Proposed Arlington Tax Hike Draws Cheers, Jeers
Less than a dozen spoke at Thursday's meeting.
A small but passionate crowd of Arlington County residents spoke on a potential real estate tax increase at a public hearing Thursday night – five for the increase; six, against.
The county board has been presented a $1.03 billion proposed budget for the spending cycle that begins July 1. It includes a half-cent tax increase, which would cost the average homeowner an extra $118 annually.
The board, though, has given itself the latitude to increase the real estate tax rate by 2 cents per $100 assessed value – or, adding $196 to the average Arlington homeowner’s tax burden.
All of those who spoke in favor of the tax increase, many for the maximum amount, said the money was needed to better fund affordable housing and other social programs.
Nina Janopaul, chief executive of the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing, said that over the past 30 years, this county has seen a 70-percent decrease in its affordable rental stock.
“The market is changing dramatically in our community,” Janopaul said. “Over the past few years, the county has committed more to affordable housing. But more has to be done.”
Eric Wenberg, with the Alliance for Housing Solutions, said his group believes the 2-cent increase “is a compassionate and sound investment to keep families in their home.”
Regular board critic Jim Hurysz said he opposed the tax increase and showed a short video of a double-decker transit bus equipped with dual stairwells and extra-capacity bike rack as an alternative to the proposed Columbia Pike trolley.
Jared Hendler said he was “astounded” that only a few people showed up in a county of so many. He said he is barely able to afford to keep his home. He begged the board not to raise taxes. He said they should pay for schools and public safety and put large projects – like the trolley – on hold until the economy gets better.
Others argued against the so-called redistribution of wealth in the form of housing subsidies and asked the board to say no to “the parade of special interests” asking for money.
Stephen Chambers, a federal employee whose salary has been frozen, said the board should make the case to the public why it needs to raise taxes.
He called a short budget presentation that was given Thursday night “gymnastics with numbers.” He also complained about the fairness of the county’s real estate assessment process.
“It’s like you think we’re a bunch of ninnies out here,” he said. “Why isn’t the budget more needs-based? And why can’t we have some more transparency with what you’re trying to accomplish?”
Robert Atkins, a regular at county meetings, said raising taxes by 2 cents was a sign of "financial dysfunction."
The board should “get a digital rectal exam and cardiac stress test” before raising rates, and have the process repeated for every tenth of a cent increase, Atkins said. He borrowed the language from state Sen. Janet Howell, who proposed men undergo such tests before getting erectile dysfunction medication during this year's General Assembly debate on requiring women to receive ultrasounds before having an abortion.
“There is a point where too much is too much,” Atkins said. “We have reached it here in Arlington. We have gotten used to waste, fraud and abuse.”
Community services and affordable housing programs could be better funded by diverting tax dollars from projects like the Artisphere and a “designer fence” along Four Mile Run, he said.