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Pushing resTOWN forward

Reston Citizens Association holds third community outreach meeting to explain benefits of township.

For Mike Corrigan, it’s not a hard sale. People in Reston could have more political control over local issues, a progressive tax based on property values and eligibility for grant money — all for $215 less a year for the average homeowner.

All residents would have to do, said Corrigan, is become a town.

Despite being home to a nationally-acclaimed town center, Reston is not a town.

If it were a town, with its roughly 58,000 people, it would be the largest town in Virginia and the 12th largest municipality in the state. It would put Reston on the map, according to Corrigan, who as president of the Reston Citizens Association, has been showing state maps that omit Reston. Corrigan doesn’t want to be the next mayor of Reston, but he would like to vote for one.

LAST THURSDAY, Corrigan and other board members of the Reston Citizens Association made the case for township again at a community outreach meeting at the Reston Community Center at Lake Anne.

This was the third outreach meeting held by RCA. The first two meetings were held in June. RCA, who has been leading the effort to create a town of Reston, began having the meetings as part of a campaign to help Reston become a town, dubbed “resTOWN in 2006.”

About 20 people attended Thursday’s meeting, mostly listening to the one and a half hour presentation made by RCA board members.

Most of the concerns that came up after the presentation focused on the boundaries of the proposed town.

At one point, the RCA had proposed using the same boundaries of Small Tax District 5, which raises tax revenue for the Reston Community Center. This tax district not only encompasses Reston’s four zip codes, but also neighborhoods without Reston addresses. Several people who are part of the tax district but do not live in Reston proper complained that they should not be included in a town proposal.

At past meetings, RCA considered their complaints, changing the boundaries to include Reston Association’s boundaries and Reston Town Center.

Many of the questions from the audience dealt with this clarification. A couple that lived outside of Reston, but was still part of the RCC tax district were relieved to find out they would no longer be part of RCA’s town proposal.

BUT OTHERS, despite the presentation, feared that a town would be more expensive to Reston taxpayers. John Conaway, a Reston resident, said he thought that people would end up paying more. “I just don’t know what’s in it for us,” said John Conaway, after RCA’s presentation. “What we have now is working, why change it?” Corrigan, who has studied the issue for over a year, disagreed. “The majority of our homeowners would be paying less,” he said.

Ron Guberman, who has lived in Reston for 35 years, said that he was concerned that the proposed town would try to replace county services, like police and education, which he thinks are already done well. At the meeting, he learned that the town would remain part of Fairfax County, which would still oversee police, education, libraries, fire, court and social services.

“As someone who was uninformed, my first set of fears have been put to rest,” said Guberman. However, he still had questions, like whether or not a town government is the most bang for the buck. “For example, I don’t know if Herndon is better off or not,” said Guberman, who added that he planned to get more involved.

WHILE ELICITING both support and criticism, the RCA’s proposal for township continues to build momentum. The RCA has collected more than 600 signatures in support of a referendum on township, more than double the amount they had after the Reston Festival in July. The petition supports that a referendum be held to allow Reston residents to vote for or against township.

In 1980, the people of Reston did just that. In that referendum, two out of every three people voted against township. However, a study afterward indicated that half of the votes against township were cast because they viewed the town charter was too weak, not because they opposed township.

In 1988, the community again looked at the idea of township. 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.

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.

Corrigan said that the savings occurs because of two main factors: the tax would be a tax deductible property tax and it would be spread out over a larger tax base including residents and businesses.

To date, RCA has given new life to the cause. By pointing to important, future community issues, such as Metrorail coming to Reston, RCA has continued to keep residents interested in the possibility of a town.