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Votes

See How They Run ... Why They Run

RA candidates near end of race with Friday deadline.

With the deadline for Reston residents to cast their ballot in the Reston Association Board of Directors elections, the Connection is providing verbatim responses by the candidates about several major issues facing the community.

The deadline for voting is Friday and RA members can cast their vote online until Friday at 5 p.m.

The candidates are running for three seats on the board, specifically one at-large seat, Lake Anne/Tall Oaks, and North Point. These questionnaire responses were provided via e-mail earlier this week.

LAKE ANNE/TALL OAKS DISTRICT

Robin Smyers

1. Do you believe that RA should increase the maximum annual assessment from $430 to $496?

Yes, I do believe it should be raised from the current $430 to $496. This adjustment to the cap amount allows the Association to acknowledge and adjust for the 1991 roll-in of the recreation user fee which was intended to pay for all operating and capital costs associated with the pools and tennis courts. The roll-in at the time was $50, now $66 in today's dollar. An important point to note is the documents continue to maintain the concept of keeping a cap on the assessment fees. As our current facilities age, it will be necessary to allocate funds for renovation, and increasing maintenance fees, and this increase will allow us to respond to those needs.

2. Do you think RA should change the index it uses to compute increases in dues?

Based on the model that 60 percent of RA's costs are labor and the current index does not allow for a 100 percent accurate depiction of our annual costs, yes, the index needs to be changed. I am open to which index needs to be used and will evaluate all options during the review process this summer.

3. Should Reston pursue another form of governance, such as becoming an extended tax district, town, or city?

Research and interest of another form of governance is a welcome issue to be addressed. All community groups within Reston should get involved, including RCA, Reston's P&Z, the new ARC, and other committees within RA including DRB and Covenants, etc., .and work together to form a multi-interest group to determine what the residents and businesses of Reston desire. I do not feel that it should be driven by Reston Association's Board of Directors, but that we should be part of a strong, active participating organization.

4. What is the single most important issue facing Reston today?

We need to focus on redevelopment and revitalization of all of Reston's assets, individual properties, cluster common areas, and Association assets. Much of Reston is 30+ years old, Lake Anne is 40, and we must determine our short-term and long-range goals, working with everyone to prioritize the steps we will need to take to be successful. Maintaining property values and our quality of life is my top priority. To that end, our short-term goal must be to fine-tune the governing documents with public input, and approve them, so we may continue to protect and serve all of our residents.

Vera Hannigan

1. Do you believe that RA should increase the maximum annual assessment from $430 to $496?

I oppose RA adding $66 to the annual assessment cap, thereby increasing it to $496. I support the cap we have now, computed the way it is now. Keep in mind that cluster residents pay annual assessments averaging around $1,000 to their respective clusters. This is in addition to their annual RA assessments. Added together, these dues become a heavy financial burden to many of our residents on fixed incomes who bought into the Reston dream and are aging in place.

There is also the question of needs vs. wants. An example of a "want:" RA recently spent $25,000 on the Reston Gateways Project, which was initially to be funded by the business community under an "adopt a gateway entrance" plan. Since Reston already has gateway signage at major entrances to our community, the business community showed little interest in funding another gateway project, so RA funded it out of our assessments instead of simply deleting the program from the budget.

As for a "need," restoration of Reston's watershed was a looming budget issue. Thanks to the efforts of Chuck Veatch, who photographed and authored the lovely book entitled, "The Nature of Reston", a plan has emerged that will address Reston's watershed problems at no cost to the residents, thus removing this financial obligation from future RA budget consideration. Under the plan, developers who are required to "mitigate" destruction of wetlands on their properties by creating or restoring wetlands in other areas, will restore Reston's watershed as a part of their wetland mitigation agreements.

2. Do you think RA should change the index it uses to compute increases in dues?

I am opposed to removing the CPI and substituting the higher ECI as the escalation factor for the cap. The ECI (Employment Cost Index) is inappropriate for Reston ratepayers because it is pegged to employers, not consumers such as Reston residents who are required to pay the assessments. In addition, the ECI will cause a disproportionate number of Restonians to pay beyond their means because it does not include in its index Federal workers or retirees who make up a major share of the Reston residents.

Keep in mind that employees are only 56 percent of RA's budget. That means the other 44 percent of the cost index does not apply to RA any more than it does to Reston residents, it simply takes more money out of the residents pockets by raising the assessment cap.

3. Should Reston pursue another form of governance, such as becoming an extended tax district, town, or city?

TAX DISTRICT: I oppose Reston becoming an extended tax district. We already have Small Tax District #5 for the Reston Community Center (RCC). Local control consists of voting annually in a preference poll to recommend "election" of candidates to the Board of Governors (Fairfax County Board of Supervisors must vote to approve the results of the Preference Poll).The tax district requires that we pay out of our property taxes an additional tax for the facility and its employees, but we do not own it. Fairfax County is the owner of the Community Center and the RCC workers are County employees. If Reston were to become a tax district, the County would take over ownership of all RA facilities and the common ground, and all decisions would have to be approved by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors (keep in mind that our supervisor is only one of nine and can be outvoted). Increases in our property taxes to support Reston would be an additional line item on our tax bill, over and above what we currently pay.

CITY: Under State law, City status is not feasible. A community has to be a town before they can become a city.

TOWN: Reston has made several attempts to achieve incorporation as a Town, but they failed because residents did not want it badly enough. I believe that Town status would be the most feasible form of incorporation. Under Town status, RA as we know it would cease to be (except for covenants enforcement, which would become part of town zoning). As a town, we would not see a change in the facilities and services (schools, fire, police, libraries, etc.) that we receive from the County and would continue to pay county taxes. However, our town taxes would probably be lower than our current assessments (as a town, we will no longer pay RA assessments) because the business community would be part of the tax base and will share in paying the taxes (something they do not do for RA).

We just had a wake-up call with the recent announcement that the proposed extension of metro rail will terminate at Wiehle Avenue and because Reston is not incorporated, we did not have a seat at the table when these decisions were made. This decision will create intolerable traffic gridlock in our community because commuters from as far away as Loudoun County will use Reston as a parking lot for metro rail.

4. What is the single most important issue facing Reston today?

The single most important issue facing Reston today is currently before the RA Board, which is considering proposed changes in the financial provisions of the governing documents which will forever change the nature of our community. These changes remove member rights while increasing the range to which we can be assessed.

Some examples: these changes increase the present cap on assessments from $430 to $496, removes the CPI and substitutes a higher index as the annual escalation factor for the cap, eliminates the members' current right to approve most major capital projects through referendum, adds a new category D membership without fully exploring the impact on existing members, and allows the Board, for the first time in the history of the Reston Association, to mortgage the Common Property without referendum approval of the members.

These changes set the stage for massive new capital projects, an accumulation of debt, and substantial increases in our assessments, to the ultimate detriment our individual property values, and the current services and amenities which we all enjoy. These proposed changes are both unnecessary and unwise. I am concerned that the community is not fully aware that they are losing their member rights under these changes. RA must insure that the community is fully aware of these proposed changes through fact-finding, open discussions and careful evaluation of options before going to referendum.

NORTH POINT DISTRICT

Eugene Cannon

1. Do you believe that RA should increase the maximum annual assessment from $430 to $496?

I believe that RA should not increase the maximum annual assessment. RA needs to explore more creative strategies for funding our operations. Increasing assessments on our long-time Reston neighbors with fixed incomes is not fair. It is entirely possible that some residents be grandfathered in at a certain assessment level, and also possible to levy a capital assessment to new Reston homebuyers. To the extent that new homeowners are the beneficiaries of years of dues paid by Restonians, they can be asked to make an investment in the future of those benefits. Raising the cap affords the board an easy solution, when what we really need is creativity and fairness.

2. Do you think RA should change the index it uses to compute increases in dues?

I believe additional analysis needs to be completed before changing the target index. The current index (CPI) has recently risen at a slower pace than RA costs, and this requires additional vigilance at limiting wasteful spending, and focusing resources where they are most valuable and most utilized. Again, fairness is the key issue. We cannot change the index to the future detriment of our fixed-income neighbors.

3. Should Reston pursue another form of governance, such as becoming an extended tax district, town, or city?

Changing Reston's form of governance is an issue that should be explored in depth. Restonians should have a board that is willing and able to give the issue a thorough and unbiased analysis. As a newcomer to Reston, I will tackle this issue without prejudice. Whether the issue is sales taxes, the Dulles Rail Project or sidewalks and lighting, Restonians deserve the most effective representation at the local, state and national level.

4. What is the single most important issue facing Reston today?

The single most important issue facing Reston today is the budget implications spelled out in our current long-term plan. In order to maintain its high level of service to homeowners, RA needs to develop creative solutions to fund our facilities maintenance and services without unfairly taxing our fixed-income members. I would like to work with the RA Board to develop these creative solutions that will ensure a continued high level of services, quality facilities and maintain our homeowners' property values.

Doug Bushée

1. Do you believe that RA should increase the maximum annual assessment from $430 to $496?

Due to the roll-in of pools in 1991, the forecasted gap between the dues RA charges and the cap would provide very little flexibility for any future boards to manage the association as Reston gets older. RA boards have always managed to stay below the cap and I'm confident that our members will keep pressure on board members to keep our dues low.

2. Do you think RA should change the index it uses to compute increases in dues?

The index put in the deed in 1984 attempted to reflect inflation in our area. I believe the cap was put in place to protect our members from having dues increases that increase faster than our other costs and incomes. The index used was a national index and does not accurately reflect economic conditions in an area such as Reston. I believe a more appropriate index, the CPI-U, should be used. The current proposal uses yet another index that would allow further expansion of the cap and our dues.

3. Should Reston pursue another form of governance, such as becoming an extended tax district, town or city?

Reston should be and is able to pursue anything that people are willing to pursue. The question to our members should be "Do we want the Reston Association spending resources and time pursuing those options?" Right now I would like to see the Association work to increase the voice we have within our state and local legislative bodies. I can tell you that Reston needs to do something to bring our community the credibility and stature currently enjoyed by neighboring jurisdictions with populations one-fourth of Reston.

4. What is the single most important issue facing Reston today?

There are many issues facing Reston today. Rail is coming to Wiehle Ave, development continues in the Town Center, some of our schools are doing very well, and some are not and the list goes on. But I believe the one factor that we need to address is who speaks for Reston on all of these issues? Three years ago I believed that the Reston Association should carry the torch and be an advocate for our membership. I feel even stronger about this issue today. I will work to help the Reston Association bring our community together, so that Reston will be able to have a significant impact on those issues that impact our quality of life.

AT-LARGE

Rick Beyer

1. Do you believe that RA should increase the maximum annual assessment from $430 to $496?

Over the past 10 years annual assessment increases have averaged 2.5 percent per year. At issue will be the amount of capital reserves RA will require to repair and replenish old or worn out facilities and to maintain our existing paths, lakes, recreational and common areas. Like an old house, our repair bills are increasing. Once a clear indication of our capital reserve requirements are known, I would ask the RA board to identify the capital reserve portion of the assessment cap to allow members to understand any difference between the current $430 cap and any requested change in the maximum annual assessment. I would support such a measure because failure to do so would jeopardize future services and appearances of our community, which would not be good for safety or property values.

2. Do you think RA should change the index it uses to compute increases in dues?

Yes. More than 50 percent of the RA budget is spent on labor costs. For the past 10 years wages in our area have risen significantly faster than our 2.5 percent annual assessment increases. We have to pay competitive wages to attract and retain good people. There are several alternatives that could work. However keeping the status quo will not represent what is actually happening with RA labor costs. I would favor that we use a blended approach which would allow for a wage index to represent the wage portion of our budget coupled with the normal consumer price index for the balance. This would more accurately reflect the reality of our budgeting needs.

3. Should Reston pursue another form of governance, such as becoming an extended tax district, town or city?

Reston is a homeowners association and one of the best in the country. I believe the issue of Reston becoming an incorporated town is a secondary issue for the RA board and our community. We should continue to review strategic alternatives with a sub-committee, however there needs to be a clear and compelling reason to make such a permanent decision. To date other than having our dues become tax deductible I have not seen a clear and compelling reason to change. There are many potential hidden or unintended negative consequences of such a permanent decision. One issue will be the administrative overhead that would ultimately be required to support a town status. This is where spending could increase, providing little in the way of value added for the community and could ultimately result in higher taxes and lower services. We have other priorities to address to ensure Reston has a great future.

4. What is the single most important issue facing Reston today?

The most important issue for Reston will be the upcoming fall referendum that will ultimately determine our financial future along with the level of services to be provided to the community. The current governing documents were developed when Reston was a young community with new facilities and rapidly expanding population. Today Reston is a mature community and our current documents do not allow us to address our future needs such as how we maintain our aging infrastructure. After 30 years we have reached our capacity. If we are unable to create a new referendum with alternatives for our governing documents, we will be faced with flat revenues coupled with rising wages and repair bills which will negatively affect us all in safety, home values and community pride. There are many alternatives that can help ease the financial burden on all such as new revenue sources, however our current governing documents do not allow such alternatives. The Reston board with significant community input needs to draft a "yes" referendum for the community. It is highly unlikely that controversial language will be in the referendum, because of the required community approval requirements. Reston's future is the single most important issue today.

Mike Corrigan

1. Do you believe that RA should increase the maximum annual assessment from $430 to $496?

Yes, except for owner occupants over 65. The consensus of the Special Committee on Governing Documents Review was that the maximum annual assessment (cap) should have been adjusted in 1991 when the $50 recreation fee was rolled into the annual assessment. Adjusted for inflation by the CPI (the index currently used in the governing documents), this would have resulted in the cap being increased by $66. This is the adjustment recommended by the Special Committee. The difference between the current cap and the current assessment is just $15. The gap between the assessment and the cap acts as a shock absorber for short term unexpected costs, and, given a change to a more reasonable index, is how it should be used. Increasing the cap margin does not increase the assessment, which is determined as part of the budget process. The reason for the exception for owner occupants over 65 is that an increase in the cap base would effectively remove the constraint on the increase provided by keeping the CPI as an index for this group. (See response to the next question.)

2. Do you think RA should change the index it uses to compute increases in dues? Why or why not?

An index is not used to compute increases in dues (annual assessment), but rather to compute the increase in the maximum annual assessment (cap). Any increase or decrease in the actual annual assessment is based on the budget, which is a separate process, based on all funding sources and a review of all needs of the Association. Given this clarification, yes, I believe we should modify the index used to compute the cap.

The cap is a complex issue, and a bit of explanation is required prior to explaining my recommended approach to the indices. Assuming we have a cap, I believe it needs to meet two goals:

* It should reflect the rise in the cost of providing the current baseline set of RA services. That is, the cap itself should not force future boards to lower the level of services provided to RA members. The board may, of course, change the level of services provided based on changing needs and preferences of the members.

* It should reflect the rise in incomes of the members. That is, the cost of RA services should not rise faster than members' incomes.

* There are two major indices under consideration for adjusting the cap. The Consumer Price Index (CPI) is a measure of the increase in the cost of a market basket of goods and services. Among other uses, the annual increase in Social Security and government annuities is based on the CPI. The Employment Cost Index (ECI) is a measure of the increase in the total compensation (salary plus benefits) for the average employee (some employees are excluded, including Federal employees, but it is a broad based index).

Based on goals of a cap and the features of the two indices, I have prepared a revised change to the documents that would:

* Leave the current cap in place for owner occupants over 65 (that is, continue to use the CPI to adjust the current $430 cap)

* For all others, change to the ECI and increase the baseline maximum assessment to $496.

There will be more public input on the cap, and I look forward to continuing the discussion, but the approach I have suggested seems to better balance the need to increase the cap at a rate where we can afford to provide current service with the need to not increase costs faster than incomes than can be provided with a single index. For working members, costs would not rise faster than their incomes because incomes rise at about the rate of the ECI, as do personnel related RA costs. For retired members, costs would also not rise faster than incomes because their incomes rise at about the rate of the CPI, as does (in general) the non-personnel costs for RA.

3. Should Reston pursue another form of governance, such as becoming an extended tax district, town, or city.

Yes. In 1988, a Reston governance task force looked into four ways to govern Reston: the status quo, an expanded tax district, a town and a city.

The report of the task force found major advantages to alternatives to the status quo, and we need to update the study and determine the right alternative (including the status quo) for our community.

The status quo has two major disadvantages

* The RA assessment is not tax deductible

* Local government functions are fragmented across multiple organizations, including clusters, the Reston Association, the Reston Community Center, Fairfax County, the Reston Citizen's Association, and the Virginia Department of Transportation.

Fragmentation of responsibilities causes two problems: First, each organization can claim to speak for the community, making it hard for county and state officials to understand what we really think. Second, infrastructure changes — to pathways, sidewalks, lighting, roads, and recreational facilities — often require action from multiple organizations, which

* Increases cost

* Adds delay

* Frequently gives us unattractive solutions.

People wonder if alternatives would cost more. Not necessarily. The cost of functions moved to an extended tax district, town or city would become tax deductible. A typical resident who itemizes would receive a $136 tax refund if the current $415 assessment were deductible.

People also wonder if we are adding a layer of government. In fact, a tax district, town or city could pull together the currently fragmented parks and recreation, community center operation, and planning and zoning functions of RA, RCA, RCC and the county.

Finally, people are concerned that we might lose the excellent Fairfax county schools, police, fire departments and libraries. As a tax district or a town, we would still get these services from the county. A city would have to provide these services, or contract for them from the county, but would get the tax revenue to pay for them.

There are big changes in our future, including redevelopment of our older areas and design of the Wiehle Avenue station area by 2007. A Reston government with political legitimacy can influence these changes, as we saw the Herndon Town Council do with Metro.

Since much of RA assessments (and staff) would move to the tax district, town or city, it is essential that RA be part of the process, if not the leader in the process. If elected, I will work within RA to develop a governance alternative that lets Reston move into the future, keeping what we love about Reston while dealing effectively with change.

4. What is the single most important issue facing Reston today?

The key issue for Reston is: How do we maintain the values that we moved here for in the face of change? We can maintain the status quo in governance (both for the RA documents and for Reston as a whole), or we can move to a new, more sustainable approach. I believe the best way to proceed is to update the Reston Association documents to provide a firm foundation for the next step, which is to look at alternatives to governance such as an extended tax district, town or city. Unless we have stronger local institutions, our most likely future is to gradually become an indistinguishable subdivision of Fairfax county, with a commuter Metro station, and lots of traffic zooming by on widened roads that we cross at our peril. Herndon, Vienna, Fairfax City, Falls Church and Arlington (to varying degrees) provide other models: places that have a voice in their future, respect for pedestrians, an attractive environment, and a close relationship between the residential and business communities.

Jay Monroe

1. Do you believe that RA should increase the maximum annual assessment from $430 to $496?

I don't think the cap should be raised all the way from $430 to $496. I think it should be increased some, but in the last budget cycle there was no increase, showing that we don't currently need more money. I would be willing to increase it over a few years, or alter the index to allow a gradual roll-in to compensate for facilities renovation.

2. Do you think RA should change the index it uses to compute increases in dues?

The association should use whatever index best represents where the money in the budget is spent. I would suggest that if more then one index covers this, then multiple indexes should be used.

3. Should Reston pursue another form of governance, such as becoming an extended tax district, town, or city?

I believe Reston should become a tax district, town or city, but I don't think Reston Association should lead the charge. All of Reston should support this before it is developed, not just the home owners.

4. What is the single most important issue facing Reston today?

The most important issue facing Reston is communication from RA to the members/clusters. Without it, nothing is being done to support them. We need their input and their buy-in in order to provide for them. This is only now being sought for the governing documents review.

Amina Thomas

1. Do you believe that RA should increase the maximum annual assessment from $430 to $496?

No. I disagree. I believe our current dues are more than enough for the services we are receiving. I am against raising our dues and I am certainly against raising the Cap. In fact, I believe we can lower our dues because the RA should lobby Fairfax County's Park

Authority to use more of our tax-money to maintain the lakes and the parks in Reston. Our RA dues do not make any sense. We're not a town or city, thus we should have our county pay for most services. The RA should concentrate on just being a homeowners association, and not a little stand-alone government.

2. Do you think RA should change the index it uses to compute increases in dues?

I am not familiar with the index situation, but I will do my research on the subject.

3. Should Reston pursue another form of governance, such as becoming an extended tax district, town, or city?

I think that Reston should become a city. We need a formal voice to the county and state. Currently, our voice is fragmented, and this hurts us. We pay Fairfax County taxes, and we pay RA dues. If we're a town or city, then our RA dues can be lowered dramatically because the town or city's taxes (and of course Fairfax County's taxes) can assume responsibility for the amenities that we enjoy (parks, tennis, and paths). This means that they are tax deductible. Right now our RA dues are not tax deductible, and that hurts everyone's wallet in mid-April.

4. What is the single most important issue facing Reston today?

Transportation is the single most important issue facing Reston today. As Reston grows (no matter which form of governance we have) we're going to have to adjust ourselves to the massive amount of people moving into and through Reston everyday. This causes huge traffic nightmares for those who live and work here. We need the Metrorail to go through Reston, and we need it now. The Metrorail will help our citizens get to work, it'll cut-down on traffic, and it will make our homes' value increase. Furthermore, it will allow me to get to the D.C. without having to drive to Vienna or Falls Church.