It isn’t every Saturday morning that Jonathan Sackier wears a suit and tie to drive his garbage to the trash “parkout” at Great Falls Elementary School
But this week, he was in a hurry to get to his daughter’s violin recital. So he shoved his Range Rover into park and hurled a week’s worth of household trash into a garbage truck in less than a minute. “I am normally a lot more loquacious,” said Sackier.
Like 585 other Great Falls families, he pays $195 for a permit to use the parkout, and he has strong reasons why. “I like it because it’s an appealing ritual,” Sackier said. “It’s quirky.”
But soon, he might lose the option of driving his own trash to a pickup point, and enjoying the social aspects of the parkout ritual.
In the FY 2003 budget to be presented to the Board of Supervisors on Monday, Feb. 25, Fairfax County’s waste management staff suggests eliminating the popular “parkouts” both at Great Falls Elementary and Cooper Middle School in McLean.
If they are kept, the staff has suggested a fee increase that would effectively end the service by pricing it beyond practicality for most users.
Every year, said Dranesville District Supervisor Stuart Mendelsohn (R), the suggestion is made to eliminate the service. Every year, he defends it, with little empathy from other supervisors.
“Staff always wants to get rid of it,” Mendelsohn said of the tended parkout concept.
“It’s a unique service that is not provided anywhere else in the county, and so staff says, ‘Why are we doing this?’ It’s more aggravation than it is worth to them,” Mendelsohn said. “They argue that the number of people using it has been going down steadily.”
“I was able to save it back in ‘96 with the proviso that it pay for itself,” Mendelsohn said. “I intend to defend it.”
“There are parts of Great Falls and western McLean where this is the only practical thing to do.”
To retain the parkouts, he said, its users must also defend it — by paying their fees, and by getting their neighbors to sign up, too.”
“We are going to have to stem the loss of use,” he said. “The unfortunate part is that people in Great Falls get little in service for the high taxes they pay. But my colleagues on the board are not particularly sympathetic to Great Falls and McLean, ever since I’ve been here.”
Just in case the service is discontinued, Mendelsohn said he is looking for a private trash hauler willing to drive smaller trucks to houses with long private driveways that their owners maintain.
Because they are the only two left in Fairfax County, the parkouts in McLean and Great Falls glare conspicuously in a line-item review of the county budget when money is tight.
According to Fairfax County’s division of solid waste management, the number of parkout subscribers has declined steadily, by five percent in Great Falls and nine percent in McLean last year.
The Great Falls parkout has 586 users and the McLean location has 283, according to county figures.
In McLean, the Trees Committee of the McLean Citizens Association relies on the residents who patronize the parkout to contribute their used newspapers to a continuous recycling effort.
The Trees Committee collects them in a dumpster at Cooper Middle School and sells them to pay for trees that are planted in public areas of McLean. If they lose the parkouts, they would lose their source of newspapers, said MCA President John Foust.
The Saturday morning ritual known as the Great Falls Parkout is the community’s equivalent of a Main Street grill or barber shop. It’s where neighbors in a low-density area can see their friends, exchange news and gossip, and catch up on current events.
All morning, from 8 a.m. to noon, comes a steady procession of people who represent a cross-section of the multi-national, vertically varied economic strata of the population in Great Falls.
They drive every kind of car: aging station wagons, recently-detailed Mercedes, sleek and shiny Jaguars, boxy Suburbans and rusting Toyotas.
For many longtime residents, the parkout is not only a beloved Saturday morning ritual, but the only perk they get in return for the property tax they pay.
“I’m English, and I like things that are a little bit off the wall. It does seem quixotic and anachronistic to be hauling your trash in 2002,” Sackier said.
“I like to see my neighbors. I even like the social interaction with the gentleman [who operate the trucks]. Whenever I ask them to crush the garbage for the kids, they do,” he said. “I think they are gentlemen.”
Also, Sackier said, he lives on an unpaved road that he and his neighbors maintain themselves. Garbage trucks would “destroy” it, he said.
“I don’t want a made road,” said Sackier. “It’s a little bit of countryside. I don’t know what I would do” if the trash parkout were eliminated, he said.
“It’s functional and it’s social,” said Michael Fragola, who drove a Volvo wagon to the parkout. He takes his own garbage to the parkout, he said, “Because I’ve always done it, for 18 years. The county doesn’t provide any trash service,” he said.
“Oh, Lord,” said Lloyd Emery, who drove up in a pickup truck to hear the news that the parkout is threatened again. “The last time that happened, that’s when we had to start paying,” he said. Emery said he lives on a gravel road and doesn’t want large garbage trucks using it.
“I like the parkout,” he said. “I think these guys like it,” he added, gesturing toward the county employees who tend the four garbage trucks and help citizens unload their trash.
Bill Sangrey, who drove up in a white Suburban with a license tag that reads “63SPLT,” said he lives on a three-lane, paved road that would have no problem accommodating a garbage truck.
But he doesn’t want the parkout eliminated either, he said, calling the county’s explanation of its diminished use “a weak, I-don’t-want-to-service-you kind of argument.”
He says the parkout anchors his Saturdays. “I get up, I put a pot of coffee on, and I load the Suburban,” he said
“I’ve been doing it for 21 years. I think it’s kind of neat. When’s the last time you saw a lady drive up in her Porshe and get her garbage out of the right front seat?” he said. “It’s happened.”
“And practically, it’s cheaper” than paying a service to pick up his trash, he said.
Joan McGurren drove up in a pickup with a distinctively mixed-breed dog, Champ, panting at the window. In the passenger seat was her neighbor, orchestra conductor and music director Tim Rowe. He heaved the trash in the garbage truck as McGurren, a longtime Great Falls resident who lives on a horse farm, commented: “I pay real estate taxes, and I get squat.”
“I don’t have public water. I don’t have sewer I don’t have sidewalks. I don’t have gutters. I don’t have fire hydrants. I don’t have street lights. It’s the one county service they provide for me,” said John Adams of McLean.
“I can drive three miles on Saturday morning and dump my own trash. What else do I get from the county, except a big tax bill?” said Adams, who patronizes the parkouts both in McLean and Great Falls.
‘Austere’ Budget Coming
Mendelsohn and his colleagues on the board will hear the proposed budget when they meet on Monday.
“My expectation is it is going to be an austere budget with double digit tax increases,” Mendelsohn said.
For Dranesville District, it will be the third year in a row for such high increases in assessments of, and taxes on, real estate.
“Two years ago, only Dranesville District had double digit tax increases,” Mendelsohn said. “Last year it spread to the whole county.
“We are expecting serious cuts from the state and federal government this year, too,” he said.
Even so, Mendelsohn said, he doesn’t want to lose the parkouts either. Although he uses a private hauler to pick up trash from his home in Great Falls, Mendelsohn said, “I love [the parkout]. I think it’s a great place to go, to campaign, and talk to people,” he said.