Candidates Debate Taxes, Spending Plans

Candidates Debate Taxes, Spending Plans

At the Sept. 3 West Springfield Civic Association meeting, area voters had their first exposure to the politics of the 2003 election. Mychele Brickner (R) and Supervisor Gerry Connolly (D-Providence), the two candidates for chairmanship of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors in the November election, laid out their platforms for the county.

Brickner wanted to control county spending with a 5-percent cap on real estate assessments. Connolly didn't talk about less spending as much as getting more money back from Richmond. Among the community members, their tax rate was a concern, and debate ensued over the pros and cons of the 5-percent cap.

Brickner said it would amount to 21 percent over four years, which she touted as an increase and not a cut.

"That is a reasonable amount of money," she said. "We should be able to live within that. It's an increase, folks. We need to set priorities in this county."

Connolly looked at the price to the county if the 5 percent cap had been enacted last year. "With a 5 percent cap last year, $100 million would have been cut," and then compared the effects in Fairfax to the economy of Prince Georges County, Md, which has a cap.

"Would any one of us want to send our children to those schools or have those police officers?" he asked.

AN AUDIENCE QUESTION raised an objection to Connolly's take on taxes. Real estate assessments have gone up year after year, said McLean resident Peter Ferrara, a member of the Republican committee backing Brickner. But as those assessments rose, not everyone's salaries followed suit.

Even though Connolly pointed out that Ferrara did not live in Springfield, he answered his concern.

"That's why I want to fight for more funds from Richmond.," Connolly said. "I can't even increase the cigarette tax. I'd do it in a heartbeat if I could."

Brickner stood fast on the limited increase in property taxes.

"What I propose is we do this [cap] but address the spending side as well. We aren't looking at how we're spending that money. When times are tough, you don't keep raising things," she said.

Connolly wanted to know what programs would be sacrificed under Brickner's plan. "She has yet to identify a penny of where she would cut," he said, looking for a list of programs that would fall by the wayside if funding dried up. "She won't give it because she knows it would be unpopular."

Brickner isn't necessarily looking at cutting whole programs out, just trimming certain expenditures.

"Waste did not come in neat packages, it's marbled throughout the bureaucracy. As county chairman, one of my first actions would be to hire an independent inspector general to find waste and efficiency. The county has really not done a program-by-program review since 1996," she said.

The debate will continue into November, letting voters have the final say at the polls. This was only the second of the candidates debates on this issue.

ALSO IN ATTENDANCE at the debate were supervisors Elaine McConnell (R-Springfield) and Sharon Bulova (D-Braddock), both of whom are running unopposed in November. Since the last redistricting efforts, the West Springfield Civic Association was split into both districts. Bulova made no secret that she was against the tax cap and she is on the budget committee within the board She looked at what the budget committee came up with for 2004.

"If you didn't count schools, it was a decrease of 1 percent," she said.

McConnell cited her past attempts to get more money for Northern Virginia, including making the area a separate city or seceding all together. "We do not have the power to increase taxes," she said. "We have to go back to the general assembly. We do need more authority."

The meeting also saw the introduction of new voting machines, similar to laptop computers. They'll be in action during the coming election.

Civic association president Michael DeLoose said they are foolproof as far as the problems in Florida in the last presidential election. "Only electronic chads, no paper chads," said DeLoose.