On Nov. 6, Arlington voters will be asked to approve $94.5 million in bonds to pay for projects that include a new police and courts facility and extensive improvements to aging school buildings.
The proposals to take on debt come as the Washington region faces an uncertain economic climate. Officials, while not outwardly nervous, are trying to reassure residents about the county's fiscal health.
Another factor that could jeopardize the bonds is a proposed county shelter for the homeless and drug-treatment center that is unrelated to the bonds, but has residents so unhappy that some think there may be a protest vote against the bonds. Many residents have said they do not want the proposed center in their neighborhoods.
A $53.85 million bond to finance a courthouse and police complex is the largest spending question on the ballot. Planned for the 1992 ballot, the referendum was moved up when a fire in May destroyed the fourth floor of the Arlington Court House.
The facility would house the courts, law library, offices of the commonwealth's attorney, sheriff's office and police department. It also would include space for the county emergency communications center, but the center would not be moved for 10 years.
The complex would be across the street from the current Court House and next to a new jail under construction.
Questions about the proposed facility focus not on the complex itself but on what will happen to the police department and jail building on 15th Street North once it is vacated. County Manager Anton S. Gardner said the building should be demolished because consultants have estimated it will take $12 million to rehabilitate.
The Arlington County Republican Committee took no stand on any of the bond questions, but passed a resolution calling on county officials to justify why the current jail could not be put to other uses, such as housing the homeless shelter and treatment center. "It's only 16 years old," said Joan W. Haring, the county GOP committee chairman.
The $23 million school bond referendum is the second of three bond issues to finance an upgrade of school buildings, whose average age is 37 years.
The first bond, for $12.8 million in 1988, was approved overwhelmingly after an energetic campaign by business leaders and parents.
The campaign for passage this year is more low-keyed, although the schools are sponsoring tours for residents to see renovations underway.
One hurdle for school bond supporters is that only about 18 percent of the households in Arlington have school-age children. The bond money will be used for building and renovating classrooms and gymnasiums, repairing and replacing windows, ceilings and floors, and installing and upgrading heating and air-conditioning systems.
The other bond questions are:
$10.93 million for streets and highways and community conservation, including $2.57 million for street reconstruction and repaving; $2.5 million for improvements to major streets, such as widening Wilson Boulevard; $1.33 million for storm drainage; and $1.28 million for community conservation projects, such as landscaping, curbs, gutters and walkways in neighborhoods.
$4.22 million for local and regional parks and recreation, including $2 million for park and open space acquisition, particularly along the Metro corridors. Included are funds to improve athletic fields, renovate playgrounds, resurface tennis and basketball courts and replace field lights, and $905,000 to fund Arlington's capital contribution to the regional park system for two years.
$2.5 million for initial funding of a new fire station in Cherrydale. The current station is 71 years old. The total cost of the facility is unknown because a site has not been selected. Once a site is picked, a second bond issue would be placed on the 1992 ballot.
The executive board of the Arlington County Taxpayers Association, citing the region's poor economic climate, opposed the three bonds for the fire station, parks and recreation, and streets and highways and community conservation.
The association supports the bond for the police and court facility and took no position on the school bond.
Mark B. Jinks, director of Arlington's Department of Management and Finance, said the county can afford the debt. Arlington has the highest bond rating from both national bond rating agencies, enabling it to borrow money at favorable interest rates. The downturn in construction has meant lower building costs as firms compete for business, he said.