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All We Want for Christmas Is ...

The Town Council shares its wish list with two local legislators.

Monday night's Town Council work session began with Mayor Jane Seeman laying out the council's wish list for this year's Virginia General Assembly, first to State Sen. Jeannemarie Devolites-Davis (R-34) and then to Del. Steve Shannon (D-35).

Seeman began by saying the council does not want to see any changes to eminent domain laws. She said the Virginia Municipal League had discussed redefining the language of the law, but Devolites-Davis said she did not foresee any legislation of major consequence on that front.

Another change the council does not want to see is the institution of a "flush tax," which would charge citizens a fee ($2.50 a month in Maryland, for example) on sewer bills, to be distributed to wastewater treatment plants for upgrades that would reduce damage to the Chesapeake Bay.

"We oppose anything that will restrict our local taxing authority," said Seeman.

She then brought up the state's formula for distributing funds for road maintenance, which is based solely on lane miles, not traffic volume.

Devolites said she understood that the State Republican Caucus had decided to promote a plan under which any additional revenues for transportation would be distributed according to traffic volume. However, she noted, those additions may be small.

She said she had heard there would be anywhere from $3 billion to $5 billion in additional funding for this two-year period.

Investing the money in long-term projects may not be a good idea, said Devolites, because when the war ends and the federal government is not paying federal contractors as much, revenues will diminish and it will be harder to keep up with the bills for an ongoing project.

"I personally think we should take 2 billion of those dollars — maybe more if it's available — and use it for direct capital construction payments," she said.

"I've talked to a couple of the Democrat legislators who agree that that would be a good way to use those funds, and asked them to talk to the governor [Mark Warner (D)] about it," she said, noting that if Warner allocates the funds in the state's budget, opponents will have to take the trouble to have the items removed.

FOR DISCUSSION OF Verizon's application for a cable television franchise in the town, Seeman turned the floor over to Town Attorney Steve Briglia. He said the town's biggest complaint concerns a piece of legislation Verizon is expected to push again at the state level, in which a provision has been added saying that if the company has an existing franchise for telecommunications services, they do not need another franchise agreement in order to install cable services. This is a problem, he said, because Verizon and Vienna do not agree on how and where the lines should be installed, and the town does not want to lose its leverage in the disagreement.

"The new lines that they install, not the old ones, but the new ones — just like everybody else, every other telecommunications provider who's come into town in the last 15 years — we've required them to comply with our undergrounding rules, adopted in 1990. Verizon says they're not going to do it," he told Devolites.

"I think taking the local government's right to determine how they're going to handle the cable franchises away from them is wrong," she responded. "And I can't imagine that there are too many people that think it's the right thing to do."

When the case was presented to Shannon, he looked half incredulous. "Is any local government going to be in favor of this?" he asked.

"As always, I'm with the town," he concluded, saying he would "try to do damage control in advance" if the bill is reintroduced. He made note of the key points the council opposed.

Town Manager John Schoeberlein told the legislators that Vienna wants to retain its ability to collect cigarette taxes and also wants to be able to sell surplus town property in online auctions.

Devolites asked if he was anticipating legislation that would allow all localities to auction property online.

"That would be fine," said Schoeberlein, "but you could name it after Vienna."

Seeman also mentioned that the town favors photo enforcement of red lights, for which the state legislation expired over the summer.

Briglia brought up the subject of limiting real estate tax assessments to Devolites, and she said she did not "think it's something that we should mess with." The council opposes real estate tax caps at the state level.

"I'm more interested about adequate public facilities," she said, mentioning that the new or proposed developments at Tysons Corner, Metro West and Hunter Mill Road all fall within her jurisdiction.

AN ADEQUATE PUBLIC FACILITIES ordinance mandates that development should not be put in place until the area's schools, roads and other facilities are prepared to handle it.

She said her husband, U.S. Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), had mentioned to her "a couple of localities" that had invoked an adequate public facilities ordinance, and "the builder sued them, and the court ruled that not only did they have to allow the builder to build, but the local government had to pay to build a school."

Therefore, Devolites said, she does not think an adequate public facilities battle is a smart tack for a local government to take.

When Councilmember Mike Polychrones asked if the proffer system might be a useful tool, Devolites' response was lukewarm. She said she again worried that the builder might take the local government to court.

However, she said one way she wants to address the problem of development is to make members of the Board of Supervisors disclose their contributors at the planning hearing for the Fairfax County Comprehensive Plan, rather than at the zoning hearing.

WHEN THE SUBJECT of real estate tax caps was brought up with Shannon, he said, "The council makes it easy," referring to Vienna's self-imposed cap on the last round of real estate taxes, wherein the town adjusted its own real estate tax to offset the net increase in county taxes.

Asked about controlling growth in the surrounding area, Shannon responded, "The proffer system could work fine to deal with most of these changes." Proffering is a deal between local government and developer that usually exchanges a rezoning for road improvements, school expansions or other accommodations for the increase in population. It is less formal and bureaucratic than an adequate public facilities ordinance, but is still legally binding.

During the council's interview with Shannon, Seeman brought up his proposed sex offender legislation.

"The key with that is to work on trying to notify communities, but we don't impose the mandate on local governments to pay for the cost of notification," said Shannon. He suggested the use of e-mail.

Councilmember Laurie Cole said she thought there should be a minimum distance from an elementary or middle school for state-placed sex offenders.

Cole also mentioned to Shannon the subject of private behind-the-wheel driver's education, asking, "Are they regulated at all? Do they have any requirements they have to meet?" Behind-the-wheel is now offered only privately.

Shannon said he would look into it.