Bonds on the Ballot

Bonds on the Ballot

Arlington puts $200 million in bonds to a public vote.

This year, Arlington is putting the fate of $219 million in the hands of its citizens. On the Nov. 4 ballot, residents will have a chance to vote on four major bonds. The proposed bonds would fund expenses and projects for Metro & Transportation, Parks & Recreation, Community Infrastructure and Arlington’s Public Schools.

The Metro and Transportation bond for $60.2 million funds the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMTA) and various transportation projects. The largest part of this bond goes to fund WMTA/Metro’s capital improvement plan.

“The biggest portion of the bond is $39 million for the funding the metro,” said Jason Friess, financial analyst at the Department of Management & Finance. “Arlington funds Washington metro transit, which is then worked out among Fairfax, Alexandria, Falls Church and others.”

The percent of Metro costs Arlington pays each year is based on a formula that distributes the cost of the Metro based on ridership. This is paid with a combination of general obligation bonds and revenue from public transit. In 2012, the county passed a $31.95 million bond for Metro and Transportation.

“This is a little larger than typical,” said Friess of the $28.3 million increase over the 2012 Metro and Transportation bonds. Friess said much of that is going to replace the 1000-series Metro car, responsible for the 2009 rail line accident that resulted in nine deaths. “Approximately $20 million … is currently projected to be for the 7000 series railcars.”

The Parks and Recreation bond for $13 million funds capital projects for local parks and land acquisition; $2 million is expected to be allocated for park acquisitions. The bond also funds maintenance of playgrounds, courts, and parks throughout Arlington. The 2014 bond is smaller than 2012’s $50.5 million bond, which included funding for the Long Bridge Park Aquatics, Health and Fitness Facility.

The Community Infrastructure bond for $39.9 million funds projects for county facilities, information technology and infrastructure. The Community Infrastructure bond funds various general street improvements, like drainage, paving roads and street lighting. The 2014 Community Infrastructure bond is costlier than the 2012 bond for $28.3 million.

The most expensive is a $105.8 million bond for Arlington’s Public Schools and related projects. This increase over the $42.6 million bond in 2012 is mostly from the cost of a new elementary school. While the other bonds are allocated according to Arlington County’s Capital Improvement Plan (CIP), the Public School bond is divided according to the School Board’s CIP plan. Some Alexandria residents are unhappy with how the county has handled the bond issues, specifically the Public School bond.

“The bond question … gives very broad authority for ‘capital purposes,’” said John Reeder, chair of the Arlington Green Party. “There’s no specification on what they do with it and where. They [should] specify to the voters where they will spend the money, and for what purpose …. But they’re making it up as they go along.”

Reeder took issue with the School Board’s lack of clarity on where the investments will go. The School Board approved of a CIP in June for 2015 through 2024. Nearly half of the bond’s funding goes into a new elementary school at an undetermined location. The School Board’s main choice for the location would be the county-owned land adjacent to Thomas Jefferson Middle School. On Nov 18, the School Board will vote to finalize the location of the school.

“They want to build a school next to Thomas Jefferson Middle School on park land,” said Reeder. “Well, there goes the park.”

Audrey Clement, a candidate running for Arlington School Board, also opposes the School Bond.

“Half of [the bond] is for an elementary school with a location that has not been determined,” said Clement. “An uninformed vote is worse than no vote at all. In the past, the county has asked to approve bonds, but not to this magnitude … Do you think it’s intelligent to vote for a congressman without knowing who they are?”

According to the School Board’s Motion for the Adoption of the 2015-2024 CIP, the elementary school at the Jefferson site will cost a maximum of $50.3 million, funded entirely by the 2014 bond. The school would add an additional 725 elementary school seats to Arlington, which would help alleviate the projected 1,900 additional elementary school seats the county will need.

Reeder hopes Arlington will follow the example of Fairfax, which recently converted the office building at Bailey’s Crossroads into an elementary school.

“Look at the office buildings in Rosslyn and Crystal City, offices that are empty,” said Reeder. “There’s not a lot of open land, not inside the beltway. We don’t have a lot of green space, so people get upset when what little we have is taken away.”

Currently, Arlington is one of only 39 counties in the U.S. with a AAA rating from three major rating agencies. This allows Arlington to borrow bonds at a low interest rate. The bonds on the ballot have been selected to allow Arlington to maintain public infrastructure without losing that rating.