“After hearing from hundreds of constituents and holding a work session with the School Board, this board was convinced that more funding was needed to avoid significant cuts for our schools,” said County Board Chair Christian Dorsey (D). “This budget makes strategic investments in our infrastructure and our schools, maintains our social safety net, and helps us compete regionally in attracting and retaining high-quality public safety staff.”
The school system, which has seen booming enrollment for several years and recently built three new schools, will get $532.3 million, about 47 percent of the county’s tax revenue.
The average Arlington County homeowner, whose home assessment jumped almost 3 percent this year to $658,600, will see a $9,023 tax bill, $281 more than last year. That bill includes stormwater, sewer and other taxes and fees as well. (Although the budget is for fiscal 2020, property taxes follow the calendar year.)
While the county expects a tax windfall with the arrival of Amazon’s second corporate headquarters in the Crystal City area, that revenue is several years away. For now, the county is struggling with a commercial vacancy rate in the high teens, which limits tax revenue coming in.
The board increased the amount of money dedicated to Arlington’s Affordable Housing Investment Fund to $16 million, a $1.5 million boost. It also increased compensation for public safety officers and general employees and added money to support school swimming pools. Money was added to increase staff for the electoral board, and the board restored cuts that County Manager Mark Schwartz had proposed for cultural affairs programming.
About $45.6 million of the county budget will go to Metro. The budget also sets aside $9.95 million in one-time funding for land acquisition and increased $2.7 million for the county’s reserve funding in response to bond rating agencies’ concerns.
The budget cuts 27.5 employee positions, about 11 of them vacant and the others in areas where service demands have declined.
Board member Katie Cristol (D) said the county is “in better condition than we were when we embarked on this year’s budget or even two years ago.” Although the county did not raise taxes last year, it increased fees and cut about $8.4 million in expenses.
Cristol said she hopes the board will be able to lower the tax rate next year because “I believe a number of our homeowners, especially middle-class ones, are worried about their ability” to continue living in Arlington.
The budget includes changes to fees such as those charged for parks and recreation and dog licenses. The household solid waste rate will drop by about $8 per year, but water and sewer rates will go up about $11 per year for the average household.