Worried that negative campaigning aimed at the proposed Northern Virginia sales tax referendum could spill over to other measures on the Nov. 5 ballot, the Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA) has organized a “green team” to lobby for its $20 million park bond referendum.
There is also concern that voter turnout on Nov. 5 might be light because “we don’t envision any close congressional races,” said Sally Ormsby of Fairfax.
She co-chairs Park Partners, the group which FCPA has authorized to lobby for the park bonds.
It has representatives from each of the magisterial districts, plus three appointed by FCPA’s at-large members.
“We will go out to community meetings and events to explain the referendum to them, and the importance of setting aside park land in the county before it is consumed for development,” said Ormsby.
“There are seven questions on the ballot, and most people have not an iota of awareness of that,” she said.
IN ADDITION to the $20 million park bond referendum, voters will also decide whether to authorize $60 million in bonds for public safety improvements in Fairfax County.
The Nov. 5 ballot will also include two state constitutional questions, two state bond referendum, and the controversial measure to authorize a half-cent sales tax in Northern Virginia that will support transportation improvements, Ormsby said.
“Technically, we are supporting Fairfax County’s park bond referendum,” she said, “but by extension, we will help out the state’s [$119 million for state parks] park bond referendum, as well.”
“The government is not allowed to lobby, and that is why the Green Team exists,” Ormsby said. “We can be the people who go out in the community to encourage people to support it and why.”
FCPA board members serve as non-salaried volunteers and are not government employees.
The sales tax referendum would permit a half-cent tax to be added on sales of all consumer goods, other than food and prescription drugs. The money would support road construction in Northern Virginia.
But the park bond referendum will not increase taxes, Ormsby said.
It would authorize the sale of general obligation bonds to produce $15 million in revenue for land acquisition and $5 million to develop and renovate facilities.
The money would be paid back to bond investors from the county’s income stream in the future, spreading the cost over the life of the facilities.
Bonds are the primary funding source for land and park development in Fairfax County.
The proposed bond for $20 million “is called a bridging bond because there was a shortfall in the funds from the 1998 referendum, and another referendum is not scheduled until 2004,” said Robin Rentsch of Great Falls, a Green Team member.
This year’s smaller bond would allow FCPA “to finish up projects that had been started” that includes Clemyjontri Park in McLean and The Turner Farm in Great Falls.
PARK PARTNERS was organized in 1998 to lobby for passage of an $87 million park bond referendum that provided $75 million for Fairfax County parks, with $20 million of that dedicated to land acquisition.
Another $55 million was used to upgrade, renovate, and construct capital facilities.
The other $12 million went to the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority.
“This time, the entire $20 million is for Fairfax County,” said Ormsby; $15 million will be used to acquire parkland and $5 million will be for facilities, both maintenance and construction, including $1.3 million to develop the Wakefield Park women’s softball complex.
“Passing this referendum will not result in a tax increase,” said Ormsby. “Payment of the debt on these bonds will be within the existing bond program of the BOS (Board of Supervisors)."
There is some concern that people who oppose more public spending may vote against all of the bond referenda on the ballot, said Ormsby.
Before 1998, the group was called the Green Team, Ormsby said.
“It doesn’t matter what it is called. It is not a continuing organization. It is organized each time there is a park bond referendum, she said.
Co-chairs of Park Partners are Ormsby (Providence District) and Bo White (Mason District).
Representatives from Dranesville District include Rentsch and Eleanor Anderson from Great Falls and Jan Auerbach from McLean.