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Nonprofits, Community Groups Make Case for Tax Dollars

Arlington County Board holds public hearing on proposed $1.03 billion budget.

The 44-year-old homeless man this week was a client of the Arlington Street People’s Assistance Network.

“He grew up here, he went to our schools and he died on our streets,” said Kathy Sibert, A-SPAN’s executive director.

About 25 percent of A-SPAN’s annual budget, including emergency winter shelter operations, comes from county tax coffers. The organization is asking for $50,000 more for a full-time caseworker for the . So far, 15 people have been placed in housing as part of that program. Eighty-five remain.

“I lost a friend this week. Behind a Dumpster. I talked to him every day,” said the Rev. Richard E. Cobb, pastor of . “I lost a friend this week because he didn’t have a home.”

That’s just a snapshot of the dozens of nonprofits, community groups and individuals who testified before the Arlington County Board on Tuesday. The public hearing on the county’s proposed $1.03 billion general fund budget lasted three hours, until 10 p.m.

Person after person stood before the board trying to make the case why they needed financial support – for conservation projects, to preserve history, to combat mental health, to protect vulnerable women, children and seniors, and to help immigrants or new citizens better assimilate into life in Arlington County, among other laudable goals.

The requests ranged from a few thousand dollars to several million.

“I was not surprised by what we heard tonight,” Board Chairwoman Mary Hynes said afterward. “The community members who have been hurting are still hurting.”

The holds a lottery the second Tuesday of every month to see which new clients it can take. On Valentine’s Day, 221 people showed up. All but 27 were turned away, Executive Director Nancy Pallesen said.

The asked for an extra $40,000 from the county to cope with the 24 percent increase its seen in clients over the last year. The organization’s food purchase budget is already $52,000 in the red and will go even higher before the books close June 30, Executive Director Charles Meng said.

Doorways for Women and Families Executive Director Caroline Jones asked the board to continue its homeless prevention and rapid rehousing program – once funded by the federal government’s stimulus, and continued this year by the county, the funding has been zeroed out in the budget that begins July 1. Such a program is a “much more humane” way to deal with homelessness, Jones said, and for the county to suddenly put the brakes on the program is the equivalent of “shooting ourselves in the foot.”

The Hispanic Committee of Virginia hopes to see its full $330,000 request realized to support the social services, financial literacy and citizenship assistance programs it offers. The proposed budget has most, but not all, of that set aside for the committee.

Full funding would give the group the financial breathing room to use more of its own dollars on its entrepreneurship program. This year, that program has helped launch six Arlington businesses, including in Clarendon and Max Auto near the Glebe Road-Arlington Boulevard intersection.

“We recognize that our clients experience multiple needs, and by working together across programs we support our clients along the path to full integration and economic self-sufficiency,” said Adrienne Kay, the committee’s entrepreneurship coordinator.

More than 100 residents from the Boulevard Manor and surrounding communities stood in support while Joan Horwitt pleaded with the board to help pay to refurbish the Reevesland farmhouse into a learning center. The county bought the farmhouse – the last surviving dairy farm in Arlington – and about 2.5 acres around it in 2001. Since then, it’s been neglected, Horwitt said.

“The 19th century farm house is a one-of-a-kind Arlington Jewel, a symbol not only of Arlington’s agricultural past but also of our sustainable agriculture future,” Horwitt said.

No money is in the county budget for the project. Horwitt said her group is willing to work with the county to come up with a figure to get them started in preserving the Reeves’ legacy of growing food, knowledge and community.

“When it’s a priority in Arlington, it gets funded,” she said.

The county is in the process of seeking a private-sector partner on redeveloping the farmhouse, Hynes said afterward. The community group is “ahead of the process,” she said.

Dozens more agencies and individuals representing a wide range of interests spoke before the board.

The proposed budget includes that would cost the average Arlington homeowner an extra $118 annually. The county board has said , and the maximum increase would cost the average homeowner here an extra $196 each year.

The county will hold a public hearing on its tax rate at 7 p.m. Thursday.

This article has been edited for clarification. The Hispanic Committee of Virginia's budget request does not include funds for its entrepreneurship program.

julie March 21, 2012 at 01:08 PM
While human services providers are struggling and have to beg the County Board for additional funds, the County Board is funding arts-recreation-entertainment projects that upscale groups could pay for themselves.
Don March 21, 2012 at 04:22 PM
Why is the County board giving the Signature any more money? Signature should be telling the County to fund new and struggling theater groups instead.

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