No Rent Relief for School

No Rent Relief for School

Council strikes down the Northern Virginia Christian Academy’s request for six months of rent relief, among other business.

When the Fairfax City Council leased the Westmore School to a private Christian school last summer, councilmembers thought the three-year agreement was an almost perfect partnership.

Many are still very pleased that the Northern Virginia Christian Academy, or NVCA, occupies the Westmore property, and members of the Westmore community have come out several times to voice their support for their new neighbors. But school officials approached City Council at its Tuesday, March 27 meeting with a proposal that some councilmembers thought was a bit far-fetched.

Bill Zink, a member of the NVCA board of directors, came before councilmembers and told them the three-month rent deferment proposed in the staff report in front of them was not good enough. Zink wanted a six-month rent relief for the school, citing the $250,000 spent on repairs and renovations that should have been the city’s cost burden, not the tenant’s, he said.

“We had expectations that the build-out of the site would not be prohibitively expensive or extensive,” said Zink. “The NVCA budgeted between $25,000-$50,000. We were surprised to learn the repair costs were $250,000.”

Zink said the reason repairs were so costly was because the NVCA had to comply with the city’s staff-imposed requirements. Councilmembers Jeff Greenfield and Gary Rasmussen were taken aback by the request for rent relief. City Attorney Brian Lubkeman said the city was under the impression, based on discussions with the school officials leading up to the public hearing, that the school was satisfied with the three-month deferral being considered. Since Fairfax County previously leased the building and used it for administrative offices, city officials questioned how much of the school’s $250,000 repairs were “staff-imposed,” as Zink said.

“The school had an obligation to itself to enter into a contract that it knew was valid,” said Rasmussen. “I don’t think we misled them into thinking they were getting something they weren’t getting.”

Robert Sisson, the city manager, said the school presumably hired an architect to make changes to comply with city code. The city, however, would go through an entirely different process by bidding the project out and looking for the cheapest contractor if it were to bear the cost. The NVCA signed the lease that said it would cover the repair costs.

“I’d bear to say that if your enrollment numbers were what you thought they would be, you wouldn’t be here [asking for rent relief],” said Greenfield.

Councilmember Patrice Winter made a motion to defer the decision to April 24, but it was voted down. Council voted in favor of the motion to defer the NVCA’s February, March and April rent payments, totaling $156,000, to the end of its lease. The decision struck down the possibility for the six-month rent relief school officials wanted. Also, the rent relief, if granted, would have walked a fine line between the separation of church and state, according to Lubkeman.

ANOTHER LENGTHY DISCUSSION at the March 27 meeting addressed the possibility of imposing an ambulance transport fee next fiscal year. Tom Owens, the city’s fire chief, presented council with an overview of what implementing the fee would entail. Since city ambulances are used to transport county and city residents, the city has previously had no way to recover the costs associated with providing service to the county, said Owens. This fee, which most insurance companies would cover, would help recover some of those costs, he said.

According to Owens, some form of medical insurance covers 92 percent of city and county residents. Not billing an ambulance fee means that money is going toward the insurance company’s profit, he said. And for those without insurance, Owens said the ability to pay would never be considered when providing ambulance service.

“We will always maintain a service-first philosophy,” said Owens.

City residents who are insured would not see any change, according to Owens, since their insurance payment would satisfy the total debt. County residents, however, would still need to satisfy their co-pay or deductible. Potential revenue from the fee would also go toward the city’s volunteer fire department, off-setting the city’s roughly $90,000 contribution to that department annually, if revenues are enough to cover it.

Councilmembers Gail Lyon and Greenfield both said they came into the meeting with a closed mind, but now feel comfortable with imposing the fee after hearing Owens’ presentation. But Mayor Robert Lederer said the service-first philosophy should be clearly presented to the community.

“There is not going to be a delay in services depending on [a patient’s] ability to pay,” said Mayor Robert Lederer. “We can’t highlight that enough.”

THE COUNCIL ADOPTED a resolution authorizing the city manager to sign an agreement with the Virginia Department of Transportation for an improvement project at the intersection of Route 236 and Pickett Road.

The cost of the project is estimated to cost $1,007,455.12 in RSTP funds. If it goes over the allocated $1,250,000 in RSTP funds, the city would cover any additional expenses. VDOT has already bid the project out and is ready to begin construction that includes adding a right turn lane along Route 236, going westbound to northbound Pickett Road; converting the existing right turn lane on westbound Route 236 into a through-lane, making Route 236 at this section three through-lanes, similar to Route 236 west of Pickett Road; improving the right-in and right-out entrance on Route 236 to the Turnpike Shopping Center; removing the left turn from northbound Pickett Road to the Turnpike Shopping Center; extending the dual left turn lanes along southbound Pickett Road, approaching Route 236.