Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

Arlington is off and running once again! On New Year’s Day, the Arlington County Board held its annual organizational meeting beginning at 11 a.m. and ending promptly at noon – or thereabouts.

I, and many others in the room, have been attending this traditional event too long to remember. In my case, it has been almost every year since 1968, when I was a new kid on the block.

The principal item on the agenda has always been the election of the board chair for the coming year. This is followed by the new board chair’s keynote address establishing his/her personal agenda for the year. The other board members also make short statements about their own personal priorities. The board then names the chairs and members of the numerous citizen committees, boards, commissions, and other groups that combined are almost the definition of the fabled “Arlington Way” of widespread community involvement in county government.

Barbara Favola was voted unanimously to be the Chair of the Arlington County Board for the next year. This is the third time she has been chair in the twelve years and three terms she has served. She is just beginning her fourth term on the board.

Of course, the dark cloud hovering over all of us in the county board room was the current worldwide financial crisis, which is having remarkably negative effect on all levels of government in the United States. Favola certainly emphasized in her speech that we were largely in a state of retrenchment, that some county programs would need to be cut, and others cut back

But she was also optimistic that we can weather the storm. She laid out a personal agenda for promoting social welfare programs, for which there is a growing need during our economy’s retrenchment; continuing the county’s national leadership in promoting an environmentally-friendly community; accelerating programs for accessible and affordable housing; and building on the programs of “Diversity Dialogues” begun by then- Board Chair Walter Tejada to better integrate all Arlington citizens into our whole community.

There is some good news shining through the doom and gloom, however. Statistics are beginning to show that Arlington has been far less hurt economically than most communities. Our real estate values on the whole have remained firm (a slight decrease in home values, a slight increase in commercial properties), our bond rating is still in the highest category nationally, and our unemployment rate is still under three percent – the lowest in the state. While some increases in tax rates are anticipated, Arlington will still have the lowest taxes among major jurisdictions in the metropolitan area. All of this has led to the recent designation of Arlington as “the top place to live in the country during a recession” by Business Week magazine and the “top wealth center” in the country by Bizjournals, as I reported in last week’s column.

So fasten your seatbelts, Arlingtonians; it’s going to be an interesting ride!