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Will the Arlington County Board Play Scrooge or Santa Claus?

Yesterday, we growled about the Arlington County Manager's release of a list of possible budget cuts, totaling $11.1 million, that the County Board could use to obviate the need to raise the real estate tax rate a complete 2-cents.

After posting the Growls, we saw comments made yesterday by Scott McCaffrey in his Editor's Notebook, a blog at the Arlington Sun Gazette. He recalled how a prior Arlington County Board faced budget crunches, writing:

"This may not be exactly how it went down, but it is how I remember it.

"A decade or more ago, when the Arlington County government was facing a bit of a fiscal crunch, the county-manager-du-jour issued an edict to his department heads: Find me ways to cut 5 percent from your budgets, just in case we need to.

"Some of the departments – libraries springs to mind – took the project seriously, and provided a list of reductions. Other departments were a little more cavalier; if memory serves, the police department essentially said, “Go ahead, elected officials, you can cut the SWAT team if you have to. But don’t blame us if you find yourself in a hostage situation and we cannot help you.”

"That may have been the last year those “goldenrod” reductions (so called because of the color of the paper the proposed cuts were put on) were ever considered.

"Yesterday, County Manager Mark Schwartz unveiled a proposal for $11 million (ish) of potential cuts, in order to alleviate the need for a 2-cent increase in the tax rate. And looking over the list, it’s clear that this is another effort – whether intentional or not – that ensures the positions and programs on the chopping block are not taken seriously by the County Board.

"Prediction: A majority of County Board members will wring their hands, furrow their brows and say, darn it, they just can’t find anything in the list of proposed cuts that isn’t absolutely essential.

"Meanwhile, programs where cuts indeed could be made will survive, and the tax rate will inevitably rise. (I’ve been to this rodeo before, as Joan Crawford might say.)

"Of course, this whole charade would have been unnecessary had County Board members over the summer simply cobbled away some of their surplus, rather than allocating it to a host of non-budgeted items. But it’s always more fun being Santa Claus than Scrooge, especially when someone else is providing the money for the presents."

Last Saturday, we growled about the need for the Arlington County Board to advertise a possible 2-cent real estate tax rate increase, agreeing with the opinion of ARLnow.com columnist Peter Rousselot, who opined the budget gap that requires the tax increase was entirely self-inflicted because the County Board failed to "carry over last fall's close-out surplus."

Moreover, Mr. McCaffrey's prediction that the Arlington County Board would wring their hands . . . but fail to find anything in the  Manager's list that isn't absolutely essential, and find it easier to play Santa Claus than Scrooge.

Consequently, Growls readers who are Arlington County taxpayers are encouraged to tell the Arlington County Board to do the right thing and adopt the Manager's entire list of cuts, and then cut some more. Just click-on the following link to send the Board a message:

  • Call the County Board office at (703) 228-3130.

And tell them ACTA sent you.


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