The good note: more transparency please
The Right Note is a bi-weekly opinion column. The opinions expressed are solely those of the author.
The county council is due to vote on the budget and tax rates later today. Unfortunately, budget documents have not been posted on the county’s website at the time of writing. At best, the public will only have a few hours to consider the final FY2022 budget before it is passed.
If you don’t believe mistakes can happen when passing a budget, an accidental pay rise for county council members was published in documents passed last year. County staff rushed to say he wasn’t supposed to be there and the pay rise was not funded from the budget itself.
Still, it’s time for the county council to adopt a 24-hour rule for voting on any issue. If the final draft budget is not published 24 hours before the vote, it cannot be adopted. Nothing would stop an open amendment process in which board members amended articles if last minute adjustments were needed. A 72 hour rule would be better, but the way they go about it now only really leaves open the possibility of criticizing the end product after it’s passed.
On Saturday, the County Board approved $ 2 million in neighborhood conservation projects that will be funded by debt. This program was created in 1964 to give neighborhoods the opportunity to recommend improvement projects to their elected officials. Sidewalks, curbs, lampposts, signs and other beautification ideas can seep from an impromptu cafe on the porch to completion.
Anyone who has gone through the process can tell you that the handful of projects that are ultimately funded often take years to cross the finish line. Judging by the dates on the recorded plans, many neighborhoods have given up on it altogether.
Contrast that recent Arlington County Council decisions to award County Director Mark Schwartz $ 2 million annually as part of the fence process to be spent without County Council permission.
That’s right: the manager has an annual slush fund that equates to projects that go through a comprehensive review process for the benefit of neighborhoods.
While some of us may prefer that 100% of closing funds go to property tax burden reduction, the County Board has largely ignored this plea for years. So, for the 2021 close, maybe neighborhoods should ask the board to take the county manager’s $ 2 million slush fund and apply it to the next round of neighborhood conservation projects.
Mark Kelly is a longtime Arlington resident, former Chairman of the Arlington GOP and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Council.