilot support program for young people transitioning out of the foster care system.
“Innovation means removing the barriers to our thinking that keep us from seeing new solutions,” Schwartz said. “None of our community’s challenges will be solved in a single budget year. As we work on our long-term plans, we need to be flexible in piloting new ideas and envisioning what is possible.”
To that end, there is $200,000 in the budget to provide seed funding to nurture a more innovative culture.
The Manager’s proposal also adopts recommendations from the Community Arts Advisory Committee, which was charged with examining how the County delivers cultural affairs services. Among the recommendations are a pilot partnership to have Signature Theatre manage the Costume Lab costume inventory, establishing the Scenic Studio as a community resource for any group or individual, changes to the fee schedule and hours for the Scenic Studio, transitioning the mobile stage to a vendor model after this season, and creation of a Joint Use Operations/Coordination Group with Arlington Public Schools to achieve optimum use of performance space.
Other Budget Highlights
- Support for small businesses, including the expansion of police outreach to small businesses and more funding for BizLaunch
- Increased paid parental leave for County employees from four weeks to six weeks
- Continued investment in new and expanded facilities, including Long Bridge Aquatics and Fitness Center, Lubber Run Community Center and Courthouse Library
- Electoral Board funding for staffing and additional voting machines for the November election
- $100,000 to expand training for racial equity and supplement departmental training
- $150,000 for developing initiatives for the Community Energy Plan (CEP)
- Funding to phase in Board member salary increases over a three-year period to meet the new salary caps that the Arlington County Board set in June 2019.
What Comes Next
After the Manager’s formal presentation of his proposed budget on Tuesday, Feb. 25, the Arlington County Board will review the proposal, and conduct a series of work sessions with each County department starting March 2. There will be two public hearings—Tuesday, March 31, and Thursday, April 2. The final vote on the FY 2021 operating budget is scheduled for Saturday, April 18. The fiscal year beings July 1, 2020.
Learn more about the County Manager’s Proposed FY 2021 Budget at budget.arlingtonva.us.