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Votes

Simon Blasts RA on Reserve

Is need for desired facilities greater than need for large reserve?

Reston founder Bob Simon expressed dissatisfaction with Reston Association’s financial decision to set aside $700,000 of the 2006 revenue into reserve. Simon felt the money would have better served the community if used to build amenities residents have long asked for.

Simon expressed his unhappiness with the financial decision at RA’s regular monthly board meeting, on Thursday, May 24. He said Thursday night’s appearance in front of the board was the third year in a row that he came to advocate the need for four facilities that have been on the "must-build" list for years. At least some of the needed facilities — covered tennis, skate board park, covered swimming pool and the Nature House — should have been built by now, according to Simon.

"It saddened me to realize that none of the four facilities had been built and that the catalogue still lists camps by the week," said Simon. "But what drove me up the wall was to read that you had squirreled $700,000 of 2006 proceeds into reserve."

RA president Jennifer Blackwell said the facilities are a part of the strategic plan.

"I’m glad to hear you’ve been thinking about it, but I’ve been looking to have it built," said Simon.

Simon said the explanation given to him for the infusion of money into the reserve is that a consultant recommended building it up. The reason is that the aging swimming pools could cost as much as $1 million each to repair, that one of the dams might fail and that RA would have to find a new home soon.

"I FELT ENERGIZED and swung into action," said Simon. He called treasurers of neighboring communities and asked how they provided their residents with desired facilities. He found that a common way of providing the facilities was to borrow funds. "A conversation with my friendly bank president satisfied me that RA could join its neighbors, and for that matter most, if not all, major U.S. communities, in financing its requirements as they arose," said Simon.

Simon shared some of Herndon’s financial information with the board. "Since 1993, Herndon has floated seven bond issues, the largest of which was for $8.5 million and the smallest for $2.2 million," he said. While Herndon’s population has grown each year, it has not reached 25,000 yet. "The total debt per capita far exceeds funding that would be required to complete the four projects Restonians have been waiting for," said Simon. He added that indoor tennis courts at Worldgate and the proposed skate board park at Lake Fairfax are not a substitute for such facilities in Reston.

"It is unfortunate that the wrong consultant was consulted on managing our community’s finances," said Simon. "There is no excuse to build a reserve and starve for facilities while the rest of the world does long-term financing."

LONG AFTER SIMON finished with his comments, RA director Robin Smyers asked for an update on the Nature House. RA Chief Executive Officer Milton Matthews said that Friends of Reston has set a target time of breaking ground by the end of the calendar year. "They are sending a serious message that this is going to happen," said Matthews. A Fun Run held in April raised almost $10,000 for the Nature House, a project in the works since 2001, which keeps getting more expensive because of rising construction costs.

In his monthly report to the board, Matthews outlined other fund-raising initiatives for the facility. Il Fornaio, an Italian restaurant with many locations on the West Coast, and slated to open at Reston Town Center in August, has partnered with Friends of Reston to raise funds for the Nature House. It will encourage donations at one of its complimentary pre-opening meals for 200 people, with 100 percent of the proceeds going to the Nature House. Commerce Bank of Reston has also offered a partnership with Friends of Reston for Nature House fund-raising. There are two existing programs that allow people to donate money to the Nature House through the bank. Through the "Affinity Program," Commerce Bank makes a donation to the selected charity of their clients, based on the average balance of that customer’s account. The "Coins for Caring" program allows anyone to use the bank’s coin-counting machine and donate all, or a portion, of the money counted to a designated nonprofit or emergency relief effort.