Born in New York, John Norce has only lived in Fairfax since 2002 and has never before run for political office. But he wants to become the City’s next mayor and believes he’s the best person for the job.
“I enjoy and embrace leadership opportunities,” he said. “I was president of a local insurance association, am involved with Make-A-Wish and have coached youth sports for 27 years.”
Norce came to Virginia in 1984, graduating from the University of Richmond in 1988 with a degree in business administration with a concentration in marketing. He now owns an insurance general agency in Fairfax.
As a coach, he tries to build character in young athletes, “teaching life lessons about dealing with adversity,” he said. His own leadership guides are famed UCLA basketball coach John Wooden and leadership expert Warren Bennis.
“At the core of everything is people,” said Norce. “Bennis said managers do things right; leaders do the right thing. A manager administers, maintains, manages tasks and has a short-range view. A leader innovates, develops, focuses on people and emotions, inspires, challenges the way things are and has a long-range view.”
NORCE says he’s in the latter category, applying these principles to his daily life. And like Wooden, he believes there’s “no substitute for hard work. There’s the popular decision – the easy one – and the right decision.” And that’s why he’d like to lead the City of Fairfax.
“I feel a lot of the decisions in the City have a short-range view, not taking into account the long-range impact,” he said. “The City spends money like everything’s peachy – that we have a solid, economic base from the business community and we can pay for all our expenditures, such as roads, buildings, employee training and parks.”
“But it all costs money and you have to pay for it,” continued Norce. “Revenues should equal expenditures. For the last four years, we’ve overspent by approximately $1 million/year by taking it out of the general fund to pay for the city’s operating expenses. So the general fund has gone from $15.5 million to $11.5 million; Fairfax is exceeding is budget.”
He said the BPOL tax yielded $7.9 million in 2005 and $8.9 million in 2013 – a growth rate of about 1.25 percent/year. “The real-estate taxes have grown 63 percent over the same time, so the homeowners are carrying the city on their backs,” said Norce. “If our services are outstanding, they should be – we pay a fortune for them.”
He also wondered if a new Aldi grocery store coming to Fairfax would take away business from existing stores. “Are we just reallocating revenue or organically growing the economy?” he asked. “We need to bring in businesses that’ll spur growth, not maintain the status quo.”
Noting that the City has the highest BPOL tax rate in Virginia, Norce said Fairfax is “in competition with other areas and we’re losing business to them. We need to level the playing field with our competitors. We need to have more of an identity and bring in more businesses that’ll help create it and help Fairfax grow by attracting people both in and outside the City.”
He also contends the meals tax should either be phased out or reduced so it doesn’t become “consumer prohibitive because people can eat elsewhere for less money. I’m about people, process and product.” He says Fairfax has to define its product “so we know what to rally around. What does the City represent to visitors, residents, business owners or potential businesses?”
“People – both residents and City employees – are our greatest resource,” continued Norce. “I’d empower the employees to look at ways to be more efficient, save money and create a surplus we could reinvest in the City for the residents’ benefit. And I’d hold monthly breakfast meetings with business owners and residents to let them share their ideas and know they’re valued. That way, you get to hear the people’s voice.”
He’d also examine the processes by which Fairfax gets things done to see if there are better, time-and-money-saving ways of doing them. “You allow people to work independently together,” he said. “You don’t micromanage; you let them take initiative, ownership of and credit for their ideas. You’d also reduce turnover and save money by getting people to stay in their jobs because they enjoy them.”
Noting that the City’s total debt rose from $41 million in 2004 to more than $190 million today, Norce said some is because of the schools and new police station. But it equals $9,000 debt per resident which, he said, is “outrageous. When you have a city with increasing debt, a reduction in cash and an increase in real-estate taxes, you have an economy in trouble.”
Saying he’s run a profitable business for 13 years, Norce said the cost of the new, downtown park has doubled since it was originally proposed. “I’m not against it,” he said. “But we need to have the money to pay for it. We don’t have a vibrant, local economy.”
WHILE THE CURRENT MAYOR has name recognition and is popular, Norce believes a change is needed because “the City’s having problems and I think he’s compounded them by failing to stimulate the local economy and create jobs in Fairfax. Raising real-estate taxes is easy to do, but doesn’t solve long-range problems.”
He says he’d make decisions based on what’s in the City’s best interests, now and in the future. For example, Norce said Fairfax spent $220,000 hiring a Colorado firm to rewrite the zoning ordinances, when “qualified engineers in the City could have done this. Every dollar spent elsewhere we’re losing.”
Calling himself the right candidate, Norce said, “I have practical experience I believe the City could benefit from, I’m a good leader and a hard worker and possess fairness and empathy. And together with the people, I believe we could find better ways to do things. I’ve enjoyed campaigning and I’m truly giving my best. Win or lose, I’ll still be the same person.”