Independents Audrey Clement and Arron O’Dell used the Sept. 3 Arlington County Civic Federation debate to say they would cast more critical eyes on Amazon’s intentions, should they unseat board Democrats Christian Dorsey and Katie Cristol on Nov. 5.
“They have a terrible reputation . . . a ruthless management ethic,” Clement said of the online retailer at the debate, which attracted a modest crowd to kick off the two-month election season.
O’Dell said Amazon is known for doing what’s best for Amazon, not for anyone else.
“It’s going to be hard to get Amazon to do anything for the county,” he predicted in response to an audience question.
County Board members in March unanimously approved an incentive package worth about $25 million for Amazon, which plans to bring 25,000 workers to the Crystal City/Pentagon City/Potomac Yard corridor. That vote came after a noisy public meeting that attracted 100 speakers split between those who viewed the incentive package as a smart move and those who saw it as corporate welfare.
Dorsey and Cristol have been part of a largely united County Board front in supporting the package as a way to resuscitate the Crystal City commercial corridor and cut into its office-vacancy rate. Recent softness in the commercial market has led to higher residential taxes, Cristol said at the Civic Federation forum.
(In remarks later in the debate, Cristol said she hoped the Arlington government would tap the brakes on economic-incentive packages for firms relocating to the county. The government has increased its incentives in recent years to address the office-vacancy rate, which hit 20 percent before coming down to about 16 percent today.)
The first vanguard of the Amazon “HQ2” personnel have started trickling in, with the majority expected over the next five to 10 years. The county government’s incentive package is tied to the online retailer hitting certain benchmarks in hiring and office-space occupancy.
Even though the majority of Amazon’s workers have yet to arrive, their impact already is being felt in the local real estate market, where prices are rising – sometimes significantly – and inventory is low as some owners are holding their properties off the market to see how high the market will rise.
For typical Arlingtonians who are neither buying nor selling properties in the near future, the impact could be felt next year in tax bills.
“Double-digit [increases in] home assessments are on the way,” predicted Clement, who is a perennial candidate for office. Without a concurrent cut in tax rates, that would mean a higher tax burden for homeowners.
The debate was a first for O’Dell, who is making his inaugural bid for office. Cristol and Dorsey each are seeking second terms, having been first elected in 2015. Odds favor the incumbents.
The debates often are fodder for challengers to rough up incumbents, but Dorsey said the public should hold them to account and be savvy enough to “make sure they are not just delivering cute slogans.”
O’Dell shot back that while the incumbents come off as “pretty eloquent,” they “sometimes forget how to find value and keep costs down.”