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Taxpayer Money Just Sloshing Around at the Courthouse?

On Thursday morning, the local news website ARLnow.com published a letter to the editor by a local activist and Bluemont resident. The letter was sent to the local news site and to members of the Arlingotn County Board since the writer was unable to attend Thursday evening's tax hearing.

The letter writer, Suzanne Smith Sundburg, lays out a case of why the Arlington County Board's generally expected two-cent increase in the real estate property tax rate makes little sense. According to Sundburg:

"Given the large amount of cash on hand, as outlined below, it would seem highly likely that the manager could (with Board concurrence) cover all new proposed spending by reallocating a small portion of these funds to cover limited-duration and nonrecurring expenditures in the general fund budget rather than raising the tax rate for FY2018.

"Using cash already on hand, the manager’s proposed budget could be funded without any spending cuts or a tax-rate increase. I therefore urge the Board not to increase the tax rate and to ask the manager to identify expenditures that are appropriate for alternative cash funding and to trim any unnecessary spending, using public money efficiently and effectively to minimize the need for future tax increases (or spending cuts). Below the list of several sources of cash on hand, I have identified a few cost savings and efficiencies as well."

The remainder of the letter is devoted to the amount of cash, which the County and Schools have on hand as well as several proposals for cost savings and efficiencies. She documents her assertions with references to the county's Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) -- which includes the county's audited financial statements -- and other county fiscal documents. For example, she notes the county has a fund balance of just over $191 million, the Schools have a $77.7 cash reserve, and there's $157 million in the Transportation Capital Fund. She also questions several of the Manager's proposed staff additions.

She also points out that in FY 2004, the pension contribution of general county employees was reduced from 5% to 4%, noting that returning the contribution back to 5% could reduce the employer/county contribution by as much as $2 million. She points to the National Association of State Retirement Administrators (NASRA), which reports the median employee contribution is 5%, and it has been climbing in recent years.

When the County Board adopted the FY 2017 budget last April, they charged the Manager to analyze the County's cash reserves (Item #22 of the Board's guidance and notes). The analysis was originally due October 1, 2016, but has been continually delayed. Next week, on Tuesday, April 11, the County Board's budget work session will include a discussion of financial policies and reserves. Budget work sessions are open to the public, and broadcast on Comcast channel 74 and Verizon FIOS channel 39. Given how much taxpayer money appears to be sloshing around the county's financial system, this may be the most important budget work session in years.

If you didn't get a chance to speak at this past week's budget and tax hearings, it is not too late for Growls readers to comment on the FY 2018 budget. Arlington residents have three choices:

  • Second, you can contact the Arlington County Board with any relevant comments or questions about the County Manager's proposed FY 2018 budget. Just click-on the following link to send the Board a message:
- Write or call the Arlington County Board via e-mail, or
  • Third, call the County Board office at (703) 228-3130.

And tell them ACTA sent you. And kudos to Ms. Suzanne Smith Sundburg for her letter to the editor.

In the interest of complete disclosure, Ms. Sundburg and I both serve on the Arlington County Civic Federation's Revenues & Expenditures Committee.

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