As we learned late last Friday, the opening of the Clarendon dog park will be delayed yet again.
Arlington is touting the “good news” that the Clarendon dog park supposedly is still on budget at $1.6 million. These latest developments raise more questions than can be answered in one column. I will answer three today:
Should it have cost $1.6 million to build this dog park? Can the $1.6 million be justified because “this is more than just a dog park”? Does this dog park inspire confidence in the County’s decision making?
The answer to all three questions is: NO. So what should it have cost?
I often find myself on opposite sides of the political fence from Arlington civic activist Tim Wise. But in this case, Tim has prepared an excellent analysis of what it has cost in the past to build dog parks in Arlington. Tim concluded that the County spent over $700,000 more on the Clarendon dog park than was justified by the costs of earlier dog parks. Anyone can quibble with this or that detail, but I agree with Tim’s bottom line: Arlington spent hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars more on this dog park than it should have.
Was it worth the extra $700,000?
The key to arriving at the right answer to this question are the frames of reference with which one should answer it. Those frames of reference include recognizing the “new normal” of Arlington’s economy and adopting a “core services” approach to Arlington’s budget priorities. Within those frames, the extra elements Arlington included in this dog park never should have been included in the first place. Arlington could have built a very attractive replacement dog park on this site for $900,000.
Why did Arlington go wrong?
The County went wrong because it failed to recognize that:
The economy it enjoyed prior to the “Great Recession” is not coming back,
The $700,000 premium that it misspent on this project would have been better spent on core services like schools, fire, police, or road maintenance, and therefore
It has the wrong budget priorities in place.
It is bad news that Arlington spent $1.6 million on the Clarendon dog park.
Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.