Arlington taxes rise, housing funds disputed
Arlington County homeowners will pay about $156 more in property taxes and water and sewer fees in the coming year, the result of a $1 billion county budget that puts more money into affordable housing, infrastructure maintenance and raises for county employees, including the County Board.
Describing the 1.3-cent tax rate increase as “modest,” Chairman Mary Hynes noted that the county has increased its budget for affordable housing by 75 percent over the past five years and intends to continue to do so. But her decision to study how the county funds its housing services created the first major fracture of her three-month-old chairmanship.
Former chairman Chris Zimmerman (D) said that although the $8.6 million to be spent on housing initiatives was sorely needed, making a quarter of it a one-year-only grant was “a lost opportunity” to increase spending by more than $3 million next year and $10 million over the coming four years by pushing up the tax rate by another half-cent. But what really irked him was the proposal to study the county’s housing problem and policies.
“We understand the issue. We understand the dimensions of the problem. We’ve studied and studied. We’ve established goals and targets. We’ve reaffirmed them,” he said. He later added: “We don’t lack information about the magnitude of the problem. We don’t need to study whether cigarettes cause cancer or human activity causes climate change.”
Hynes strongly defended the need to analyze the county’s approach and noted that the county will spend about 5 percent of its budget on housing in the coming year.
“For me, this is about structure,” she said. “The question before us is do we have the right tools to get us to where we need to go . . . Doing a study, from my point of view, doesn’t mean we stand still.”
Libby Garvey (D), who was at her first board meeting since being elected in March and who campaigned in part on conducting strategic studies of county operations, sided in general with Hynes. So did Jay Fisette (D), who objected to multiyear budget commitments without further discussion. Vice Chairman J. Walter Tejada (D) voted with Zimmerman.
In addition to the property tax rate hike, the County Board raised the sewer rate by 12 cents per thousand gallons and water rate by 30 cents per thousand gallons.
The county will spend $3.9 million on its backlog of repairs to county-owned buildings, parks and other property, as well as an additional $93,000 for replacing and watering trees and $100,000 to combat invasive plants.
The budget, which was passed unanimously, also restored branch library hours and weekend hours that had been cut at the Long Branch and Gulf Branch Nature Centers because of the economic downturn. But a wide variety of parks and recreation fees were changed.
Three sheriff’s deputies positions that had previously been cut were restored, as was a civilian warrant processor job. An additional $60,000 will be spent on extra policing around Clarendon.
The board voted to raise the pay of the 3,500 county employees by, on average, 2.8 percent. The 700 most highly paid employees were rewarded with the creation of an additional step in the salary schedule, which will give them a 2.3 percent increase.
The elected board members also voted to raise their own pay, their first increase in five years, at the same rate as the top-paid employees. The pay for the four regular members will go from $49,000 to $50,127. The chairman’s pay, which is $53,900, would rise to $55,140.
About $405 million is devoted to schools for fiscal 2013, roughly 45 percent of the county’s budget. That represents a 5.1 percent increase.