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Will Arlington County's Homeowner Grants Prove Eternal?

President Ronald Reagan, America’s 40th President, is famous for the following quote:

“No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we’ll ever see on this earth.”

Let’s first take at a bit of Arlington County budget history. In the County Manager’s message in the FY 2006 proposed budget, he told the County Board that because “Arlington is once again extremely fortunate to have a thriving economy that has resulted in high incomes, low unemployment, and increased values in all classes of property.” As a result of skyrocketing real estate assessments, the Manager told the Board, “Due to these increased property values, $33.6 million is recommended for tax relief,” which would create, among other measures:

“A new homeowners' grant program – equivalent to one-half cent -- to provide additional relief of approximately $500 to households earning $72,000 or less ($2.2 million).”

Well, now that the economy has gone south, you might think the Board would be ready to pull the plug on the homeowners’ grant program. But the Manager is only recommending reducing the program, writing in the welfare section (oops, the Human Services department) of the budget:

“The Homeowner Grant Program, which provides a grant to homeowners meeting income and asset requirements, will reduce grant awards from $600 to $300 for incomes up to $55,120, and from $300 to $200 for incomes up to $77,407.  In addition, there will be a reduction in the asset limit to $240,000 for all participants (the current limit is $340,000 depending on income level).

IMPACT:  Homeowners will receive less assistance to help with their real estate tax bills. In CY 2009 approximately 1,180 households received grants, with 52% receiving the higher grant amount.”

That would reduce tax support for the homeowner grants by $428,000, but why even continue awarding the grants when the economic reasons for initiating them no longer exist. Not to mention reducing staffing by as many as 4 FTE, which were hired in 2005 to process the paperwork submitted by grant applicants.

Will the Arlington County Board prove The Gipper wrong? Let’s hope so.

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