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Twenty Years of Town Meetings

Supervisor hosts public forum.

Transportation, taxes, revitalization, affordable housing, open space preservation, education and public safety. Once again it was all there for nearly 400 Mount Vernon District citizens to become informed and gain answers to their questions in the New England model of local government in action.

Twenty years and counting. At least that was the hope expressed by several speakers at the 20th Annual Town Meeting Supervisor Gerald Hyland (D-Mount Vernon) last Saturday in Mount Vernon High School's Little Theatre.

What they were referring to was the hope that Hyland will serve as the district's supervisor for at least another four years. The unspoken apprehension that seemed to permeate the atmosphere of this year's gathering of his constituents was triggered not only by the recent announcement of Supervisor Dana Kauffman (D-Lee) not to seek reelection but also Hyland's reaction to that announcement and his thank you from Saturday's stage to his constituents for the past two decades of mutually achieved accomplishments.

"Dana's decision not to run again is not a happy one for me," said Hyland, in his opening remarks. "I have been blessed to have a friend in Lee District who cares so much what happens here. Not having Dana on the Board of Supervisors is not a pleasant thought."

This was coupled with his tribute to those filling the semi-circular auditorium before him. "Your passion for local government is not confined to this auditorium once a year. I congratulate you for your caring, involvement and service. What ever we have done and accomplished we have done so together," he said.

Hyland then launched into the subject that once again was the 800-pound gorilla in the room: BRAC, the Base Realignment and Closure Report scheduled to bring 22,000 plus new personnel to Fort Belvoir and its Engineering Proving Grounds by September 2011. "When BRAC decided to place 18,000 of its 22,000 personnel increase at the Engineering Proving Grounds we realized revitalization would not happen as soon as we thought. We need to continue our efforts for the revitalization of Route 1," Hyland said.

NOTING THAT CONGRESS has not yet appropriated all the needed funds to implement the various BRAC components, Hyland cited a lack of funding for the transportation element as "the worst nightmare possible." With that he introduced U.S. Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-11).

"Although the first budget to pass Congress shortchanged BRAC by $3 billion, it is our assessment that the time frame to totally implement BRAC by September 2011 is not feasible even if all the money were in place today," Davis said.

"[U.S. Rep. Jim Moran (D-8)] and I have put language into the last defense appropriation bill to improve the BRAC implementation including utilization of the GSA warehouse space," he said. "I think we can make this happen and that will take a lot of the pressure off the EPG and Fort Belvoir."

"But, the state will also have to play a major role in the funding," Davis said. Moran was also scheduled to address the audience on BRAC but was unable to attend.

BRAC's impact on Mount Vernon and Lee districts was addressed in depth by Col. Brian Lauritzen, installation commander, Fort Belvoir, during his presentation. "The good-news story is that much has already happened. Although the BRAC equation is still pretty daunting as far its time schedule is concerned, I believe it is achievable," he said.

"This is a massive shell game if there ever was one. BRAC affects the entire nation because other areas must be ready to accept their incoming units as well. We've spent the lion's share of the last year getting everyone on the same page. And, we will get it right with your help," Lauritzen said.

Seven million square feet of office space will be added to Belvoir's inventory as a result of BRAC, according to Lauritzen. "However, there may actually be a net loss of 6,000 personnel to the overall region because of units moving to other locations in the nation," he said.

"It was determined that our best chance to succeed in meeting the BRAC deadline was to utilize the Engineering Proving Grounds because of its proximity to I-95," he said. This also includes completion of the missing link of the Fairfax County Parkway which is designed to transverse the EPG.

In order to meet Environmental Protection Administration requirement to make the EPG environmentally acceptable for construction of the parkway link more than 6,000 tons of dirt have been removed at a cost of $16 million, according to Lauritzen.

"By March, the parkway parcel will be cleaned and ready for construction," he said.

TWO OTHER SUBJECTS of interest to local community residents concerning Belvoir covered by Lauritzen were the expansion of DeWitt Army Hospital and the new location of the U.S. Army Museum.

DeWitt will grow from 250,000 to 850,000 square feet by 2011. It will add approximately 77 beds, seven operating rooms, and an intensive care unit, he informed the audience.

The museum, previously scheduled to be located on the fringe of the EPG has been relocated to an area adjacent to Belvoir's Kingman Gate, just west of the Fairfax County Parkway's intersection with Route 1. Lauritzen indicated that this location is not set in stone and may still be located at the site preferred by most local leaders, near the base's main Pence Gate on Route 1.

"GOOD OUTCOMES just don't happen by luck," said Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chair Gerald Connolly (D-At-large), as the lead-off speaker of county officials. "They take planning and effort. Thirty years ago, there were few jobs in Fairfax County. Most residents commuted to the District. We now provided more than 600,000 jobs and more people commute here than to the District."

"But, while we were working to build the county economically the state did not keep up. Sixty percent of the county's revenue is derived from real estate taxes. And, worse, we are specifically excluded from benefiting from state lottery funds by a law that excludes any jurisdiction with a population of over 600,000. Guess who that hits? We are the only one in the Commonwealth," Connolly said.

He then proceeded to list county initiatives by highlighting the following:

* "We have cracked down on gang violence and crime. But, we have been lax on prevention. As of September every middle School in the county will have after school programs to deter gang affiliation."

* "We need to concentrate more on affordable housing both in terms of the homeless and for our county work force, many of whom can't afford to live here. In fact, if things keep escalating, many of our children won't be able to afford to live here. We are working on preserving what affordable housing we have and creating more." This is supported by one cent of the real estate tax dedicated to affordable housing. Estimated value of one penny in Fiscal Year 2008 is $22.6 million. Forty percent of the county's homeless population have employment but can not afford housing, according to the Rev. Keary Kincannon, Rising Hope United Methodist Mission Church.

* "Fairfax County made the top schools list in the nation. Montgomery County can't say that. Today the county is 40 percent minority and our school population is 50 percent minority."

* "We have set a goal of setting aside 10 percent of the county's land mass as open space. We only have 22,000 acres of land left in the County for development."

* "We are not really going to solve the congestion problem. And, neither is any other major metropolitan area. Our goal is to create choices. We allowed development willy-nilly, now we have to go back and correct that."

* In creating recreation facilities, Connolly noted, "Our goal is to develop 15 synthetic athletic fields. These cost $800,000 each." Such fields enjoy longer use throughout the year and require less upkeep and revitalization.

* "Fairfax County leads the region in disaster preparedness." That applies to both terrorism scenarios and natural disasters. Fairfax County's Urban Search & Rescue teams are recognized worldwide for their expertise.

CONNOLLY'S REVIEW of county priorities was buttressed by County Executive Anthony Griffin during his "Challenges and Opportunities For Fairfax County" presentation. Noting that one third of the county's 12,000-member work force will be eligible for retirement in the next five years, Griffin cited an increased competition among local governments for qualified personnel.

"We are trying to get neighborhoods to reconnect among themselves," he said. "We need to get neighbors to help neighbors rather than turning to the county as their first response to problems. The county can't always be the solution."

Griffin also announced the creation of a new Office of Revitalization and Redevelopment. "This will report directly to me," he said.

Other initiatives Griffin outlined included upgrading the county Health Department to deal with the threat of a major health crisis such as a flu pandemic and the creation of a program designed to reduce domestic violence. He also covered a variety of ongoing programs demanding both personnel and financial resources.

Presentations were also made by Dr. Jack Dale, superintendent, Fairfax County Public Schools; Fairfax County School Board Chair Dan Storck (Mount Vernon); Fairfax County Police Chief David Rohrer; Daryl Louder, assistant chief, Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Department; Ed Long, chief financial officer, Fairfax County; and Supervisor Dana Kauffman (D-Lee).

As usual the high point for most of the audience was Hyland's annual "Virtual Bus Tour" covering revitalization and development projects along the Route 1 corridor and throughout Mount Vernon District. This is also emphasized separately.

Prior to the Town Meeting's formal opening, attendees had an opportunity to visit with an array of exhibitors in the school cafeteria area. Representatives from a wide variety of governmental agencies and private organizations were available to explain their services, answer questions, and supply informational literature.