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March Madness: A Large Tax Increase For You: A Sweet Pay Increase For Them?

March brings consequential basketball battles, and competition for something else, as well:?your tax dollars, both how many and how best to deploy them!
First up,?County Board member Libby Garvey and I will hash it out at the Wednesday, March 13,Arlington Committee of 100 dinner meeting?(also check out the?Facebook page) on this question:??Should Arlington Increase Pay for County Board Members???Garvey?floated a trial balloon in 2016 calling for a doubling of Board salaries, arguing that ?This is more than a full-time job, with more than one event practically every night, Board meetings that go late into the evening, and weekend meetings.??While this is all true,?I spoke out against this idea?then, and I continue to oppose anything but a modest cost-of-living adjustment.?Why?
  • Currently, Arlington?s Board Chair makes just under $60,000 annually and members make just over $53,000.?While all five Board members work long hours?sometimes seven days a week?the jobs were never intended to be full-time, unlike those in Fairfax County (pop. 1.2 million), Montgomery County (pop. 1.1 million) and the District (pop. 700,000).I believe that County Board work is a?public service position?in our County of 225,000 people,?not a full-time professional career sinecure.?Candidates (and there is never a shortage of talented individuals vying for open seats) know exactly how much the pay is ahead of filing for office, and if they are paying attention, they have a good idea of what the job entails and what the time commitments are. All Board members also receive?generous health care benefits, life insurance, and, in their second terms, become vested in an?equally generous retirement plan.?They can also have use of a County vehicle for County business.
  • I do, however, think that we should begin a conversation, as some citizens have suggested, about?whether Arlington could benefit from expanding Board membership to seven members,?perhaps?with a combination of at-large and district seats?(say two at-large, five by district, or three at-large, four by district), like many localities both larger and smaller than Arlington do.??The City of Alexandria, Falls Church, and Fairfax City all have seven Council members, Loudoun has nine Board members and Fairfax County has ten.Expanded membership, with some by district, would?open opportunity?for public service to more people,?reduce campaign fundraising?demands,?spread Board workload among more members, and?improve accountability?by fostering greater closeness between voters and their representatives by district.?At the same time, having a few members elected County-wide would help ensure that the Board Chair and another member or two have a true County-wide perspective.?What do you think?
Second, it?s annual budget season again.?On February 23, 2019, the County Manager unveiled his?proposed FY 2020 Budget?to the County Board, recommending a combination of both additions and trims that, overall, call for?an extra 1.5 cent increase in the real estate property tax rate,?a year after I successfully led a 3-2 Board majority to hold the line by keeping the property tax rate level.?This proposed hike is?on top of?steadily?rising property assessments, up another 3% on the residential side and, in a mild surprise, up 4.3% for commercial properties after a decline last year.?Rising assessments alone will give the County almost $28 million in additional tax revenue over FY 2019.

Yet even the?Manager?s proposed 1.5 cent hike was not enough for the County Board.??After one Board member openly mused that advertising up to a 3% hike should be on the table for ?maximum flexibility,? the?Board voted 4-1 to advertise a 2.75 cent jump?nearly double?the Manager?s recommendation?and, if adopted, the highest leap since 2011.?Only Katie Cristol, to her credit, voted no,?after making a motion that failed 1-4 to dial back the advertised increase to 2 cents.

While I believe that some increase in the property tax rate this year is inevitable given still-rising school enrollment and the coming online of three new or expanded buildings in the fall (Alice West Fleet Elementary, Dorothy Hamm Middle in the former Stratford Building and The Heights, for the H-B Woodlawn program), our leaders need to remember that?rising property tax burdens are making Arlington increasingly unaffordable for an expanding number of current and prospective homeowners and renters alike.

  • For a?clinical but informative look?at the proposed budget, and to learn how you can?send a message?to the Board, either online or by speaking in person on either April 2 or April 4, 2019, at the Bozman Center, 2100 Clarendon Boulevard,?be sure to?visit the budget?website, and please share your perspective with me.
  • Arlington?s Scott McCaffrey?opined in the?Sun Gazette, that my November defeat was read as??a sign to Democrats on the County Board that they could return to business as usual, taking property owners for granted.?
With spring upon us, I hope to see you around the community or out tilling your soil.??In the meantime, please ring or write.