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Arlington City Council approves 2012 budget
ARLINGTON — A split vote and harsh words marked the Arlington City Council’s adoption of a budget for 2012.
While the Council was unanimous in its approval of the proposed tax rate increases introduced by Arlington City Administrator Allen Johnson on Monday, Dec. 19, Council members Dick Butner, Marilyn Oertle and Steve Baker voted against the budget concessions obtained through collective bargaining negotiations with Arlington police officers and firefighters. The trio then voted against the adoption of the 2012 budget later that same meeting, turning the vote count into a 4-3 passage of the budget.
Johnson advocated for the 0.1 percent public safety sales tax on the grounds that the state has proposed to take $90 million in sales tax proceeds from the cities, which would further impact Arlington public safety programs that Johnson described as understaffed and saddled with significant equipment needs.
“With the sales tax, it’s not just Arlington taxpayers who are paying for it,” Johnson said. “A lot of our policing involves policing people from out of town. This way, everyone who spends money in this town will pay for it.”
While the public safety sales tax does not have a sunset clause, the utility tax increases are set to sunset in three years. Electrical would increase to 6 percent, while cable TV and garbage would increase to 8 percent each, from their previous rates of 5 percent each.
The public safety sales tax increase is expected to generate $70,000 in 2012 and $300,000 in 2013, and the utility tax increases are expected to generate $289,000 in 2012. When coupled with increased property tax rate revenues of $36,000 for 2012, this brings the total tax rate revenue increase to $356,000.
"As much as I hate raising taxes, I think we’ve done a good job in being responsible with that money,” Council member Chris Raezer said.
Baker differed with this assessment after the votes to approve the budget concessions from the International Association of Fire Fighters Local No. 3728 and the Arlington Police Officers Association, which saw local firefighters agree to a Kelly Day reduction of shifts from 15 to 11.5 in 2012, to fill a vacant position and keep them at full staffing without incurring mandatory overtime. Johnston estimated the savings at approximately $1,100 per shift for 91 shifts — or 26 bargaining unit members times 3.5 shifts — for a total savings of $100,000 in 2012.
Raezer and Johnson both thanked the leaders and members of the IAFF Local No. 3728 and the Arlington Police Officers Association for making these concessions in spite of ever-increasing demands on their services.
For Arlington police officers, this will mean cuts in holiday pay, vacation cash-outs and overtime pay, with the first 10 hours of the latter in each month being converted to compensatory time.
“We had signed these agreements with the unions, so they were under no obligation to make these concessions,” Council member Linda Byrnes said. “I’m impressed that they chose to step back from that.”
Before the final vote of the evening, to approve the 2012 budget, Baker offered severe criticisms of the budget process that he deemed a “mess.”
“We weren’t given honest figures,” Baker said. “This is the first time the Council has been asked to fix the budget. We were always given a balanced budget to approve before. This is a temporary fix. We’re going to be dealing with these same problems in June. I know people don’t like to talk about cuts, but most cities and all businesses are doing it. We’re just kicking the can down the road, when the economy is not going to get any better.”
“We’re not a business,” Raezer said. “We provide services to our citizens. How many of those should we be willing to give up? Public safety is police, fire and medical, but it’s also striping on our roads and well-maintained sidewalks. There’s plenty to hate in this budget for everybody. I don’t like it, but it’s the best we can do, and yes, I agree we’ll probably be looking at this again very soon.”
Byrnes countered Baker’s accusations that votes were made with the knowledge that the money wasn’t there to support them, and asserted that economic changes had instead resulted in previously accurate revenue numbers changing in turn. As for outgoing Council member Sally Lien, she explained that her vote in favor of the budget was motivated in part by a desire to clear the decks for the incoming Council members.
“I’m not voting for it because I think it’s a good budget,” Lien said. “I don’t think it’s a bad budget. I’m voting for it because it’s a budget, and we need to move on and turn this over to our new Council.”