Arlington eyes tax hikes amid more county spending


POTEMKIN VILLAGE? Impressive on the outside, Rosslyn’s skyline is hollowing out. Office vacancy rates there have increased from 20 percent to 28 percent in the past year.

By Kenric Ward | Virginia Bureau

ARLINGTON, Va. — A proposed $4.9 million county pay hike and the highest per-pupil spending in Northern Virginia add up to still more taxes for Arlington residents.

“Based on current economic projections, including both commercial and residential property tax assessment trends, it is likely that taxes would have to be raised just to maintain a ‘current services’ budget,” County Board member John Vihstadt told Watchdog.

Soaring office vacancies in Rosslyn and Crystal City have sharply reduced property-tax revenues. Fiscal analysts say that puts more pressure on residential property owners.

Tim Wise, president of the Arlington Taxpayers Association, estimates the county’s average residential real estate tax bill could increase as much as $440 per year.

Adding to the taxpayers’ burden:

  • Per-pupil spending by the Arlington School District is running more than $2,000 ahead of any Northern Virginia county, at $19,040 per student.
  • The county is set to raise employee pay by $4.9 million in the coming fiscal year.
  • Transportation planners continue to push multimillion-dollar streetcar projects that would be funded primarily though local bonds.
  • Arlington built a $1 million bus stop on Columbia Pike, and has several more on the drawing board for a half-million apiece.

Vihstadt, an independent elected on an anti-streetcar platform, sees “difficult decisions and tradeoffs” ahead.

The Democrat-dominated County Board is scheduled to meet Tuesday to discuss the county’s financial situation.

Whatever the board decides, Arlington schools remain a key cost driver.

“If one listens carefully to the education press or the teachers’ unions, one is encouraged to think that more spending ‘for the children’ increases student performance,” Wise noted.

But the Washington Area Boards of Education found that while Arlington spends $5,521 more per-capita than neighboring Fairfax County schools, test outcomes are virtually identical. The average SAT score in Arlington is 1653 while Fairfax posted a 1668.

Kenric Ward is a national reporter for and bureau of its Virginia Bureau. Contact him at (571) 319-9824. @Kenricward