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Lower Taxes and Smarter Spending

After more than a year and a half of financial troubles brought on by the COVID pandemic and government’s often clumsy responses to it, Arlington’s homeowners and businesses desperately need financial relief. The simple “rate freeze” from earlier this year isn’t enough – homeowners still face rising taxes due to average residential property assessment increases of 5.6% across the county.

In order to truly help homeowners and businesses, the County must freeze real estate property taxes by adjusting the rates downward to counteract rising assessments and expanding tax exemptions for the elderly, spouses of veterans, and disabled homeowners.

The County Board should work to eliminate the Tangible Property Tax on businesses, which forces them to pay a sizable tax ($5 per $100 of value) on furniture, computers, and other equipment they’ve already purchased. This tax is not only burdensome, but also unfair since it is charged continuously every year.

With tax freezes comes spending restraints. This is always the hard part, but it is critical that Arlington better prioritize its budget and implement better ways to provide core services. There are a few ways to accomplish this.

  1. Prioritizing spending on essentials over luxury amenities. Delay the Rosslyn boathouse, sell off the Aquatics Center, and ask Amazon to reject the remainder of the $23m deal for HQ2. These funds should instead be spent on upgrading our stormwater management, emergency services, and other public safety measures.
  2. Better use of Public-Private Partnerships to upgrade infrastructure, expand services, and manage facilities. When done well they are a powerful tool for growth without having to take on debt or raise taxes on residents.
  3. More transparent and competitive contracting for government services, avoiding spending money on vendors and consultants that deliver poor service and making sure taxpayers get the best deals.

Prioritize Public Safety and COVID Recovery

Prioritizing public safety means actually investing in “Vision Zero” to design our streets to be safer for pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers – not just the shockingly low number of $5 million the County Board has allocated in its FY2022 budget. Encourage ride-hailing, car-sharing, cycling, and expand bus service as ways to improve safety per mile traveled for short trips.

The Arlington County Police Department is doing much better with community policing than other jurisdictions, especially our neighbors of Fairfax County and the District of Columbia. However just because we’re doing well doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do even better. Law Enforcement is spread too thin. Re-focus police to the issues that really matter – violent incidents and burglaries, and entirely away from non-violent issues of drug possession, homelessness, and minor property damage – which mental health professionals and insurance companies are better equipped to handle.

Continue police reforms to protect civil liberties and become national role models of true 21st century policing – showing other counties, cities, and towns across the country how to protect the public’s safety *and* their civil liberties.

Reduce risk to children as they travel to and from school by establishing schools closer to where people live in the denser parts of the county with creative use of vacant office space as schools. This can also fight the overcrowding that has been neglected by our county leaders.

Recovery also means getting our local small businesses back up and prospering. That can’t be done with high taxes and regulations. Freeze real estate property taxes for at least two years. Make Temporary Outdoor Seating Arrangements easier, cheaper, and maybe even permanent. Reduce or even eliminate the Tangible Property Taxes on businesses which force them to itemize, report, and pay a sizable tax on furniture, computers, and other equipment – every year long after they first purchased them.

And really step up the county’s efforts to get vaccines to every adult and child. The marketing around the county’s vaccination rate is rosy and effusive, but it’s still a far cry from where we need to be to end this pandemic. There needs to be greater effort within minority, immigrant, and poor communities to promote vaccination with education, mobile clinics, and better flexibility for people with unconventional schedules.

Missing Middle and Affordable Housing

Arlington’s current approach to housing affordability is unsustainable. It either relies on subsidies to corporations to run below-market rental housing (which in at least one case has forced residents into mold- and rat-infested conditions for years), or on quid-pro-quo’s to developers with permanent “density bonuses” in exchange for temporary below-market units that become full-rate after a few decades.

The solution is to reform our zoning and “by-right” regulations to allow for building far more “Missing Middle” housing along streets with frequent bus service – where additional people can be easily supported. We must also invest in low-income home ownership instead of subsidized rentals.

One innovative way we can increase low-income homeownership is by offering low-interest loans to establish Community Land Trusts, which are non-profit “co-ops” which own land upon which owners can then build houses and condos, lowering costs and keeping property from being re-developed out from under residents. We can remain budget neutral by revising our AHIF program to provide funds for CLT ownership instead of just subsidizing rentals.

The worst thing our community can do, however, is to try to close off access to more housing for future Arlingtonians. It’s a natural human desire to want to preserve what we already have – to resist change – but we’ve seen where restrictive housing policies lead: cities becoming playgrounds of the wealthy while suffering from huge rates of homelessness. “Missing Middle” development is needed for a strong middle class in Arlington. Without it we follow in the footsteps of San Francisco, Seattle, and Manhattan.

Government Accountability and Election Reform

In 2015, with the hard work of (then) County Board Member John Vihstadt, the County established a County Auditor office to serve as the eyes, ears, and voice of the county’s taxpayers. Since then, all of the County Board members have left it underfunded and barely staffed. It’s time to not only fully fund the County Auditor, but to also go above and beyond in empowering them to discover information and release public reports on any fraud, waste, and abuse within the local government.

Additionally, Arlington Public Schools and the School Board failed to plan and prepare for almost every step of recovery from the pandemic, being far behind neighboring jurisdictions in getting our children safely back into the classroom and relieving teachers of an exhausting workload – especially in preparing for summer school options.

Accountability also applies to our police and public school system. Although I’m happy the County Board approved a Community Oversight Board to look into police incidents, it did fall far short of being truly effective and independent.

However, true reform of our government’s operations lies at the beginning of an elected leader’s political career: our elections.

We must change the way we elect our local officials with Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) – a method of electing public officials that makes it easier for new voices to be heard and rewards broad coalition-building instead of relying on a small voter base. This has been an option for Arlington, but the one-party elected officials are naturally going to slow-walk and water-down any implementation of RCV.

The County Board should also commit to adopting as many recommendations as possible from the Civic Federation’s TiGER team as soon as they are released. That effort has been led by an excellent group of community leaders that have been working diligently for months, and it is good to trust them and their suggestions.

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