Arlington County Board member Matt de Ferranti

Incoming Arlington County Board member Matt de Ferranti makes remarks after a ceremonial swearing-in ceremony on Dec. 18, 2018. De Ferranti, who unseated John Vihstadt, will formally take office Jan. 1, 2019.

Arlington’s newest County Board members appears to be straddling the middle of the road when it comes to school funding and its impact on homeowners’ tax bills.

In remarks to a local service organization, Matt de Ferranti telegraphed the likelihood that Arlington property owners would see a higher real-estate-tax rate this year, in part to pay for higher school costs. But at the same time, he said the days of gold-plated school facilities must come to an end.

“We need to bring down the cost per seat of our schools,” de Ferranti said at the Feb. 20 meeting of the Kiwanis Club of Arlington. De Ferranti said that teachers, not Taj Mahal-style facilities, were the keys to success for local students, and that spending should be prioritized to get the best educators available.

Whether de Ferranti’s call for restraint in capital spending will be heeded on the school side remains to be seen. Few of the current School Board members have made belt-tightening a priority.

An auditor’s report on school-construction costs last year essentially absolved school officials from blame on high costs, saying Arlington’s projects were more expensive than those of other jurisdictions for reasons ranging from heavy community engagement (read: demands of parents) and a lengthy and cumbersome process of winning county-government approval of new projects. But the report’s legitimacy was called into question after school leaders spent months holding on to it before releasing it to the public.

As for taxes, de Ferranti acknowledged it was “likely but not certain” that County Board members ultimately would vote to increase the 2018 real-estate tax rate of $1.006 per $100 assessed value, in part to pay for school costs.

Due to higher assessments that came out in January, Arlington homeowners already will be on the hook for hundreds of dollars in additional taxes this year even if the tax rate doesn’t rise. Every penny tacked onto the tax rate would add another $80 to a typical homeowner’s bill.

(County Board members on Feb. 23 will formally set the maximum tax rate for the coming year, but will retain the option of lowering it later in the budget process.)

De Ferranti, who in his race to unseat John Vihstadt last year promised he would be as engaged a fiscal watchdog as Vihstadt had been, said he would keep in mind the impact of higher tax bills on residents.

“I am very mindful [that] all of us think about our [tax] bills,” he said.

In the jockeying that has preceded setting a maximum tax rate, School Board members have pushed for an increase, saying it is needed to deal with the costs of rising enrollment and higher construction costs.

School Board members have pressed the community to call for higher taxes in order to fund school-system needs and wants.