At the May 6 Town Council work session, several Town Council members indicated that they would be offering amendments on the $35.4 million dollar proposed budget at the May 13 public hearing. One proposed amendment by Councilwoman Connie Hutchinson, however, seemed to spark the most interest during last week's round table work session. Hutchinson said she intended to propose an amendment that would, if passed, remove the $950,000 for land acquisition for a more permanent Neighborhood Resource Center (NRC) near the corner of Alabama Drive and Elden Street.
The councilwoman said she thought the expenditure was unnecessary. "I fear that we are putting ourselves in position to be in long-term debt," Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson said she thought the town could offer English language classes and job skills classes and help legal day workers assimilate into the community without spending nearly a million dollars in the process. "I am not sure we will have a need for a day labor site, 30 years down the road," she said. "I also fear that day laborers without proper ID will not use the day labor site."
Mayor Richard Thoesen pointed out that only 400 square feet of the proposed 16,000 square foot property would be dedicated to the day labor hiring site while other space would be freed up for programs like the Herndon Free Clinic which is currently run out of the Herndon Middle School. "The whole purpose for the permanent NRC is to clean up three blighted home sites that are not in concert with the commercial space around it," Thoesen said. "We have the opportunity to clean up space and own and not rent the property."
In response, Hutchinson said she has hesitations about several other aspects of the NRC's mission. "In my mind, it is questionable whether or not the town should be subsidizing some of the other NRC programs as heavily as we are."
Bruce indicated that she would not be willing to go along with Hutchinson's amendment. "I am not willing to give up," the vice mayor said. "I am not willing to write that off, yet."
Councilmen John DeNoyer and Mike O'Reilly agreed. "I am not willing to write this off, either. The NRC does need a permanent home. This goes way beyond the day labor problem. We are going to need the Neighborhood Resource Center for a long time," he said. "This will not happen without the support of the county, however. We have got to take the bull by the horns."
For his part, O'Reilly said he would likely support the proposed land acquisition assuming that the town was able to secure "some kind of a commitment from Fairfax County." Given the current state of the county's budget, however, O'Reilly remained skeptical that such an agreement could be reached. "I am on the fence," he said.
Councilman Dennis Husch, a frequent NRC critic, said he would actually support the land acquisition, if, like DeNoyer, "Fairfax County partners with us."
"I don't think the Town of Herndon can or should go it alone," Husch said. "My inclination is to maintain interest with Fairfax County but not to leave it in the budget. It sends a go-it-alone message if we leave it in the budget."
Bruce disagreed saying that, "it would be a mistake to pull it out."
A proponent of the NRC, Thoesen nonetheless agreed with those on the council that urged a town-county partnership. "It's a dilemma," the mayor said. "Clearly the county needs to step up to the plate. We can't go it alone."
A vote on the budget and FY2004 of the Capital Improvement Plan was expected on May 13, after this paper's deadline.