Arlington County Board members have a long agenda for 2013, goals they said are achievable despite a looming $50 million budget gap and a slow economic recovery.
New board Chairman Walter Tejada outlined his priorities for the new year on Tuesday, chief among them maintaining and improving the county's stock of affordable housing. Arlington has 6,585 affordable housing units and the funding to keep rent at an affordable level for decades, according to Tejada, who said he wants to add more such units.
Areas such as Columbia Pike, where officials are planning a $249 million streetcar line, are becoming vulnerable to rising housing costs, Tejada said.
Tejada instructed County Manager Barbara Donnellan to draft plans for a new tax district along Columbia Pike, with funds designated for keeping housing costs down and helping small businesses remain there.
"Our success means that development pressures will continue to increase," Tejada said. "Already on Columbia Pike, market forces are threatening one of the county's largest supplies of market-rate affordable housing."
But as board members plan to spend -- an $80 million aquatics center, a homeless services center in a $27 million complex, a new bike safety campaign and a new section of the Washington Boulevard bike trail are planned this year, to name a few priorities -- Donnellan has instructed county department heads to look for budget cuts to help close the gap, about $27 million of which the county government must account for. The remaining $23 million hole is for Arlington Public Schools to fill, she said.
Board Member Libby Garvey criticized the county's plan to build a streetcar line rather than a rapid bus system. The streetcar's high price tag and the county's ongoing fiscal concerns are reason enough to scrap the project, she said, particularly for a board that spent much of Tuesday's meeting touting its financial prowess and AAA bond rating.
"Our shared priorities are exactly why I'm concerned about the streetcar," Garvey said.
Tejada said Arlington's financial commitment to the streetcar will be less than the full price tag thanks to federal and state funding. However, county officials are still awaiting word on federal funding.
Tejada was unanimously elected chairman of the board -- members take turns serving in the leadership role -- at Arlington's traditional Jan. 1 meeting. He last served as chairman in 2008. Board Member Jay Fisette was elected vice chairman.