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Residents Sound Off on Funding, Boundaries

Clear messages sent to RCC board.

As a blizzard came barreling toward Reston Saturday, Feb. 11, more than 40 people took turns to speak out about the Reston Community Center’s tax rate and boundaries at the first of two public hearings on the subjects.

Despite so many people voicing opinions, two overriding messages were repeated throughout the hearing, which drew about 120 people.

“I’ve never been at a public hearing when the results have been so clear,” said Richard Stillson, a long-time Reston resident who was one of the last speakers. “There are people who love the community center and are willing to pay for it, and then there are others who do not live in Reston and do not want to pay for it.”

RESTON RESIDENTS and civic leaders were nearly unanimous in their support of maintaining the level of service and programming at the RCC. Nor did these residents want control of the center to be relinquished over to the county.

Joe Lombardo, RCC chairman, suggested in letters before the hearing that the tax rate, currently 5.2 cents per $100 of assessed property value, is too high and opened the door to the possibility of allowing the county to take over the center in an effort to reduce residents’ taxes.

Repeatedly at the hearing, residents who live in Reston said no to such a proposal.

Reston residents referred to the RCC, which has both a Hunters Woods and Lake Anne location, as the “crown jewels of Reston” with “wonderful” and “world-class” programming.

“This community needs more theaters, more swim lessons, more arts programs, not less,” said Deborah Shprentz, a Reston resident. “We urge you not to threaten the fiscal base of the community center and the programs we enjoy here.” Shprentz’s comments were echoed in several testimonies at the hearing, which lasted about 2 1/2 hours.

Robert E. Simon, founder of Reston, aimed his remarks at Lombardo, arguing that Lombardo hadn’t adequately gauged the community’s sentiment regarding the center. “It’s about time for Lombardo and his supporters to abandon their snide, penny-pinching, nit-picking ways and to afford themselves the opportunity to bask in the extraordinary esteem that their centers [at Hunters Woods and at Lake Anne] have earned over the years in this community,” said Simon, staring straight at Lombardo.

BUT ANOTHER cohort at the hearing had an equally common message. Several people at the hearing, who are non-Reston residents but are tax district residents, said they opposed paying the tax and wanted out of the tax district.

The RCC came into existence 27 years ago because a small tax district was created to fund it. The district, called small tax district #5, encompasses all of Reston and some neighborhoods outside of Reston, including homes with Vienna, Oak Hill and Oakton addresses.

These residents admit that they don’t feel part of the Reston community and see little reason why they pay for the RCC each year. According to RCC board member Kevin Deasy, there are about 1,400 residential properties outside of the Reston Master Plan that pay RCC taxes.

One upset non-Reston resident, but small tax district resident, was David Saunders. Saunders has lived at a Vienna address in the tax district for eight years. A few years ago, he noticed his family was paying a higher tax rate than what the county issued.

“We were informed we paid a special tax to the Reston Community Center, which shocked us,” he told the RCC Board Saturday. “We had never heard of [the RCC] and have never felt to be part of the Reston community.”

Saunders, like so many other residents living in the tax district but outside of Reston at the hearing, urged the board to cut them out of the tax district and make the boundaries specific to those who live in Reston.

“We very strongly do not want to be included in this tax district paying for a center that is located in someone else's community,” said Saunders.

For the most part, Restonians at the hearing agreed. “For those who live outside of Reston but still must pay taxes for the RCC, I think it would be only fair to let them out of the small tax district. Then they can keep their money and we can keep our community,” said Lillian Christman, a Reston resident.

Residents of the tax district in the same situation as Saunders noted that they do not get Reston television or Reston newspapers. For example, Christopher Sterbenz, an Oakton resident, said he had yet to receive the mailing that announced the public hearings as well as any other mailings from the community center.