We continue to be busy on the County Board. Last week we adopted our budget and handled some more usual land-use decisions, including approving the Artis Senior Assisted Living facility on Lee Highway. Of course, COVID-19 continues to consume much of our time.
FY’21 Budget ($1.3 Million): This budget is about $56M less than first proposed in January. We kept the tax rate
the same, so real estate taxes will go up by the rate assessments, but not more. During this time of crisis, some people may have difficulty paying their taxes. We decided that targeted assistance for those in need is the fiscally wise approach. The Taxpayer Assistance Program (TAP) can help owners who are struggling to pay their real estate taxes. The revised 2021 budget we adopted focuses on life safety issues such as food, health and housing. It preserves employee jobs so staff is in place for the recovery. It invests in areas like small business and non-profit support. And it draws down reserves and seeks to create financial flexibility to respond to needs as they arise. I’m sure we will be revising this budget as both our future revenues and expenditures become clearer.
COVID Coordination Beyond Arlington: I have many more meetings with local and state governments and private groups outside of Arlington than I used to as we all try to coordinate responses and learn best practices. These include twice weekly Northern Virginia Regional Commission (NVRC) calls with my fellow board chairs and town/city mayors in Northern Virginia; calls every 1-2 weeks with Governor Northam and/or his administration; calls with Congressman Beyer and Senators Kaine and Warner; and occasional calls such as one with counterparts in Germany.
Because of the lack of Federal leadership, it is clear state and local governments are on our own, so we are all trying to create lines of communication and structures that best serve our people. We are working through issues such as how to get more testing, adequate medical supplies, food distribution, how best to administer CARES Act funding, and how to best approach opening up again. This is happening at all levels, so while I have calls with elected officials, our Manager has calls with other regional managers, our Health Director has calls with other Health Directors, etc. And sometimes the different groups come together over a specific topic. Local government, with good information and good leadership, is more important than ever.
The effort to coordinate and share information is impressive. It can be frustrating as some people and institutions are slower to adapt to the new reality than others. Overall, however, I see signs of a new and more connected way of working together. I continue to be impressed with the quality of leadership in our region and especially among our own staff. Arlington is lucky in many ways.
Public Meetings like our Budget and Tax Rate hearings, Open Door Mondays, and public comment at our Board meetings are all virtual and have been going pretty well. I am concerned that there are many people who are not comfortable with or able to participate in virtual meetings, but I also see more people participating who might not otherwise. I’m hopeful we will eventually return to a hybrid meeting situation with meetings both in person and virtually so that we can better meet the different needs of people for participation.
Friday Town Halls: We have begun holding Facebook Live Town Hall meetings every Friday at noon with two Board members and invited guests to talk about some aspect of COVID-19 and answer questions. You can watch these live or by video later. Christian Dorsey and I will be hosting this Friday’s Town Hall.
If you’ve got suggestions for a topic you would like discussed at a Town Hall, let me know. As with many other innovations we are making, I think these are strengthening our connection with our community.
We Continue to Mourn the Loss of Erik Gutshall. Our
Tuesday carryover meeting on the 28th would have been Erik’s 50th birthday. His death has added a sense of unreality and sorrow to this year. We shared a video tribute which is now on Erik’s page on our website. We welcome people to add tributes of their own to the page. We will be announcing a scholarship fund for Erik’s daughters in the near future and that will be added to the webpage.
As always, I hope this has been helpful and welcome your feedback.
PS: My primary opponent, Chanda Choun, has withdrawn his candidacy. Therefore, as of this writing, I believe the local Democratic primary will be cancelled and I will be the Democratic nominee for County Board by default. This means there will be no Democratic primary on June 23. I will be on the ballot for the general election in November and hope to have your vote then.