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What’s It Worth?

City tries to assess potential benefits from regional transportation plan

Fairfax Mayor Robert Lederer has some decisions to make, and for the first time, the power rests solely with him and not with the other six City Council members.

Lederer, the City of Fairfax representative on the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, will meet with the other voting members of the NVTA, Thursday, July 12, to vote on the seven taxes and fees authorized by House Bill 3203, passed through the General Assembly earlier this year. City staff presented council with a staff report at a recent meeting intended to provide guidance to Lederer, but he is not required to listen to them.

Lederer joked about how powerful he felt, but that was the only laughing matter during the discussion. The NVTA may take action after the July 12 public hearing, or it could postpone action for a later date. The authority must decide whether to impose seven tax and fee hikes, but each voting member can choose a different package for his or her respective locality. Lederer can choose to impose the hikes for zero of the proposed taxes and fees, up to all seven, for the city. But if he, or any other member, chooses to omit any or some, it will decrease the amount of the $300 million total that all of the seven taxes and fees would raise for the NVTA fund pool.

"I hope we don’t oversimplify this process," he said. "We need to understand the implications [to the NVTA fund pool] if we start pulling away some of these taxes."

What members can’t do is change the amount of the tax and fees. While they can pick and choose which seven taxes and fees, they cannot nickel and dime the amounts of each tax or fee.

"[The NVTA] cannot change the rate," said Verzosa. "This is in the bill."

THE CITY’S portion, if Lederer chooses to vote to impose all seven taxes, is about $4.4 million. Technically, 100 percent of that city-raised money would stay with the city, but in the big picture, some of that money is lost. The city would have complete control over 40 percent, and the other 60 percent would be put into the NVTA fund pool. The 60 percent in that pool would still belong solely to the city, however the city would have to request the funds for specific projects, from the NVTA, said David Hodgkins, assistant city manager and director of finance.

"That 60 percent is still allocated to city, but it will be held by NVTA," he said. "We will have to request that money via project submissions. We would not lose the money that was raised by the City of Fairfax."

But Councilmember Gary Rasmussen pointed out that some of the money would inevitably be lost. Since about $75 million for Metro and Virginia Railway Express would come from the NVTA fund pool, some of the city’s share would be included in that amount.

"This $50 million and $25 million [for Metro and VRE] comes right off the top," said Verzosa. "The city’s share is about $2 million."

But for regional projects, the 6-square-mile city might not reap as many benefits, said Councilmember Scott Silverthorne.

"I don’t have the comfort level here that our residents are going to benefit in the same category as the larger jurisdictions," he said. "As a small city, I think we have to protect our interests."

But Rasmussen said the big picture is what the city should be focused on. Some citizens will pay certain taxes that others won’t, such as the grantor’s tax— a tax imposed on anyone who sells property.

"In the end, it’s going to benefit all of us," said Rasmussen.

A good thing about the bill is that no time restraints are placed on when the city must spend its money, said Hodgkins. While the city would have to request funds with project submissions, the money doesn’t disappear after some obscure expiration date.

"We have a unique opportunity now to address transportation on a regional level," said Roland Gunn, an Alexandria resident and a board member of the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance. "We live and shop regionally. Anything that we can do to improve the overall transportation structure benefits us all."