Arlington County Board Chairman Barbara A. Favola (D) says that she has "earned your vote" for reelection on Tuesday based on a 20-year track record of public service and leadership.
Her Republican challenger, F. Landey Patton IV, disagrees, arguing that "entrenched" politicians such as Favola should inspire Arlingtonians to take a different approach at the ballot box and vote him into office.
Patton, a real estate agent and political neophyte, says the political establishment in Arlington is out of touch with the average taxpayer, particularly on the issue of rising real estate assessments.
In April, the board approved a fiscal 2005 budget of more than $718 million, increasing county spending by nearly 8 percent and reducing the real estate tax rate by 2 cents to 0.958 per $100 of assessed value. But because property assessments are soaring, county officials say, the average personal real estate tax bill has gone up $1,500 over the last four years.
"I don't dispute" the increases, Favola said. "My response is that I have to balance the need for tax relief with pressing community service needs. Not everyone is going to agree. It's tough, and the sad part is that if you reduce the tax rate by a penny, the average homeowner gains only $50." Meanwhile, "It costs the [the county] about $4 million" in revenue.
She blames the increase on "uncontrollable budget drivers" including funding for programs such as the No Child Left Behind Act and increased retirement costs. At the same time, she said the state is not fully funding services it requires localities to provide. There has to be a certain amount of growth in assessments to maintain service levels, she said. Still, Favola pointed out, the board has cut the tax rate 6.5 cents since 2002.
Favola, 49, has served on the board since 1997, when she won a special election to fill a seat vacated when board member James B. Hunter III (D) left for health reasons. She had served on as the county's Planning Commissioner for five years before running for the County Board.
Favola believes that preserving affordable housing and creating more of it are among the most pressing issues facing Arlington. She said it is also important for Arlington to identify a dedicated source of revenue for the county's share of Metro funding in order to maintain and grow the system.
Patton has said that his business experience and commitment to his faith and family would give the board a new, needed perspective. He is particularly interested in adding a Republican voice to the chorus of Democrats to provide balance and diversity of opinion, he said.
Democrats have long held the majority on the five-member board. The last Republican to serve was Michael D. Lane, who won a special election in 1999 to fill the unexpired term of Albert C. Eisenberg (D). Lane lost in the regular election later that year to Charles P. Monroe (D), whose seat was filled after he died in 2003 of a brain aneurysm.
"Whether it's here or in any other part of the country or world, a one-party system [operating] over an extended period of time does not tend to be the most effective in a democracy," Patton said. In Arlington, the board is "controlled by people who come from the same philosophical base. . . . You begin to lose touch, to some extent, with some of the concerns of the average citizen."
Whatever their differences in opinion, Patton, 64, had kind words for his opponent, calling Favola a "dedicated civil servant." He openly acknowledged, "I'm not as knowledgeable about the county as Barbara."
Still, he said, "I don't think that disqualifies me from being able to render a very valuable service to the community."