Ar­ling­ton o∞cials to vote on tax hike

Rate in­crease of 1.5 cents would fund Metro needs and school growth

The Washington Post - - METRO - BY PA­TRI­CIA SULLIVAN

Fac­ing ris­ing costs from Metro and higher school en­roll­ment, the Ar­ling­ton County Board is poised to pass a 1.5 cent in­crease in the prop­erty tax rate, one-half cent less than what the county man­ager pro­posed and the board ad­ver­tised ear­lier this year.

The county bud­get, which the board will vote on Sat­ur­day, would grow 4.3 per­cent over the cur­rent year to about $1.2 bil­lion. The tax rate, now 99.1 cents per $100 of as­sessed value, would climb to just over $1 for the first time since 2013. Com­bined with higher as­sess­ments for most homes, and a rise in a va­ri­ety of sep­a­rate fees, the av­er­age res­i­den­tial prop­erty owner is likely to see a tax in­crease of about $250.

Board Chair­man Jay Fisette (D), who is com­plet­ing his fifth four-year term this year, said all of the in­crease would go to­ward meet­ing the needs of Metro and the schools, which ex­pect more than 1,000 new stu­dents to en­roll in the fall.

Ar­ling­ton Pub­lic Schools, Fisette said Thurs­day dur­ing the board’s last work­shop ses­sion be­fore the Sat­ur­day vote, would re­ceive $800,000 more than re­quested, for a to­tal of $490.3 mil­lion, al­though some of the money would be one­time, rather than on­go­ing, funds.

County Man­ager Mark Schwartz said 46.6 per­cent of all lo­cally gen­er­ated rev­enue in the county goes to the school sys­tem, not in­clud­ing about $7 mil­lion for per­son­nel such as school nurses and cross­ing guards.

Fund­ing for the Metro sys­tem would in­crease by $7.4 mil­lion.

Metro’s gen­eral man­ager on Wed­nes­day called for new, ded­i­cated funds from lo­cal gov­ern­ments to pro­vide the trou­bled tran­sit agency with $500 mil­lion a year for equip­ment and main­te­nance.

Elected of­fi­cials in Ar­ling­ton, which built the mod­ern county around the idea of a tran­sit­de­pen­dent lifestyle, sup­ported the idea, but with a big gulp at the po­ten­tial costs.

“Metro is an im­pos­si­ble lift un­less the re­gion comes up with a ded­i­cated fund­ing source,” Fisette said. “If they don’t find that, we’re all in a lot of trou­ble.”

Board mem­bers asked Schwartz last month to tell them which cuts they would have to make to raise the prop­erty tax by one cent, in­stead of two. Board mem­bers took his ad­vice for some of those trims — re­duc­ing the amount spent on mow­ing and land­scap­ing, de­lay­ing the hir­ing of some sher­iff ’s deputies, and re­duc­ing his pro­posed in­crease in the num­ber of jobs ded­i­cated to im­prov­ing the county’s street light­ing.

But in the end, the board de­cided to vote on rais­ing the tax rate by 1.5 cents, to al­low for ad­di­tional spend­ing on schools and Metro.

“If you can get the job done with less tax bur­den, then do it,” Fisette said. “We’re al­ways look­ing for more ef­fi­cient ways of ac­com­plish­ing our goals.”

Board mem­bers de­bated how much money to de­vote to Columbia Pike im­prove­ments, as well as other ex­pen­di­tures, which would be off­set by cuts in ex­ist­ing spend­ing.

The board added $100,000 to cre­ate a fund for im­mi­gra­tion ser­vices, which they de­scribed as in­tended to sup­port non­profit groups re­spond­ing to “un­rest and un­cer­tainty” cre­ated by the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s re­newed fo­cus on de­por­ta­tions.

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