Arlington County's voters have opted for a new majority on the county board, a Democratic majority with a clear sense of priorities: careful, controlled development, open government, good schools and services, and fiscal responsibility.
Development along the Metro corridor is a fact of life in Arlington. It is very much needed to revitalize our older business areas along Wilson Boulevard and to strengthen our tax base. But this development will be a mixed blessing unless it is carefully shaped to meet our needs.
We want development that will improve the quality of life in Arlington, respect our neighborhoods and preserve the residential character of our community. We want development that will provide apartments and thriving retail shops and restaurants and convenient services for Arlingtonians -- not just offices for commuters. We cannot afford to have more Rosslyns marching out Wilson Boulevard.
Because the Metro stations are so close to established, single-family-home neighborhoods, it is highly important for new development to be compatible with the neighborhoods. The height and density of new development must be restrained so that adjacent residential areas are not overwhelmed with traffic and congestion.
With careful planning, and firm adherence to sector plans, Arlington can benefit from new development and still retain its essential residential character.
How local government conducts its business is of more than passing concern to Arlingtonians -- civic-minded people who comment, participate and volunteer to a degree unmatched by many communities. There's a healthy concern here for the process by which decisions are made. Our majority on the county board will restore the tradition of open government in Arlington -- with a careful and thoughtful process for the selection of school board members, with attention to planning and policy direction, with long-range goals and with meaningful citizen involvement in the decision-making process.
Arlingtonians have reaffirmed, in this election, their commitment to maintaining excellent schools and the other services -- libraries, parks, recreation programs -- which make Arlington a desirable place to live.
Our changing population is verified by the data from the 1980 census. Arlington's population is now 83 percent white, 9 percent black and 8 percent "other," primarily Asian. Forty percent of the households in Arlington are one-person households, and another 34 percent are two-person households. The only two age groups that increased in number during the last decade are those over 65 and those between 25 and 34.
Now Arlington -- and the county board -- must look at the services we offer in light of our changing population. We need to examine services for the elderly that will enable them to remain in their homes. We must provide adult education and recreation opportunities desired by young singles and encourage more day-care programs for the children of working parents.
We hope the increasing population of young couples will stay in Arlington when they have children, perhaps in slightly smaller houses than they could have elsewhere, not only because of the superb location but because of the kind of community it is. I have proposed that Arlington make a special effort to attract and retain families, for the stability and balance they would bring and because there is much that we can offer them.
Finally, the new majority is pledged to maintain a strong sense of fiscal responsibility. For the last decade, whether Republicans or Democrats have been in charge on the county board, Arlington has had the lowest total tax burden in the Washington metropolitan area. This is an excellent record, one we will strive to continue.
During the last four years, when the Republicans were in the majority on the county board, the cost of county government increased 10 percent each year, slightly higher than the 9 percent increase of the previous four years. Only increases in revenues from the state, from the sales tax on gasoline for Metro, from new development and higher assessments, made possible a reduction in the real property tax rate.
Now that the housing market is so depressed and federal and state cuts are affecting localities, it will not be as easy to maintain services and still reduce the property tax rate. Next spring, the county board will face one of the most difficult budget sessions in years.
We will be searching for every possible efficiency and economy in offering county services. The new county manager has been instructed to bring in a budget based on the current tax rate, and the county board will examine the impact on county programs. At this early date, we cannot rule out a change in the tax rate nor are we sure that a change will be needed.
Will Arlington have the same tax rate next year? It's too soon to say. Will Arlington have one of the lowest in the metropolitan area? Absolutely. Will Arlington retain good schools and services? Yes.