With the stroke of a pen, Circuit Court Chief Judge William Newman Jr. has authorized the placement of a half-billion dollars in bond referendums on Arlington’s Nov. 8 ballot.
Newman on Aug. 2 formally approved the request of County Board members for a six-item package that will be sent to the electorate, which is likely to dutifully agree to it.
County Board members voted 5-0 in July for the package proposed by County Manager Mark Schwartz and staff. State law requires the Circuit Court in a jurisdiction to formally authorize bond referendums at least 81 days prior to an election; Newman’s action made it official 17 days ahead of that deadline.
The package includes (rounded to the nearest hundred-thousandth):
• $22.5 million for parks.
• $53.3 million for community infrastructure.
• $52.6 million for Metro and transportation.
• $165 million for schools.
• $39.8 million for stormwater.
• $177.4 million for utilities.
The 2022 bond package is almost assured approval; county voters have not turned down any bond referendum since 1979, and have not done a wholesale rejection of multiple bonds since 1975. The package is higher than might normally be expected for a given year; Arlington officials tapped the brakes on bond issues during the height of the COVID crisis, and now are making up for lost time.
While voter approval will give the county government authorization to sell general-obligation bonds up to the total amount approved, that does not mean those bonds will be sold immediately. It is often years, sometimes more than a decade, between voter approval of a bond and funding a project that was incorporated in it.
Under long-standing Arlington government policy, total debt service on municipal bonds can rise no higher than 10 percent of the total budget in any given year. Arlington officials say this helps to retain Arlington’s coveted AAA ratings from multiple bond-rating firms.
In order to keep under that ceiling, if just barely, County Board members over the past two years have opted against following other local governments in reducing real-estate tax rates in the wake of spiking home values. The result has been an increasing tax bill for county homeowners.