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Arlington tax increase may be greater as residents question spending

Fairfax County Executive Ed Long's proposed FY 2014-15 budget calls for raising taxes to pay for a budget increase. (Photo: Thinkstock)

Arlington residents were critical of county spending and potential cuts to services and programs on Saturday, as county officials presented their fiscal 2014 budget to the public -- including a potentially tax increase than intially proposed.

Arlington County Manager Barbara Donnellan presented a $1 billion budget proposal to the County Board on Saturday morning. Along with cuts across all departments and reductions in community programs, county residents will possibly see increases in various county fees and a real estate tax hike. Board members voted to advertise the real estate tax rate to the public at 5 cents -- up from the original 3.2 cents the county manager proposed.

Board Chairman Walter Tejada said the increase was just to give the board more flexibility fiscally so it could potentially make less cuts in services.

"We have a budget hearing in March ... so there's plenty of time between now and then to weigh in," Tejada told audience members.

In total, the cuts would equal about $9.3 million from county agencies, which range from condensing from three to two the number of county police districts to reducing employment services for mentally ill adults.

But county residents were critical of where officials chose to cut and what projects they were focused on keeping. Some residents spoke out against the county's spending approach, specifically citing proposed projects the county is moving forward on while seeing huge reductions in county funds.

Resident Jim Hurysz criticized the county's push for projects such as an elaborate street car system to connect corridors within the county. Why would county officials spend money on something like that when it could be spent somewhere else, he asked board members.

"This is the worst budget I've ever seen come before this county board," he said. "You spare your pet vanity projects from any reductions whatsoever."

John Shanley, president of the Arlington Interfaith Council, spoke on behalf of 35 residents, urging the county to tread lightly as the threat of sequestration looms closer.

Another resident, Robert Adkins, agreed. He pointed out how social services and safety net programs were being cut. With the bleak economy and federal funding decreasing, the county should be finding more ways to increase social programs, as more people might need them.

"Don't be surprised when it comes," he warned board members. "There will be need for additional social net services in general. You are not preparing for them in this potential budget."