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Votes

Giving Voice to Needs

More than 230 speakers try to influence Board of Supervisors.

In three minutes, Patricia Smith told the Board of Supervisors how her life was changed in a five-minute span on Sept. 23, 2002.

"I went from being a happy grandma … to a desperately distraught person in less than five minutes," Smith told the Board during a public hearing on the county's proposed budget Monday night. "Nightmare is what describes this best."

After making his first airplane trip to Virginia to meet his grandparents, Louis Bertram died at Smith's home after she and her daughter set him down for a nap. "Wendy went downstairs and then came right back up. She said, 'Mom, I think Lou looks funny, can you come check? Not five minutes had gone by, five minutes. He was a limp baby not breathing, no pulse," Smith said.

Smith was the 66th person signed up to speak before the Board Monday. At 11:15 p.m., more than four hours after arriving for the hearing, Smith shared her story with the 10 Supervisors. Only one other citizen remained in the audience; more than 150 appeared for the beginning of the hearing.

"Why am I telling you this? Because my grief was unrelenting — I grieve not only for my infant grandson, but for my daughter and her pain," Smith said.

She wanted the Board to understand the importance of the Fairfax Grief Counseling program, a program that also supports the Mid-Atlantic SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). "Having our month meetings facilitated by a professional is what helped all of us as we struggle to regain our lives for ourselves, our families and our communities," she said.

SPEAKERS ADDRESSED many issues and needs as the evening progressed.

"Remember one thing: if you don't have a roof over your head and food in your stomach, then everything else is a luxury," said Philip Rosenthal, a Fairfax Station resident who represented the Community Action Advisory Board.

"Fairfax is a rich county, yet 4.5 percent of the residents live below the poverty line. Imagine that you can't afford to pay your rent or mortgage. Imagine that you can't feed your family," said Cheri Zeman, of United Community Ministries. "There are over 4,000 names on the waiting list for affordable housing."

Kerry Wilson hit "the bottom," she said, before Fairfax programs, specifically Reston Interfaith and the Office for Children helped her. "I entered into a shelter, I got my job back, I entered the Office for Children. They've helped me get a home, I've paid off my debt, my kids are happier and I'm almost ready to buy my first house," she said.

"Take care of the vulnerable and the needy and then cut only after these investments are fully met," said John Horejsi, of Vienna.

BUT COUNTY SPENDING "is at a record high," said Arthur Purves, of the Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance. "The reason you confess a spending problem…is you constantly increase spending."

Members of the Taxpayers Alliance held a rally outside the Government Center before the hearing to advocate for no increase in taxes.

"I protest an increase in taxes as well as an increase in the budget," said Charles McAndrew, of Oak Hill. "It's tough when you're retired on federal retirement. Is it the idea of the Board to run retired people out of Fairfax County?"

Rick Baumgartner had a different point of view. "You're even better than Smith Barney. What a great return my wife and I are enjoying on the most significant investment of our lives — our home," Baumgartner said.

"Because you have acted wisely, you have created significant additional wealth for every property owner in Fairfax County yet somehow people are bemoaning this."

Andrea Parker of the Mt. Vernon-Lee Child Development Center both those who want taxes lowered and those who call for the restoration of human service funds are asking the Board of Supervisors to set priorities.

Parker testified last year before the Board when budget cuts threatened programs offered by the Office of Children to serve children from families with low incomes.

Last year, funding was restored for her center and the Office for Children and the Child Care Assistance and Referral program.

But this year, there is another proposal to cut $3 million in child care services from the Child Care Assistance and Referral program, according to Elizabeth Egan, director of the Main Street Child Development Center in Fairfax. The reduction would eliminate services for 554 children from low-income families, according to Egan.

More than 80 people are scheduled to speak at budget hearings on Tuesday, after the Connection's presstime, and 90 more on Wednesday.

The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to set the property tax rate and approve a final budget in April.