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Votes

RCC Heats Up Over Capital Projects, Tax Rate

Divisions on board spill over.

In a heated meeting Monday night, marked by raised voices and vitriolic exchanges, Reston Community Center’s Board of Governors almost had its first filibuster.

The board voted 5-3 along partisan lines to recommend to the county’s Board of Supervisors that the RCC finance new capital projects of $250,000 or more by issuing bonds. RCC Chairman Joseph Lombardo, who leads the board’s anti-tax, conservative majority, ruled that the resolution carried, even as a vocal minority claimed that the bylaws say that a resolution with expenditure-related ramifications requires a two-thirds majority.

The three board members in the minority — Terry Smith, Bill Bouie and Beverly Cosham, who opposed the measure — refused to yield, arguing the vote had failed.

“I rule it does not [fail],” said Lombardo, who has been liberal using the gavel to restore order at meetings since becoming chairman last November.

“You can rule whatever you want, but you’re out of order Mr. Chairman. You have abrogated the process,” said Smith.

Pounding the gavel relentlessly, an angered Lombardo tried to regain control of the meeting. “I would ask you to please shut up,” Lombardo yelled at Smith. “You just shut up or get out,” yelled Lombardo.

The disturbance finally ended when the minority agreed to have the issue sent to the county attorney to decide whether a simple majority or a two-thirds majority was needed to pass the resolution.

THEN IT WAS on to another contentious issue: a proposal to reduce the tax rate by 31 percent bringing it down from 5.2 cents per $100 assessed to 3.6 cents per $100.

“It’s a pretty tense atmosphere, so I don’t know if I can do it, but I’ll try,” said Peter von zur Muehlen when asked to introduce his resolution for the tax rate reduction, which the rest of the board first found out would be on the agenda last Friday.

Lombardo agreed with the minority that this measure did require a two-thirds majority to pass. The measure failed 5-3.

Members of the minority agreed that the tax rate needs to be examined, but opposed the way the majority was trying to push it through. The financial committee and staff should be given time to examine the implications of a reduction, said Bouie, who responded with a motion that asked the county to study the tax rate so the RCC board could make a more informed decision. The motion failed.

THE NEW CAPITAL projects resolution, if it gets approval from the county attorney, will be sent to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors as a recommendation. If the county approves it, the measure would require that any capital expenditure that expands or increases the existing RCC footprint and exceeds $250,000 be financed by bond issue. Von zur Muehlen, who introduced the resolution, argued that the measure would allow the RCC to reduce its reserves and support a tax rate reduction. In addition, he argued that financing capital projects with bonds “will provide an important and additional layer of public scrutiny and review” because they require a referendum.

The minority opposed the measure mostly because the measure had not been vetted through normal channels. “To put out a resolution of this magnitude when we have a finance committee that should have examined it, is totally irresponsible,” said Bouie, adding that normal procedure also includes an opportunity for staff to analyze and then make recommendations on substantive financial issues.

FOR SEVERAL RESIDENTS, the rush to ram through the resolutions was a result of partisan divisions on the nine-member board. Lombardo joined by Mary Buff and three, newly-elected non-Reston residents — Kevin Deasy, George Lawton and Von zur Muehlen — form a fiscal conservative majority on the board. Yet, with the county’s decision last week to contract the Small Tax District 5 borders, Deasy, Lawton and Von zur Muehlen will be forced off the board in July.

“I think it’s inappropriate for three board members who are not going to be on the board or in the tax district to make long-term changes,” said William Penniman, a tax district resident. “They don’t have a stake in it.”

Some members on the board agreed. “I object that the three lame duck members who will be off the board in July are voting on issues critical to Reston, which they no longer represent,” said Smith.

Deasy and Von zur Muehlen, whose chief priority was to get themselves and their non-Reston resident neighbors out of the tax district, responded to the complaint by saying that it’s their obligation to finish their work as at-large representatives of the entire tax district.

“When I ran for this [position] I had a platform,” said Von zur Muehlen, who acknowledged that he does not enjoy the job. “I have a moral obligation to live up to my promises.” Lawton refused to comment.

The board also voted 5-3 requesting the county to leave the three vacated seats unfilled until the next preference poll in October. The minority again argued that the vote itself was inappropriate. “They’re voting on the vacating of their own seats,” said Smith.