Arlington County Board Mulls Funding Live-Where-You-Work Program

Program would offer one-time grants to county employees who buy a home in Arlington.

As Arlington officials head into the final stretch of preparing next year's budget, one item on the table is a program that encourages county employees to live where they work.

The Arlington County Board held its last follow-up work session with staff on Friday, and much of the focus was on employee compensation.

The county, for instance, pays eligible employees up to $130 per month as a transit subsidy. Other perks include $20 per month given to employees who bike to work, or $35 monthly to those who walk.

Next year's proposed $1 billion budget includes a pay increase for the county's approximately 3,500 employees. Many haven't had a raise in four years, and the step increase, as it is called, also benefits those who are at the top of their position's pay range, board Chairwoman Mary Hynes said.

The county, too, could once again fund a live-where-you-work program. Putting $114,000 into that program would allow the county to offer one-time grants to its employees who decide to buy a house in Arlington.

That funding level should be sufficient for about 40 employees, said Jeanne Wardlaw, the county's Compensation Division chief. Grants are capped at 1 percent of the average home price in Arlington, she said.

About 25 percent of Arlington employees live in the county. Board member Chris Zimmerman pointed out that a much higher percentage of local government employees — law enforcement and non-law enforcement — live where they work in the city of Alexandria and Fairfax County.

"It's a relatively small amount of money, but it's a permanent commitment," Zimmerman said. "I wasn't crazy about the fact that it was defunded before."

The program has been funded in the past at about the level that was talked about Friday. It was cut in 2009, as the Great Recession forced the county to cut back on everything from library hours to employee compensation.

No county department now requires its employees to live in Arlington. Hynes estimated about half of the county's executive leadership, including County Manager Barbara Donnellan, live outside of Arlington.

Hynes declined to speculate on whether the $114,000 — or any amount — for a live-where-you-work program would make it into the final budget.

Board members are processing the "last bits" of information, she said. They'll talk amongst themselves about what each would like to see funded, she said.

"It's like sausage making," she said. "Sometimes, it gets messy."

The board will make its final budget decisions at a work session at 3 p.m. Tuesday. Donnellan's includes a half-cent tax increase; the board has to raise taxes as much as 2 cents per $100 assessed value.

The maximum increase equals a $196 annual increase for owners of a $520,000 home, the average assessment in Arlington.

Formal budget adoption is slated for April 21.

Don April 14, 2012 at 12:29 AM
'Smart Growth' mega-development is 'off limits' where County Manager Barbara Donnellan lives in Clifton. But she has no problem making my Arlington neighborhood totally urban.
Jim April 15, 2012 at 09:48 AM
All these perks really appall me. As someone who lives in Arlington I have to pay the cost of doing so without any employee perks like subsidized commuting or subsidized housing. Not only do I not get these benefits but then I have to turn around and pay for these perks for government employees through my taxes. How is that fair?
Geof Gee April 16, 2012 at 01:34 AM
To be completely honest, I see no reason to fund such a plan. That is, we should pay employees a fair wage and expect everyone to behave in a professional manner. Whether the employee actually lives here or not is of no consequence. So ... ... I could not care less where Donnellan lives. I'd rather evaluate her on her performance only. ... Funding things like this would really irritate me and make it harder to evaluate an employees total compensation. Is the wage fair or not? While I have not looked at any data, simply based on anecdotes it appears that most county staff thinks that the compensation is fair.
julie April 16, 2012 at 01:35 PM
I'm appalled that so many County employees at the executive level, starting with Barbara Donnellan refuse to live in Arlington. These are the people who are working to totally urbanize our county while they enjoy a classic suburban lifestyle in upscale enclaves in Fairfax County.
Paul April 16, 2012 at 09:11 PM
As a former County employee and current Arlington homeowner, I would like to disagree with the above comments (it's your right, but I disagree). The average County employee, compared to their regional counterparts, are paid in the bottom half in terms of salary (bourn out by salary surveys) and most cannot afford to live in the jurisdiction for which they serve, so don't worry about the full $114,000 being used. Wouldn't you want a policeman, fireman, or other important service employee living nearby, especially responding to an emergency? Also, the proposed $114,000 only 0.0001% of total budget. Think about it. Another point, the market dictates that we become more urban in which Arlington County has done a masterful job in making it "smart growth." In terms of travel subsidies, wouldn't you want to encourage more people to take public transportation, bike, or walk to work? There are way too many SOVs out there spewing toxic fumes into the air we breathe and creating traffic congestion, which in turn has a negative impact on our economy. Again, a thoughtful program that uses very little money. Arlington County still has one of the lowest tax rates in the region, while having healthy property values compared to other jurisdictions. I agree that the County Manager should live in the County for she serves, but it was a contractual waiver the Board agreed on for righting a wrong in hiring the former County Manager that was way over his head. We are lucky to have her!


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