It's been a busy April for the County Board, including a new budget and some major facilities planning updates. A few highlights:
FY17 Budget Passes
Last night, we adopted a final FY17 Budget, along with guidance to the County Manager about expenditures and priorities for the year ahead. I'm proud to say that this budget emphasizes public safety, including critically needed new staff in our police, fire and Sheriff's departments, schools (an additional $540k in ongoing dollars and $2.5m in one-time dollars above the revenue-sharing agreement with APS) and housing - including nearly $14m in the Affordable Housing Investment Fund to help Arlington's partners tackle the important but complicated projects ahead, like the expensive work of preserving the remaining affordable apartments in Westover.
To ensure a strong economy in the future, we also lowered the tax rate by a half penny to help balance the taxes associated with rising property values, and raised the minimum wage earned by County employees and contractors to a living wage of $14.50.
A big thanks owed to our staff and Commissions who facilitated the critical priority-setting decisions of creating this budget. Hundreds of citizen messages, dozens of Commission requests, fifteen public work sessions and two nights of public hearings: All have left me more convinced than ever that we live in one of the most engaged, thoughtful communities in the U.S. On to the capital budget!
Long Bridge Aquatic Center Returns
High construction bids and real concerns about capital and operating costs led the County to table plans for the Long Bridge Aquatic Center - a major capital project and phase of the 30 acre Long Bridge park - last year. What has remained is a growing need for aquatics facilities in the County (we have lots of swim classes with more Arlingtonians on the waiting list than subscribed, and community hours at our high school pools are a crowded experience). That's why it was so encouraging to hear in a work session last week from our Department of Parks and Recreation staff and the Long Bridge Park Advisory Committee about their hard work to bring down - and keep down - costs with a more modest facility.
Their efforts this past year included seeking community input in terms of trade-offs (including an "LBP Card Game" that allowed participants to "play" different amenities against one another within a budget); shaving $15m off the 2013 plans; and pursuing new construction delivery methods to reduce possible cost overruns. My take: Their discipline and the resulting new design represent a much better balance of facility needs with conscientious spending. As one constituent wrote to me, "I was a bit skeptical of the former design and associated construction and operating costs.... [but] If the design and costs in the new proposal are more realistic, I strongly support it."
Sexual Assault Awareness Month
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and Arlington advocates are leading the charge to ensure a safe and supportive community for survivors. Doorways for Women and Families hosted a "Start By Believing" campaign on April 6th: Search #startbybelieving on social media to see moving images of support for survivors from Arlington and across the nation. Next Thursday, April 28th, is the fourth annual Rally Against Rape / Take Back the Night in Gateway Park, beginning with a resource fair at 6 pm and speakers and stories at 7 pm. I hope to see you there.
Crystal City Makes National Headlines
And, ICYMI: The New York Times covered Crystal City's economic development renaissance this week, featuring the great work of our economic development team and Business Improvement District, as well as the large and small business interests who are making this neighborhood such a dynamic corner of the County. Read more about why, in the words of one Crystal City restaurateur, "Everyone’s clamoring to be here... It’s blown away our expectations" here.