Letter: Financial Consequences

To the Editor:

In last week's Gazette, two letters were published critical of my letter in the prior edition concerning the MVCCA's passage of a resolution encouraging the County to take over responsibility for maintenance of sewer lines at locations beyond the property of the homeowner, under the adjacent street.

Mary Tracy wrote about problems she has had with her sewer line. The gist of her complaint is that the County apparently replaced the main sewer line under her street and this caused problems with her sewer line. Of course, if the County causes damage to a property owner's sewer line, the County should be responsible. The MVCCA resolution makes no such distinction. In the MVCCA resolution, all sewer line problems under a public street become the responsibility of the County, regardless of cause.

During a telephone conversation with Ms. Tracy this week, she informed me that she paid for sewer repairs under her property but no repairs have been performed under the adjacent public street. Apparently, the latter repairs aren't necessary. She also expressed skepticism concerning the County estimate of $15-$18 million to take over this responsibility. With almost 300,000 single family detached and attached private residences in Fairfax County (290,846 according to the county website) I believe the estimate is low.

Queenie Cox also wrote in to try to justify the MVCCA's actions. She is the chairman of the Consumer Affairs Committee that originated the resolution in question. Ms. Cox conceded my point about the fact that her committee does not report attendance figures in the MVCCA record, but defended this omission as not required by the MVCCA Bylaws. The fact that stating the attendance is not required does not justify refraining from doing so. If a resolution is approved by a committee under circumstances under which the quorum requirement was not met, that resolution is illegitimate. It is important to maintain a historical record that may be viewed in future years to verify the legitimacy of actions taken. Ms. Cox stated that a quorum did exist when the resolution was voted upon by her committee, but didn't state who attended nor how many attended. Ms. Cox offered to tell us who attended, but that doesn't provide a published, readily findable historical record.

Ms. Cox defended the practice of conducting meetings by teleconference by stating (as I also mentioned) that the telephone information is provided in the MVCCA record. Conducting public meetings on a telephone inherently limits public participation. It also eliminates the ability to use visual aids such as overhead projectors and video screens that are often necessary in discussing issues in connection with demonstrative exhibits. Not everyone is even aware of the existence of the MVCCA. Despite this, the MVCCA purports to exert an inordinate amount of influence on public policy decisions in our community.

Ms. Cox criticized the estimate of the cost to the County of $15-$18 million to implement the MVCCA resolution as "very preliminary" according to a disclaimer accompanying the information furnished by the County. This being the case, why did the MVCCA irresponsibly enact a resolution based upon "preliminary" information? Couldn't the MVCCA have waited until more definitive information was provided? Ms. Cox also defended the fact that only 14 member associations voted on the resolution at the MVCCA Council meeting, noting that this number likely represents from 1050 to 7000 households. Thus, Supervisor Hyland should take note that at three people per household, the MVCCA resolution "represents" the views of in the range of 3,000 to 20,000 of the 125,000 Mount Vernon District residents. Perhaps my suggestion that the resolution be accorded "zero deference" was a little low, but not by much.

Ms. Cox pointed out that Alexandria and Arlington County maintain the sewer line beneath public streets and stated that this justifies Fairfax County doing the same. One reason I moved my law practice out of the City of Alexandria and into Fairfax County was the large disparity in the gross receipts tax in the two jurisdictions, 59 cents per $100 in Alexandria as compared to 31 cents in Fairfax County. Our taxes are lower than those in Alexandria and Arlington — let's keep it that way. The main thrust of my letter was that such a resolution has financial consequences for County taxpayers. It was irresponsible of the MVCCA to enact such a resolution with little apparent concern for those ramifications. I stand by that assessment.

H. Jay Spiegel

Mount Vernon