It’s an annual ritual of local government: When budget time rolls around, nonprofit organizations line up to attest to their need and worth to the community from whence all taxes flow.
The Arlington County Board’s public hearing Tuesday night drew more than 75 speakers who requested and remonstrated, but more of the former than the latter. There’s a lot at stake; the fiscal year 2013 budget is over $1 billion, and the county has advertised a small tax rate increase as well. Plenty more details are on the county’s web site.
Tuesday night was devoted to those who had something to say about the budget itself. Patrons of the Cherrydale Library, supporters of the Reevesland Learning Center, the leader of the Northern Virginia Conservation Trust and the director of the Arlington Free Clinic were among those who took advantage. But the most dominant by far were those who testified about the need for basic food and housing assistance.
“A client of ours was found dead behind a dumpster this week,” said Kathy Sibert of A-SPAN, the Arlington Street Peoples’ Assistance Network. “He was 44 years old. He grew up here, he went to our schools and he died on our streets.”
The county’s 100 Homes for 100 Homeless project has already housed 15 formerly homless residents, Sibert and others said, but it needs additional funds and a full-time case manager to keep its momentum. Another program that intervenes when Arlingtonians are about to become homeless, providing emergency cash and rapid rehousing, also needs continued support, activists said.
The Rev. Richard Cobb, pastor of Central United Methodist Church, rose to thank the County Board for deciding to buy a nearby office building and include in it a comprehensive homeless services unit and shelter. Three speakers later, tireless critic Jim Hursyz verbally flailed at board members for choosing “foolish vanity projects” such as a designer fence around a sewage treatment plant and a proposed streetcar line on Columbia Pike instead of fixing street surfaces and lighting in his Fairlington neighborhood and elsewhere.
More critics are likely to appear Thursday evening, when the Arlington County Board has a public hearing on the tax rate hike itself. The Board plans to adopt a budget April 21.