County Manager Mark Schwartz’s proposed FY 2022 budget serves to bridge the County through the COVID-19 pandemic, while addressing the economic impacts of the past year and investing in critical areas.
The proposed budget continues many of the holds put in place during the pandemic, including delayed hiring, facility re–openings, and reinstating some County services. However, it does make investments in ongoing pandemic relief efforts, housing affordability, equity work and Arlington Public Schools (APS), among other priorities.
In all, the proposal details $1.36 billion in General Fund spending, a 1.4-percent increase over FY 2021. Schools will receive 47 percent of the tax revenue ($529.7 million). That transfer represents a $5.1 million increase over FY 2021.
Schwartz told Board members that he will revisit the budget if additional federal funding becomes available.
“For nearly a year, our community has faced the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic—from residents in health crisis and families who need food and housing assistance to businesses who have had to curtail operations. And we’re not through it yet,” Schwartz said. “This budget provides us a path forward, ensuring we have a strong, resilient County government when we emerge from this pandemic.”
Addressing Ongoing Impacts
The COVID-19 pandemic left the County with a $26 million budget shortfall due to falling revenue and heavy impacts on the County’s commercial and business properties.
Schwartz’s proposal makes up that difference using a combination of one-time funds—as directed by the County Board’s budget guidance—and $16.4 million in departments cuts and efficiencies, including the elimination of 56 vacant positions and the continuation of program and operational changes implemented over the past year.
The proposal forgoes any merit-based pay increases for County employees, but it does invest in several employee benefits, including increasing paid parental leave for the second year in a row (from 6 to 8 weeks), increasing the lowest base pay/living wage from $15 to $17 per hour, and adding Juneteenth as a County holiday.
The budget reflects a flat real estate tax rate at $1.013 per $100 of assessed value. The proposal does include an increase in the dedicated tax rate for stormwater improvement and flood mitigation efforts from 1.3 cents to 1.7 cents, which will allow the County to fund near-term needs in this area and can only be used for stormwater related purposes.
Responding to the Pandemic
The FY 2022 Proposed Budget sets aside $17.5 million in a COVID-19 contingency fund for vaccine distribution, testing and contact tracing, emergency rental assistance and eviction prevention, emergency service needs and food assistance, personal protective equipment and cleaning, and support for the County’s business community.
Throughout the year County departments have responded to the pandemic by finding new ways of doing business and serving the community. Many of those changes are proposed to remain in place during FY 2022.
“While the pandemic created budget challenges, it also opened up opportunities for Arlington County Government, as work shifted to virtual services and telework,” Schwartz said. “Over the past year, staff have identified efficiencies and innovations—and learned to work differently. Continuing those efforts into the coming fiscal year will allow us to make measured investments in other community priorities.”
The proposed budget assumes a measured approach to the re-opening of County facilities as the effects of the pandemic subside. Opening and operating hours may vary for facilities, with some buildings open at the beginning of the fiscal year while others may stay closed for longer periods of time.
Investing in Priorities
The FY 2022 Proposed Budget makes investments in areas that have long been community priorities.
Areas of investment reflected in the proposed budget include:
- Housing Assistance and Affordable Housing Supply: The budget focuses on eviction prevention and direct housing support, with a $2.6 million increase in housing grants ($12.7 million total) and adding $592,000 to permanent supportive housing. The budget also includes $21 million in housing choice vouchers and $8.9 million for the Affordable Housing Investment Fund (AHIF). It also extends the payment waiver for AHIF loans through Dec. 31, 2021.
- Equity: There is additional funding for racial equity training, a reallocation of a position to support the work of the Chief Race and Equity Officer, money for Restorative Justice, and additional supplemental funding for probation and parole and the Public Defender’s Office.
- Police Practices Group: Several recommendations from the Police Practices Group are included in the proposed budget, including $125,000 for a civilian review board and $574,000 for an enhanced mental health crisis response program in the Department of Human Services to pay for a physician’s assistant, nurse, clinician, transport van and security supplies.
- Public Safety: This year’s budget marks the final year for implementing Kelly Day staffing in the fire department, which will allow firefighters to work a shorter week and remain competitive in the region. Transportation safety officers are being added to the police department and there are additional positions in the Sheriff’s Office, the Public Defender and the Commonwealth’s Attorney, among others, for the body worn camera program.
- Facilities: The budget includes the of opening Long Bridge Park using funding from Boeing for facility costs and Lubber Run Community Center ($973K offset by $600K in community center staff savings).
- Elections: The Registrar’s Office is proposed to receive additional staff to support mail ballot and absentee voting.
The increased stormwater tax rate brings the total stormwater program budget for FY 2022 to $15.1 million. Planned projects include the Walter Reed Elementary School underground stormwater detention facility, Spout Run and Lubber Run watershed capacity improvements, Ballston Pond watershed retrofit, Four Mile Run dredging, and the Dumbarton culvert.
After the Manager submits his proposed budget, the Arlington County Board will vote on an advertised tax rate on Saturday, February 20. The Board will review the budget proposal and conduct a series of work sessions with each County department starting in March. There will be two public hearings—Tuesday, April 6, and Thursday, April 8. The final vote on the FY 2022 operating budget is scheduled for Saturday, April 17. The fiscal year beings July 1.