Fairfax County: Breaking Down the Bonds

Fairfax County: Breaking Down the Bonds

County seeks authorization to finance transportation and parks projects, and human services and community development facilities

Fairfax County will try to make the most of voters’ time on election day Nov. 8, having them weigh in not only on the Presidential and Congressional elections, but also proposed Constitutional amendments, a referendum and bond questions.

The so-called “Meals Tax” referendum is a proposal for voters to allow the Board of Supervisors to levy up to a four percent tax on prepared foods and beverages. That would include restaurant food, as well as ready-made meals at grocery and convenience stores.

The referendum specifies 70 percent of the annual revenue generated by the meals tax, an estimated $70 million, would be designated for Fairfax County Public Schools. The remaining 30 percent would go to a combination of county services and capital improvements.

Opponents of the meals tax have argued it’s a regressive move that will unfairly eat away at the restaurant and catering industry in Fairfax County by making it more difficult for smaller businesses to survive. Also they’ve said there will be an unnecessary extra financial burden on low income parents to feed their families.

Supporters of the tax point to surrounding areas including Vienna and Alexandria that already have meals taxes, saying they haven’t suffered the way opponents predict. At a recent joint budget meeting with the supervisors and Fairfax County School Board, Supervisor John Cook (R-Braddock) observed that without the boost from the meals tax, the school system won’t be able to raise teachers’ salaries enough in the next year to make them more competitive in the market.

The bonds, which is a way for the county to finance public facilities and infrastructure through long-term borrowing over several years, fall into three categories: transportation, parks, and human services and community development facilities.

For the first category, citizens are asked if Fairfax County may issue up to $120 million in bonds to fund road improvements and a share of the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority Capital Improvement Program.

The Metro CIP covers eight categories over six years: vehicles and vehicle parts, rail system infrastructure rehabilitation, maintenance facilities, rail power systems and technology, track and structure, passenger facilities, maintenance equipment, and other transit-related facilities.

Fairfax County spokesperson Brian Worthy said that it isn’t known until all the projects on a given list are completed whether there are remaining funds from a bond.

“By law we may only spend bond funds for the purposes stated in the ballot question — not for any other purpose,” Worthy said in an email.

Worthy gave the example of the 2004 library bond, when voters approved the county to issue $52.5 million in general obligation bonds. The money was spent to renovate the Thomas Jefferson, Richard Byrd, Dolley Madison and Martha Washington libraries, he said.

When these were all completed in 2012, there was $9.38 million in unspent funds still available.

Worthy attributed the leftover funds to “prudent contract management and a favorable construction market resulting in lower than anticipated bid awards.” They were then re-allocated to renovating the Woodrow Wilson library, per the Board of Supervisors’ approval.

“In the case of Woodrow Wilson, this project was picked because it was identified as the next library branch up for funding in our CIP,” Worthy said.

$107 million in parks bonds includes $94.7 million for the Fairfax County Park Authority’s capital needs — such as park renovations and upgrades, stewardship of cultural and natural resources, land acquisition and new park development — plus $12.3 million in capital contribution to the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority.

If the parks referendum passes, there will be funding for general park improvements at Burke Lake and Lake Accotink, system-wide renovation and renewal and replacement at the Mount Vernon RECenter.

Among numerous plans for the bond program, the county would add a new athletic field on leased property in the Mount Vernon-Lee area, develop a park in Laurel Hill Park in Lorton and add picnic shelters at the Lee District family recreation area in Alexandria.

For human services and community development, Fairfax County is seeking authorization to issue $85 million in bonds, $48 million of which would be used to renovate, expand or replace bonds four shelters operating at capacity that aren’t able to meet crisis or emergency needs of homeless individuals.

Those shelters include:

  • The Patrick Henry Shelter in Falls Church

  • The Embry Rucker Shelter in Reston

  • The Eleanor Kennedy Shelter, in the Fort Belvoir area

  • The Baileys Crossroads Community Shelter in Falls Church.

The remaining $37 million of bonds, if the referendum passes, would be used to replace the Sully Senior Center in Centreville and build a new Lorton Community Center, which also provides space and programming for seniors and is currently housed in a leased space that expires in two years.

For more information from Fairfax County on the upcoming Nov. 8 election, including sample ballots, candidate information and ballot questions, visit www.fairfaxcounty.gov/elections/upcoming.htm. Additional descriptions of the bond items are available at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/bond/2016-bond-referendum-pamphlet-web.pdf. More detail on the specific park bonds is available at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/2016bond.htm.