On Monday, County Manager Ron Carlee released his proposed Capital Improvement Plan for fiscal 2005-2010, a $949.4 million plan to renovate and add to the county’s infrastructure. The CIP plan, issued every two years, would spend $249.2 million on projects this year.
County staff emphasized that those costs would keep the triple-AAA ratings that Arlington’s bonds have received in the last five years. But some local analysts point to rising county debt in this CIP that will begin to brush up against ceilings set by the County Board.
That plan includes $50 million to construct Phase 1 of the North Tract, a planned park, fitness and aquatics center in South Arlington; $6 million for WALKArlington, a program adding sidewalks and pedestrian crossings to commercial neighborhoods in the county; $52.5 million over the next six years to fund modernization of Metro system; and $232.6 million to renovate the county’s water pollution control plant.
The county CIP also includes an preliminary estimate of $281.7 million for Arlington Public Schools. The school system will begin its own CIP process at the end of this month.
Overall, $680.1 million, or 71.6 percent, of the CIP would be funded by bond referenda, pending approval by county voters. Of the $667.6 million of county projects in the CIP, $440.2 million, or 65.9 percent, would be funded by bond referenda.
Voters will see $209.8 million in schools and county bonds included on the ballot this November. Renovations of the water pollution control plant would be funded by a state loan, not by bond funds.
The main focus for the county this year will be the North Tract project, which accounts for almost a third of the $129.9 million in county bonds that would be on the November ballot.
<b>“THE MAJOR HEADLINE</b> is, we’re funding North Tract,” said Assistant County Manager Michelle Ferguson. County Board members approved plans for that project at their Feb. 21 meeting, and some plans still need final approval. The county will be issuing Requests for Proposal to architects and designers over the next month.
But much of the planning had already been done, so that there was a fairly accurate cost estimate, Ferguson said. “There was a strong interest in moving forward as quickly as possible,” she said. “This puts us on the right path to see real construction begin.”
The WALKArlington initiative, combined with the Neighborhood Conservation program, will add sidewalks around the county, in both residential and commercial neighborhoods, said Ferguson.
In addition, Metro funding in the CIP will allow the Metro board to plan for expansion of the system and for the purchase of new cars. “As their revenue needs increase, our commitment increases,” Ferguson said.
<b>DEBT INCURRED</b> by the new CIP will also increase, said Wayne Kubicki, a member of the county’s Fiscal Affairs Advisory Committee. “The board passed three guidlines for debt policy a couple years ago, and over six years, this plan puts us right up against two of them.
If the new CIP is adopted without changes, county payment on bond debt would rise from $63.2 million in proposed payments this year to $93.2 million in 2010, nearly 50 percent growth over five years.
Last year, the county paid $51.9 million in debt service, and the board approved $57.2 million in payments for this year. Taken together, those payments increase by 80 percent over seven years.
Projected debt payments also bump up against one debt ceiling set by the board by 2010. Board members approved debt payments of less than 10 percent of overall county expenditures.
Currently, the county is paying $57.2 million a year, or 7.8 percent of the $733 million overall expenditures. By 2010, the $93.2 million projected debt payments would represent 9.8 percent of the county’s $954.9 million in projected expenditures.
As debt and debt payments increase, they put an increasing burden on county taxpayers, and the county board also set a 6 percent ceiling on how much debt there is per capita in relation to the average income. For three years in the middle of the proposed CIP, per capita debt will also bump up against that cap.
During 2007, 2008 and 2009, the average taxpayer will be paying between $3,400 and $3,600 each toward county debt, projected as 5.99-5.9 percent of the average income.
One up side to this CIP, Kubicki said, is the amount of detail available. “There’s more useful stuff than there had been,” he said. “I assume everybody’s review of this will be a little bit more interesting.”