Understanding The Cost Of Arlington County Government
Last Friday, we growled about Arlington County’s budget situation, and noted the “budget gap” for FY 2010 would be some $40 million (since changed to $35 million). The Arlington Sun-Gazette suggested the County Manager “would propose both service cuts and an increase in real estate tax rates to cover the shortfall.”
In looking for “service cuts,” the Arlington County Board may want to start by asking the County Manager to explain why Arlington is among the “top spenders” in Northern Virginia in many categories. A beginning point should be the Comparative Report of Local Government Revenues & Expenditures for FY 2007, the Virginia Auditor of Public Accounts annual report that focuses on the cost of government in each of Virginia’s counties, cities, and towns. To enhance the comparability, the report includes per capita spending in such categories as general government, public safety health and welfare, public works, and parks, recreation, and culture. For example:
- General Government: Arlington spent $171.59 per capita with other counties ranging from $86.34 (Prince William) to $326.77 (Falls Church).
- Public Safety: Arlington spent $826.94, the highest; the others ranged from $423.75 (Loudoun) to $786.29 (Alexandria).
- Health and Welfare: Arlington spent $668.60 with the others ranging from $196.81 (Loudoun) to $685.00 (Alexandria).
- Public Works: Arlington spent $286.91 while the others ranging from $99.58 (Loudoun) to $386.74 (Falls Church).
- Parks, Recreation and Culture: Arlington spent $265.86; the others ranged from $102.91 (Prince William) to $306.61 (Falls Church).
In studying the explanations for those differences, the County Board should learn about uneconomical programs and inefficient operations, not to mention identifying areas where service cuts can be made most effectively.
Critics may argue that comparing Arlington to other Northern Virginia communities is akin to comparing apples and oranges. However, several years ago, the Alexandria City Council used the Comparative Report with the explicit purpose of looking for economies. The Arlington County Board and the Manager should undertake a similar effort. To paraphrase a former U.S. Senator, a million dollars here and a million dollars there, and soon you’re talking about significant dollars.