Arlington County Manager W. Vernon Ford will propose a budget today calling for higher spending and pay raises for county workers funded largely by a steep increase in real estate assessments that has driven the value of the average Arlington home to $99,500.
Ford's proposed $195.8 million budget for this fiscal year starting July 1 calls for 5 percent greater spending, but it is based on a 12-cent cut in the county's real estate tax rate. Homeowners still would pay higher taxes because inflation has boosted the value of single-family homes by at least 19 percent and the value of condominiums slightly more in the last year.
County officials said that under Ford's budget most homeowners would pay at least 2.5 percent more in real estate taxes, even if the board cuts the tax rate from $1.12 to $1 per $100 of assessed valuation, as Ford recommends. For example, the owner of a single-family home valued at $99,500 (the same house was worth $86,500 last year) would pay about $25 more in real estate taxes because of rising assessments.
Last month, when the board voted to cut the tax rate by 7 cents to $1.05 per $100, several members said they favored making further reductions on March 21, the day they must set the tax rate for the current year.
While Ford's proposal to cut the tax rate is likely to be regarded favorably by board members who repeatedly have said their first priority is tax cuts, his recommendation that the county's 2,200 workers receive a 12.1 percent pay raise that would cost taxpayers $6.2 million is not.
"I don't know what kind of games he's playing, but I don't appreciate it," said County Board Vice Chairman Dorothy T. Grotos yesterday. "He works at trying to make the board look bad. I think it's wrong of him not to consult us first and get an idea of what kind of raise we would favor," said Grotos, who in the past has attacked Ford as being too closely allied with the Democrats, who formerly held a majority and controlled the board.
"We must maintain the quality of the work force, we're in a competitive environment," Ford said, defending his proposal. "Hopefully, the board will give us an opportunity to explain why it's important, but they didn't accept my full recommendation last year." Last year, when Ford recommended a 10 percent pay raise, the board granted an 8.5 percent increase.
Ford's budget also places him and outgoing School Superintendent Larry Cuban more than $3 million apart on how much it will cost to run Arlington's public schools next year.
Cuban, who is resigning March 1, recently proposed a budget that calls for about $46.8 million in county funds, a figure higher than Ford's recommendation and the board's suggested limit of $43.5 million for school operations.
While Cuban described his budget as "prudent," County Board Chairman Stephen H. Detwiler called it "irresponsible" and a "parting shot" by a superintendent whose six-year term has been punctuated by bitter feuds with the Republicans, who three years ago won control of the county board, which allocates money for the schools.
Ford's budget also recommends that the board place on the November ballot an $8.9 million bond issue that would fund construction of streets and parks.