The Heart of Arlington Neighborhood Association’s first general meeting of 2020 was “highly informative and inspiring,” said HANA Vice President Derek Carter of the February 13th event. Held in the Fireside room at Grace Lutheran Church on Park Row & Center, the event drew a near standing-room only crowd of regular attendees and new faces.
And no wonder: The lineup of guest speakers addressed topics of high interest to HANA members:
- Crime update, presented by Arlington PD’s Lieutenant Branch and Sargent Yowman
- Election voting, presented by Tarrant County Precinct #2 Commissioner Devan Allen
- JPS bond, also presented by Commissioner Allen
- 2020 Census, also presented by Commissioner Allen
- City of Arlington’s Home Improvement Incentive Plan (AHIIP), presented by Sarah Stubblefield from the City of Arlington
- Downtown Arlington Improvements, presented by Maggie Campbell, president of the Downtown Arlington Management Corporation (DAMC)
- Quarter-cent tax increase, presented by City Council member Dr. Ignacio Nunez
The evening began with updates from Arlington PD about crime and initiatives in the area—a regular feature of HANA general meetings. Lieutenant Branch introduced Sergeant Yowman who highlighted that crime has trended down in the past 30 days. Yowman confirmed that surveillance and coverage will be 24/7 for the next 30 days with a focus on safety.
Yowman responded to an attendee concern about speeding along Center and Pioneer, who noted two recent incidents: A car speeding into a brick house along Center near Pioneer, and another speeding incident where a fence was knocked down at Park Row and Center. On this issue, Yowman noted that the City is revisiting the issue of speeders by doing traffic studies and exploring options for using traffic unit accident investigators to give tickets.
Arlington PD continued to stress the importance of reporting crimes and of providing as many details as possible.
County Commissioner Devan Allen discussed important changes and information for election voting in Tarrant County, which she noted is one of the fastest growing counties in Texas with 2.2 million residents:
- Tuesday, February 18th is first day of early voting, which goes for two weeks.
- Voter centers allow you to vote at any polling location during early polling and on election day. The change to allow polling at any voter center on election day was approved last year to allow residents to vote at a voter center that is most convenient. For HANA residents, Allen noted that UTA is now a voting center.
- Temporary polling locations have been eliminated.
- Tarrant Country has new election equipment. Not only did the vote-center model require it, but the previous equipment was also 10 years old and in need up updating. Allen noted that the new equipment is safer because it has a “double-blind” paper trail: Voting is done through a machine electronically but does not interface with the Internet. Allen characterized the new equipment as a “big win for us as an urban county” in that it’s both safe and allows for recounts.
- Tarrant county has a pilot program for providing transportation to polling centers.
For more information, visit votetexas.gov.
Commissioner Allen also provided an update on the $800 million JPS Bond, which was approved with strong support of voters in November 2018. The bond aims to add a new behavioral and mental health hospital, four regional medical centers, an outpatient surgery center, increased bed space and expanded cancer treatment, among other improvements. Allen noted that local meetings will be held to get community input and that an expert board will provide recommendations on implementation of the bond. She noted that applications for board membership were collected through the end of January 2020 and that applications are currently under consideration.
For additional information about the JPS bond, visit the Tarrant County website.
Commissioner Allen also foreshadowed that the 2020 Census Day is April 1st and stressed the importance of everyone’s participation. Complete and accurate counting means $1600 of local funding for every person counted over the next 10 years. The 2010 census had only a 76% self-response rate, meaning that we missed out on an additional 24% of funding at the US, state, and local levels.
Commissioner Allen noted that Tarrant County is using a “layered effort” that supports US, county, and city efforts with goals to get a complete and accurate count without duplicating efforts.
She also mentioned the importance of reaching hard-to-count populations, which include ones that are hard to locate, interview, and persuade to participate. Texas under-counted children by 1 million in the 2010 census, noting split households as a primary reason for this. The homeless, minorities, low-income households, non-native English speakers, undocumented residents, and LGBTQ populations also fall within the hard-to-count population.
For more information about the 2020 Census, visit the 2020 Census page on the Tarrant County website.
Home Improvement Incentive Plan
Sarah Stubblefield from the City of Arlington spoke about the Arlington Home Improvement Incentive Plan (AHIIP). The program aims to help defray costs for residents updating their homes and fill a gap in other housing programs. Repairs and renovations become more expensive for home owners as properties age, yet doing so helps ensure higher quality of life, stronger neighborhoods, happier residents, and increasing property values.
AHIIP offers a one-time payout to residents for planned maintenance and upgrades of permanent parts of the property—e.g., new additions, windows, roof, paint, HVAC, foundation, and similar. The program is not income dependent; however, there are a few requirements, such as planned repairs and renovations totaling at least $20K and having an agreement in place with the City prior to work starting.
Downtown Arlington Improvements
HANA welcomed Maggie Campbell, president of the Downtown Arlington Management Corporation to talk about their role in downtown Arlington improvements. This private, non-profit community development organization aims to forge alliances between property owners, business interests, residents and the City of Arlington to improve and enhance the economic vitality and overall environment of Downtown Arlington. DAMC is responsible for marketing, economic development, security, and beautification contracts that have revitalized the area.
A recent achievement was the launch of DowntownArlington.org, which aims to help visitors and residents discover the “soul of the city” through the district’s retail businesses, restaurants, music, studios, venues, and events. The well-designed site provides maps, descriptions, stories, and more.
The Quarter-Cent Tax Increase
One of the most compelling presentations of the evening was from City Council Member Dr. Ignacio Nunez about the proposed quarter-cent tax increase. The increase would fund an Economic Development Corporation whose sole purpose would be to attract corporations to relocate to Arlington. (Check out HANA’s infographic on this topic!)
The quarter-cent tax is not a new tax; it’s unused capacity of local sales tax that’s already been approved.
According to Nunez, the average Arlington resident spends about $500/month on taxable goods and pays $40/month on those goods under the current tax rate. The quarter-cent tax would mean an additional $1.50/month or $15/year increase.
Nunez detailed several reasons why an Economic Development Corporation is being proposed:
- The City of Arlington loses out on the majority of new business opportunities simply because it does not have an Economic Development Corporation (EDC). In 2019, there were 40-50 business leads that could have brought new business to Arlington; however, we lost 32-38 of them because we lack an EDC. Competing for businesses without an EDC is like competing “with one hand tied behind our backs,” Nunez stated.
- Arlington also struggles to attract businesses because of the costs of redeveloping existing properties. Before a new business can be established, existing buildings are often torn down, sewer lines are replaced, and other old infrastructure is replaced. This can cost millions even before building begins and is a significant reason why businesses choose outlying communities like Frisco, Keller, McKinney, and others. An EDC attracts businesses with incentives that reduce or eliminate these initial costs, which would enable Arlington to compete with other communities.
- Arlington’s tax base is disproportionately shouldered by residents. Bringing in new businesses would increase commercial property and sales tax bases and take the load of off single-family homeowners. As an example, a 1% increase of commercial taxes in 2019 would have meant $1.6 million in tax revenue. Although an EDC cannot guarantee residential taxes would decrease (because rates change based on property values), new business would diversify the tax base and address the disproportion of city funding currently coming from residents.
Dr. Nunez noted that bringing businesses to Arlington provides both property and sales taxes to the City, including sales tax from purchases made by visitors. The most familiar example was his discussion about Arlington Highlands: The City invested $32 million in this project, but it’s resulted in a 1575% increase in property value and substantial sales tax revenue:
Property taxes: $110,000
Sales taxes: $0
Property taxes: $1,800,000 (2019)
Sales taxes: $11,400,000 (2016)
Other examples noted similar increases in values and tax dollars.
Activities of an EDC would include developing a variety of business opportunities, such as infrastructure, research, manufacturing, job-training, and operations facilities, among others. It would be run by a 7-member board, with public hearings used as part of the decision-making process.
Find more information about the City Council at the City of Arlington website.