July 18, 2002
One of the real human tragedies of Fairfax County's reliance on the real estate tax as a primary source of income is its potential to tax people on fixed income out of their homes.
That was the alarm sounded by Mount Vernon District Supervisor and Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Vice Chairman Gerald W. Hyland to the Mount Vernon Rotary Club Wednesday during their regular meeting.
"I proposed years ago, when I first went on the Board of Supervisors, that retired people be given a reprieve in their real estate assessments. Unfortunately, I couldn't even get a second to the motion at that time," Hyland said.
"This year I proposed it again. At least I got a second this time. Now I only have six votes to go," he said. "I have also proposed that assessments increase at a controlled rate of five percent per year if they are going up. This would allow people to plan."
Hyland insisted, "Reliance on real estate taxes, as a primary revenue source, is unsound. We have to find another procedure."
As one of the things driving the escalating assessments, Hyland cited the practice of people buying old homes, tearing them down, and "building these MacMansions."
He kicked off his presentation at the Cedar Knoll Inn by asking the rhetorical question, "What has happened since the last time we met?" He then answered it by noting, "We passed a budget and taxes went up."
Hyland went on to point out that, although the tax rate went down "it didn't go down more because the revenue stream was down." And he warned, "The rate is not going to go down next year."
ONE OF THE MAIN culprits in Fairfax County's revenue crunch, according to Hyland, was the decision made by former Virginia Governor James Gillmore to end the car tax and reimburse local governments for the loss of income. "This really had a profound affect on the overall revenue picture," he said.
"And, it had a particular impact on VDOT and our ability to build and repair our roads," Hyland emphasized. Referring to the upcoming Sales Tax Referendum this fall, he, once again predicted, "This is going to be a tough sell with the money going only to transportation. It would have been better to have it also apply to education."
Of primary interest on the minds of the audience members was the plan to increase parking at Mount Vernon Estate and the possibility of a George Washington Memorial Parkway bypass at the Mount Vernon Circle. Hyland conceded, "If we were building the Parkway today we would probably do it differently.
"The Park Service would prefer to have traffic go around the Estate. But, I don't think it's going to happen no matter what is in the report. I don't think it needs to be done. The only thing the Estate wants is more parking. Nobody wants a bypass.
"The focus needs to be on the parking issue. Not on the traffic flow. We have a stakeholders group with very excellent people on it who are totally against a bypass being considered."
WHEN ASKED IF there would be more public hearings on the Mount Vernon Circle question, Hyland answered, "Absolutely. But this time we are going to have an actual public hearing. Not this mill around and ask questions type of thing. That's the old VDOT procedure."
He predicted another hearing on the Circle question, "Probably within the next month and a half. But, I don't believe we have a great risk of a bypass happening."
Continuing on the roads discussion he was queried as to why VDOT is putting so much money into massive projects like the Springfield Interchange and Woodrow Wilson Bridge and ignoring local needs.
"Nothing is more frustrating than going to VDOT just to have signs put up. I would love for us to have control of our local road system. But, we would need revenue raising capabilities. We gave that up when we turned the roads over to the state. To take back control now would be nearly financially impossible," Hyland explained.
When questioned as to the future fate of the Saudi Academy on Route 1, Hyland said, "They have two more years on their lease and they have the possibility of two extensions. They want further concessions. I have said no.
"I think the cost of repairing the school was inflated. It should be returned to the Fairfax County School System. That will probably happen in four years at the maximum."
It was also suggested by a member of the audience that the existing school be considered as a location for a southern campus of Northern Virginia Community College when the Saudi's vacate. Hyland noted, "That has been suggested and is a possibility."
ON OTHER MATTERS pertaining to Route 1, Hyland was asked about the possibility of creating a left hand turn lane for north bound traffic turning into the new post office and if there was any possibility of burying power lines to improve the area's aesthetics.
To both questions he answered, "The cost is excessive. The only hope of real improvement along Route 1 is to vote for the Sales Tax Referendum."
Hyland told his audience that he had been asked not to discuss museums. However, he took that opportunity to urge those present, "Don't be bashful about communicating with the Army to put the proposed Army Museum next to the Main Gate at Fort Belvoir - not down near Telegraph Road.
"There is room near the Main gate. That is where it should be," he emphasized.