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Arlington board raises tax rate 1.5 cents, all devoted to schools and Metro

The Arlington County Board unanimously voted to raise its property tax rate by 1.5 cents Saturday, a hike that elected officials said was entirely attributable to higher costs for Metro and schools.

Board Chairman Jay Fisette (D) said “100 percent of the tax increase” will go toward operating and expanding the county’s well-regarded public schools and for improvements and operations for Metro.

But what that means for the average homeowner is a tax increase of $277 per year. And for the county, boosting Metro will cost an additional $7.4 million, raising Arlington’s contribution to $71 million.

Funding for schools will increase by $23.3 million, for a total outlay of $490 million from the county.

By trimming and juggling the existing budget and relying on the additional money brought in by rising property assessments, the board found enough to increase its commitment to affordable housing by $1.3 million, reaching just over $15 million, and to add more sheriff’s deputies, police officers, operators at emergency call centers and two new fire recruit classes, although some of those hires will be phased in throughout the year.

The total budget for fiscal year 2018 will be $1.25 billion.

The board also set aside $4 million for land acquisition in the 26-square-mile county, where it’s becoming much more difficult to find places to put public facilities, from schools to snowplows. It also added an extra $350,000 into the Columbia Pike revitalization effort, including a retail and marketing study for the area. Officials also revised guidelines for use of the special tax funds raised along Columbia Pike to make them available for affordable housing in other areas — over the objections of board member Christian Dorsey (D).

Board members opted to hire three people to repair and improve streetlights, rather than five as county manager Mark Schwartz wanted. And the board also established a new $100,000 fund to assist undocumented residents, families of mixed immigration status and refugees with legal aid or emergency assistance.

Board member John Vihstadt (I) unsuccessfully attempted to force a separate vote on the board’s action to raise its own pay by 3.5 percent, much to the dismay of his colleagues. Vihstadt said the board shouldn’t be raising its pay when other budget items were cut.

Other board members called his comments "politically expedient" and "political posturing" because he did not raise the issue during the past two months of the budget season. The board's pay, which has not increased for four years, will go to $53,282 and the chairman's pay will rise to $59,610. Board member Libby Garvey (D), who last fall floated a trial balloon that suggested doubling the board's pay, suggested they should hold a later discussion on how to address salaries.

The tax rate will rise to $1.006 per $100, a 3 percent increase. Tax bills are based on their property's assessment, which increased by about 3 percent this year, multiplied by the tax rate.

A variety of fees also will rise for Arlington residents when the 2018 fiscal year starts July 1. The household solid-waste rate will go up $6.88, to $314.16 per year; the water and sewer rate will rise by about $24.50 per household; the residential utility tax will increase; and a new $60 accessory homestay permit fee will go into effect.