Members of the Arlington County Board approved their legislative wish list yesterday but delayed action on a Democratic proposal calling for creation of a housing finance agency after a prolonged, partisan debate.
Democrats have said Arlington's low- and moderate-income housing is deteriorating or being converted to condominiums and such an agency is needed to preserve it. Members of the board's lame-duck Republican majority argued that since county voters rejected a similar proposal by a 2-to-l margin Nov. 2 the proposal is ill-timed. "I was a little surprised that the county staff had been working on this rather detailed legislation, coming after the housing referendum," said the board's defeated chairman, Stephen H. Detwiler, a Republican. "I think the timing on that was very poor."
Added Board Vice-Chairman Dorothy T. Grotos, a Republican opponent of the agency: "I wouldn't be so bold as to interpret the vote this fall. Without a lot of dialogue with the community, I'm not going to turn around and support something like this."
Democrats argued that the proposal for a housing finance agency is more limited than the housing authority proposed in the fall elections. They said the finance agency would be allowed to issue tax-exempt bonds to pay for renovations and would not be authorized to operate public housing.
"It's important not to over- or under-interpret that vote," said state Del. Warren G. Stambaugh (D-Arlington). "It was a vote against the housing authority with all its trimmings. It was not a vote that said the people of Arlington aren't concerned about housing."
Del. James Almand (D-Arlington), who has championed both the housing authority and the finance agency, said after the meeting that he was confident the county board will endorse the plan Wednesday and said that he was optimistic about its chances for passage by the General Assembly. State legislators approved a similar measure in 1982, establishing an agency for rural Buchanan County in southwestern Virginia.
The county board's legislative wish list also included measures asking the state for permission to raise the county's cigarette tax from 5 cents to 10 cents a pack, and to increase the county's deed recording tax. Legislators cautioned the board that these and many other items on their list seemed unlikely to win approval during a session that promises to be dominated by worries about falling state revenues.
Del. Mary Marshall (D-Arlington) told the board that its longstanding request for an elected school board also seemed unlikely to pass, but urged the board to list it anyway.
"If you take it off, it will make it look as though you're not in favor of it," Marshall said. The item, a regular feature in the legislative package since the state stripped Arlington of its elected school board in the 1950s, stayed on the list.
Legislators also indicated that they did not intend to sponsor several of the items on the county's wish list, including a measure allowing the county board to hold its elections every two years instead of yearly and repeal of a controversial new law requiring that rental property be assessed at its current-use value rather than its development value.