I hope everyone has had a good President’s Day holiday. Our board meeting this month featured one extremely long public hearing and the presentation of the Manager’s FY’23 Budget.
Proposed FY 2023 Budget
The last two budgets have been “bridge” budgets to get us through the worst of the pandemic. This year the Manager’s proposed budget focuses beyond getting through the pandemic and to important issues for the County’s long-term health and stability, especially regarding our workforce. I imagine we have all been reading about “the great resignation.” And, I have discussed particularly those working in public safety and mental health in past newsletters. These are jobs that cannot be done virtually; are crucial to our community; and have been especially stressful for our employees over the past few years. School teachers also fall into this category, so schools are another focus for funding levels. However, the School Board will determine exactly how to spend the funds allotted them. It will surprise no one that affordable housing and the environment are the other two main focus areas for this proposed budget.
Real Estate Property Tax Rate
The past year has seen about a 3.4% growth in real estate assessments. Our neighbors to the west, however, have seen much higher property assessment increases which are double digit for some. This means they will be able to both lower their tax rate and increase pay for their workers, sometimes the same workers for which we compete. Our Manager’s budget has no tax rate increase, but there are some fee increases and, because property values have gone up, most property owners would see their taxes go up although the rate is the same. We start our budget work sessions on March 1 with public safety. You may wish to watch some or all of the work sessions, which are always a good way to get detail about our County’s functioning. The schedule of work sessions and information on the proposed budget can be found on-line.
Pentagon City Sector Plan
I think communication has been the biggest challenge throughout my School and County Board career. That challenge was clear again this past Saturday as we had 115 people sign up to speak on the issue of the Pentagon City Sector Plan. The public testimony took close to 5 hours as we listened to people’s concerns. There had been a certain amount of misinformation and misunderstanding about what a sector plan is. This is understandable in some ways, since our whole planning process is fairly complex. We need to find more accessible ways to inform people about how our various planning processes work and fit together.
People came to tell us they wanted more detail in the sector plan. Some people thought the sector plan was their only opportunity to comment on and affect future development in their area. But the detail they wanted is not part of a sector plan. That detail comes with the various, smaller site plans which come after – sometimes years after – adoption of the sector plan. Each individual site plan will come to the Board and have public review. There was also misinformation about how a sector plan is developed. Despite references to our Master Transportation Plan, our coordination with schools, our Stormwater Master Plan, etc., some people thought that the County had done insufficient (or even no) planning for transportation, school needs, utilities. People thought the Sector Plan had been rushed and there had been no engagement, but the process took about 18 months and had input from various commissions and civic groups, including representatives from the civic associations involved or neighboring the area. However, we cannot rely on our commissions and civic groups to reach most residents and we need to find a better way to connect and reach the many people in an area who do not follow what our County government is doing on a regular basis. Most people do not have the time or inclination to regularly check the County website for information about planning or to find out what our various commissions or the Board are considering.
Despite the long public hearing and passionate feelings, nearly everyone was respectful, and I think we all came away with a better understanding of different perspectives. I am hopeful we’ll continue to improve on our communications and public involvement.
Next Meetings & Topics
While Saturday’s meeting was very long, our Tuesday recessed meeting was shortened due to a clerical error in advertising several items. The Virginia Code has very specific requirements for where and how we give the public notice of items subject to public hearing requirements. Although the notice was correct for our electronic advertisements and notices, it was incorrect as advertised in the Washington Times. We have to hold our hearing on the Marbella affordable housing project again and vote on it, which we will do at a special meeting at 6:30 pm next Monday, February the 28th.
And, we have rescheduled and will be hearing permitting and rezoning requests for the Elliot at 2601 Columbia Pike and an amendment to allow Arlington Public Schools to continue parking at 1425 N. Quincy Street at our March 19th and carryover meeting on 22nd.
As always, I hope this newsletter has been helpful and welcome comments for suggestions.