Below is the full text of Libby’s remarks to the Arlington County Board on priorities and outlook for 2014. Also available on the Arlington County website.
Happy New Year to everyone!
I would like to add my congratulations to Mr. Fisette and Mrs. Hynes for their new positions as our leadership team. They both bring many years of experience to guide us through 2014. Jay, I look forward to supporting your work meeting Arlington’s challenge this year.
My thanks to Mr. Tejada for being our Chair last year. Being Chair is not easy and 2013 was not all that easy a year. Mr. Tejada guided us well. Thank you, Walter.
And my congratulations and good wishes to Mr. Zimmerman on the next phase of his career. Chris, you have done much for Arlington. In your new position I know you will keep working to improve the urban experience for even more people. I wish you all the best.
This past year, many good things happened in Arlington and I thought I’d mention just a few that stand out for me:
–The commissioning of the USS Arlington was a once in a lifetime experience for many of us. I know we are looking at continuing a connection with the ship and that’s great.
–As usual, we updated a number of neighborhood plans and my own neighborhood of Fairlington was among them. These plans always represent lot of good work by both staff and the community and make Arlington better.
–Both Arlington County and Arlington Public Schools continued to receive many well deserved recognitions and awards, I’ll specifically note, as did Mr. Zimmerman the very prestigious Scull Award for Metropolitan Public Service that COG presented to Mary Hynes. It’s a big deal. Congratulations again, Mary.
–Our manager went that listening tour with the business community that Jay mentioned, and we all gained a lot of important information. Thank you, Ms. Donnellan
Now, looking forward …..When considering this year’s budget and CIP, I will have one overall question. Its really a sustainability question: can we afford to do all the things we’d like to do and still do the things we need to do?
Three large and very different projects particularly concern me: the Artisphere, the Aquatics Center and the streetcar.
None of these projects provides Arlington with a crucial service and each will need large ongoing subsidies. The Artisphere is the least concerning because we could decide at any time the subsidy is too much and, after a year, give up the lease on the building.
The Aquatics Center is different because once we build it, we will have to support it no matter what. The plans look beautiful. But……..can we afford it for what it will provide? I’m really not sure and will be looking at that closely. I very much appreciate the recent staff work that provided more realistic budget assumptions.
With the anticipated subsidy almost doubling, I think we should circle back to our community and have a perhaps difficult, but important discussion of how the Aquatics Center will benefit Arlington, and what it will cost, before we move forward.
My views on the largest project we are considering, the Columbia Pike streetcar, are well known. As I look around the country and see what is happening in other places with streetcars, my alarm about this project only grows. I hope we never build a streetcar. There are options that will work better and cost less. If you are interested, check out sensibletransit.org.
But, what I want to point out is that with just these three projects, we are looking at about $10M in operating subsidies to cover their expenses… each…. year. Over 10 years that’s $100M.
That’s a lot of money for projects we don’t really need. As we deliberate our spending priorities, I anticipate important discussions as we consider the costs we are going to have for crucial services like schools, public safety and our infrastructure.
Already we are talking about how tight the FY 15 budget will be. While we may disagree on specifics, I’m sure everyone agrees that we want to be sure we can afford the things we need before we pay for expensive things we’d like.
This brings me to the last issue I’d like to touch on today: affordable housing.
At our December meeting we adopted a multiplier for the transfer of development rights for those owning property along the Pike. Without going into the details, I’m very concerned that we left …at risk ….25% of our affordable housing stock because we cut significantly the formula recommended by our staff.
I understand concerns that the formula might be too generous, but we had no time to work this through with experts and advocates. The new formula was proposed at the board table and immediately adopted. I think we’d all agree that if we lose Barcroft Apts and Fillmore Gardens to by-right development we may as well consider the affordable housing game over. The risk for our affordable housing goals is all in setting the multiplier too low, not too high.
Therefore, I very much hope that we can revisit the multiplier soon this year. Too much is at stake to wait.
In closing, I’d like to recognize the incredibly hard working, dedicated and talented staff we have. They are our greatest resource for serving the citizens of Arlington. No one is perfect, but our staff, as always, did outstanding work last year.
Of course, true to our Arlington tradition, many talented citizens volunteered their time and worked hard as well. This is what makes Arlington great. In 2014, I look forward to working again with our staff, citizens and my colleagues to support and improve our community.