Members of the Mount Vernon-Lee Chamber of Commerce were warned by Fairfax County Supervisors Vice Chairman Gerald W. Hyland Monday night that getting a sales tax referendum approved by the voters was "going to be a tough row to hoe."
As one of three guest speakers at the group's annual meeting with the Southeast Fairfax Development Corporation (SFDC), Hyland (D), who represents the Mount Vernon District, also said that a delegation from Fairfax County will meet with Governor Mark Warner on April 23 to discuss the proposed sales tax and a mix of other issues.
One of the primary topics of that meeting will be the major changes at Fort Belvoir and their impact on the Richmond Highway corridor. According to Hyland, "We hope to have a study of just what can be done."
Lee District Supervisor Dana Kauffman (D), told the audience gathered at the Hampton Inn on Route 1, "The army represents the best of opportunities and the worst of challenges at the same time." He also gave an analysis of the County budget as it impacts the revitalization plans for the area.
"Money spent for revitalization and redevelopment is more of an investment than an expenditure," Kauffman said. "Revitalization is barely touched by the budget cuts," he assured.
KAUFFMAN IDENTIFIED THREE primary projects that need to be addressed. They are: 1. the need to develop an alternative road to replace the closing of Woodlawn Road by Fort Belvoir authorities; 2. money for a more comprehensive bus service; and 3. the development of intelligent transportation systems.
In discussing the potential to develop a replacement for Woodlawn Road and the overall traffic situation on Route 1 in the Fort Belvoir area, Hyland referred to a recent meeting with Fort Belvoir personnel where the base commander "suggested out of the blue that a grade separation interchange be built" to alleviate turns into the base.
"In his opinion this would enable traffic to flow like water on Route 1, unobstructed. Great idea, but who's going to pay for it?" Hyland asked his audience rhetorically.
During his analysis of revitalization, Hyland noted, "We tried to develop a tax policy that would encourage revitalization but it hasn't worked worth a darn. We have to revamp that program. I'm convinced there is a way to revitalize Richmond Highway."
KICKING OFF THE TRIUMVIRATE speaking team was Fairfax County Executive Anthony H. Griffin. Following his introduction by Richard F. "Rick" Neel, president of both the Chamber and SFDC, Griffin explained that the present Tax Abatement Plan, originally designed to stimulate revitalization, will sunset this September, after five years.
"My instinct is to bring it [tax abatement plan] back but gear it to revitalization districts only. Most tax abatement has occurred outside the revitalization districts," Griffin explained. "We want to be sure tax abatement is working countywide."
Following their formal presentations, Hyland and Kauffman fielded questions from the audience on a wide range of subjects pertaining to county government. One of the questions went to the heart of the recently completed legislative session which failed to approve a sales tax referendum for Northern Virginia.
In replying to a question as whether or not any thought had been given to repealing the Dillon Rule, which allows local government to do only that which is approved by the state, Hyland explained, "All the people we have to ask for the change are the very ones who don't want it changed."
But he also said, "Things are starting to change because of the frustration of the citizens. And one of the solutions to our problems is a change in how local government must operate in relation to the state. At least let the counties have the same powers as the cities."
Another question, related to the problems of education funding, pointed out that originally lottery money was intended to be committed solely to education. Hyland agreed stating, "It is a classic example of the state reneging on a promise."
"I think education is a top priority for all of us, whether we have kids in school or not. It is at the base of our growth and development. When people move here, they want good schools for their kids," Hyland said.
KAUFFMAN REFERRED TO THE CHANGES being considered in the county planning process to strengthen the ability to require developers to provide cash proffers which could be used for schools. "Proffers have to be changed or we will always be behind the curve," Kauffman insisted.
He also explained that the entire education debate has two distinct elements, capital improvements and operating funds. He reiterated his position that funding for programs needs to be reassessed on the basis of what programs are essential and what ones are desirable.
Raising education monies through the use of proffers would only address the capital improvement segment. In many jurisdictions developers are required to make payments to a designated fund based on the number and type of units being developed. Presently, Fairfax County has no such specific requirement. It is done on a negotiated basis.
In answering a question concerning the proposed reduction of two cents in the real estate tax, Hyland explained that it would result in a loss of $24 million to the county, which would adversely affect schools and other programs. "Is it worth it?," he asked. "I don't think so."
"Tourism is the best business we have in Fairfax County" he said. The people come. They spend their money. They go home. And, we don't have to educate their kids."