The major issues the Board had this month were adopting the Langston Boulevard Area Plan, which we did with several amendments, and how to use Close-out Funding, which we did after a few amendments.
Langston Boulevard Plan
There were again many speakers about the Langston Blvd. Plan, but overall, and despite the many amendments, there was general agreement that the Plan is a major step forward and a good example of collaborative work between residents and their County government. We lowered the recommended heights in one small area in Halls Hill, which is particularly close to commercial buildings and hemmed in by Arlington Hospital on the opposite side. We made clear that the Plan sets out a vision and recommendations, not exact final requirements. Final details on heights, setbacks, tree coverage, stormwater management and more will be made with each project and site plan along Langston Boulevard. One of my very first community meetings after joining the Board in March 2012 was a meeting to discuss what people wanted along what was then called Lee Highway. Our staff were only tangentially involved at the time. It’s good to see all the work and planning come to fruition 11 years later.
Close-out funds are those left unspent in various accounts at the end of every fiscal year. You never want to have “no” money left at the end of the year just as you never want your personal bank account to get to zero. Most of the funds left are already allocated, but not yet spent, but there is always some left unspent and unallocated. In general, I prefer to roll the money into the next budget and allocate it during the future budget process, however, there are usually urgent needs for one-time funding. This year there was about $47M in discretionary funds left some of which the Board voted to allocate to a number of projects, and some of which was rolled over into next year’s budget. Our Close-out-fund resources were somewhat larger this year due to FEMA reimbursements we received for money spent during the pandemic; interest from higher than usual interest rates; and funds from ARPA that offset some safety-net spending.
The Manager recommended spending about half the $47M on a number of time-sensitive items such as increased pay for public safety employees and our behavioral health staff. Those continue to be crucial positions that are hard to fill for a number of reasons, but relatively low pay is one of them. He also recommended $500K to fund after-school programs for our students to help combat the mental health and drug addiction problems that have grown so much among youth everywhere since the pandemic. Arlington is no exception.
We had a number of eloquent parents who came to support a greater amount than the recommended $500K. The amendment we adopted was for $750K total funding for such programs. While I did not support this additional funding because it is very unlikely that all $500K could be spent before we get to the new fiscal year in July, I fully support the desire for more programming. I expect to support more money for behavioral health for both our young people and adults in the next budget.
Historic and Cultural Resources Plan
We also adopted an update to our Historic and Cultural Resources Plan. The new plan includes cultural resources, in addition to historic structures, and focuses much more on telling the stories of everyone in our history. I think this is a big improvement and part of a wider effort to be more inclusive in our history. One example of this effort is the “Stumbling Stones” project by the Arlington Historical Society. The Society is working on cataloging all the enslaved people who lived and worked in Arlington. The sites associated with enslaved people will be marked with small brass plaques mounted in the ground. This is modeled on a project in Germany that memorializes victims of the Holocaust by placing stones with their names and known details of their deaths in front of where they lived. It is a very effective way to convey the enormity of the Holocaust. I think our own “stumbling stones” can help convey the enormity of slavery in our community’s history. The first three Arlington stones are at the Ball-Sellers house. They were designed and made by students at Arlington Tech High School. I love it that our students are playing such an important role in remembering all who lived and worked in Arlington. We have a much richer and more thorough understanding of our past through these markers.
It’s hard to believe the holidays are just about here. I hope everyone has a safe and happy Thanksgiving with friends and
family. We have much to be thankful for in Arlington.