Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz today presented an overview of his proposed budget for the County’s 2019 fiscal year.
The proposal recommends a number of tough choices to close a $20.5-million revenue-expenditure gap, brought on in part by lower-than-expected revenues. It also meets the County Board’s request not to increase real estate tax rates while focusing on key County priorities, including the County workforce, Metro, Schools and affordable housing.
In all, the Manager’s proposal outlines $1.27 billion in General Fund spending, a 1.7-percent increase over last year. It offers $8.4 million in carefully considered spending reductions, $6.6 million in targeted fee and tax increases, and $5.5 million in strategic funding realignments. The proposal focuses on improving the efficiency and effectiveness of County programs and services, consistent with public feedback gathered last fall.
In a message to the Board and the wider Arlington community, Schwartz said that he did not make his budget decisions lightly. “I want to be clear: these choices have not been easy. They affect County services and they affect people. However, at the end of the day, my responsibility is to be a good steward of County resources, and to draw on the data and expertise available to me to identify the most efficient allocation of taxpayer dollars.”
The County Board will now review the proposal, gather feedback from the public, and adopt a final budget at its April 21 meeting.
Maintaining a Focus on Key County Priorities
Consistent with the Board’s guidance last fall, the Manager’s proposed budget maintains a focus on key County priorities. The proposal:
- Provides competitive compensation for County employees, especially public safety, to maintain a talented and effective team of public servants;
- Supports Metro by meeting the agency’s request for a 3-percent increase in operational funding;
- Meets the commitment to Arlington Public Schools articulated as part of the Revenue Sharing Principles, providing $13.4 million in additional ongoing funding (for a total transfer of $498 million);
- Sustains the County’s commitment to affordable housing by funding the Affordable Housing Investment Fund (AHIF) at the same level proposed last year ($13.7 million), fully funding the housing grants need, and continuing to shift to ongoing funding sources for both of these important programs.
Proposal Includes Spending Reductions and Fee and Tax Increases
The Manager’s proposal includes $8.4 million in spending reductions, identified through a cross-cutting examination of the County’s 140-plus lines of business. The reductions would eliminate a total of 48 staff positions, 29 of which are currently filled.
Some of the reductions with the largest budget impact include re-envisioning employment services in the Department of Human Services ($825,584); targeted reductions in and refocusing of the Arlington Initiative to Rethink Energy (AIRE) program ($553,312); and elimination of the Office of Community Health in the Department of Parks and Recreation ($483,238).
In addition to spending reductions, the proposal also includes $6.6 million in potential fee and tax increases, including extending parking meter hours to 8 p.m.; increasing parking meter fees by $0.25 per hour; increasing residential and commercial utility taxes; and increasing permit and development-related fees.
More Tough Years Ahead
Looking ahead, Schwartz warned of more tough budget years to come. “Regional economic headwinds will be with us for the foreseeable future,” Schwartz said. “Ongoing high vacancy rates in our commercial office market and few remaining options for raising revenues will mean acutely difficult choices regarding direct reductions in current services,” he said.
Providing Feedback and What to Expect Next
The County Board is now responsible for reviewing the Manager’s budget proposal and making changes before adopting a final version in April. At its February 24 meeting, the Board will vote on advertising proposed property tax rates and fees for Calendar Year 2018.
Between now and April 21, the Board will gather input from County staff, key stakeholders, and the public, including at two public hearings, scheduled for April 3 and 5. The public can also submit comments via an online Budget Feedback Form from March 1 to April 6.