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Arlington County Civic Federation

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Resolution of Arlington County Civic Federation:

Policy for Placing Bond Projects on Referenda Ballots Only When Plans and Budgets for the Projects Are Complete, As Well As For Placing Urgent Projects on the Ballot in Odd-Numbered Years

Adopted October 3, 2006

Whereas: It is recognized that the final cost of a public project to be funded by public bonds significantly depends on its design.

Whereas: Since the 1990s, Arlington County Public Schools have generally asked the county government to put bond referenda on the ballot with design money in one year's referendum, and construction money in the next referendum, when the design studies are complete and there is a better basis for cost estimation on the construction of the project.

Whereas: Since 1984, it has been the practice of Arlington County schools and government to place bond referenda for public projects on the ballot only in even-numbered years (e.g., 1984, 1986, 1988, etc).

Whereas: Since at least 1990, both the County government and the school system have sometimes placed major projects on the ballot before the plans and budgets for those projects were complete. Examples of such projects include: Cherrydale fire station (1990, 1994 ballots), Westover and Shirlington libraries (1998), North Tract Park and Recreational Facility (2004), Kenmore Middle School (2002, 2004), Washington-Lee High School (2004).

Whereas: In each of the examples listed above, the information provided to the voters before the election about the estimated costs of the project proved to be far below the actual costs when the projects were finally begun.

Whereas: In each of the examples, only part of the cost increases were due to the rising costs of construction. Rather, the majority of the cost increases were due to changes in the nature and scope of the projects that were initiated after the bond referenda had passed. A recent Arlington County Public School study found that, on average, "actual [school] project costs were 46% greater than the initial project estimates . . ." and that the bulk of the increase occurred before the completion of the design studies. (Superintendent's Proposed FY 2007 - FY 2012 Capital Improvement Plan, p. 8, emphasis added.)

Whereas: In each of the cited examples, voters thus were asked to approve money for projects without benefit of reasonably complete information about the true nature, scope and costs of the projects at the time they cast their votes.

Whereas: Often, the justification for putting projects on the ballot before the plans and budgets are complete has been that the projects are important and necessary; citing the rationale that it would be unfair or unwise to delay them for another two years until the next scheduled bond referendum.

Be it therefore resolved:

    1. That neither the Arlington County School Board nor County Board should put construction projects on bond referenda until reasonably complete designs and sound budgets for the projects are available. In this way, voters can know the scope, nature and cost of the project when they cast their ballots and public trust will be maintained and fostered; and

    2. When necessary for urgent and important construction projects, that the Arlington County Board and School Board add bond referenda to the ballot in odd-numbered years as well, if that is when their plans and budgets are ready, so that the projects are not delayed, costs are contained through comprehensive planning, and the public has the opportunity to approve them promptly.

And the Letter of Transmittal

October 9, 2006

Honorable Chris Zimmerman
Chairman, Arlington County Board
#1 Courthouse Plaza, Suite 300
2100 Clarendon Boulevard
Arlington, VA 22201

Honorable Mary Hynes Chairwoman, Arlington County School Board 1426 North Quincy Street Arlington, VA 22207

Subject: ACCF Joint Resolution on Bond Timing

Dear Chairman Zimmerman and Chairwoman Hynes:

I am pleased to forward for your consideration a resolution that was approved at the October 3, 2006 Civic Federation meeting concerning the timing for placing public projects on the ballot for bond referenda. The resolution was approved by a strong majority of our membership, 31-19. A copy is attached for your records.

The resolution urges both Boards not to place projects on the ballot until the projects have solid plans and budgets; so that the voters have a clear understanding of what they are voting for, and can be confident in what they are told will be the total cost of the projects. It is hoped that this will avoid the experience of some recent bond projects, in which costs rose substantially after the voters had approved them, due in large part to changes in the scope and/or design of the project. In some cases, this has even resulted in the necessity to resubmit the project to voters in future referenda (e.g., the Westover Library/Reed School project), raising questions as to the accuracy of the proposed bond amounts, as well as the accuracy of project definition.

If or when there is a project of great importance whose plans are not ready in an even-numbered year, the resolution urges both Boards to hold the project back and put it on the ballot in an odd-numbered year, if that is when its plans are ready. This should address the problem of keeping important projects moving, without asking voters to approve them when the plans and budgets simply are not yet known. We understand that until the mid-80s, bonds were offered every year in Arlington County, and that Fairfax County also has offered bonds each year in the past. The resolution does not suggest that either Board move to an annual CIP planning process from its current biannual process. It merely suggests that occasionally, when an important project�s plans and budgets are not ready on the usual biannual schedule, they be held off the even-numbered year ballot and placed on the following year�s ballot, so that they are not delayed and everyone can know what they are voting on.

I hope you will give serious consideration to this resolution from our membership as a means to improve the bond offering process, as well as the public perception of it. We look forward to your response to our letter, as well as further interaction as desired. Please feel free to contact me via telephone at: 703-525-8921, or via email at; larrymayer@civfed.org.


Larry Mayer

Lawrence R. Mayer
President, Arlington County Civic Federation
3108 4th Street North
Arlington, VA 22201-1614

This page was last revised on: October 9, 2006.
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