5 Questions with Mark Schwartz
Arlington's county manager discusses budget shortfalls and what they could mean for local residents.
Mark Schwartz was officially named county manager in Jan. 2016. An Arlington resident for more than 30 years and a county employee for 14, he lives in Ashton Heights.
What’s your job description?
Broadly speaking, about 3,400 people in the county work for me. My responsibility is to execute all the policies that the county board adopts, and then to administer the day-to-day goings-on of the government. When I get up in the morning, everything [in the county] should be running well. If it isn’t, that falls on me.
What are your proudest accomplishments?
I’m proud to have gone to bat for our public safety staff—making sure they are compensated at a level commensurate with the skills and value they bring to the community. The pay increase is a piece of that. I’m also proud that we are on a good path when it comes to economic development. For many years, the county’s main selling point was that we were next to Washington, D.C., and a company town. We are now moving away from that, and toward businesses focused on technology.
Recently you warned of an estimated budget gap of $20-$35 million for the 2020 fiscal year. How did we get to this point?
We have seen a fundamental change in growth in our commercial real estate sector. In the previous model, most of our revenue came from real estate [property taxes]—half from residential and half from commercial. For the last [several] years, the commercial market has either been flat or going down. If revenue grows less than your expenses, you already have a gap. Now, add on top of that the obligations to Metro, expansion of Medicaid, public safety pay increases, steady funding for affordable housing and you get to $20-$35 million quickly.
What does that mean for Arlingtonians?
It will be a challenge. There will be budget cuts. There are people working for the county now who won’t be when the new fiscal year starts in July 2020. We are always looking for creative and more efficient ways of doing things, but you can’t work your way out of a gap that size without cutting services and programs like libraries, parks and street upkeep. I’m not saying those are specific targets, but the cuts will be things people will notice. I also think it’s fair and appropriate to say that there will be additional taxes for residents.
Will Amazon’s arrival help?
It could help us a great deal, but not right away. Even if they start building and moving employees in immediately, it will probably be two years until we actually see a change in our tax revenue. In general, I think filling the commercial office vacancies—with Amazon or other big companies—will go a long way to solving this problem.