County Budget Healthy Despite Housing Downturn

County Budget Healthy Despite Housing Downturn

The County Manager is optimistic about the upcoming budget even though home assessments are down.

Arlington County should have a $873.6 million budget for fiscal 2008, up 5 percent over last year, according to a proposal by County Manager Ron Carlee. This projected growth comes at a time when real estate assessments for single-family homes in Arlington are decreasing for the first time in more than a decade.

Carlee said that the Arlington budget can continue to grow while maintaining a real estate tax rate of 82 cents per $100 of assessed value because Arlington is a well-planned combination of urban and suburban areas. "The reason we are in such good shape is because of the balance we have between residential, commercial and retail," he said. "When one goes up and another goes down we can stay stable."

The County Board will consider Carlee’s budget, which does not include school funding, at their March 27 and 29 meetings and then vote on it in April.

The budget allowed the county to fully fund most of its vital areas without any tax increases or cuts to programs. But Carlee also suggested to the Board a few other programs they may adopt if they are willing to create new revenue sources.

One of them was an expansion of the Board’s environmental initiative. Carlee proposed instituting a residential utility tax to raise $1.5 million, which would be spent on making the county more environmentally friendly.

He also proposed a $3 million overhaul of the county’s storm water system, which he says is severely damaged. Carlee says that this proposal was partly inspired by the flooding that occurred in the region last summer. "With global warming," he said, "What were 100-year floods are now 10-year floods."

The Board would not pass judgment on Carlee’s proposals at this point but were glad to see that the budget looks robust.

"This is a good working document," Board Member Barbara Favola said. "I don’t know about the storm water proposal but it’s definitely a need. We’ve got to come up with a plan."

"I like the majority of what I heard," Board Chairman Paul Ferguson said. "[But I’m sure] there are a few things that we’ll change once we hear from the public."

He was unsure if the storm water proposal will pass as is but he echoed Favola and said that something must be done. "If there’s a failure [in the system]," he said, "The public will ask why we haven’t done anything."