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Can Federal Workers In Arlington County Weather Another Tax Increase?

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Unprecedented vacancy rates in Crystal City have raised questions about what kind of tax burden
Jonathan Wilson
Unprecedented vacancy rates in Crystal City have raised questions about what kind of tax burden

Arlington County board members are considering an increase in the average property bill amounting to $22 a month for the coming fiscal year. At the same time, some in the county say the economic uncertainty for residents is palpable.

The rush hour on Crystal City streets is just as busy as ever, but the story isn't the same in some of Crystal City's office buildings, where vacancy rates sit at around 20 percent.

Arlington County's Community Resilience Director Andrea Morris says that rate is historic.

"We have never seen any numbers like this, really," Morris says.

She says the high vacancy rate in Crystal City is largely due to the Department of Defense's Base Realignment and Closure program, more commonly known as BRAC.

Crystal City is the county's economic engine, generating more tax revenue than any other urban center in Arlington, but just as Morris and other county leaders are figuring out how to weather the economic storm that came with BRAC, something worse — sequestration — could be just days away.

"With BRAC we knew what agencies were impacted; there was a list," Morris says. "I could go to the agency, I could speak with someone. With sequestration I have no idea."

All of this weighs on the mind of board member Mary Hynes, as she considers how much of a tax increase residents, many federal employees among them, will tolerate. Hynes says that in recent years, county residents have spoken out in favor of maintaining Arlington's robust safety net in tough economic times, but she says the specter of sequestration might change things.

"We have heard pretty repeatedly from people that they're willing to pay more," Hynes says. "We need to hear what people think about this year, because I do think the circumstance is different."

The county's first budget hearing is on March 26. Board members have to adopt a budget by mid-April.

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