Arlington homeowners would see no change to the real-estate tax rate, but most would pay more in total taxes, under County Manager Mark Schwartz’s proposed $1.274 billion fiscal 2019 county budget, unveiled Feb. 22.
The proposal, which heads to the County Board for refinement, revision and ultimate adoption, includes some staff cutbacks, but pay raises for those who remain; offers a 2.8-percent increase in funding for schools to nearly $500 million; and proposes additional funding for affordable housing and economic development.
“This was a hard one,” Schwartz said of the budget proposal’s development in recent months. “Not the hardest I’ve every done, but one of the hard ones.”
Under the proposal, the real estate tax rate would remain at $1.006 per $100 assessed valuation. But given increased assessments and increases in fees, a typical homeowner would pay $297 more in the coming year, up 3.5 percent to $8,743.
Under the proposal, 29 existing government-staff positions would be eliminated and 18 vacant positions will not be filled. (A full list of the proposed reductions are available at www.budget.arlingtonva.us.)
“I expect there will be a lot of interest on the part of the community on each of these reductions,” Schwartz said, leaving the door open to keeping some of the impacted staff if money becomes available.
Under the proposal, employees would receive pay raises of 3.25 percent to 3.5 percent, but public-safety personnel would see increases of up to 7.5 percent.
Schwartz said the county was being hurt by higher pay rates in surrounding jurisdictions, which needed to be addressed.
“We’ve done such a good job trying to catch up,” he said. The increases are “only going to help us stay even.”
The plan calls for $13.7 million in funding over the coming fiscal year for the Affordable Housing Investment Fund, which is used to provide loans to housing providers.
The budget proposal also:
• Increases residential and commercial utility taxes.
• Increases parking-meter rates 25 cents per hour and extends hours from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., while increasing parking-related fines to $40.
• Increases the household-solid-waste fee $2 per year.
• Reduces government funding for planning the redevelopment of the Lee Highway corridor.
• Adds fees to residents who pay for county services via credit card.
• Slows down funding increases for road-paving efforts.
• Eliminates the Office of Community Health and reallocates its responsibilities to other county offices.
• Cuts staff in the employment-services office of the Department of Human Services.
• Cuts funding for the Arlington Initiative to Rethink Energy, eliminating rebates to county residents for buying energy-efficient products.
• Eliminates funding for the printed Citizen newsletter that goes to all Arlington households.
• Eliminates Arlington Transit (ART) Routes 54 and 92 due to low ridership and the availability of alternatives.
County Board members will now spend the next three months considering options before adopting the budget (which kicks in July 1) and setting tax rates in May.
Schwartz has been county manager since mid-2015, and has served in the county government for 12 years, mostly in budget positions. His efforts to craft a budget suffered a setback in January, when overall Arlington property assessments came in at a 1.9-percent increase – well below what had been expected. A decline in office-building assessments was the main culprit.
As is usually the case, County Board members on Jan. 22 accepted the proposal but did not make significant comments on it.
“This really is an opportunity for us to hear from him,” County Board Chairman Katie Cristol said.