- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 14, 2011

WASHINGTON | The Arlington County Board on Saturday will consider a fiscal 2012 budget that increases overall spending by 5.1 percent but keeps the property tax rate unchanged.

Although board members had the option of raising the property tax by 1 percentage point, as advertised to the public, they decided to keep it steady after raising it by 8.3 cents last year to 95.8 cents per $100 of assessed value.

Deputy County Manager Mark Schwartz said the increase became unnecessary when the county collected higher-than-expected revenue from a 6.3 percent rise in property assessments. Officials had projected just a 1 percent growth in assessments last year, he said.

“They had gone down and this year pretty much made it back,” Mr. Schwartz said.


Officials say the average Arlington homeowner will pay $7 more in property taxes next year because of the rising real estate values.

Board members appropriated about $15 million more to schools, public safety, social services and libraries than what was initially recommended by County Manager Barbara Donnellan in February. Officials say revenue from car rental, recordation, meals, commercial utility and cigarette taxes came in higher than was expected when the recommendation was put together.

If no changes are made, the board will give final approval to a $1 billion budget that will include $385.6 million for the school district — $25.2 million, or roughly 7 percent, more than last year.

Arlington’s 21,000-student school system is growing rapidly. This year, 1,000 more students enrolled, while 700 new students were added to the rolls last year, Mr. Schwartz said. Officials expect to reach capacity within two years.

Spending per student has also experienced rapid growth, increasing by nearly 60 percent over the past 10 years. Over the past five years, the county has spent an average of $18,000 annually on each student.

“It’s either impressive, startling or scary,” Mr. Schwartz said. “It’s a sign of success, but it’s also a challenge.”

The spending plan also allows room for pay raises. About 80 county employees will be eligible for merit-based raises, while the other 20 percent who are at the top of their salary range may receive a 1 percent one-time bonus. Employees will continue to contribute 4 percent to the pension fund, which Mr. Schwartz said is funded at about 95 percent.

“We’re one of the healthiest pension funds around,” Mr. Schwartz said. “We feel like we’re still in really good shape.”

The budget contains a fee increase in the form of a 25-cent hike in hourly parking meter rates.

After two years of low-growth budgets, the $1 billion budget includes some spending restorations. They include:

*$13.8 million for housing, mental health, substance-abuse and other social-service programs.

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