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Will Arlington Have Enough Money?

Report raises concerns about spending levels, tax relief and the future of property values.

Arlington's county government could face budget cuts in the coming fiscal year. Monday night, county manager Ron Carlee was preparing to present his close-out of the yearly budget, but in a recent memo to the board he said some spending may need to be reduced.

"Arlington is in a position to provide almost any service to its residents," he wrote. "But it cannot provide every service."

County departments could have to begin selecting where and how to make fiscal cuts, according to Carlee. He is expected to present his recommendations on the county's spending priorities at the board meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 16.

COUNTY SPENDING is currently growing at a rate of 7.4 percent each year, growth that some critics say is not sustainable because the rate of appreciation for Arlington's real estate values — now growing by 20 percent each year — are likely to decline slightly in the not-too-distant future.

"When the annual residential real estate assessment growth rates inevitably decline to levels similar to those seen in the early and mid-nineties, continuing and annual expenditure growth rate of 7.4 percent will plunge the county budget seriously into deficit," stated a Nov. 12 report from the county's Fiscal Affairs Advisory Commission. "That dynamic will be exacerbated further if the board follows through on its stated desire to provide substantial tax relief to residential property owners."

The report urges the county to undertake changes in its spending habits.

"The time to act on these challenges is now," it states. "The time to fix the roof is when the sun is shining."

The Fiscal Affairs Advisory Commission is one of about 50 such groups appointed by the County Board to increase community input and to help the board focus on community needs and problems.

THE SITUATION MAY not be in such dire straits, according to Barbara Donnellan, the county's director of finance and management.

"The expenditures are not going to cause a deficit because you can always make choices in spending as the real estate assessment growth rate flows and changes," Donnellan said

She added that if spending cuts are made, they would occur on a department by department basis.