Friday, March 7, 2014
Population Growth, Punitive Criminal Justice System, Creative Class Partying Strain Arlington's Public Service Agencies
County Board's second budget work session was with Arlington's public service agencies yesterday - Police Department, Fire Department, Sheriffs Office, and Emergency Communications Center. Bottom line on their operations is that all are strained because of Arlington's population growth (variously estimated at between 14,000 and 21,000 since the 2010 Census), increased Creative Class partying, and a Criminal Justice System that is becoming more punitive.
The FY 15 Budget will add only a few new full-time employees to the Arlington Police Department, Fire Department, Sheriff's Office, and Emergency Communications Center. All three agencies have resorted to overtime and flexible resource allocation to meet demands for service and maintain federal and state accreditation. The Sheriff's Office is experiencing an acute shortage of staff and is resorting to inmate lockdowns to reduce staff overtime. Emergency Communications Center has gone to 8 and 10 hour shifts and flexible scheduling to meet residents' calls for service. Creative Class evening and weekend partying in the Ballston-Rosslyn corridor has cut into the Police Department's budget for other services. The Fire Department is planning to offer enhanced medical services at incident and accident sites rather than transport persons with minor injuries to a hospital.
There was no interest by the County Board, ECC, Police Department, Sheriff's Office, or Fire Department in exploring ways to reduce their work load by decriminalizing behavior like marijuana use. Nor was there any discussion about effects of future population growth on public service agencies. The County Board (especially Chairman Fisette) was generally unsympathetic to requests for more full-time employees by Arlington's public service agency managers.
Thursday, March 6, 2014
Yesterday was the first day of the County Board's FY 15 budget work sessions and first up were the Clerk of the Circuit Court, Circuit Court, General District Court, and Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court Judges, Commonwealth's Attorney, County Treasurer, Commissioner of the Revenue, Magistrate's Office, and Voter Registrar. All are Democrats, like the County Board. And, like the County Board, they are major decision makers for the rest of us.
What have these folks been up to and what do they have planned for FY 15? Well, besides their usual activities, running the courts, collecting taxes, and so on, they're well on their way to creating huge integrated databases including everyone who has any transaction or interaction with the legal system whatsoever (parking tickets to unpaid taxes to felonies) and many who have had no interactions with Arlington's legal system at all but are engaging in non-conforming and otherwise suspicious behavior.
The Clerk of the Circuit Court will soon have all civil, criminal, and land records on-line. Circuit Court Judges (like Judge Bill Newman) are happy they're going to have more money to try more drug offenders (even though elsewhere marijuana possession is being decriminalized). General District Court Judges are happy that all traffic summonses will soon be on-line.
Commonwealth's Attorney Stamos is happy that putting massive amounts of parking ticket data online will help solve her perennial problems with bad parking tickets. She and the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court Judges are looking for much more use of "early intervention" whereby children, adolescents, and adults who violate some social norm (as one Commonweath's Attorney's employee joked, "They read books instead of participating in wholesome sports activities, like basketball") are tagged for "surveillance and intervention" by schools, police, and courts and their records of nonconforming behavior put into another social control database.
Last, but not least, County Treasurer O'Leary is expanding his "Special Collections Vehicle System" whereby retired Arlington police officers drive around Northern Virginia in vehicles equipped with license plate reader cameras to apprehend Arlington-resident vehicle owners who are shopping at places like Tysons and are in arrears in paying taxes, fines, and fees. Data from this operation are shared with the Commissioner of Revenue's Office where they will be integrated with income tax data in another big database.
Since Arlington County Democratic Committee members have been integrated into all county agencies for years - the Arlington Democratic Party IS County Government - the goal in the near-
term is to have ACDC activities seamlessly interact with County Government activities.
Needless to say, the County Board was quite pleased about the progress of ACDC-County Government's social control information system implementation agenda for FY 15.
Tuesday, March 4, 2014
John Vihstadt convincingly won tonight's CivFed debate against his more-of-the same Democratic opponent, Alan Howze, Independent Green Janet Murphy, and Independent Steve Holbrooke.
Vihstadt's specific agenda for reforming County Government (an end to extravagant legacy programs like the Pike Streetcar, funding an independent auditor at 2100 Clarendon Boulevard, and seeking to ameliorate 'stovepiping' between the County Board and School Board) contrasted to Howze's 'we can do better, based upon my experience at IBM'.
Janet Murphy's and Stephen Holbrooke's debate performances were outside mainstream Arlington politics, but both left the audience (which packed Hazel Auditorium) with valuable suggestions. Holbrooke, a forensic accountant who is retired from the FBI, repeatedly stated that Arlington Government needs a top-to-bottom audit and drastic controls on spending for programs like affordable housing. Murphy, who was employed as a realtor for over a decade and currently works in Arlington's hospitality industry believes that alternatives. like traditional boardinghouses, are needed to augment current homeless prevention programs in Arlington.
It's obvious to me that John Vihstadt's experience in community service over the past three decades has more than enabled him to be an effective County Board member. He has my vote.
We've recently heard many complaints about Arlington's unfair estate assessment system. And we have to wonder what's going on in the Assessor's Office at 2100 Clarendon Boulevard. In Fairlington, and elsewhere, the smallest and most affordable condo units were hit by the biggest assessment increases. Same for small single family homes in the older residential neighborhoods. And several hundred small businesses saw their assessments rise between 20% and 100%.
Arlington's real estate assessment system heavily discounts improvements and relies upon the sales price of similar properties in the various neighborhoods. That results in huge disparities in annual assessments between improved and unimproved properties. According to PR from the County Manager's Office the County will only re-evaluate the most egregious cases for commercial properties whose assessments increased by 50% or more this year.
Meanwhile, the County Manager and County Board are gloating over the pot of gold to be obtained from increased residential and commercial assessments. Much more to come in 2015. Be prepared to be surprised.
Sunday, March 2, 2014
We heard about Terry Holzheimer's passing last night. I worked with Terry for a couple of years in Economic Development before I moved on to work elsewhere in County Government. For good or ill Terry was dedicated in promoting New Urbanism, first in Loudoun County and then in Arlington. Like many in County Government I disagreed with Terry's vision. However, whatever you may say about his vision fact is that we don't have to go Tysons to shop and to Kennedy Center for entertainment as we did 20 years ago. So I know Terry will be missed by those who share his vision for Arlington.