The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors made a surprise move on Monday evening by adding an additional $15 million to the park bond, which had been set at $50 million. The Park Authority and numerous residents had urged the supervisors in recent months to increase the amount of the bond in order to fund needed repairs and maintenance on existing facilities. The Board also directed staff to develop creative funding mechanisms to acquire land in the county, which has been identified as a priority but was seen by many as a pipe dream given the current budget constraints.
Chairman of the Board of Supervisors Gerry Connolly and Dranesville District supervisor Joan DuBois (R) are being credited as the driving forces behind the additional funds. “There was a lot of talk during the meeting that $50 million wasn’t going to be enough. Gerry Connolly was very sympathetic. The supervisors are certainly concerned about the county and the credit rating. Joan DuBois however, moved the package for an extra $15 million. That was seconded by Sharon Bulova [D-Braddock],” said Park Authority member Kevin Fay.
The final vote by the Board of Supervisors was 8-1.
"I am very please that the board increased the 2004 Park bond referendum to $65 million for consideration at the general election in November. Although there are many competing needs throughout the county, opportunities for additional land acquisition are becoming fewer and fewer and the cost of land is increasing well above the rate of inflation." said DuBois.
The bond will now go before the voters in November. Given the overwhelming support witnessed at community meetings, Board meetings and recent Park Authority hearings, officials believe the bond is likely to pass. Especially, since the Board of Supervisors specifically ensured that the park bond would not infringe on or affect other important bonds, such as the library and transportation bonds that will also be decided this fall.
“The voters are very supportive of parks. There’s a very high probability of passage,” said Connolly.
FAY ACKNOWLEDGES there was some reluctance by Board members to add on the $15 million but says it was overcome by recent statistics, such as the needs-assessment report done by the Park Authority, which detailed the current status of many of its facilities. “Some supervisors were concerned they were promising something they couldn’t deliver on,” said Fay.
“The additional $15 million will provide a substantially larger amount to apply to our projects in the upcoming years,” said Fay. “It will allow us, in a responsible way, to maintain our facilities.” According to Fay, a recent analysis reveals that there is currently $20 million worth of repairs and maintenance that needs to be done at the various recreational centers around the county.
Connolly said, “There was a sense that over the next five years, we could afford the extra $15 million. It was a refinement really — not a huge refinement but a refinement.” He said the additional funds were “partially in response to” the needs assessment presented by the Park Authority.
County staff should report back to the Board of Supervisors in a few weeks on the financing options the county could use to acquire land in the future, as was directed by the Board.
“No decision has been made on the exact projects [that may be taken on],” said Fay. “There is a need, clearly, for athletic fields, as there is for trail connections,” Fay said. Several mechanisms for funding will be evaluated, but Fay says the Board will want an approach that allows “advancing money that will be paid back in future bonds,” or that comes up with new lines of credit for land acquisition.
The new financing options reopen the debate into whether the county should and can purchase the historic Salona property, nearly 50 acres in front of the private home, which is being offered at a reduced rate and with its own set of creative financing options. The land is being offered by the DuVal Family to Fairfax County, millions under its assessed value, with the stipulation that the property be turned into a park for residents.
“That’s certainly something that’s under active discussion. We recognize it’s an opportunity, but we have to find out where it fits into the financial puzzle,” said Fay.
Connolly said, “We are now poised to take advantage of opportunities as they arise.”