Taxes, land-use, traffic and public safety were the main topics of Supervisor Michael R. Frey's (R-Sully) most recent "State of Sully" update.
He spoke, Monday night, at the quarterly meeting of the West Fairfax County Citizens Association (WFCCA). He shared good news about construction progress on Sully District's first-ever recreation center. But he also brought bad news about upcoming home assessments.
"Once again, we're anticipating a large rise in assessments — an average 11-percent increase countywide," said Frey. "It wouldn't surprise me if we saw 13-14 percent in Sully District. That's because of what homes here are selling for."
Explaining that each penny on Fairfax County's real-estate tax rate is equal to $15 million, he said it'll be "a significant challenge" to reduce it. "The money's in the meals tax," he said. "A 4-percent meals tax would generate $60 million. But Fairfax, Prince William and Loudoun County voters have always rejected it."
Noting that what happens in Richmond with the state budget has impacts on the county's budget, Frey said Fairfax normally gets "large chunks [of money]" from Virginia for education and human services. However, this time around, the local portion may be much smaller.
"Other sources of revenue would yield some money — $80 million would reduce the tax rate by 5 cents," he said. "But we'd have to share some of that money with the human-services groups — which are being cut tremendously by the state."
Also adding to increased demands on the county budget is the school system. "The superintendent's budget is asking for a large pay raise [for teachers], requiring a larger transference of money [from the Supervisors]," said Frey. "We're about $70 million short of that amount."
REGARDING LAND USE, he said a great deal is happening at the local level: "What few parcels of land that are left are being proposed for development." He also acknowledged that the Area Plans Review cycle is about to begin. (It allows residents and developers to propose certain types of development on particular plots of land).
Frey said the master plan for the Hunter-Hacor assemblage should be adopted shortly. This consists of approximately 2,250 acres of parkland along Braddock, Pleasant Valley and Bull Run Post Office roads in Centreville.
"We have to identify the active and passive recreation areas and give it a proper name," he said. "And we'll need to put a park bond on the ballot, hopefully, by this fall." He said there's also lots of interest in Centreville's Historic District and he'd like to see a plan for its seven acres put in place, sometime this year.
In the realm of transportation, Frey said the local area is still dealing with the opening of the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum Annex in Chantilly. He said visitors have had some "glitches" getting in and out of the Steven Udvar-Hazy Center.
"The museum is entirely funded by contributions and operating revenue," he explained. "So you pay a $12 parking fee, up front, and there's not a large enough stacking area for cars [waiting to pay as they enter]."
Frey said it's attracting some 2,000 people a day and 7,000 on weekend days. "But we're following it," he said. "GMU did a traffic study, and we'll see where that goes. We're looking at things to make it function a little better. But the museum is something we'll be known for and are proud of. It'll be a credit to the community."
Not surprisingly, he said, it's also spurred the construction of various hotels and restaurants, as well as a proposal by The Peterson Cos. for a project called Dulles Discovery, across the street from the annex.
THE WFCCA deals with land-use and transportation issues on a regular basis and, Monday night, Frey tipped his hat to its members. "WFCCA has a reputation throughout the county as one of the most respected civic groups, and it's because of the time and effort you put into it," he said. "Western Fairfax is also gaining, what I believe, is overdue and well-deserved representation on many boards — including the Planning Commission and Park Authority — and [Sully District School Board representative] Kathy Smith is the new School Board chairman."
As for public safety, he mentioned Fairfax County Police Chief Tom Manger's decision to leave his job here for the same position in Montgomery County. Said Frey: "Now I know what a Red Sox fan felt like when Roger Clemens signed with the Yankees."
He said Manger will receive a $165,000 annual salary from Montgomery County, plus $105,000 a year retirement pay from Fairfax, for a total of $270,000. And he understood Manger's wanting to return to the county where he grew up.
"We'll miss him, and he'll be tremendously hard to replace," said Frey. "But we wish him well; he did a great job here." Noting that Fairfax County's police department has a history of promoting from within, he said he expected it to happen again when a new chief is selected.
He also told the audience that both the Sully and Fair Oaks district police stations have newly created Citizens Advisory committees, and he encouraged communities to send representatives to them. The committees meet on the third Tuesday of the month, in the Sully District Governmental Center. And, said Frey, "It's a wonderful opportunity for feedback from the citizens to the ones who are in charge."
MEMBERS OF the community also got a chance to ask him questions. Ted Troscianecki of Virginia Run remarked that, between the police department and the school system, Fairfax County is losing "key talent" to other jurisdictions. "There's competition out there," he said. "Short of raising everybody's pay, is the county doing other things to ensure that we have a good pipeline of people when jobs come open because of competition?"
"There's 'sticker shock' for teachers," answered Frey. "The pay sounds good until you try to find something to rent or buy. Montgomery County doesn't have a supplemental retirement program, so teachers get more take-home pay. But our teachers don't want us to drop it. And we haven't had any shortage of applicants wanting to come here. We are very well-regarded and have a lot to offer — not just in salaries — but also in things like technology and grant programs."
Little Rocky Run's Al Francese said I-66 east traffic is backed up in the mornings, all the way to Fair Lakes. "Will Herndon's voting 'no' on Dulles rail help with the extension of rail from Vienna to Centreville?" he asked.
Frey said he believes rail will someday come down I-66, but that what happens to Dulles rail won't affect I-66. He said that project entails widening lanes and tackling bridges, and the commercial density necessary for a taxing district is in Tysons Corner and Reston/Herndon.
"I think I-66 will always be behind Dulles," said Frey. "But there's a long way to go on I-66 rail and, once we go through the process, where would we get the $3 billion to do it?"
Russell Wanek of Heritage Forest takes the bus to work on I-66, but said the HOV lane is still slow. He suggested dedicated bus-lanes with expanded bus service to decrease traffic on I-66. Frey said rail is "incredibly expensive to build and to operate" and buses are much cheaper. He said a good way to go would be Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), which puts buses in their own lanes, but takes them to rail-type stations.
ON A LIGHTER TOPIC, Rocky Run's Chris Terpak-Malm asked Frey how the pool in the new rec center is coming along. "They poured it last week," he replied. "The rec center is 45-percent done. Most likely, it'll have a September-October opening, but it's pretty much on schedule."
Ray Gustave of Virginia Run asked what happened to plans for lakeside concerts in Centreville's Trinity Centre. Frey said he put the Chamber of Commerce in touch with the project's developer, KSI, but so far, nothing has come of it.
Pleasant Valley's Lynn Terhar spoke as past president of Westfield High's PTSA. She said the school has 2,905 students in a building built for 2,500. It already has 14 trailers, and the 2005 enrollment projection is 3,201 students.
"The [24-classroom], brick-and-mortar addition won't be ready until September 2006," she said. "And we'll probably have 24 trailers and be 700 [students] over capacity, [this September]. Security is a huge issue for parents, with that many students coming in and out of the building. How can we get some help for [Principal] Dale Rumberger? More SROs [school resource officers]?"
Frey replied that the funding request has to be initiated through the school system. Then, he said, the county would fund it through the police budget.