As part of a campaign effort dubbed “ResTOWN in 2006,” the Reston Citizens Association held two town status meetings on Saturday, June 11 and Thursday, June 16.
About 40 people attended each meeting to hear more about the advantages of town status and RCA’s plan and schedule for incorporation.
“I was enormously impressed by the thoroughness in which they’ve studied this issue,” said Robert E. Simon Jr., founder of Reston. “I agreed with many of the reasons they said for doing this.”
The RCA, which serves as a forum for all residents and elects its board members, presented information at the meetings that outlined the benefits of incorporation, focusing on community empowerment and reduced and more equitable taxation.
“There are a lot of pros and not that many cons,” said Reston resident Stephen Cerny after the first meeting. “But I haven’t made up my mind.”
Cerny said he sees the town alternative as “a possibly more equitable way to pay local taxes” because they would be linked to property value rather than the set $425 Reston Association fee.
“I’m very much interested in [town status],” said Barbara Stowe, a Reston resident who also attended the first meeting. “With the size of our community, we need to have our own government structure because right now, with all the associations, it’s too fragmented.”
Stowe, however, thinks the community isn’t being adequately exposed to the issue.
“I am a bit concerned about getting the public well-informed about this,” she said to the RCA panel.
“We are too,” said RCA President Mike Corrigan, who acknowledged that the community meetings were intended to increase awareness about the effort.
FOR LONG-TIME RESTON residents, the idea of becoming a town has been a recurring issue. In 1980, Reston held a referendum on town status, but it was defeated by a two-thirds margin.
In 1988, a community task force examined four governance alternatives for Reston: the status quo, becoming a town, becoming a city, or becoming a small tax district within the county. Despite the fact that the task force reported that a town was least costly to taxpayers, support for the effort waned and eventually fell below the radar.
“When I talk to people, I would say a majority of people are pro-town if they think it won’t cost more,” said Corrigan. “The second group of people I talk to fall into a category that say, ‘I thought we were a town.’”
A third group, Corrigan said, is made up of people against becoming a town because they think it’s going to cost more. So RCA conducted its own studies to compare costs.
According to RCA’s revised analysis of the 1988 study, which compared the town alternative to the status quo, becoming a town saves residential taxpayers money. Their calculations show that residential taxpayers on average would pay $215 less per year with a town system than they do now.
“That’s based on two main factors: it uses a tax deductible property tax and the second is that it’s spread out over a larger tax base of residents and businesses,” said Corrigan.
THIS IS THE FIRST TIME an organization has taken on the cause, suggesting that this current push for incorporation may have more staying power.
To date, RCA has given new life to the cause. By pointing to community issues, such as Metrorail coming to Reston, the RCA has been able to show citizens examples where Reston would benefit from incorporation.
“We’re 60,000 people and we go to a meeting, a county meeting, and Reston Association gets to talk for three minutes, and the mayor of Herndon gets up and gets to talk for five minutes and he only represents 23,000 people,” said Corrigan. “It isn’t the same.”
Reston, he said, is not receiving a fair seat at the table on issues significant to the community.
“I think we all agree that Herndon exerted more clout than Reston,” said RCA Vice President Marion Stillson, comparing the roles of the two communities in past discussions about Metro.
“We’d be on the map — we’re on some of the maps now, but we’d be on all of them — and we’d have more clout,” said Simon.
“The issue for us,” said Corrigan, “is that Reston doesn’t have a voice specifically for Reston.” Corrigan and other RCA board members said that Reston would be empowered by town status, better able to maintain Reston’s founding principles, and less confusing.
CURRENTLY LOCAL senator, Janet Howell (D-32), represents Reston in addition to Great Falls, Herndon, McLean, and Tysons Corner. Delegate Kenneth Plum (D-36) represents mostly Reston, but also a bit of Franklin Farms. On the county level, Reston is part of the Hunter Mill district, which also includes the town of Vienna and other areas outside of Reston. On the local level, two homeowners associations represent the community: RA and the Reston Town Center Association. Then there is the Reston Community Center, which is governed by a board appointed by the county and funded by a separate Reston tax district.
In addition to simplifying local governance, Stillson emphasized that if Reston were to become a town, it would be a substitute layer of government, not an additional layer.