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Arlington Budget Hearing: 'Let's Not Fairfax Arlington'

Streetcar versus housing and food assistance funding, other issues come up at Tuesday night's public hearing.

Affordable housing. Programs for people with intellectual disabilities. County child care regulations. Traffic calming. Invasive plants. Senior center parking fees.

Between what's in Arlington County's proposed $1.1 billion budget and what's not, residents had a lot to talk about Tuesday night.

A few hundred people showed up and more than 100 of them spoke at a public hearing — delivering well over three hours of testimony before the Arlington County Board.

At times, there was an undercurrent of frustration, perhaps best summed up well past 10 p.m. by frequent board critic Robert Atikins.

Atkins cited needs — some with relatively minor costs associated with them — for child care, nurses, housing and food assistance and said any one of them "could be met by not building one gold-plated bus stop on Columbia Pike."

"It is time for this board to Occupy Reality," Atkins said. "Fund them, not vanity projects. Do not throw the poor and needy children under the gold-plated wheels of the trolley."

Streetcar Showdown?

Comments about the planned $250 million Columbia Pike streetcar system were peppered through the evening, perhaps a preview of what the board can expect during tonight's town hall.

Given the number of needs in Arlington, streetcar opponents had ample ammunition. Rob Whitfield, of Fairfax County, asked the board to wait for "smoother economic times" before continuing the project.

Lee Schalk, with the National Taxpayers Union, called it "another classic example of special interests prevailing over the needs of taxpayers."

On the other hand, Juliet Hiznay, chairwoman of the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization, said she was worried "something's afoot here to upend 10 years of planning in support of this community vision."

"Revitalization of Columbia Pike may be under way — but it's under way with the understanding from the business community that the streetcar is coming," she said. "Don't forget the Silver Line. Don't forget that people can take their money and invest it elsewhere."

Randy Swart with Arlington Streetcar Now pointed out the "irony" of someone from Fairfax coming to Arlington to ask what Swart called a well-planned transit project be halted.

"Please, let's not Fairfax Arlington," he said.

A Constituency For Every Program

Much of the commentary was expected: Area nonprofits make their case each year for extra funding, and next year's budget doesn't increase funding to any of them — despite the added pressure some are facing thanks to cuts under federal sequestration.

And every item in a budget has a constituency, from speed humps to the senior golf program.

County Manager Barbara Donnellan's proposal to eliminate local child care standards — allowing less-stringent state regulations to govern operators here — met with plenty of opposition. Sandra Redmore, who runs the Clarendon Child Care Center, said she had gathered 1,000 names opposed to that.

Heather Jones, the mother of two who benefit from Arlington child care, said without local protections, providers in this area would engage in a "race to the bottom" in the name of profit.

Residents were also upset by proposals to cut about $40,000 from the county's tree-watering program, $52,500 from the tree-planting program, and $100,000 from invasive plant removal.

They lodged complaints about a proposal to eliminate $12,000 from the Summer Street Theater Program and another to reduce the hours of operation at Long Branch and Gulf Branch nature centers by six hours — cutting back from 39 hours per week to 33 and potentially saving $26,000 in the process.

Eric Goodman, co-chairman of the county's Pedestrian Advisory Committee, asked the county to add sidewalks along streets used to walk to schools or transit facilities that fall outside or cross established neighborhoods.

With dollars potentially moving around, Bicycle Advisory Committee Chairman Jakob Wolf-Barnett asked the county to continue to fund BikeArlington and planning and engineering for the county's pedestrian and bike trails, move maintenance of paved bike trails from Parks and Recreation to the Department of Environmental Services and make snow removal on Arlington's trails a higher priority. A January dusting of snow saw ridership on one bicycle trail drop from about 1,100 riders a day to 50.

Arlington County Board Chairman Walter Tejada told Patch afterward that funding streams for some major projects were governed by law and couldn't be rerouted to other needs.

"At this point, we're still in reviewing mode," he said.

The proposed budget calls for a 3.2-cent tax increase, though officials have given themselves the authority to raise taxes by as much as 5 cents per $100 assessed value.

The Arlington County Board will hold a tax rate hearing at 6 p.m. Thursday.

Read more:

  • Arlington County Full-Time Employee Salary Database
  • Hourly Wages: Arlington County Part-Time Employee Database
  • Schools Ask Arlington County for Bigger Share of Tax Revenue
  • Fewer Community Police Officers? Board Weighs Budget Proposal
  • Jail Programs Suffer Due to Lack of Staff
  • Arlington County Real Estate Taxes Could Increase by Up to 5 Percent

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Mark Blacknell March 27, 2013 at 02:53 PM
*Great* local coverage. Thanks!
Jason Spencer March 27, 2013 at 05:56 PM
Thanks. It's always tough with these kinds of stories, where people literally talk about dozens and dozens of different topics, to choose what and how much to include about each.
Janet March 29, 2013 at 01:19 AM
Don't Fairfax Arlington? LOL! Arlington's County Manager, Economic Development Director, and CPHD Director all live in Fairfax County!

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