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RA Candidates Face Off

On Monday night, the three candidates in the Reston Association (RA) Board of Directors election squared off at the Lake Anne Community Center. About 30 Reston residents filled the center’s Jo Ann Rose Gallery to ask questions and listen to the debate over Reston’s future.

Former RA executive vice president Vicky Wingert is taking on current RA Board president Glenn Downing for the at-large board seat in this year’s election. Long-time Reston resident Barbara Aaron is running unopposed for the Hunters Woods seat.

Numerous times over the course of the candidate’s forum Wingert, along with members of the audience, indicated that some initiatives Downing has recently introduced may not fall under RA’s responsibility.

"Why doesn’t [Downing] feel he has to consult with the board before he goes out into the community to do things like a baseball stadium, or [incorporation of Reston as a town or city]," asked long-time resident Linda Singer.

Downing said he started examining the possibility of bringing minor league baseball to Reston when a team owner came to RA looking for land. He said that proposal looks "as though it is not going anywhere."

"Each one of us on the board does our own exploration," Downing said. "But before anything happens you need to come in front of the board to take a vote."

Singer asked Downing about some comments he has made to local newspapers and to community groups. She said Downing has sometimes spoken out about RA projects without giving the rest of his board members adequate consultation.

"IN RESTON ASSOCIATION, the president speaks for the board, and so do all the other members," Aaron said, in response to Singer’s comments. "It’s like being a member of a company. You have to assume that people reading a publication, or a group of people you are speaking to, think you are speaking for the organization."

Downing said studies of projects like the incorporation of Reston, or the possibility of a Reston college, have been explored by volunteer groups, and have not cost Reston Association any money. He said part of the mission of RA is to improve home values in Reston and building projects like a baseball stadium, or a college, would help do that.

Wingert said that even volunteer committees require some organizational work by RA staff.

"While I’m sure the effort is minimal, there is always some staff output for arranging committee time: making phone calls, setting up meeting space. Its not a huge expenditure, but every little bit counts," Wingert said.

She said she would like to focus RA revenue on the association’s "core values" such as pathway construction, open space maintenance and facility renovation.

"I am focused on Reston Association’s central mission," Wingert said. "I have no other aspirations outside making Reston Association work."

She said RA assets should be re-examined to see if some areas need more attention. And she said operations should be examined to see if some tasks can be done more efficiently.

Wingert also challenged Downing on operations spending during 2001, the one year during which Downing has served as RA president. Wingert said that in the decade preceding 2001 operations spending increased a total of $800,000. But, in 2001, operations spending went up $900,000. Wingert said that $900,000 came from two sources. $275,000 to $300,000 came from switching RA investment income from a capital reserve fund to the operations fund. The other $600,000 came from increased dues. Homes in Reston that Fairfax County assesses below a certain rate only pay half of the yearly RA dues. Last year, though, when county assessments jumped, some homeowners who had been paying half assessments started paying the full amount. Because of these increases in revenue, Wingert said the $900,000 operations increase will not have an immediate impact.

"But I am concerned with how future boards will have to deal with this," Wingert said.

ONE AUDIENCE MEMBER brought up Lake Anne Plaza, which is an area of some controversy among board members. The Reston Association owns Lake Anne itself, and an easement surrounding the lake, but the Lake Anne Condominium Association owns Lake Anne Plaza. The condominium association has asked RA for funding to help maintain the plaza, arguing that it is largely a public area instead of a private one.

"Most people in Reston probably assume Lake Anne Plaza belongs to the Reston Association," Aaron said. "Perhaps we should be working with the condominium association to see how ownership can be resolved. I’m not looking just to spend Reston Association money. I just think that, eventually, we should take over the plaza."

Downing said the board should not take over Lake Anne.

"Reston Association owns the lake," he said. "We pay to dredge it and that directly benefits the people who live around the lake."

Wingert said Lake Anne is one of the places in Reston where additional examination might be necessary.

"Lake Anne might benefit by taking a look at maintenance costs," said Wingert. "Maybe the work could be subcontracted out to a different entity."

IN RESPONSE to a question on the RA cap on property assessments, Wingert said she would like to keep the cap, but would still like to re-examine the budget. Reston property owners are being assessed a flat rate of $387 in RA dues this year. The cap this year, which dues cannot exceed, is $414.24. The cap changes every year depending on the consumer price index.

"The cap has been put in place to prevent runaway spending by any one board," Wingert said. "I would not support eliminating the cap. But we have to look at what our requirements are and we have to make sure those requirements are funded."

Downing said questions dealing with the cap are "premature."

"We’re not approaching the cap and we have no reason to dread an immediate approach of the cap," Downing said. "That is many years away. I don’t think we have any fear, as Vicky was suggesting, that we should increase the cap or our facilities will start deteriorating."