Bond plan taking shape in Arlington

Posted Tuesday, Jun. 10, 2014  comments  Print Reprints

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The Arlington City Council will soon make key decisions about a possible bond package to be presented to voters in November, and the city’s residents should be watching every step.

The 19-member Citizens Bond Committee has given the council bond project recommendations totaling $192.5 million, pared down from a $409 million wish list. If that total goes unchanged, voters would see ballot proposals that would bring no increase in property taxes.

The committee recommendations include $118 million for public works, $65.7 million for parks, $8.4 million for the Fire Department and $395,000 for libraries.

Now the council is expected to begin drafting its own list of proposals. Odds are pretty good that the elected council members will stick with a plan that keeps the tax rate stable.

But there is a twist under consideration that could boost the amount of spending to be presented to voters.

The Citizens Bond Committee’s proposals were assembled for a four-year bond program. Adding another year for selling the bonds and starting the projects would allow the city to include another $46 million in projects under the current tax rate.

That’s one of the areas where a little input from residents would help council members make the right decision. Are there any projects that didn’t make the committee’s list but residents believe should be added?

District 4 Councilwoman Kathryn Wilemon says she’s “adamant” about adding a signature senior center to the list. She makes a good case, but is this something that should be added to expand the list, or should other things be cut from the package to make room for it?

Is there really room for expansion at all?

The council recently approved committing $24.9 million to build an 80,000-square-foot library and plaza just north of City Hall.

Of that total, $19.5 million is expected to come from the sale of certificates of obligation, a financing tool similar to bonds but with no requirement for voter approval.

Other anticipated funding for the new library includes $4 million from the Arlington Tomorrow Foundation and $1.3 million from the parks gas well fund.

In addition, the Arlington Public Library Foundation is expected to raise $3 million for furniture, fixtures and equipment.

If the new Central Library is built, Arlington could offer the current library site for private development. On paper, the project looks great, its numbers work, the library needs to be replaced, and it’s easy to see that the whole thing could add redevelopment momentum in the central city.

But does having the library project in the works at the same time make voters uneasy about a bond program or about expanding the committee’s plan to five years?

None of this is happening in a vacuum. Arlington residents should make their feelings known while the council is working on its plan.

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