Arlington Mayor Barbara Tolbert discussed the coronavirus, policing and housing in the city, among other issues, during the 2021 State of the City address.
The annual address was posted online this year and is available at facebook.com/arlingtonwa.
The COVID-19 virus and the impacts of it defined the year.
“What I can feel from the community is the stress. Our families are stressed, our businesses are stressed, even our government workers are stressed. We’re all working in the unknown with changing impacts every day,” said Tolbert.
Many different businesses struggled due to pandemic restrictions and economic slowdowns.
“We acknowledge the incredible struggle that they have been through, particularly restaurants and bars,” said Tolbert. “I hope all of you continue to support our restaurants with takeout as long as those restrictions are active."
The city received some funds from the federal coronavirus relief bill passed in March 2020 and used $349,360 to support 109 businesses in the city.
They also took initiatives such as an online shop that allows local merchants to advertise their products.
That website is available at www.shoplocalarlington.com.
“This tool will carry our businesses into the future. It will always be there,” said Tolbert.
Those funds also supported community organizations such as the Arlington Community Food Bank, which received $25,000.
“We certainly saw an increase in people who need to use the food bank,” said Tolbert, who added the amount of food given away this year was up 86 percent.
The Arlington Community Resource Center also received $150,000 to support local residents “with rent or mortgage payments, emergency shelter, utility, childcare and transportation,” said Tolbert. Those funds helped 498 households with various types of emergency needs.
Utility credits were also given out to 96 households who had fallen behind on Arlington utility payments.
“During a pandemic we’re not going to shut off anyone’s water or sewer, but we didn’t want people to come out with so much debt it was going to be a burden,” said Tolbert.
Tolbert also talked about the social justice uprising that occurred across the nation this summer and discussions around policing.
“That was another conversation that came to us from the youth of our community,” she said. “I was proud of how the Arlington community stood up for that moment.”
She said Arlington police are focused on community-oriented policing.
“They’re out there to build relationships,” said Tolbert. “See where they fit it in the community to make it safe."
The department does try to support homeless individuals through their social worker program, said Tolbert.
“They’re working with the homeless population and trying to get them meaningfully into treatment,” she said.
In total, the program helped 27 people find housing and 280 people connect to support last year, she said.
A domestic violence coordinator was also hired by the Arlington Police Department this year.
“Moves them through the system and we’re finding much more success in showing them where the support is,” said Tolbert.
Growth and how the city manages it was also a discussion.
“As a city we have regulatory requirements around growth, so we can’t just say ‘nope, we’re done. Nobody else can come in and build in Arlington,’” said Tolbert. “What we can do is try and guide that growth in the right way."
Tolbert supports a variety of types of housing, and discussed the “missing middle” of smaller homes and condominium options that are lacking in many towns and cities.
“People of my age entered into the middle class by owning something, usually their own home,” said Tolbert.
Because home prices have risen faster than wages, there is less opportunity for that in current times, though.
“If we don’t give our young people an opportunity to build wealth, to move into the middle class, it looks bleak for them,” she said. “We need a different mix of houses, not just all single-family homes."
She acknowledges that is difficult for some residents who don’t want to see Arlington grow.
“It is always hard for people to see change,” she said.
Tolbert gave the annual speech online this year because of the pandemic. Arlington has also moved their meetings and recordings online as well, which has assisted in greater transparency.
“With online meetings and access to information online can more people have access to us? Can we be more inclusive?" said Tolbert, who added some of those changes could stay past the end of the pandemic as they allow more residents to interact and learn about their local government.