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Summerville Fights for Board Seat

Anti-stadium leader broadens platform in effort to attract bipartisan support.

Fighting to keep Major League Baseball out of Arlington built up Sarah Summerville name. But in the race for County Board, the founder of the No Arlington Stadium coalition has broadened her platform to address a number of issues and appeal to voters from both parties.

Taxes top the issues for the former Democrat turned independent. “We are overtaxing our residents to the point that, every year, we have a surplus in the budget,” she said. “People’s mortgage payments and rent payments are going up every single year. That’s unheard of, and it’s unsustainable.”

Board members can provide tax relief without cutting services, simply by reducing surplus revenue, Summerville said. Typically surpluses roll over to the next fiscal year and are used for one-time expenses as board members see fit. That’s too much of a free pass on spending, Summerville said.

At this week’s Fiscal Affairs Advisory Committee meeting, county staff members are expected to present information detailing a $5.8 million surplus for fiscal 2003.

But Board chair Paul Ferguson, one of two Democratic incumbents running for reelection to the Board in November, said the amount of each year’s surplus is difficult to predict, and committing to cut taxes based on estimated surpluses would be risky.

SUMMERVILLE SERVED on the county’s Fiscal Affairs Advisory Committee six years. She’s quick to point out that was longer than one of her opponents, Walter Tejada, the other Democratic incumbent.

She has earned supporters through that committee. “She has consistently and strongly advocated positions that would reduce taxpayer burdens in Arlington,” said Tim Wise, who served on FAAC with Summerville for the last four years. “She has a good grasp of the issues in all of the county's departments as well as an understanding of issues involving the schools. As a member of the board, taxpayers can expect their voice to be given much greater consideration than they currently do.”

In addition to tax cuts, Summerville advocates major renovations to the water treatment plant. Currently storm water overflows from holding tanks that need to be enlarged. The bill could be about $250 million. Summerville said she would make the renovations a top priority if she is elected in November.

Ferguson applauded the challenger’s initiative but said she’s a bit late. “I’ve already said that this is something we need to do, and staff is moving ahead on it,” he said. “I’m the one that’s pushed it and initiated it.”

Summerville’s platform also includes better services for senior citizens, including transportation to senior centers and day care for frail elderly resdients of South Arlington. Currently the county’s only day-care facility for the elderly is in North Arlington.

RUNNING AS the lone independent in a four-way race for two county board seats, Summerville delights in stepping outside party lines.

The independent has also won support for improvements to code enforcement. Current board members passed a blight ordinance this year in hopes of improving over 70 chronic-problem properties. Some residents, including Alfred Taylor, president of the Nauck Civic Association, have said the need for the blight ordinance proves current code enforcement measures don’t work.

“Arlingtonians have raised the issue of code enforcement every single year I’ve been around in civic activism,” said Summerville, who advocates additional staff and longer office hours.

SUMMERVILLE EXPECTS BIPARTISAN support in the November election, and sought Republican endorsement earlier this year. She’s not without support from local GOP members.

“Sarah is a fiscal conservative,” said Wayne Kubicki, a conservative member of the Fiscal Affairs Advisory Committee.

But official endorsement has proved elusive. “For those voters who are upset with this County Board on the tax issue, for those voters who want to bring accountability, Miss Summerville gives them an alternative,” said David Avella, Arlington Republican Committee chairman. “But let’s be clear, the person who has a chance to win is Rich Kelsey.”

Summerville is happy to run an independent campaign though. Independence is especially important in fighting the baseball stadium, she said. High-ranking leaders from both parties, including Gov. Mark Warner (D) and U.S. Rep. Tom Davis (R-11), support bringing baseball to Northern Virginia.

“The current board has failed miserably in protecting the community from this,” said Summerville. “I’m the only person that won’t waiver on this issue. Pressure cannot be put on me from a Democratic governor. Pressure cannot be put on me from a Republican House and Senate. I am the independent candidate.”