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2008: Five County Issues To Watch Out For ...

<b>Traffic Congestion</b>

As bad as it is now, local traffic could actually get significantly worse in the coming year.

Virginia and a private partner are launching the five-year High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes construction project on the Capital Beltway this summer.

They intend to work on approximately a dozen exits and overpasses from Springfield to the Dulles Toll Road at the same time.

The Metro rail extension to Dulles — which could trigger even more real estate construction in the northern part of the county — could also move forward this year.

And the Virginia General Assembly failed to pass a transportation-funding package in 2008, making congestion relief or traffic improvements unlikely.

<b>Budget Cuts</b>

Fairfax County generates over 60 percent of its revenue from real estate taxes and the downturn in the housing market could be very hard on the local government.

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors budget committee chair Sharon Bulova (D-Braddock) is scheduled to start a "line item" review of the county budget this month. The supervisors raised the real estate tax rate three cents this spring —less than neighboring localities — mostly to provide additional funding to Fairfax County Public Schools in 2008 and 2009.

The school system — which gets the bulk of its money from the county — is most likely one of the agencies that will have to make tough choices in the next budget cycle. School officials have considered measures such as implementing an activities fee for students who participate in sports or limiting transportation to special programs — like gifted and talented centers.

<b>Housing Foreclosures</b>

Fairfax County’s housing market remained stable in 2007 but a recent report suggests this could change in the upcoming year.

Fairfax saw a sharp increase in foreclosures in the early months of 2008 and several of the region’s upcoming "hot spots" for foreclosures are located in the county, according to a report from the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

Fairfax’s foreclosures tend to be concentrated in a few neighborhoods — particularly parts of Herndon, Centreville and the Route 1 corridor.

<b>School Facilities </b>

There are too many repairs, renovations and new facilities that need to be built for the Fairfax County Public Schools and not enough money to do it, according to officials.

The school system is currently reviewing its project priority list to make sure that those communities that need the most help, get it first. The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors may cut the facilities budget due to economic shortfalls, which could put the school system in more of a bind in terms of meeting its needs.

West Springfield High School, South County Secondary School and Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology are a few of the communities asking for facilities funding.

Officials are considering a "rolling renovation" program — where they work on several school projects at once and complete construction in phases over several years. The simultaneous renovations allow the school system to address several schools’ most egregious problems at once but ultimately take longer and cost more than they would if a one-by-one approach was used.

<b>Red to Blue</b>

Fairfax County may be paving the way for Virginia to move from a Republican stronghold to a political toss-up in 2008 and 2009.

The county is the largest locality in the commonwealth, accounting for more than one-eighth of Virginia’s total population. In recent statewide races, Fairfax has voted for Democrats, like Gov. Tim Kaine in 2005 and U.S. Sen. Jim Webb in 2006, who have gone on to win elections.

The municipality’s own elected officials are also increasingly Democratic. Six years ago, Fairfax County’s delegation to the Virginia General Assembly had 13 Democrats and 13 Republicans. Today, there are 22 Democrats and four Republicans.

The Grand Old Party also lost one seat on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors last year, making the breakdown eight Democrats to two Republicans.

Two Fairfax County congressional seats currently held by Republicans are also considered "competitive" for Democrats in November 2008.

Fairfax County chairman Gerry Connolly (D) is thought to have a good chance of beating Republican Keith Fimian in the race for retiring Rep. Tom Davis’ open seat.

Democrat Judy Feder has raised almost as much as incumbent Rep. Frank Wolf (R) in 10th congressional district.

Presidential candidate Barack Obama’s campaign thinks they may have a chance to win Virginia, and to do so, they invested in at least 10 field organizers in Fairfax County alone.