Kate Hanley could have spoken about the 50th anniversary of 21,000 acres of parks in Fairfax County, but she did not. She could have spoken about the county’s acquisition of Lorton, what she called the “best purchase since Manhattan or Louisiana,” but she didn’t.
The Chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors could have spoken about how “public education is still our top priority and the number one reason people move here,” but she chose not to.
Instead, Hanley (D-At Large) opted to discuss her continued support for the half-cent sales tax increase geared to help solve the region’s transportation woes. Hanley and her Prince William County counterpart Sean Connaughton along with Robert “Bob” Lazaro from Loudoun County Chairman Scott York’s office spoke at the Committee for Dulles luncheon June 21 at the Hyatt Dulles in Herndon.
“I will talk about our transportation requirements,” said Hanley, in delivering a mid-year state of the county update. “Our board had had to go to Richmond to put local bonds on the ballot for local roads – it’s a Dillon Rule state,” she said of the over $500 million in bonds for transportation issues like the Franconia-Springfield Parkway, the Fairfax County Parkway and the widening of Route 7.
“This year our revenue stream is more and more restrictive,” said Hanley, of the reduction in state revenue and the shrinking return on investments. “The housing market is hot, hot, hot. Supply is down, demand is up, assessments are up and there’s a request for more money from the schools,” she said, noting the loss of $45 million by schools from the state.
“Three billion dollars has been removed from the V-DOT Six Year Plan and they will be $14 billion short until 2020. There just isn’t revenue in the transportation system. This is a deterrent to our quality of life. Transportation needs more money. Unlike Maryland where the state pays for all of it, the localities pay for transportation in Virginia. We can’t pay for rail to Dulles out of the General Fund,” said Hanley.
There is a myth that suggests if a tax is raised Richmond will reduce its funding, she said, emphasizing that that is a myth. “The law says the state may not cut its share if the referendum passes," said Hanley. "It’s extremely important to our quality of life to pass the transportation referendum on Tuesday, Nov. 5."
LAZARO, SPEAKING on behalf of York, also endorsed the sales tax referendum, noting, “our board of supervisors endorsed it twice, by a five to four vote." He added that at the same time, the Loudoun County Board reduced the tax rate to $1.05, “six cents down since 2000.”
With $550 million in state income tax sent to Richmond, Loudoun County saw a return of 18 cents on the dollar from Richmond, said Lazaro.
Lazaro turned his attention to matters of growth, citing economic development and the need for more schools in Loudoun County. In addition to Nordstrom’s opening in September, the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum will open in late 2003. Further down the road, and as of yet, not in front of the Board of Supervisors, Lazaro also mentioned the potential for the Howard Hughes Institute, a $500 million biomedical science center to open in 2006.
“During this board’s term of office, 16 new schools will open," said Lazaro. "That’s one less that the total number of schools in all of Fauquier County. That’s 600 teachers we have to hire this August. That’s 600 teachers we have to hire next August.”
FOLLOWING THE presentations, several of the over 150-strong audience raised questions, some related to topics covered, some not.
A question was asked regarding the resolution of the transportation problem without the referendum.
“We’re hard-pressed in Loudoun County to come up with a fiscally sound solution,” said Lazaro.
“We must put forth local bonds,” said Hanley. “The sales tax is just one small step toward tax restructuring. There are no good alternatives. The real estate tax is too dominant.”
“The answer is political leadership,” said former Fairfax County Chairman of the Board of Supervisors Jack Herrity, who served in that role from 1976 to 1988. “In my 12 years as chairman, the private sector contributed more money to local roads than government did. This is due to political leadership,” said Herrity after the luncheon.
Herndon resident Berry Cuffee, a member of the Fairfax County Disability Service Board, asked a pointed question to both Lazaro and Connaughton regarding persons with disabilities and transportation. He expressed concern about those two counties’ treating persons with disabilities as “afterthoughts.”
“We’re in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and have invested money in the past,” said Connaughton.
“Loudoun County does not operate its own transit,” said Lazaro. “It’s contracted out." He noted that a door-to-door service for people with disabilities does exist.
"The answers I got are unsatisfactory," said Cuffee, after the meeting. "It takes nothing more to set up facilities for the disabled at the same time as for the physically able. Do it at the beginning stages. Don’t sidestep. Don’t do it at the end. No, I don’t buy the answer I was given.”