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36 Hours in the Life of Arlington County's FY 2015 Budget

On Wednesday evening, April 16, we growled, positively of course, that Arlington County voters would see a dividend from the previous week's special election since the Arlington County Board decided during the afternoon budget work session to provide Arlington County taxpayers a measure of tax relief by cutting the real estate tax rate by 1-cent. Although we continue to think that a 3-cent cut was the appropriate reduction in the tax burden, the County Board at least listened to Arlington voters.

At the budget work session. the Board was supposed to make "final budget decisions" before adopting the FY 2015 budget and setting tax rates on April 22, 2014. Consequently, some may have been surprised to see the April 18, 2014 press release with a statement from the chairman of the Arlington County Board. The three bullets in the press release were:

  • Maintains one-cent real estate tax reduction
  • Funded largely by hiring slowdown and elimination of proposed positions
  • Reflects concern over higher employee expenses for health care

The press release contains this especially curious excerpt:

"Over the lst 36 hours, with the support of all County Board Members, I have worked with the County Manager to identify budget adjustments that will allow inclusion of merit step increases on Tuesday, April 22, when the FY 2015 Budget is adopted. We were able to do this -- while maintaining the one-cent reduction in the tax rate -- primarily through a hiring slowdown and the elimination of several new proposed positions.

"County Board members have a better understanding of employees' concerns about projected increases in employee expenses for health care, as well as frustration with the lack of notice that compensation charges were under consideration by the Board."

In explaining the Board's action, ARLnow.com reported on Friday:

"County Board Chair Jay Fisette told ARLnow.com Friday afternoon that, after the Board met with representatives from the police and firefighter unions this morning, it decided to cut from other areas to make up the $6.6 million gap in the budget the tax cut will create.

"The Arlington County Police Union, the Arlington Police Beneficiary Association and the Arlington Professional Firefighters and Paramedics Association (Local 2800) each released statements denouncing the Board’s decision to go against County Manager Barbara Donnellan’s recommendation to keep the property tax rate at 2014′s level of $1.006 per $100 in assessed value — and to pay for it by eliminating pay raises in favor of a “modest” 1 percent Cost of Living Adjustment and a one-time $500 employee bonus.

"The decision was made in the days leading up to Wednesday’s budget mark-up, leading the police and firefighters to question the process and transparency of the Board’s budget process."

The Washington Post's Rachel Weiner also reported on Friday on the County Board's compensation change under the headline, "Arlington proposal to halt merit pay for county employees is quickly dropped amid outrage." The lede in her reporting was:

"A proposal by the Arlington County Board to end merit pay increases for county employees was withdrawn on Friday in the face of anger from labor unions and police, firefighters and other workers.

"The raises, usually about 3.5 percent for employees who have met performance standards and have not reached hit their position’s maximum salary level, were included in the budget proposed by County Manager Barbara Donnellan in February."

"But the board announced Wednesday that, as part of a plan to cut real estate taxes, merit pay steps would be replaced with a 1 percent annual cost-of-living increase and a one-time $500 bonus for county employees. Board members trimmed the real estate tax rate from $1.006 per $100 of assessed value to $0.996 per $100, to limit the growth of tax bills in the face of a 5.3 percent jump in home values, assistant county manager Diana Sun said.

"Merit pay increases cost the county $5.5 million last year, Sun said."

Readers may want to refer to the linked reporting of the Washington Post and ARLnow.com for their full reporting.


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