Monday, October 15, 2007

McMenamin: Do Basic Needs First, Look Closely at School's Budget

Republican county board candidate Mike McMenamin’s interview with Steve Thurston and Pat Hope (at the HeraldTrib) on Oct. 14, 2007. The interview questions were edited for length and clarity, the responses were edited for length, interruptions or unnecessary asides. Pat Hope, who was also present at the event asked as many questions as did Steve Thurston. Mr. Hope is the Buckingham Community Civic Association president and a precinct captain for the Democratic party in Buckingham.

HeraldTrib: Why are you running?
McMenamin: The fact that they [county board and staff] came out and they did that walking tour three years ago and they saw that for 15 years we needed that four-way stop sign in my neighborhood, yet it fell on deaf ears. A couple times they’ve referred to it, and nothing’s ever been done about it.….

And we had a condominium building episode that was just out of the world of craziness. The actual builder came to our neighborhood, showed us the plans before he did anything, got buy-off from the neighborhood. He was going to overpark the building. He wasn’t going to put the entrance or exit on Monroe Street, which is the side-street….The county wouldn’t let him complete the project that way. They threw up more barriers then you could ever imagine. They wouldn’t put the entrance or exit on Lee Highway because they said it would be dangerous. They wouldn’t synchronize lights for us. They wouldn’t do anything inside the community in terms of putting up signs that say “no right hand turn.” We got nothing out of it. The builder was going to do everything in the world….Those are the two impetuses for why

I’m running, because I don’t think they’re listening to us anymore.
You can see that what happened with the First Baptist Church…where they changed the entire county zoning law for that church in a one month period after the [Virginia] Supreme Court case came down, and that was just plain wrong.
There’s no real outside opinion or thought coming into the process and saying, “Oh, wait a second.”…

HT: If you were to win, you would be one Republican of five board members. You were just saying a lot of the decisions now from the board are 5 to 0 or 4 to 1. So now they might be 3 to 2; that’s still not a win for your side. Where would you see that ability to change that 3-2 against your side to a 3-2 for your side?
MM: To tell you the truth we’re seeing it this year. What I ran on last year and what Josh [Ruebner, Green Party] ran on last year are the issues that they’re [Democrats are] running on this year. I ran on infrastructure improvements such as paving roads and fixing storm water drainage system problems, and putting the money back to where it needs to be put…lo-and-behold take a look at Walter and Mary’s literature [Walter Tejada and Mary Hynes are democrats running for county board] that’s what it is this year.

The other issue was affordable housing that Josh ran on. Guess what Walter and Mary’s issues are? They’re affordable housing and infrastructure updating….Having run, we’re having an effect on what the county is doing, at least what its saying….

There used to be something called “green rods” in the budget. Back five, six years ago the county manager used to have to come forward with a budget, and he had pages marked inside the budget where he thought programs could be looked at that might need to be cut. That all stopped. Well, if we could go back to that system…maybe we could put the idea into people’s heads that, “Hey, maybe we should look at this stuff.” If people…realize that maybe we could do better at this, and this, and this, I think you’re going to get the votes to follow with you.

Pat Hope: On the issue of the Clarendon Baptist Church, would you have opposed it in the end?
MM: I was the only one who came out in support of the community on February 24 because I just thought it was wrong because I don’t think that’s the Arlington Way. The Arlington Way is that you have to listen to the community and by doing it within a one month period you changed the entire zoning law, and I don’t think that’s legal….Would I do it again? I would do it again in a heartbeat. I would oppose it.

HT: [Editor's note: this question was corrected after it was first posted to show "Lyon Village" NOT "Lyon Park" as first written.] I am wondering if there wasn’t some “NYMBYism” (not-in-my-backyard) going on there. That is, were the people of Lyon Village saying they liked the idea of affordable housing, but using the zoning changes as a way to keep it away from their neighborhood? It sounds like you don’t see it that way.
MM: My issue with it is the fact that it can be done almost anywhere in the county now from what I understand. If there’s a church that’s in a community somewhere that wants to build a condominium,…they can do it.

PH: The Lubber Run building is not ADA accessible. It’s the second most visited park in Arlington County, and it’s the only community center accessible by metro. What would you do to bring Lubber Run up, at a minimum to ADA compliant, and at a maximum (what I’d like to see) a state-of-the-art facility?
MM: Because I sit on Fiscal Affairs, I know about the ADA non-compliance….And I think it’s going to cost the county…$1 million a year for the next seven years to get these buildings into compliance….I think we really need to get that building up to compliance, and the rest of the buildings up to compliance so people can enjoy the benefits of what we have out there.

We have a problem with the bonding situation that we’ve got ourselves into in the county because we’re at the threshold of bonding and building right now. We’ve got to get some things done. Westover library…they’re supposed to build the Cherrydale Fire Station. North Tract? I’ve never understood the allure….There are a lot of things that need to be done in this county.

PH and HT: You could raise taxes to fund projects. I know that’s the third rail. What do you think of raising taxes given that we’re stretched on our bonds as it is and the state does not have a stream of revenue for us?
MM: This is where I come from: the truth of the matter is that we’re running a lot of people out of the county right now because of the taxes that they’re having to pay on their homes. We have to tax at 100 percent of assessed value of homes there’s no home owner’s exemption yet in place, and that will be two years before that happens….[The board] has raised spending by over a quarter of a billion dollars in the last four years. The budget is over a billion dollars, right now….

I have kids that go to the schools in this county. We have great schools….Forty-eight percent of the budget every year goes straight to the schools because the county board decided they didn’t want to be in charge of setting that budget anymore….[The school board is] doing their own thing with the money….That’s where we have to start taking a look. Because if you’ve got a budget over a billion and some dollars, they’re strapped to the gills because the schools are taking such a big chunk of it and you’re squeezed so tight.

Now last year, you remember when the human services problem happened, they were having to lay off employees and doing all kinds of stuff, that’s how close to the margins this county’s budget is. And you figure look at all the money we’re paying in taxes, something’s got to give here soon. Somebody’s got to start making the decisions, and doing the right thing….We’ve got to put the money where it’s needed for the schools, and make sure the kids are taken care of and we keep our high test scores and things of that nature, but we also have to make sure that we do the priorities in the county such as fixing HVAC systems at H.B. Woodlawn….

Let’s baseline this stuff. Let’s get the capital projects done. Let’s take another look at the way the schools are getting the money. Let’s try and look at it across the board, and let’s see where we are at the end of the day, and then let’s move forward and trying to get the needs of the county met. We’ll do the basic needs first, such as getting our roads paved and making sure our kids are educated adequately, get the storm water sewage problem taken care of, get our infrastructure needs taken care of, and then we should move along and take a look at issues you were talking about like Lubber Run and places like that.

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