With funding for parks, fire stations, buses and sidewalks, there are plenty of discussion starters in the county’s proposed $665.3 million Capital Improvement Plan.
This year’s CIP incorporates a range of changes in the way the county plans for capital projects, centralizing management of some projects, like neighborhood conservation efforts around Arlington, while spinning off others into more independent entities, like plans for increased transit service in the county.
The plan puts $76.3 million worth of county projects on the November bond referendum. They join $85.3 million of school projects proposed last week by school Superintendent Robert Smith, for an overall bond of $161,550,000 facing Arlington voters on Nov. 5.
That increases, with the schools and the county seeking a total of $403,013,000 in bond money over the course of the next six years.
Tim Wise, chair of the Arlington County Taxpayers Alliance, predicted earlier this week that the county plan would have to skimp on county needs, given the size of the school CIP.
Not so, said County Manager Ron Carlee. County government and county schools worked closely, planning for their CIPs. "We looked at how to structure these plans so that the schools could meet their needs within their money," Carlee said at a press conference Monday. "I don’t want to make this a zero-sum game, so that giving money to one means taking money from the other."
This year’s bond could fund increases in Arlington’s parks, County Manager Ron Carlee said, as well as updates to the fire department. Anti-tax activists found much not to like in the budget, which they said was padded after county staff realized tax revenues would be higher.
<b>BUT THERE’S MUCH</b> of the plan that doesn’t have anything to do with county facilities or county money, Carlee said in a press conference Monday.
Last year, he directed a team of county staffers to re-evaluate the county’s CIP process, to look for areas ripe for improvement. This year, he said, he incorporated their suggestions as he asked the County Board to approve $76.3 million worth of county projects for the November bond referendum.
"They found no major flaws. But there were a number of recommendations to take the process to the next level," Carlee said.
Chief amongst them was a move to centralize planning and tracking of CIP projects from across the county. That move came into focus earlier this year with the hiring of assistant county manager Michelle Mendoza.
In addition, he said, county government would begin to approach capital projects in two steps, across two bonds: one phase would be devoted to planning and design on a project, another to construction.
It would allow Arlingtonians earlier input into planning for county projects, Carlee said. "We will seek voter approval of a project for design, before we go to the voters two years later to seek construction money," he said.
But it also gives the county breathing room on implementing new projects in the event of a financial crisis. It’s a system already in place in Arlington Public Schools, and Carlee acknowledged the county’s debt. "Essentially, we stole the idea directly form the schools," he said.
<b>SPENDING ON PARKS</b> accounts for nearly one-tenth of the CIP, and one-quarter of the county money on this year’s bond.
Of the $20 million from the bond, the largest part, $8.5 million, would be dedicated to finding and buying more parkland and open space around the county.
The county would also spend $5.7 million on construction of the first phase of renovations at Barcroft Park, putting in four new baseball fields, as well as a three-story parking garage for use by park goers and local residents. Construction at the park would be completed with money from the November, 2004 bond referendum.
The CIP also allocates $1 million for continued planning and design work on the North Tract. The 28-acre site is now available to county development, with the approval of the first project on the Potomac Yard development.
North Tract property came to the county for to develop for recreation, in exchange for denser residential development on the South Tract, now the site of Crescent Resources’ development.
Final design work on the North Tract means the county would be able to fund construction on the site with the 2004 bond.
Park projects on this year’s bond would also fund $900,000 of playground improvements at parks around Arlington, including Langston-Brown and Reed Community Centers, Nauck Park, Penrose Park and Parkhurst Park.
The bond would also use $870,000 to pay for synthetic grass at one county stadium, along with additional lighting, as synthetic grass would mean extra night and rain time available on athletic fields.
<b>AGING PUBLIC SAFETY</b> infrastructure comes into focus in the CIP proposal. This year, Carlee proposed $5.6 million to begin replacement work on four county fire stations.
fire station Five, in Crystal City, and station 10, in Rosslyn, would be replaced or relocated if the bond passes, while the county would begin to consider renovations or relocations for stations Four, in Clarendon, Seven, in Fairlington, or Eight, near Yorktown High School.
Funds for Station Five, now at 1750 S. Hayes St., include money for decontamination and a Hazmat team. The station is normally the first responder for the Pentagon, Carlee said, and would expand to meet the needs inherent in that role.
Station 10, meanwhile, now located at 1559 Wilson Blvd., could see its role expand to serve more of Arlington. "Hopefully, we would bring it closer to Courthouse, and expand it’s coverage," Carlee said. "It would still be a straight shot downhill to Rosslyn."
Still, he said, the county is not in active negotiations for a site – in fact, no site has been firmly determined for a relocated Station 10.
<b>PEDESTRIAN AND TRANSPORTATION</b> improvements around the county would get some $10 million in bond money next year, under the proposed CIP.
A third of that, $3.5 million, would fund transit improvements in Arlington, including money to acquire land for a future Arlington Transit bus garage.
"We’ll need and Arlington bus yard if we increase ART service" as projected, Carlee said. Current projections call for 40 ART buses to serve county transit routes, as the local program expands.
Overall, the county would spend $40.2 million over the next six years on transit. Much of that money would increase access to area Metro stations, and would also fund bits and pieces of increased rapid transit service around South Arlington.
Arlington would continue to make yearly $12.5 million payments to the Metro authority, coming from bond moneys. But planned overhauls of Metro service will require more money than Arlington can muster through bonds, Carlee said.
"There are going to be new revenue sources" if updates and overhauls cost as much as they are projected to, he said.
<b>SPENDING ON NEIGHBORHOOD</b> and community conservation, and the county’s wastewater facility, round out this year’s CIP proposal.
The county’s neighborhood conservation program is one of its most successful, Carlee said, and he would harness it to run more conservation programs around the county.
At present, streetlight improvements come to the county through the Department of Public Works, improvements to commercial strips from the Department of Economic Development – local project recommendations come from scattershot agencies. "They came through the pipeline of bureaucracy before," Carlee said.
Next year, decision making will be centralized with the neighborhood conservation committee. This citizen advisory group will set conservation priorities countywide, Carlee said. "This provides a way to get the biggest bang for our buck," he said.
The committee will have $14.1 million of bond money to allocate, spread across three areas – neighborhood redevelopment, which repairs local sidewalks, gutters, streetlights and small-scale park and street projects; commercial revitalization, like programs in Ballston, Clarendon and currently underway along Columbia Pike; and local traffic calming projects.
The wastewater treatment plant gets $12.3 million of this year’s bond funding under Carlee’s proposed CIP. The money would fund the design stage of new construction at the plant. Construction would make it more environmentally friendly and decrease the number of wastewater spills at the plant.
<b>THAT PLANT ARTIFICIALLY</b< lowered costs for the CIP, Wayne Kubicki said.
Kubicki, a member of the county’s Fiscal Affairs Advisory Commission, said Monday that he had not had a chance to look at Carlee’s proposed CIP in depth. But one thing stuck out right away.
"This proposal is 26 percent higher than they projected it would cost two years ago," he said, "and the water treatment plant [removed from the plan] is actually another $11.7 million, so the jump would have been 35 percent, and it’s still coming down the pipe."
Carlee said some of the increases come from higher construction costs now than in 2000. The same factors could increase costs in 2004, he said. "Amazingly, we have not seen a downturn in construction economy in the Washington area," he said. "There is a concern for future projects," that may get too expensive while still in the planning stage, he said.
But Kubicki saw another force at work. "It seems like what’s happening is, the real estate assessments went up, and the county decided to borrow against them," he said.