Forty-five Arlington residents lined up to express their opinions Tuesday night on the county’s spending plan for the next fiscal year. All but three wanted more, not less, money dedicated to their favorite projects.
Who could argue with pleas for a peer counselor who works with the most seriously mentally ill, or a school nurse at a career education center, or money to help feed the hungry? Who could shut down the immigrants who are helping other immigrants learn how to find social service help in their new land, or the advocates for senior citizens who asked for a mere $30,000 to hire a paid staffer to help create “neighborhood villages” that keep the elderly in their homes as long as possible?
Not the Arlington County Board members, whose job it was to listen and who traditionally don’t reply on the one night a year that is reserved for a public hearing on the budget.
People who worked for a wide variety of organizations told the board how essential their work is to the community, from those who work with ex-offenders who have paid their dues to society to those who help house people whose full-time work doesn’t buy them an apartment in the wealthy community.
The three people who urged a brake on spending included an oft-ignored but persistent critic of the board’s policies, a so-far unsuccessful political candidate and a man who urged that park and recreation fees be levied on sports leagues rather than on recreational players.
County manager Barbara Donnellan has proposed spending $1.1 billion in the coming fiscal year, 2.6 percent higher than the current year. If the County Board approves that budget without change, the owner of an average Arlington home worth $552,700 will end up paying $381 more in taxes.
The County Board usually makes some changes, but they don’t always change either the total amount of spending or the tax rate. Donnellan has proposed a tax rate of $1.006 per $100 of assessed value. The public hearing on that number is set for Thursday at 7 p.m. at the board offices.
Thus the advocates arrived Tuesday night, hoping to influence the board to juggle things around enough to find more money for tourism promotion, for the arts, or for affordable housing. A supporter of removing invasive plants from the byways of the county spoke up .
Some Arlington County employees also asked why they, as general staffers, are not getting proportionate raises to those on the managerial pay scale. A nonprofit board member suggested that it would be nice if the employees of nonprofits that the county funds could also get enough money for a salary increase.
Even a $1.1 billion budget, it seems, doesn’t cover all the wants or needs of the 221,000 residents of the geographically smallest county in the nation.
The County Board will vote on the budget April 22. The new fiscal year starts July 1.