The County Board unanimously elected Christian Dorsey on Wednesday, Jan. 2, as its 2019 chair. Libby Garvey was named vice chair.
Dorsey, elected to the board in 2015, served as vice chair in 2018. He represents Northern Virginia as a principal director on the board of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, and represents Arlington County on other regional bodies including the board of directors of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.
According to a county news release, after a look at the county’s near-term budget challenges, Dorsey called for a focus on equity in county policies, both to “repair the damage that inattention to equity has already produced,” and to ensure that going forward, county policies address disparities in health and wellness outcomes, educational achievement and “many indicators of one’s ability to lead a secure and fulfilling life.”
The county must collect and analyze data “so that broad successes don’t mask real challenges people face,” Dorsey said. County government must “recognize and report on who benefits from and who is burdened by the actions of government, including budgets; land use decisions; appropriations; legislation and civic engagement. “
Saying education and dialogue is needed to repair damage already done in the community, Dorsey promised to support “to the greatest possible extent,” Virginia Humanities’ Changing the Narrative program, supporting educational and dialogue opportunities “to understand historical and current inequities in our community.”
FISCAL YEAR 2020 BUDGET
Amazon’s decision to expand its headquarters into Arlington – with a planned $2.5 billion investment and creation of 25,000 jobs over the next decade — “is a significant catalyst toward our emerging from austerity budgets,” Dorsey said. But for Amazon “to serve as a springboard for more opportunities for all Arlingtonians,” he said, “we must expertly manage its growth.” Changes that Amazon brings to the built environment must “reflect the vision of our existing plans,” Dorsey said, and the county must “prevent the displacement of residents and businesses, or the diminishment of the quality of life for all who already call Arlington home.”
Amazon’s arrival will not immediately address the challenges posed by the ongoing high office vacancy rate that has weakened the County’s tax base, increased Metro funding needs and increased local funding obligations stemming from the state’s welcome decision to expand Medicaid coverage, Dorsey said. In FY 2020, he said, the county faces a combined County-Arlington Public Schools budget gap for Fiscal Year 2020 of as much as $70 million.
SERVICES COSTS EXCEED REVENUES
The county’s recent resident satisfaction survey produced high marks for county services, but today “we are in the unfortunate position of having (costs of services) significantly exceed our revenues,” Dorsey said. “We need our partners at APS to find significant savings, and we will still be left with needing to either fundamentally reduce the services that Arlingtonians expect and value, or raise revenues through a property tax increase … just to deliver the same levels of service,” Dorsey said.
The county manager will present his proposed FY 2020 Budget to the County Board in February. The board will then launch a public review process, culminating in the board adopting the budget at its April 2019 meeting. The FY 2020 Fiscal Year begins on July 1, 2019.
Garvey was elected to the board in March 2012. Garvey previously has served a term as County Board chair. She serves on the Northern Virginia Regional Commission, Northern Virginia Transportation Commission, Metropolitan Region Council of Governments and other regional bodies.
Garvey said her priorities include getting through “some tough budget years” by focusing on efficiencies and priorities “in a way I don’t remember us doing.”
Board Member Katie Cristol called for revising the County’s zoning ordinance to “allow different, diverse and more affordable home types throughout the County, not just in our commercial areas.”
Because the region has not grown its housing supply to match its economy in recent years, Cristol said, “we’re all feeling the consequences: an affordable housing crisis for our middle class; displacement of our working class and low-income residents.”
Noting that “2019 begins for Arlington with both awesome opportunity and daunting challenges,” as it readies for Amazon’s arrival and tackles a difficult budget for FY 2020, Board Member Erik Gutshall said that whether the year will realize the county’s “wildest dreams,” or “our worst fears,” will depend on “the choices we make, and the leadership this board provides this coming year.”
Gutshall cited the need for a multi-year visioning and planning effort to develop a long-range comprehensive schools and community facilities plan, modernizing the county’s zoning “to allow market-driven housing forms for the middle class,” and updating the Community Energy Plan as his priorities in 2019.
Board Member Matt de Ferranti, the newest member of the board, said he will apply four standards to his consideration of an agreement with Amazon: that it provide a significant net benefit to the whole community; that an agreement furthers the county’s goals with respect to housing, transportation and schools; that small businesses are fairly considered as the county implements the agreement; and that the county conduct a full, fair, and transparent process for considering an agreement.
de Ferranti also identified his priorities for 2019, which include bringing down the 19 percent office vacancy rate; providing the funding to build the schools to educate every child well; addressing housing affordability via creativity and relentlessness on affordable homeownership and rental units; putting the county back in a regional leadership role on climate change, renewable energy and our environment, and working to end child hunger in Arlington.