Supervisor Michael R. Frey (R-Sully) spoke Monday night about Fairfax County's budget, local road projects, parks and ballfields. He was addressing the quarterly meeting of the West Fairfax County Citizens Association (WFCCA).
"THERE'S A lot going on in the area," he said. "Countywide, we're in the final days of the budget meetings. Markup is next Monday, where we actually make the decisions, and the formal vote is May 1."
The tough part, said Frey, is putting together a package that "balances the needs of various groups and programs [with those of] the people who pay for these programs."
For seven years in a row, he said, homeowners have seen "greater than double-digit increases" in their assessments. "This year's average was 19 percent, and some were significantly higher," he said. "Mine was 38 percent. On average, countywide, people are paying double in taxes what they paid five years ago."
Frey noted that the average, single-family home now sells for "well over half a million dollars" and townhouses are going for more than $300,000. "And you're talking about a fairly substantial tax bite on top of that," he said. "Any gains people made by refinancing their homes were eaten away by higher taxes."
Currently, he said, the county executive is calling for a 7-cent reduction in the tax rate, from $1 to 93 cents per $100 assessed valuation. "And we're talking about an 89-cent reduction," said Frey. "The final number hasn't yet been determined, but it will go below 7 cents — no doubt about it."
And this decrease is in addition to the elimination of the county decal, which will mean $20 million less for the county coffers. "The decal's purpose is to identify those people who've paid their taxes," explained Frey. "But there are multiple cross checks to do this. Board [of Supervisors] Chairman Gerry Connolly introduced it and it's going to pass."
Since the state is still trying to pass its own budget, said Frey, "We don't know how bad we'll get hit. I always think of it as, 'First, do no harm.' We'll lose about $11 million in federal, child-care money that we'd been matching because the state didn't."
Every year, he said, "The General Assembly doesn't do things that are good for local governments. The fact is, we don't have the votes, and the state likes our money and is not going to give it back. So budget time in Richmond is generally not a good time for us."
Noting that transportation spending is still up in the air, he said the House is recommending $350 million in new money for transportation — mostly for Northern Virginia and the Tidewater area, but not much for Fairfax County.
FREY SAID the Senate and governor support bills raising $1 billion statewide in new fees and taxes. But, he added, "It's still funneled through the same funding formulas so it still won't help us."
Locally, he said, it was great to open the Westfields Interchange last fall. But doing so moved the traffic problem further south and "created some bottlenecks out here. VDOT is working on the timing of the lights."
He also has some plans for the Centreville Road Fund, comprised of contributions from developers for off-site road improvements.
"When we adjust the amount in the Centreville Road Fund for inflation, next week I'm recommending we use money in [this fund] for the design to four-lane the less than 3/4 of a mile of Poplar Tree Road from Sully Station Drive/Sequoia Farms Road to Braddock Ridge," said Frey. He estimated the design work to improve this "badly needed stretch of road" from two lanes would cost about $500,000.
He said the Board of Supervisors is putting in a Capital Improvement Plan including a transportation bond for next year. Said Frey: "The county executive's CIP for next year doesn't include a bond for transportation improvements, so the Board has made it clear that it will."
The McLearen Road Interchange will open May 2 or 3, making it the third interchange funded by the Route 28 Tax District. And Willard Road is on deck. "The revenue picture looks strong, so we can issue bonds by the end of summer or early fall by PPTA [public/private partnership agreement] with Clark/Shirley for the last three interchanges," said Frey. He said the Willard Road Interchange should be under construction by this time next year.
The public hearing on the county Park Authority's proposed Master Plan for Sully Woodlands — some 4,400 acres of parkland — is May 3. Frey noted that "they tied it into the watershed planning efforts" and it's the first time the Park Authority has done such a comprehensive study. He said almost 90 percent of this land will be recommended for permanent open space, and "there's a long line of people who want to use the [10 percent designated for] active space."
He said Loudoun "isn't a Chesapeake Bay county" so it doesn't have to conform to those standards, "but we'll try to work with them on this and on traffic. And we'll continue to push the edge as best we can to get better communications and relationships established."
Frey also mentioned the recently opened dog park in Quinn Farm Park, as well as the new fields at Arrowhead Park. While Pulte Homes built its section of the Faircrest subdivision (formerly Centreville Farms), it needed to use the three ballfields in Arrowhead for its construction equipment.
BUT NOW, said Frey, "Because Pulte missed some deadlines, it's giving back five fields in better condition than the three were, originally. So we'll have Level 1, lighted, irrigated fields by the end of May. And there'll now be a seamless park between Arrowhead Park and Colin Powell Elementary. Both will share the ball diamonds at Powell and the rectangular fields in Arrowhead."
Regarding the job market in Fairfax County, he said it's quite healthy and is projected to continue that way next year, too. "We're down below 10 percent office vacancy, and we haven't been there for seven years," he said. "Westfields is building for the government contractors who have high-security needs. So we're seeing a lot of 'spec' building out here again and, along with that, we're also getting a lot of new residents."
WFCCA Land-Use Chairman Jim Katcham asked if the proposal to prohibit the supervisors from holding outside jobs would pass, and Frey said no. "This also came up in 1995, and nobody in our [state] delegation wanted to carry this bill, so I don't think so," he answered. "We'll need to spend more time convincing people in Richmond." He also noted that the supervisors' pay raise from $59,000 to $75,000 a year will be for the next board, not this one.
WFCCA's Russ Wanek asked if the supervisors are "really interested" in citizen involvement and comment on advisory boards and commissions. "If you're going to have a group of dedicated people spend a lot of their volunteer time — and then have their comments ignored — that's really discouraging," he said.
In reply, Frey said Wanek's work on the Cub Run Watershed study is definitely welcomed and needed. "I believe there's a difference between listening to what a citizen task force recommends and doing exactly what it says," said Frey. "But I think the county truly does seek, support and use citizen input."
Noting that the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) recommends not building the Tri-County Parkway through Fairfax County, Bull Run Estates' Mark McConn asked if it would now be removed from Fairfax County's Comprehensive Plan. Frey said county staff wants to keep it there and also add the northern alignment of the Battlefield Bypass.
LASTLY, WFCCA's Carol Hawn asked Frey — who has a long history of voting against the proposed county budget — "If the board approves an 11-cent reduction [of the tax rate] add eliminates the car decal, will you vote to approve the budget?"
"I'm not unhappy at 11 cents, but I want to see what's in or out, plus some addressing of pay compensation for county employees," he replied. "If something isn't done to improve their compensation and fix the system, then I won't vote for it." Currently, he said, new employees can make more money than those with more seniority, and "that's just not fair."
Frey then thanked the WFCCA for all it does. "Citizen input is important, and I appreciate all the time you give," he said. "And it does influence what I and the Board do."