Reston Citizens Association held a workshop on Saturday that focused on services an incorporated town of Reston would offer. However, advocacy issues took up much of the meeting’s time.
Mike Corrigan, RCA president, said the necessity to incorporate Reston into a town stems from major issues that will affect the community in the coming years. Incorporation would provide greater local oversight of metro coming to the community and decisions to improve Reston’s aging infrastructure and quality of life for its aging population. Currently, according to Corrigan, Reston does not have an effective enough voice representing it at the county level. For example, Corrigan said the county adopted amendments to the Planned Residential Community ordinance despite three Reston groups representing the community’s residents testifying against the decision. "We don’t have one voice that speaks for Reston," he said.
Reston resident Nancy Davis asked Corrigan and other RCA board members at the workshop whether the Hunter Mill District supervisor — Catherine Hudgins — is ineffective in representing Reston at the county level.
"She picks her battles," said Debra Steppel, RCA board member. "If she thinks something is not worth fighting for, there is no amount of kicking and screaming that will make her look at it," said Steppel.
Jane Wong, RCA volunteer and a recent candidate for the Reston Association board, said two terms describe Reston’s relationship to the county. "No voice and stepchild," said Wong.
Another Reston resident, Larry Pettinger, asked how much more effective would Reston’s advocacy be if it became a town. Corrigan said Herndon played a major role in the negotiations over breaking up the special tax district which will help pay for the metro extension to Dulles Airport. As a town, he said, Herndon was able to say it will participate in the tax district once metro improvements begin to affect it, therefore not paying for the first phase of the line which will go through Tysons Corner and to Wiehle Avenue.
Steppel said Herndon also played a major role in getting an overpass at the intersection of Fairfax County Parkway and Sunset Hills Road. The intersection is considered to be in Herndon, while the intersection of the parkway with Sunrise Valley Drive is in Reston, and it, along with every other intersection on the parkway, has traffic lights. "Herndon put their foot down with the county. Because Herndon had a voice, it was able to get a clover leaf [intersection]," said Steppel.
CORRIGAN SURPRISED THOSE in attendance with a clarification that towns are part of counties. As such, towns can choose what range of services they offer to residents and what services stay with the county. "You don’t have to have a [town] police department," said Corrigan. "That’s not how most places work, but it’s how Virginia works."
Debra Steppel, RCA board member, said people she talks with do not understand that towns do not have to provide all of the services. "This is something most people in Reston don’t get," she said. Neighboring towns of Vienna and Herndon chose to have their own police departments. The RCA proposal for Reston recommends that police, fire, schools and libraries remain county-provided services. However, Reston’s state legislators — Janet Howell and Ken Plum — have said they would not introduce legislation for incorporation unless enough services were provided, so that it would make sense to have a town. Any incorporation effort has to be approved by the General Assembly, and therefore introduced by Howell and Plum. Corrigan said the county’s position is that the town should not duplicate county services.
The challenge for RCA is to find a balance between providing enough services so that Howell and Plum would introduce legislation and keeping the town inexpensive enough for its residents to support it. The residents would continue to pay the county tax and would pay an additional town tax, which RCA must prove less expensive than current fees — such as homeowner association fees. The financial workshop on the cost of being a town is scheduled in mid-July.
INCORPORATION WOULD IMPACT the business community, which, given its size, is an important part of Reston. They would pay 11 cents per $100 of assessed value for the real estate tax, which now costs them 4.7 cents per $100 of assessed value. While the residents could choose to vote down incorporation, businesses do not have a vote. Steppel argued that if the employees of the business are Reston residents, then those businesses do have a vote. She added that a lot of businesses are in Reston because of the address appeal. "More important to the [business] owner, rather than using [Reston’s] facilities, is the cache of having a Reston address," said Steppel. "Right now, they’re getting that free," she said.
Reston resident Tammi Petrine said that more oversight on decisions over local transportation matters should entice the business community to support incorporation. "Traffic control, moving people, if it’s a problem for us as residents, it is also a problem for the businesses," said Petrine.
Nine people — including three RCA board members and a RCA volunteer — attended Saturday morning’s workshop. "I thought there would be more people here," said Pettinger. The low turnout did not concern Corrigan, who thought that the meeting was a success. A lot of ideas were exchanged between the participants and there was a lot of interaction, which is the idea behind holding a workshop, he said.