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City To Pay Back $841K to Cox

Overpayment by cable company leads to reimbursement by city.

Ellen Wigren is moving after 54 years as a resident of Fairfax, but not without a formal good-bye celebration and dedication from her friends, colleagues and the city itself.

On behalf of City Council, Mayor Robert Lederer declared Sept. 26 Ellen Wigren Day at the City Council meeting on the same day. Wigren volunteered her time to many different organizations throughout her years as a resident, including Fairfax City Inc., Historic Fairfax Inc., the County Historical Society and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. She volunteered at the Fairfax Museum and Visitor’s Center when it opened in 1992, and Chris Martin, the city’s historic resources director, along with Historic Fairfax President Karen Stevenson showed up at City Hall to support Wigren on her special day. She remained dedicated to her work even as she accepted the city’s proclamation, encouraging everyone in the room and watching on television to donate time to the place they all love to live.

“It takes a community, a state and a nation to raise historic interest and appreciation,” said Wigren. “I do appreciate this greatly and hope that you all will continue your efforts in helping to make our city and state and nation a much better place.”

Following the proclamation, City Manager Robert Sisson presented an Award of Financial Reporting Achievement to David Hodgkins, assistant city manager and the director of finance, and Cindy Henderson, the assistant finance director.

A few members of the community addressed council during public presentations on agenda items not requiring a public hearing. A few residents spoke about the proposed ball fields for the Stafford property, between Stafford Drive and the Plantation Parkway, just north of Route 50. Since Councilmembers Jeff Greenfield and Gary Rasmussen were absent from the meeting, Lederer said he suspected the work session discussion on this item would end up postponed, which it later was.

Spencer Cake, the open space advocate from Mosby Woods who gathered more than 1,100 petition signatures in opposition of the Rocky Gorge condominium application for the Stafford West property, presented council with his thanks for voting down the proposal. He specifically thanked Lederer and Greenfield for their “key votes,” but said “much remains to be done to preserve Rocky Gorge from future proposals. He urged councilmembers to establish the fair market value for the property and to allocate funds for acquisitions of open space-conservation land, specifically the Stafford West property, which is located just west of the proposed ball field property on Route 50, bordering the Mosby Woods neighborhood. The designation would prevent recreation development, such as ball fields, from being developed on lands purchased for conservation open space.

“Is there no room for passive park land in Fairfax City?” asked Cake. “We believe it has a place in the city.”

A RELATIVELY SHORT City Council agenda for Sept. 26 left most of the time for the work session immediately following the regular meeting. The most significant action of the regular meeting, or at least the action with the biggest price tag, was the approval to reimburse Cox Communications in the amount of $841,622.80 for overpaid local utility taxes during fiscal years 2004 and 2005. The money had been set aside during that time while staff prepared to make the repayment, but it took longer than expected to check the accuracy of the numbers, said Paige Johnson, commissioner of the revenue.

Cox had created a programming rule when it began local telephone service that treated the Clifton Zip code of 22039 as city Zip code 22030. When Johnson discovered the mistake, he alerted Cox, the county and Hodgkins. Cox paid the county the money due, and the city then set aside the estimated overpayment it had received as a result of the mistake. Councilmembers Scott Silverthorne and Joan Cross both expressed their frustration with the mistake and their concern for preventing similar financial mistakes in the future.

TWO OF THE FOUR work session agenda items were pushed back to the next council meeting because of Greenfield and Rasmussen's absence. The ball fields proposed for the Stafford property, located behind the KFC and Outback Steakhouse on Fairfax Boulevard and Stafford Drive, will be discussed at the Oct. 10 meeting, along with the possibility of building sound walls along George Mason Boulevard. The fields have received some community attention, but nothing like the attention and opposition neighbors gave to the Stafford West property, just next-door, where condominiums were proposed.

"The truth is we just don't want ball fields built on this particular piece of property," said Jackie Fairbarns, president of the Cambridge Station Community Association.

Councilmembers have heard presentations outlining three field concepts on several occasions, with the second of three concepts outlining a park with one large baseball diamond and one large soccer field prevailing as the most favorable concept by city staff. The fields would be interchangeable for several different sports, and the outfield of the diamond would double as a third soccer field.

Michael McCarty, the city’s parks and recreation director, presented council with a new addition to the favored concept at the Sept. 12 work session: the use of material dug up from the Stafford site as base materials for building and reconstructing fields on the Green Acres site, off Sideburn Road. McCarty said he will present council with answers to many of their questions about the costs and logistics of the project raised at the Sept. 12 work session at the next meeting. One clarification from the previous meeting is that the city's number of fields would increase from its current 31 to 34 in 2008, when Lanier Middle School's fields would become usable again after the school's renovation project is completed.

Mary Stradley, president of the Mosby Woods Condominium Association, said her neighbors are concerned about the lights, noise and parking problems the fields could create. Gary Perryman, president of the Westmore Civic Association, said he sees the need for ball fields in the city, but also thinks money should be spent on updating fields that already exist.

Rasmussen has expressed similar concerns at previous discussions, especially regarding possible traffic and parking burdens the fields could create for the Mosby Woods neighborhood.

Cake said the city already has more than enough ball fields within city limits, well above the national average, he said.

Sound walls along the residential portion of George Mason Boulevard would be allowed by the Virginia Department of Transportation, according to Sisson's staff report. If the city approves building brick-type sound walls, VDOT would only cover up to a maximum of $270,000. The estimated $540,000 project means the city would have to pay the remainder, about half. Councilmembers will discuss this option at the Oct. 10 work session.