Arlington shows optimism in budget guidance

By Christy Goodman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 28, 2010; VA22

The Arlington County Board has directed the county manager to provide a fiscal 2012 budget with no more than a 1.14 percent spending increase over the current budget of $955.9 million.

Board members said at their regular Saturday meeting that the manger's budget will be a starting point for budget discussions.

"Whether a budget in the end is a good one is not dependent on whether it comes out close or not to the guidance given to the [county] manager," said board member Chris Zimmerman (D). "If guidance was supposed to be on target, that would be like we were adopting the budget today."

The manager should also aim to protect public health and residents' safety, provide affordable housing and environmentally sustainable initiatives and maintain the safety net for the county's neediest residents, board member Mary H. Hynes (D) said.

In addition to limiting growth, the manager was directed to honor the county's revenue-sharing agreement with the school system and meet commitments for new facilities, such as a firehouse and the first phase of Long Bridge Park, among other items.

County Manager Barbara Donnellan said Arlington is facing a $25 million to $35 million gap in fiscal 2012, combined with the school's budget. At this time last year, the county was looking at an $80 million to $100 million gap, she said.

"Compared to last year, it does give a sense of optimism," said board member J. Walter Tejada (D), who also said unknown issues could affect the budget.

The board's budget guidance to the county manager last year split the gap between service cuts and revenue enhancement.

The board also closed out the fiscal 2010 budget with a 1 percent increase in revenue projections. The increase allowed the board to allocate more than $33 million to the school system because of savings and carry over $21.2 million that went unspent for affordable housing initiatives.

About $1 million of the surplus revenue was put back into the fiscal 2011 budget to eliminate a proposed county-employee furlough day. Nearly $14 million was designated as cash on hand toward capital projects, and the general fund's operating reserve account was increased, among other budget actions the board took Saturday.

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