Property Taxes, Pizza & Procurement

I’m enjoying a more mellow pace of life these days, but, as my parents used to say, not letting moss grow under my feet!

HOW HIGH WILL OUR PROPERTY TAXES CLIMB?  It’s a challenge to set the property tax rate at a level that both sustains our community values and acknowledges that most taxpayers’ pocketbooks are not bottomless. And while strong property values are a good thing, rising equityalone does not put food on the table or pay college tuition bills. Recognizing the need to provide for our growing school system and augment public safety pay in particular, a property tax hike may be necessary, as the Arlington County Civic Federation conceded. Yet, as I noted in remarks at the County Board’s tax rate hearing on April 4, a jump that even approaches the Board’s advertised 2.75 cents hike (nearly double the Manager’s proposed 1.5 cents jump), on top of an average assessment rise of nearly 3%, would undermine the very “missing middle” housing affordability for both homeowners and those who aspire to own that the Board professes to care so much about.

  • By advertising the possibility of such a significant tax rate hike—the largest in a decade—the Board, warned the Sun Gazette, may be reverting “back to its old ways.” Yet I believe that people don’t want the Board to go back. They want both smart investments and fiscal restraint, and they expect their elected officials to make the hard choices necessary to deliver it.
  • I also urged the Board to develop a comprehensive strategic plan for the long-term fiscal sustainability of the County’s operating budget (just like we already do for the ten-year Capital Improvement Plan) and to work with Arlington Public Schools to do the same.
  • There’s still time, but not much, to write the County Board and share your perspective on both the FY 2020 budget and the calendar year 2019 tax rate. Please do it now.
THE GOODY’S MURAL FIASCO:  Many of you may recall the outcry over the County’s smackdown of the Wag More Dogs business near Four Mile Run Drive nearly a decade ago, when a colorful and popular mural depicting a half dozen frisky canines was obliterated as illegal advertising under the County sign ordinance. Unfortunately, history repeats itself! Just weeks ago, the funky, one-of-a-kind mural enlivening the façade of Goody’s Pizza (3125 Wilson Boulevard @ N. Herndon) with pizza slices, tomatoes, mushrooms and other edibles was painted over by the current owner in a stick-it-to-the-Man bright green under threat of enforcement action against the Clarendon small business for illegal advertising. How did we come to have a sign ordinance that prohibits murals or paintings that evoke what is for sale within just because they are “too big,” yet giant depictions of fried chicken or falafel, not offered inside, would have been just fine?
  • More on this story from an ARLNow article. It also got picked up by local tv news and an article in Reason Magazine.
  • I’m in contact with various stakeholders, including the County Board and the owner herself, to explore sign ordinance amendments that would allow this type of mural and send an unmistakable signal that Arlington is open for all businesses in a way that fosters rather than stifles art, creativity and a vibrant urban landscape. If you agree, please consider writing the County Board to encourage them to rethink this outmoded attitude and let me know if you do. The owner’s husband told me this month that Goody’s business has now suffered to the point that two employees have been let go since the mural’s forced vanishing act.

KEEPING TABS ON COUNTY AUDITOR ACTION:  As the driving force behind Arlington’s establishment of an independent County Auditor (reporting directly to the County Board) in 2015, I’m keeping tabs on what he’s up to.  I attended the Audit Committee’s April meeting and was pleased to learn that the draft FY 2020 Audit Work Plan includes  performance audits of the real estate assessments and appeals process and technology services procurement issues.  Meanwhile, current probes of Police, Fire and Sheriff’s Department overtime expenditures are well underway.  This is welcome news given the recent Arlington Magazine disclosure of several ACFD personnel having incurred overtime pay that approximated, and, in at least one case, exceeded their annual compensation:  Arlington’s 15 Highest-Paid County Employees.  Learn more about the full Audit Plan.I’d love to hear from you on these or other neighborhood or Countywide concerns!

John Vihstadt
John.Vihstadt@gmail.comP.S.  I’m excited to note my appointment to Unite Virginia’s statewide Steering Committee.  Unite Virginia, the state chapter of Unite America, hosted a kickoff breakfast in Richmond on March 27, at which we honored a bipartisan quartet of Virginia General Assembly members (Emmett Hanger, Mamie Locke, Christopher Peace and Sam Rasoul) known for working to bridge the partisan divideand collaborating on critical state issues like transportation, health care, education, and redistricting reform.  Read more. Let me know if you’d like to join me in this essential effort.
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