The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Arlington proposes half-cent cut in property tax rate

The Arlington County Board listens to County Manager Mark Schwartz’s budget proposal Thursday. The $1.19 billion budget for the coming fiscal year would slightly cut the property tax rate. (Patricia Sullivan/TWP)

Arlington County manager Mark Schwartz on Thursday proposed a $1.19 billion budget for the coming fiscal year that would slightly cut the property tax rate, although higher assessments would still boost the average residential tax bill by $189.

The proposed half-cent rate cut was made possible by revenues that have come in $6.2 million higher than expected, including an average increase in the value of a single-family home or condo of about $50,000 in the past two years. The county board cut the tax rate by 1 cent two years ago; it did not change the rate last year.

In next-door Fairfax County, by contrast, the county executive this week proposed a tax rate increase that would boost tax bills by an average of $304 per household per year, to cover a projected budget gap of $93 million.

Schwartz described Arlington’s fiscal situation as “fortunate” and a result of careful budgeting and planning, better-than-expected performance of its nearly fully funded retirement plans and the fact that the county depends almost equally on residential and commercial revenue.

With residential property growing 3 percent in value and commercial properties up 1.2 percent, “That insulates us . . . it eases, it modulates changes in both directions,” Schwartz said.

County Board Chair Libby Garvey (D) and other board members said they were generally pleased with the manager’s proposal, which goes to the board for two months of scrutiny, hearings and changes. The final budget must be adopted by April 19.

Schwartz would add eight new firefighter/emergency medical technician jobs, which means all crews would have four people. Adding six new police patrol officers would return the force to the same strength as in 1998 and ease overtime demands. Four new uniformed sheriff’s department employees would help with understaffing at the detention center and court operations.

The property tax rate, which is the same for businesses and residences under Virginia law, would drop to 99.1 cents per $100 of assessed value. The average residence is now worth $603,500, up from $579,800 last year. That means the average residential tax bill would increase 2.5 percent, to $7,829.

Related fee changes include an increase to the household solid-waste rate of $36.24 per year, an increase to the ambulance fee by $100 to $150 to match those charged in Fairfax County, setting uniform library fees of 30 cents per day, and unspecified changes to parks and recreation fees.

Details of the proposal will be posted on the county's website Saturday.

Schwartz proposed adding $1.5 million to the county’s economic development initiatives to help drive down a commercial vacancy rate of about 20 percent. He also wants the board to consider creating a new incentive fund to help compete with the District and other jurisdictions that already have them.

He proposed $6.3 million in personnel initiatives, including making all county employees eligible for merit-based raises and increasing the minimum wage for permanent county employees from$13.13 to $14.50. He would also increase the hours worked by aides in school health clinics.

Schwartz proposed putting $8.2 million into the county’s Affordable Housing Investment Fund, a revolving loan program that helps nonprofit organizations create apartments for low- to middle-income households, and $3.7 million into the county’s emergency housing grants program.

He left $900,000 available for unspecified County Board priorities.

Arlington Public Schools Superintendent Patrick Murphyis scheduled to offer his budget proposal next week. Although the county and school system have sometimes tussled over the schools budget, both entities have tried to work more closely with each other over the past two years.