The Connection asked all City Council and City of Fairfax mayoral candidates to provide answers to the following questions, and to limit their answers to 100 words or less.
1) How do you balance and maintain vibrant economic development in the City of Fairfax with the city's "historic" quality of life?
2) Tell us how you would close the gap in the city's budget deficit? (Would you consider selling the city's water to a utility?).
3) Given that the city sits in the middle of Fairfax County - yet maintains its independent status - how do you plan to work with county and other regional decision-makers? (What do you believe are the top 2-3 areas where the City and County need to cooperate?).
4) What do you think are the top 3-5 issues facing the City of Fairfax in the next decade?
5) Why should people vote for you instead of your opponents?
*Bonus Question: Tell us something about yourself that most people don't know.
For more information on the City of Fairfax, go to www.fairfaxva.gov
1. How do you balance and maintain vibrant economic development in the City of Fairfax with the City's "historic" quality of life?
DeMarco: Economic growth can effectively advance the public good when the entire community works together to create and implement long-term solutions. A strong economic base supports the quality of life amenities we have all become accustomed to. But we must all realize that economic growth takes many shapes and forms and we need active participation from everyone to support targeted mix use development and re-development, pro-active small and
medium business recruiting and expansion, commercial property revitalization, all while actively shaping regional mass transit solutions, public works projects, code enforcement and zoning. We can be a community and a destination.
Drummond: The City has a unique "sense of place" that continues to separate us from other localities in Northern Virginia. We protect our residential neighborhoods, insist on high quality development projects and seek to strike a balance when it comes to the "size and scale" of a project. As the economy continues to improve we need to increase our efforts in attracting top
class retail shops, grocery stores and restaurants that complement the unique character of our City while providing the amenities residents want and deserve. To do this we should focus on redeveloping existing older commercial sites around the City, especially along Fairfax Boulevard, to ensure that we continue to be a destination for businesses and people alike. As part of this, I believe we need to consider higher density, mixed use projects that will provide people the opportunity to call the City home.
Greenfield: The City’s comprehensive plan and the Fairfax Boulevard master plan should serve as a road map to guide development to ensure we are building on the City’s past while planning for its future.
Meyer: Historic districts play a vital role in strengthening economic life in communities of all sizes and locations. The City of Fairfax is fortunate to have so many surviving 19th and early 20th century structures – the key is to use these commercial structures in ways that compliment new or redeveloped adjacent properties to create streetscapes and vibrant economic zones that attract people to multiple destinations for each trip or visit. The City can encourage this type of use by creating aesthetically consistent amenities, including walkways, lighting, and open space consistent with the historic essence of its commercial areas.
Read: There is a trend that is clearly seen all around us toward the development of mixed use properties: residential, office, retail & restaurant in one location. The comprehensive strategic plan that is currently underway needs to look closely at how we can blend those types of new style properties with the historic buildings, roads and traffic patterns we have in place. I also believe it’s important to create more "community space" where activities are generated by people, organizations, artists and artisans that will draw people to the city. People don’t just consume goods and services, they consume experiences – and we need to cultivate a city culture and identity that makes us a destination point.
Schmidt: It is important to focus on a balanced approach to economic development. A strong commercial base will provide economic vitality and a balance between the commercial and residential tax base. Preservation of our historic buildings and the promotion of our City's many cultural and recreational activities complement our commercial base. Citizens, business owners and City officials need to work continuously together as partners.
Stombres: Encouraging economic growth and maintaining our historic quality of life are not mutually exclusive. We must continue to protect and preserve our City’s historic assets so that future and current residents can enjoy the historic nature of our community. At the same time, we can attract new investment and protect current businesses by reducing the extra taxes they pay; replacing lost parking downtown, improving signage, and supporting hometown businesses with our patronage. We should also redevelop Courthouse Plaza so that an "anchor" which will attract more foot traffic downtown, can be established adjacent to the Historic district.
2. How you would close the gap in the City's budget deficit: Would you consider selling the City's water to a utility?
DeMarco: The budget problem has been percolating for several years and the city still has passed over several viable opportunities to increase our economic base. At the same time, the city has also made some poor spending decisions. This years’ budget will have to be balanced with shared sacrifice including higher residential property taxes. Real solutions start with recruiting small and medium sized businesses into the city to create good jobs and stimulate the strong economic activity that helps balance budgets. A critical decision like selling the water system must be a city wide decision and put to a referendum.
Drummond: The City is facing one its most challenging budgets in its 50 year history. We face the need to fund ever-increasing costs for high-quality government services residents deserve, including providing a top-notch education for our growing K-12 student population while at the same time keeping taxes low, especially as the economy continues to recover. The straight truth is that we will need to increase the real estate tax rate, make some additional cuts that don’t directly affect services and delay some capital projects. It’s about striking a balance and I look forward to working with my colleagues on Council to find common ground just as we always have. With regard to the City’s water treatment system, any money it collects (i.e., through the sale of water) goes right back into the system and cannot be used for the general fund, including for covering any budget gaps. The Council is currently examining options to ensure we have a safe and reliable system that charges a fair price for water.
Greenfield: The City’s water system is an enterprise fund, thus selling it would have no impact on closing the City’s budget deficit. Maintaining the lowest tax rate consistent with sustaining our outstanding services should be our guidepost as we tackle another tough budget.
Meyer: The City is challenged financially this year because of increased costs for its school tuition contract with Fairfax County, storm water improvements, critically needed street improvements, and the replacement of its aging financial management system, among other needs. The City has experience some improvement in sales tax revenue as our economy begins to recover; however, continued fiscal restraint is mandatory to ensure that if revenue increases are required, they are as low as absolutely necessary. Our water utility system is an enterprise fund; receipts and expenditures for this activity are separate from the City’s general revenue budget.
Read: There is no easy answer to the budget deficit. There have to be further cuts; however there will be a point at which we will not be willing to lose important programs, services or possibly staff. What things are we willing to go without and for how long? A modest increase in our "lowest property tax rate" with a sunset provision might be an effective part of closing that gap. Kicking the can down the road and putting off necessary improvements, maintenance or staffing just means the eventual bill gets larger as time goes by.
Schmidt: We are experiencing improving economic trends but there are still challenges ahead. It is essential to have a well disciplined approach to budgeting and spending. Over half of the City budget is comprised of non-discretionary expenses including our contract with Fairfax County for schools and other services. The identification of new sources of revenue will be needed as well as a focus on economic development resulting in new businesses to the City. In order to keep overall taxes as low as possible yet retain the quality services enjoyed by the citizens of Fairfax, we need to examine a combination of efforts to balance the budget including increasing revenues and managing spending.
Stombres: The regional economy continues to negatively impact our City budget; however, I believe we can keep our taxes low and maintain our first class services through a combination of tough measures to balance the budget. The City Manager’s budget request calls for a spending increase of 12.4 percent over last year. While some increases, such as school tuition are unavoidable, we cannot sustain that much growth without enormous tax increases or jeopardizing services. We should consider decreasing general fund spending, implementing a hiring freeze for City staff, and increasing revenues through additional commercial investment in the City. Note: The water system is a separate fund and will not impact the City budget.
3. Given that the City sits in the middle of Fairfax County - yet maintains its independent status - how do you plan to work with County and other regional decision-makers? (What do you believe are the top 2-3 areas where the City and County need to cooperate?)
DeMarco: City leadership must be pro-active and vocal with many regional decision makers, especially the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority. Addressing traffic must be a regional solution, starting with more mass transit options along the I-66 corridor, including expanding metro and bus rapid transit. This is our only chance to alleviate the congestion on Routes 66, 50 and 236. I believe we should work more closely with Fairfax County and look for opportunities to jointly develop economic centers where our borders meet. Finally, we need to foster a greater partnership with George Mason University in entrepreneurship, student retention and transportation solutions.
Drummond: Since first being elected to the City Council in 2008, I have worked closely with Fairfax County and other regional partners by serving as the City’s representative on the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments and the Transportation Planning Board. My goal has always been to ensure the City has a voice and represent our interests. Areas where the City and County can work together include fostering better relations with George Mason University as they continue to grow, identifying additional state and federal transportation funding and ensuring we continue to work together in holding accountable the owners and operators of the tank farm on Pickett Road.
Greenfield: I have had the pleasure of serving on a several regional boards with a number of my elected colleagues from around the area and, in particular, Fairfax County. Those relationships serve our residents well as we work together to address issues affecting both jurisdictions. Transportation, development along the City’s border and homelessness are three issues which deserve our focus over the next few years.
Meyer: As a separate political entity, the City of Fairfax is fortunate to provide distinctively outstanding services to its citizens. Our programs for recreation, arts, and historic interpretation for children and adults are consistently rated superior by our citizens. Our trash collection, public works, library, and police and fire and rescue services are our "signature" services that are unequaled by surrounding jurisdictions. While independent, the City does work cooperatively with the County to provide educational services, courts, and social services. Transportation planning and long-term planning to meet the educational needs of our children continue to be priorities for City-County cooperation.
Read: Fairfax City works well with Fairfax County in the main. In addition to managing the services provided to our Fairfax City School System, they provide social services to our residents through a network of non-profits like Our Daily Bread. Fairfax City Regional Library is also part of their library system, one of the finest anywhere. Going forward, there needs to be an open and productive dialogue with the county to find where costs of services can be reduced and more efficient ways of delivering services can be developed.
Schmidt: Maintaining open communication with the leaders in neighboring Fairfax County is essential. Open dialogue enables us to identify and remediate shared issues. Traffic is a major concern. The City of Fairfax is a crossroads town. An added complication is the location of the Fairfax County Court complex as well as George Mason University which borders on the South. While it is crucial to manage the flow of traffic and to maximize the use of technology such as the synchronization of the traffic lights, it has to be managed in conjunction with our neighbors. Traffic is a regional issue which requires a regional solution.
Stombres: Over the past four years, my colleagues on the Council and I have developed good working relationships with our counterparts on the County Board of Supervisors and other neighboring jurisdictions. We should continue to interact with them through regional boards and commissions to advance issues of mutual interest. I currently serve on the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission and the Climate, Energy, and Environment Policy Committee of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. I think the most important regional issues that require strong coordination and cooperation are reducing traffic congestion, environmental stewardship, water use, and wastewater treatment.
4. What do you think are the top 3-5 issues facing the City of Fairfax in the next decade?
DeMarco: Accessibility to mass transit will be critical for this city to resolve if it is to remain a vibrant community in the future. To adequately address, we will need to be serious about supporting the type of investment that attracts businesses to the city, that create jobs, filled by people who live in the city with a range of housing options. Our children must continue to have excellent and affordable educational opportunities to prepare them for the future. And our aging infrastructure must be adequately addressed to retain our excellent city services and revitalize our residential and commercial properties.
Drummond: The City is very fortunate that in addition to its great neighborhoods, it has a strong base of commercial properties, which has helped keep real estate taxes low for everyone and provide resources for our best-in-class City services. Therefore, the driving issue for the City over the next decade will be to encourage smart economic growth that protects our "small town" feel while providing new opportunities for residents and visitors to shop, dine, work and live. Included in this effort is finding solutions to providing housing choices for people of all ages. We must also continue our work in having the City be a leader in environmental sustainability.
Greenfield: Economic development, transportation and fiscal management.
Meyer: The City must redevelop its core commercial areas along Fairfax Boulevard, especially at Fairfax Circle, Northfax and Kamp Washington. Our Comprehensive Plan must contain the conceptual guidance to attract quality commercial, retail, and residential investment that will produce new sources of revenue to sustain the quality services we all enjoy. This development, if implemented wisely and creatively, will strengthen the quality of life of our City, both in new and long-standing neighborhoods. Revising our Zoning Ordinance will provide greater consistency, predictability, and clarity for residential and commercial development. For all these initiatives, citizen involvement will be critical.
Read: I believe housing in Fairfax City is something we need to address. Settlement patterns are changing and so are our demographics. Chief among these is the lack of housing for senior citizens. We have a significant population of older people who have no place within the city to move once they are ready to leave their single family homes. There are also both younger people and empty nesters who are looking for a more urban experience that would support our downtown – smaller residential units with pedestrian friendly access to shopping and restaurants, bike lanes and access to public transportation.
We need to plan for student population growth and work with the county to avoid overcrowding in our schools that lead to the unwanted trailers. We also need to find ways to provide affordable housing in the city so teachers, firefighters, police and other city staff can live where they work. It’s important to have them as part of our community.
We need to invest in infrastructure like making certain sewer systems, utilities and roads are maintained so we don’t end up in a crisis situation with failed systems. We also need to look down the road and anticipate where investments in new types of innovations today may serve us well in the future. We should proactively seek out environmentally friendly solutions that will save both the environment and provide cost savings too. Green and sustainable will be the watchwords of the next decade.
Our neighbor George Mason University has the potential to be a more important part of our local economy in many ways. In the coming years as the university grows and expands, we need to figure out ways to work together that result in win-wins for both communities. There needs to be more dialogues and joint efforts to bring people together.
Schmidt: Economic development will be a prominent focus during the next decade. Particular emphasis will need to be placed on Old Town Fairfax and Fairfax Boulevard. Redevelopment of aging commercial properties will strengthen our commercial base. In addition, the rejuvenation and revitalization of our aging neighborhoods will help to maintain property values and keep the residential vacancy rate low. We are currently working through an update to the Comprehensive Plan which serves as the City’s official guide to future development. The Plan includes guidelines and discussion on topics such as land use, housing, open space and cultural resources. The plan will be a key guide to our focus on the future.
Stombres: The City Council and Planning Commission are currently reviewing the City’s Master Plan. This planning document represents our collective vision for what we want the City to look like for the next generation of City residents. It must strike the proper balance between smart growth and commercial revitalization while protecting the residential nature of our community. We must also deal with our aging water treatment plant, work with Fairfax County to mitigate the impact of high-density development on the outskirts of the City, address the need for senior housing, and deal with reduced financial support from Richmond for our schools.
5. Why should people vote for you instead of your opponents?
DeMarco: I have a strong business background in both finance and marketing. These skill sets along with my common sense approach will enable me to bring a different perspective when resolving problems than the other candidates. If elected, I will be emphatic that the city has a vision and strategy to address the many issues facing us in the next decade. This vision and strategy must be our roadmap to success and our guidepost to every decision we make. This is what leaders do and effective leadership is essential in building consensus with our residential and business communities.
Drummond: Over my two terms on Council I have dedicated myself to serving as an advocate for residents, neighborhoods and small business. I’ve brought innovative ideas to the table to tackle our City’s challenges, including starting the City’s participation in a free prescription drug card program that reduces the cost of prescription drugs not covered by insurance. I am always accessible and responsive, looking to find ways I can help individual residents and small businesses. Above all else, I ask people to vote for me because I will continue to serve as their voice at City Hall, working to keep the City of Fairfax the best place there is to live, work, raise a family and retire.
Greenfield: My reasons for running today are the same as they were in 1994: my love for the City, my desire to help people and my belief in giving back to my community. I have a record of demonstrated, effective, leadership while serving on the Council. I have worked to maintain and improve the quality of life residents have come to enjoy and will continue to do so. I respectfully ask the residents to continue to place their trust in me and return me to their City Council on May 1.
Meyer: For over 30 years, I have been involved the life of this community. I understand and embrace those common civic values that have created and continue to sustain our City. Professionally, I have over 30 years of experience in public budgeting and finance and have applied these skills in Council decision-making. I believe I have exercised sound and prudent judgments in charting new directions for the City and, in doing so, have contributed to the common good. I hope I have earned the public’s trust such that I can continue to serve our citizens to the best of my ability.
Read: My approach to problem solving is to look at solutions that are new. Doing more of what isn’t working does not produce a different result. I embrace change, I welcome challenges and I question the status quo. I also believe in the power of collaborative thinking and inclusiveness is a cornerstone of my worldview. Fairfax City is well governed and managed and we provide a welcoming community to a diverse population. I hope to continue that tradition of excellent governance as a member of the City Council.
Schmidt: My 32 years of service to the community coupled with my business and finance experience provide the background needed to be effective on City Council.
Stombres: The City is well served to have so many quality candidates running for public office this year. I believe I have the experience and leadership abilities to address the challenges facing our City. I can help find common ground on difficult issues and am committed to working in cooperation with whoever is elected to our next City Council to find real solutions to the problems confronting us. Over the next several weeks, I will be knocking on as many doors as I can, and I hope to earn the support of City residents.
*"Bonus" Question: Tell us something about yourself that most people don't know.
DeMarco: I have several interests, one of which is genealogy. I have been able to trace my family history on my father’s side back to the mid-18th century in Italy. In my research, I found out that my grandfather arrived in this country on the SS Ancona in 1911. Ironically, my grandmother arrived in the US in 1915 on the same ship. Six months after my grandmother’s voyage, the Ancona was sunk by a German U-Boat off the coast of Tunisia. Over 200 lives were lost, mostly Italian immigrants sailing to New York to start new lives.
Drummond: On my father’s side, I had two ancestors who came from Pennsylvania and Rhode Island to Virginia to fight in the Civil War. On my mother’s side I have an ancestor buried at Jamestown.
Meyer: I grew up in our neighboring Town of Vienna, and as a college student, I had 3 summer jobs working for the Town doing street paving and trash collection. I learned a lot about my neighbors, my friends, and my school teachers by the trash they put at the curb. Their secrets are safe with me.
Read: I learned to whistle when I was 5 years old. At one point in my youth I could whistle Rimsky-Korsakov’s "The Flight of the Bumblebee" in its entirety.
Schmidt: Whether it is riding to the floor of the Grand Canyon by mule, practicing my German language skills in the flea markets of Germany or observing Africa’s Big 5 on safari, I love the adventure of travel.
Stombres: I was on the cross-country and indoor track team at Virginia Tech in 1988-1989.