First, I want to thank Libby Garvey for her responsive and even-handed leadership as chair over the last 12 months. Libby, thank you for setting a new standard for collaboration—not just among the five of us, but between the County Board, the School Board, and with leaders of neighboring jurisdictions, as well.
Second, I was so encouraged in 2016 to be joined by my energetic new colleagues, Christian Dorsey and Katie Cristol, who, I have to say, oftentimes rivaled me in asking tough questions and insisting on direct answers—whether from staff or those doing business before the Board.
Now, I’d like to highlight my top priorities for 2017, while briefly looking through the rear-view mirror of the last 12 months.
- Fostering Transparency and Accountability
Our new independent County Auditor shows great promise, with the prospect of significant savings and efficiencies realized through reforms to our ambulance fee billing system and more. The financial Waste, Fraud and Abuse hotline, once reserved for County employees only, is now available to the public, as I urged from the outset. Every report is fully investigated in a confidential manner. Along with our overdue enhancement of internal audit controls and a fresh comprehensive risk assessment protocol, the County is poised to further ensure that Arlington taxpayers are getting their money’s worth.
This year, I intend to push for the often talked about but as yet ignored 48-hour rule, whereby all Board agenda items and reports are made available to the public and posted on our County website a minimum of 48 hours in advance of deliberation. Aside from extraordinary and special circumstances requiring a unanimous Board vote, we owe this to the public.
And, while I congratulate the Manager on our new Open Data Portal, I look forward to a searchable inventory of our literally hundreds of County consultants and contractors. Who the County does business with is everyone’s business—in real time!
- Controlling Taxes, Spending and the Budget
We live in an uncertain period, and must be mindful of the likelihood of tightening fiscal pressures from Washington and Richmond. As Governor McAuliffe has announced state spending reductions and cutbacks in the face of slower-than-expected economic growth, so, too, must Arlington be prepared to tighten its belt while ensuring that our schools, Metro, parks, public safety and our social safety net have the funds needed to honor our commitments to every single Arlingtonian. Now is not the time to spend upwards of 90 million dollars on a Disney-like gondola to Georgetown while current modes of public transit need significant new investment.
While unsuccessful this past budget cycle, and acknowledging that we’ve made some progress already, I will continue to push for budgetary reform that would allocate any annual budget surplus to:
- true emergency needs first,
- paying down our growing bonded indebtedness second,
- mitigating our rising tax and fee burden third,
- and fourth, moving the remainder into consideration for the next budget year — when all spending demands may be viewed in a more holistic, comprehensive fashion.
As recommended by our Community Facilities Study, I believe that we need project-specific economic impact analyses for private developments. And we have to examine and remove legal impediments to expanding the conversation about what constitutes allowable “community benefits” in the context of new construction.
- Nurturing Arlington’s Business Community
At my initiative, the County hosted a successful Small Business Summit in May. Later, the County commissioned a survey of both large and small business leaders and workers. A top finding: “Business leader respondents feel bureaucratic challenges, taxes and fees and high property costs” are three of Arlington County’s greatest weaknesses as a business location. This is not good.
To refine our ongoing strategies that support and enhance Arlington as a business-friendly location and address these concerns, we will expand our conversation in the New Year by probing the results of our Small Business Summit and Business Survey, and follow up by hosting business roundtable discussions to elicit recommendations for change. In 2017, we also look forward to working even more closely with Arlington’s BizLaunch program to continue to assist in the successful development of our entrepreneurs and small businesses, whether on Lee Highway, Columbia Pike or home-based.
- Improving Neighborhood Quality of Life
Finally, I look forward to working with our dozens of civic associations and neighborhood groups, from Bellevue Forest to Barcroft and from Madison Manor to Nauck, on everything from streetlight repairs to road work, to Pike transit enhancements, combating blighted properties and maintaining our parks. We must work with VDOT and other bodies to mitigate the neighborhood impact of toll lanes on I-66 and I-395.
Our planning processes must balance County-wide perspective and immediate neighborhood interests—whether for the ongoing Four Mile Run Valley and Lee Highway corridor initiatives, the future of the Buck property or the land swap options with Virginia Hospital Center.
These are the basic, everyday measures of local government responsiveness, and we can do better—in terms of community engagement, customer service, and project execution.
Thank you. I’m ready for an exciting and productive 12 months!