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Video: Budget Fireworks on the Arlington County Board!

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by Lowell

This past Thursday, there was a heated debate at the Arlington County Board meeting over an “attempt to change the way that Arlington County deals with money left over after the fiscal year.” It sounds esoteric, even a bit boring perhaps, but as you can see from the video, the actual debate was anything but boring, with Chairman Mary Hynes  – who is retiring as of January 2016 – as angry as I think I’ve ever seen her (the Washington Post article by Patricia Sullivan says that Hynes “turned red in the face as she objected to the proposal not to spend fiscal year 2015’s unused money on priorities such as economic development, land acquisition for schools, maintenance for existing infrastructure, housing grants and loans, and police staffing and fire training”).

That proposal by two Arlington County Board members — Republican John Vihstadt and his close ally, Democrat Libby Garvey — was (rightfully) met with exasperation, incredulity, scorn and even anger (listen as Mary Hynes gets angrier and angrier as she speaks) by the other three Board members (Jay Fisette, Walter Tejada and Mary Hynes, the latter two of whom are leaving the Board in January 2016). Here are a few excerpts; enjoy! 🙂


Jay Fisette: 

We don’t use these things for operating, so when you [John Vihstadt] say we can use this to reduce the property tax next year, that’s a bit of a slippery slope, because these are one-time expenditures, not going into operating cost, which is the bulk of your budget and your tax rate year to year….You [John Vihstadt] didn’t mention that it was 5 o’clock today that we got your motion…What we have in front of us IS a rational process that is meant to reflect the values of this Board.

Walter Tejada:

I’m just sitting here a little incredulous about this proposal that Mr. Vihstadt and Ms. Garvey have put forward here. And let me just say that, sure, there will three of these Board members and two new [board members] coming up on January 1, 2016, but right now you have to deal with us… 

To put it mildly, I would just say that this proposal seems to me to be unreasonable and unneeded…Just to use an example, the comment about affordable housing…we just went through a major conversation to adopt an affordable housing master plan, in which all five County Board members voted for it, notwithstanding that there were people out there who really generally opposed and that Ms. Garvey and Mr. Vihstadt in particular worked closely with. And perhaps there’s a little bit of buyer’s remorse… 

The attempt that we see here from Mr. Vihstadt, sitting to my right, and Ms. Garvey, who is going to face the voters next year, is to really gut affordable housing notwithstanding some nice pronunciations of how they support [it]…This is a placeholder for budget direction; a full process will…continue….So, to make this kind of attempt now, this is really disingenuous…We’ve been discussing this for a long time, we’ve had work sessions with staff, we’ve worked hard to get to where we are now. I frankly find it really…Well, I’ll stop there, Madam Chair, I’m going to support it…I could go on about how incredibly absurd this proposal is.

Mary Hynes:

We have spent hours and hours and hours this year talking about economic development and the need to reposition this community so that we can attract new and different tenants. And the $500,000 that’s a placeholder in ’17 is meant to be some of those incentives which will allow us to smoothly transition between ’16 and ’17 and keep doing that work and not have a question about whether there will be any of that incentive money there. 

The $500,000 that Mr. Vihstadt proposes be reallocated from public safety staffing is again a conversation that has been going on for really the last five years, particularly about the number of times that we’ve had to lock down the jail because we don’t have enough deputies available to keep it open and run it the way we want to… 

The $8.2 million in [the Affordable Housing Investment Fund] has been the same number since 2012…We just passed a plan that says we want to do this in more places than we’ve ever done it before in some different ways. And we can’t achieve that goal if what we do is  not dedicate some money in advance so that our staff knows, our partners know…that we’re going to have money to talk about and do deals with. 

The money for land acquisition, my goodness! Have we not heard about land acquisition since the January meeting? Almost every meeting here…And we’re saying, well, we’re not going to put any money into ’17 to help meet this need that we’ve been hearing about all year long.

And finally, my personal favorite, capital maintenance, which I have worked on tirelessly for 20 years, which took me five years on this board to get an increase and a plan not only to increase the amount of money but to catch up on the deferred maintenance that we had. This $1.7 million is the downpayment on catching up. It is what allows us to do more playgrounds and fix more facilities…And goldarned, if staff doesn’t know that money’s there, they don’t have the planning in place to spend the money.   

So if we are going to invest in this community and we are going to move forward on these things which the community has told us, I swear to god, every month this year and almost every month last year, then goodness gracious! There’s nothing random about this. It’s all supported by plan. It’s all based on things our community has told us over and over and over in the budget matter. And doing this smooths out our ability to deliver these services to people who care.  [APPLAUSE]

The Vihstadt/Garvey then (thankfully) failed by a 3-2 vote, while the Hynes motion to approve the County Manager’s recommendation (thankfully) passed 4-1 with only Garvey voting in opposition. Amazing. I’ll tell you, 2016 is going to be fascinating in Arlington County politics, starting with two new members (Katie Cristol and Christian Dorsey) joining the Board, followed by a likely primary of Libby Garvey by Nancy Iacomini (UPDATE: Just heard Nancy Iacomini has decided NOT to run, after gearing up TO run…). Stay tuned…