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How Arlington Could Balance Its Budget Without a Tax Hike

By ARLnow.com

Friday - 3/8/2013, 11:05am  ET

arlington-va-logoIn her proposed FY 2014 budget, which calls for a 3.2 cent tax hike and 9.2 million in spending cuts, County Manager Barbara Donnellan also identified — for discussion purposes — ways the county could cut enough spending to negate the need for tax hikes.

The county would need to cut an additional $13 million to balance the budget without the property tax increase. Among Donnellan’s theoretical options for cuts are: reducing library hours, closing Artisphere, delaying major capital projects, eliminating employee pay raises and cutting maintenance funds.

From the manager’s budget:

  • Changing operating hours of facilities and / or evaluate repurposing or closure of facilities
    • Reducing library hours to 2011 levels – $0.5 million
    • Closing the Artisphere would result in $0.9 million in ongoing savings in FY 2014 (assuming one-time closure costs are covered with other funds)
  • Delay opening of new facilities which could result in operating cost and possibly debt service savings
  • Evaluate employee compensation, including both pay and benefit levels
    • Eliminate merit step increase for FY 2014 – $3.4 million
    • Shift health care increase to employees and retirees – $1.8 million
  • Evaluate service levels in each operating department for possible reduction or elimination
    • A 1% across the board reduction in County departments would yield $4 – $4.5 million
    • Reduce maintenance capital — a 10% reduction would equal over $1 million
  • Redirection of dedicated revenue streams, e.g., reduce allocation to Crystal City Tax Increment Financing Area from 33 to 20% would yield $0.9 million; redirect dedicated bike-pedestrian fee to any General Fund use – $1.2 million

On top of the county’s $13 million in cuts, in a no-tax-hike scenario, Arlington Public Schools would need to find an additional $6.8 million to cut from its budget.

Even if tax rates remained the same, however, local homeowners would still pay higher taxes this year. The average single family home property tax bill would increase $52, thanks to an increase in property assessments. Under Donnellan’s budget, the average homeowner will pay an additional $262.

If the county were to decide to do away with all of Donnellan’s proposed cuts — including cuts to public safety, human services and other departments — Arlington would have to raise the real estate tax rate 5.7 cents to $1.028 per $100 in assessed value. That would result in a $351 increase in the average real estate tax bill.

Such a tax hike is not legally possible in FY 2014. Last month the Arlington County Board voted to advertise a $1.021 tax rate, meaning the Board cannot ultimately set the rate higher than that.

The Board will adopt its final budget on April 20. Public budget hearings are scheduled for March 26 and 28. The Board’s next budget work session is set for March 12, and will address the police, fire, sheriff and emergency management budgets.