Bond decisions for Arlington voters

The first thing to know about Arlington County bond requests is that voters have not turned one down in a generation.

The last time a bond proposal failed was in 1979, 33 years ago, when local and regional park bonds went down, both by more than 6,000 votes out of about 25,900 cast.

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Whether the winning streak will continue will be determined Nov. 6 when residents of the third-wealthiest county in the United States vote on four requests that would allow the county to finance $153.4 million in capital improvements.

“The bonds really take advantage of the incredible climate we’re in for borrowing money,” said Chairman Mary H. Hynes (D) of the Arlington County Board.

The county’s “triple triple-A” bond rating and its history of aggressively paying off bonds allows what Hynes called strategic investment and reinvestment in the county’s needs. “There’s nothing here that wasn’t heavily vetted with significant groups of citizens,” she said.

The largest and most controversial request seeks $50.5 million for parks and recreation, 80 percent of which would go to an indoor aquatics center at the year-old Long Bridge Park. The measure is opposed by the Arlington Republican Committee, the local Green Party and a local weekly newspaper, and it was only narrowly endorsed by the politically powerful Arlington Civic Federation this month.

But the construction of a 50-meter competition pool, teaching, family and therapy pools, as well as “wet classrooms/party rooms” and an indoor fitness area is a popular idea with swim teams and swim clubs in the county, which point to similar facilities in nearby Fairfax County. They submitted a 2,450-signature petition last summer supporting an aquatics center and noted that it has been on the county’s recreation master plan for seven years.

Opponents, however, point out that there’s still a shortfall of about $20 million to complete an aquatics center and that Arlington already has three public indoor pools — at Wakefield, Yorktown and Washington-Lee high schools — although bond proponents say those pools are overcrowded.

Indoor soccer fans felt left out of the recreation bond proposal, and objected that funding is being sought for construction of a $1.4 million playground but not for an $80 million indoor soccer facility.

Voters will also be asked to approve a $42.6 million bond to fund the design and construction of elementary schools, school additions and other school projects.

The next-largest bond referendum seeks $31.9 million for Metro and other transportation needs. Almost half of the total would support the regional transit authority’s capital-improvement fund, and $17.3 million would go to repaving and to pedestrian, bicycling and traffic-calming projects. Street maintenance was one of the two highest needs identified by residents in the county’s 2012 Customer Satisfaction Survey.

The final bond proposal seeks $28.3 million for community infrastructure, including $13.4 million to finish a fiber-optic system linking county buildings and to upgrade transportation signaling and communications for greater reliability. About $11 million would go toward installing sidewalks, curbs, gutters and street lighting; $3.8 million would go toward maintenance of government and other public facilities.

If the bonds are approved, county officials would be able to reallocate bond money within particular categories represented by the ballot proposals but not between categories. Money approved for schools could not be spent on parks, for instance.

 
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