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Discussion Title County Priorities for 2012

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova will be taking your questions on her priorities for 2012, the search for a new county executive, the upcoming FY2013 budget and the state of the economy in Fairfax County, revitalization and redevelopment across the county, and will answer your questions on what you see as an issue facing us in 2012. View Bulova's priorities at http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/opa/inauguration/2012-2015/bulova-inaugural-speech.htm.


Sharon Bulova : Welcome to Ask Fairfax! I look forward to answering your questions. Thanks for joining us!


Concerned Citizen : Why is property tax increasing when home values are declining during this difficult economic time? If we're lucky, we still have our jobs, and salary increasing is not at the same rate a inflaction but property tax on our homes went up along with other cost of living. Just doesn't make sense.

Sharon Bulova : Actually, the average property tax bill has decreased since 2007.  The average bill in ‘07 was $5,066.18 and in ’11 it was $4,713.59.  Of course, everything isn’t “average” and there are fluctuations among properties.   Our Board has worked hard to keep homeowners’ tax bills stable  as we recover from the Great Recession. During my tenure as Chairman, the average tax bill has gone down, even with the addition of the Stormwater Utility Fee. Over the past three years, we have reduced our spending by $200 million, frozen salaries, reduced our workforce, while doing our best to maintain the levels of service Fairfax County residents expect and rely upon. The ratio of County employees to residents has dropped by 17% over the past 20 years. In the last three years, we have eliminated 499 positions.


Anonymous User : How much does the county spend total for the school system when one includes services such as school nurse aids, infant and toddler services, police in the schools and all of the other little (or big) things that support the schools or school aged children but aren't in the FCPS budget? I would like to see the entire budget spent on schools fairly represented on the graphs and data presented on the FCPS and countys websites.FCPS already use more than 50% of the budget, how much more do they use in support services provided by the county? It seems like there are lot of things that the county pays for the support the schools that aren't clearly represented in the overall budget. I would like to see all funds supporting FCPS capped at 50% of the county revenue. Are children getting 60% of the budget? 70% pf tje budget when after school programs, recreation programs, dept of family services costs are figured in? While schools are important, so are safety services such as police and fire, services for aged adults, recreation services for all citizens, etc.

Sharon Bulova : The County provides 52.5% of its budget in direct support of the Fairfax County Public Schools operations and debt service.  If you include costs associated with county services that directly support the school system like school crossing guards, school nurses, etc., the percentage increases to 54%. Information on both direct and indirect funding for the School system is included in the budget document annually. (Beginning on page 273 in the FY 2012 Adopted budget Overview)  Historically, funding in support of schools has been a large portion of the budget because our Board and our community agree that public schools are one of our most valuable resources and one which derives us great benefit.  We are always told by businesses as they relocate here or expand their existing investment that our quality schools and the well educated workforce they produce are one of the main reasons that Fairfax is so attractive to businesses. 


Anonymous User : Will there be a raise or COL adjustments this year for employees (2012 calendar year).

Sharon Bulova : Our employees have worked hard to identify efficiencies and savings – especially over the last three years - while not receiving any compensation increase during FY10 and FY11. In the fall, our Board approved the first raise in three years. County Executive Tony Griffin presented an outline of his proposed Fiscal Year 2013 budget last fall which includes an increase for all employees for this budget cycle.  The County Executive’s Recommended Budget will be presented at our Board meeting on February 28th.  At that time the budget process will begin in earnest and I will work to ensure our employees are compensated fairly. 


Philip (Springfield) : After the disappointing Pentagon choice of the Mark Center site, it's welcome news to hear that the Springfield GSA site could become the new headquarters of the FBI. Can you share your thoughts on the likelihood that this site will win, and the timeframe for both the decision and the relocation?

Sharon Bulova : Our Board believes that this site is a great fit for the FBI. The Senate resolution sets out several requirements for the new consolidated headquarters, and the GSA site meets them all (such as property owned by the federal government, location near Metro and near the Beltway, and size requirements). As far as timing, the relocation has only gone as far as Senate committee and it requires action by the full Congress. We are urging our federal delegation to work hard on our behalf to secure this site. As you know, we are competing with our neighboring jurisdictions for the FBI HQ.


Sharon Bulova :

I received several questions on the implementation of FOCUS, our new automated financial and procurement system. I asked senior staff your questions on training and implementation and their answers are below. I've also asked for a briefing on why we are experiencing some of the difficulty I’m hearing about.

The standard implementation methodology for these types of projects does not include a full parallel testing for the financial and procurement portions of the system due to the overwhelming burden to the organization of manually entering all data transactions into multiple separate systems.  The FOCUS project did conduct seven months of comprehensive testing which included unit testing, integration testing, data conversion testing, interface testing and production cutover testing prior to the FOCUS go-live
Training delivered for the financial and procurement implementation was provided in several methods - online eLearning courses that provided a solid foundation of FOCUS concepts and terminology as well as instructor-led classroom training that walked the end users through the step-by-steps of how to process transactions in FOCUS.   In instances where the training may not have addressed an area as completely as needed for end users to feel comfortable with the functions, adjustments were made to the training. Additionally, numerous support labs have been available for end users to receive guided assistance in transaction processing and the FOCUS website includes a comprehensive ‘Go-Live Resources’ page that provide updates on procedures, forms and processing tips.



Maggie : Chairman Bulova: In the search for a new County Executive, can you comment on BOTH the positives and negatives of hiring internal AND external candidates. I'm interested in hearing your perspective on why you'd consider or not consider certain candidates. Thanks.

Sharon Bulova :

Our Board has hired an outside consultant to conduct a national search for replacing Tony Griffin as County Executive when he retires in April. Replacing Tony will not be easy.  He has done an outstanding job and has built a culture among our Fairfax County workforce that I think is his greatest legacy.

Conducting a national search allows us to leave no stone unturned in looking for the best possible candidate to lead a workforce of over 12,000 and help us realize community priorities. Fairfax County is an incredible place to live, work and play, and the opportunity to be County Executive will no doubt attract some of the best, most experienced managers in the country.

Obviously, one of the advantages of hiring from within the County, or from within the Region, is that the candidate starts with an appreciation for the parameters within which we work in Virginia, a Dillon Rule state, meaning that we don’t have home rule like most other states, including Maryland.  It is also an advantage for a candidate to have some familiarity with leadership within the National Capital Region. 

One of Tony’s greatest strengths has been to hire and retain a stellar workforce. We must also look to this pool of potential Executives in our “leave no stone unturned” approach. Our senior employees will have the institutional knowledge and the experience in Fairfax County that outside candidates will not.


Anonymous User : What will be the cost to the taxpayers for each of the projects: the Metro extension and the Tyson's Corner renovation? How will those projects be paid for? At present, the Metro extension through Tyson's Corner represents a major headache for McLean residents: no parking for residents to use the Metro. Why not take over the old Mitre building and build a parking lot there? By adding something like 100,000 new residents in Tyson's corner, an estimated 10,000 more cars will use Rt. 123 each day. How will Fairfax County deal with this traffic? Why is the termination package for the current County Executive being held secret?

Sharon Bulova :

I know that this construction phase is quite a mess and not easy for residents and commuters to endure.  I believe the payoff will be considerable when Rail to Dulles is completed and we begin to realize the Vision for Tysons.

Phase 1 of the Dulles Rail project is currently on time and within budget, scheduled for completion in 2013. The entire project from Falls Church to Loudoun County is being paid for using the following formula: 16.1 percent from Fairfax County, 4.8 percent from Loudoun County, 4.1 percent from the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, and 75 percent from Dulles Toll Road revenue, less contributions from the Federal Transit Authority and the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Fairfax County created two special tax districts to fund the majority of our contribution. In the Phase 1 Tax District, commercial landowners agreed to pay up to 29 cents per $100 of the assessed value of their commercial and industrial properties, up to a total of $400 million. Phase 2 District property owners agreed to pay up to 25 cents per $100, up to a total of $330 million. The remainder of the County’s commitment will come from other sources which may include a funds from a future Transportation Bond and/or funds from the C&I (Commercial and Industrial) tax. 

Costs of the redevelopment of Tysons Corner will be borne by landowners, developers, business owners and residents, as they will all see great benefit from achieving the new vision for Tysons. Remember that the redevelopment of Tysons will occur over 20 to 30 years.  We are working with landowners and developers to ensure the needs of the community, such as locations for fire and police stations, schools, athletic fields and parks, and transportation improvements, are met with a fair contribution from all those that stand to benefit.

A key component of the Tysons redevelopment that is currently being developed by Fairfax County transportation staff is ensuring residents have easy access to the four Metro stations. For more information, please visit http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/fcdot/tmsams/.


Bill : 9% budget increase for schools next year?! How on earth will FCPS get that money without substantial tax increases? I don't mind paying a little more, but that number seems very high relative to the other needs of the county budget.

Sharon Bulova :

I have not seen the details of the FCPS budget for FY2013, but I believe the increase that Dr. Dale is proposing is quite a stretch. While education is my number one priority, it is important that we are sensitive to the affordability of taxes to homeowners especially during these difficult times.

The Board of Supervisors will be holding a first-time-ever retreat with the School Board in late February where we will be able to discuss opportunities for collaboration and efficiencies. During the past couple of years, a School-County Smart Savings task force has identified significant savings by doing things jointly. One example is the School’s use of the County Attorney’s services rather than contracting out for legal expertise.


Ellen Maria : A new county executive should embrace our county energy policy and staff it accordingly. What are the county plans after our DOE energy conservation stimulus money projects are completed?

Sharon Bulova :

I agree that the County Executive must embrace Fairfax County’s priorities, including energy. There were several projects we identified that were not able to be funded with stimulus dollars. We are currently reviewing our green building policy. We are continuing to look for new and better ways to improve outreach to encourage smart energy use and conservation.

Additionally, my Private Sector Energy Task Force will continue to expand into new areas while working to implement its policy and legislative recommendations (found in this report: http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/chairman/pdf/energy_interim_report.pdf)  You can follow the work of this group through my Chairman’s Website.  The meetings are open to the public and held here at the Government Center.  We will be setting new dates for 2012 shortly. 


Anonymous User : My concerns are geared more towards the "Humanity" of the County. I am concerned by the cuts to Drug & Alcohol Facilities as well as the number of homeless persons in this county. I was fortunate enough to go through one our county programs at "A New Beginning" 11+ years ago and it saved and changed my life. Please share your thoughts on cutting important services.

Sharon Bulova : First, congratulations on your recovery and thank you for sharing this. This is an area that concerns me as well. It is important that we maintain the safety net to help our residents when they need us the most. Our Board has worked very hard over the last several budget cycles to protect the kinds of services that protect our most vulnerable residents. You can be sure that this will continue to be a priority for me.


G Budnik : As the current Board is aware, municipalities all over the country (some larger, some smaller than Fairfax) are struggling and/or failing to meet the committed pension requirements of their aging and expanding public work force (which, here in Fairfax, includes some of the best teachers and public sector workers in the country). Higher taxes, reduced services, and modifications to the standards of living and provision of public services to those municipalities' citizens and employees are a proven result of a failure to properly and COMPLETELY plan for the increased costs of an aging population and workforce, as well as a diminished tax base if continued recession and flat growth is the norm (as many learned economists predict will be the case this time around). What is the current Board of Supervisors planning to do now to insure that the same fate does not await our fair county?

Sharon Bulova :

I’m very proud of Fairfax County’s proactive approach in this area.  We have been very responsible about putting sufficient funding aside to comply with GASB guidelines.  Also, rather than increasing taxes as a response to Recession pressures, Fairfax County has, I believe, exercised excellent fiscal stewardship in identifying ways to reduce the costs for service and adopt reorganizational changes to keep us in fiscal equilibrium.  We are also working with a consultant to make sure our benefits are sustainable and affordable in the new fiscal climate you accurately describe.

In an October 8th Editorial The Washington Post wrote “EVEN AFTER three years of budget cuts and plummeting revenue, Fairfax County remains the economic wunderkind of Virginia and in many ways of the Washington area ... It is poised for further growth and prosperity even as neighboring jurisdictions scramble to retrench and regroup.”

We clearly are doing a lot that is right.  We also cannot rest on our laurels.


Anonymous User : Is Dulles Rail phase 2 a done deal? Or are there other hurdles that can stop the project? Are we past the point that this is only an idea or is it actually going to happen?

Sharon Bulova : Dulles Rail Phase II will not be a done deal until the final funding agreement is signed by all parties which should happen later this year. The funding partners have agreed to a memorandum that outlines the strategy to fund this critical project. Major impediments were resolved in 2011, like the MWAA board’s agreement to build the airport station above ground. This significantly reduces the cost for Phase II and brings it more in line with the original estimates. We also identified other cost savings, such as a reduction in the size of the rail yard and other value engineering components. This project continues to be our Board’s number one transportation priority and I am personally committed to seeing it through. 


Tom O'Brien : You should investigate why they lied to us at planning meetings regarding rush hour lane restrictions during 495 express lane construction. The inner loop goes to only three lanes under the 66 flyover. This is permanent now. We were promised the Beltway would never be three lanes at rush hour. This is supposed to last till next fall. We were lied to. Traffic is backed up for miles. It was never like this before. They lied to us in the citizen briefing meeting before this started. While it is only for a short distance, it is a bottleneck that they said would not happen. This affects many people that you represent.

Sharon Bulova : Because your question is very specific in nature, I would like to be able to talk to our transportation staff and get a specific answer for you. Would you mind sending your contact information to chairman@fairfaxcounty.gov? Thank you.


Anonymous User : What's the latest on a new public safety building for police and fire at the Government Center to replace the Massey Building? What kind of timeline can be expected?

Sharon Bulova : The design of the new facility, to be built next to the Herrity building is well underway.  A project such as this does take quite some time to design and build but currently we anticipate completion by December 2015.


Ellen Maria : Transparency of county processes and procedures should be a priority. What improvements have been made to the county and what still needs to be done?

Sharon Bulova :

While there is still more we can do, I think that much progress has been made in this area over the years.  The County’s website is especially helpful in providing an enormous amount of information in ways that are relatively user-friendly.  One of my favorite sites is “My Neighborhood”.

With the new FOCUS upgrade, we will also essentially be able to put the County’s “checkbook” on line for interested parties to see more detailed information about operations.

In February, our Board will hold a retreat to discuss priorities and goals for 2012 and beyond. A portion of this retreat is dedicated to public outreach – how can we improve our efforts to increase public engagement in County government?

Some successful examples of providing engagement opportunities have been:
The Community Dialogues of Budget during the beginning of the Recession
Neighborhood College Sessions which build leadership within the community along with enhanced solving capacity
The Tysons Land Use Task Force and the Reston Land-Use College
My Private Sector Energy Task Force

Many district supervisors have stepped up their efforts to engage their constituents, through increased social media presence, holding town halls, or ensuring county news makes it into local media.

Last year we expanded our public outreach process for the budget with a take-home, book club style package that encouraged local, community discussion of priorities, and we received over 880 comments. We have received over 1800 comments on our search for a new County Executive.


Ellen Maria : New sources of revenue should be identified and directed to public transit. How is the county working with the state to improve transportation funding?

Sharon Bulova :

I agree with you that we need new revenue that can be directed toward public transit. 

The Board of Supervisors before each General Assembly session prepares a legislative agenda. Transportation funding is the most repeated need the Board conveys to our Fairfax County delegation. We meet annually prior to the GA session to convey this need in person, as we did in December of 2011. Fairfax County residents then make their case to our delegation at an annual public hearing. Throughout the session, we are in constant contact with our representatives in Richmond both directly, through our legislative affairs staff, and through an outside lobbyist in Richmond. Our Board meets every Friday during the General Assembly session to discuss the progress being made in Richmond. In addition to working with our General Assembly representatives, we often make our case directly to the governor or transportation officials as the need arises.

In addition to State funding, the County is using our C&I (Commercial and Industrial) tax revenue to help pay for expanded transit throughout the County.


Anonymous User : If Fairfax County takes over the local roads with appropriate state money, how would you prioritize fixing roads and other issues? Would this include snow removal? Thanks.

Sharon Bulova :

Our Board has expressed our opposition to taking over the maintenance of roads in the County.  We have no reason to believe the State would transfer this responsibility to us with adequate funding to do the job. 

Sadly, our roads have not been adequately maintained by VDOT for years. Bringing our roads up to *our* standards would require our taxpayers to foot the additional bill.  The list of maintenance needs across Fairfax County is extensive and includes filling potholes, repaving neighborhood streets, fixing guard rails, repairing bridges, replacing signs, repairing sidewalks, repainting crosswalks, restriping roads, etc. 

I recently joined Chairmen Scott York of Loudoun County and Corey Stewart of Prince William in drafting a letter that was published in The Washington Post that stated our unified position on this.

If the Commonwealth wants to bring all of our road infrastructure up to an acceptable standard and provide an adequate level of funding to keep things in a safe and acceptable condition we would have something to talk about.


Anonymous User : What hopes do we have in our lifetimes that Metro will be built down I-66 to Centreville? I worry that because of the huge hassles and costs with Dulles Rail that it'll be another generation untl rail further down 66 is even considered. :-(

Sharon Bulova :

Extending Metro down the I-66 corridor will be a challenge, but something I would ultimately like to accomplish.  As difficult as building rail in the Dulles corridor has been, I-66 will be even more difficult.  We don’t have the same land-use opportunities to help pay for it (i.e. the special tax districts agreed to by commercial land owners along the Dulles Toll Road).

Rail is not the only effective option for relieving congestion on I-66. A study conducted by the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation recommended 15 transportation demand management strategies to help reduce congestion. Bus Rapid Transit is also a viable alternative to rail along the I-66 corridor.


Douglas T. : As you look for a new county executive, will you pay an outstanding candidate fair market value? We all know Tony Griffin's salary is way below where it should be for a leader of his stature and portfolio. Will the Board of Supervisors be willing to attract a strong leader from outside that we need rather than skimping and paying a low salary to internal candidates who probably don't have what it takes to lead this county (no disrespect toward them, but county executive is a unique, demanding position that requires probably well north of $300K per year). Will the board pay the price for quality?

Sharon Bulova : We will offer the kind of compensation package that attracts the kind of candidate that we need to help lead Fairfax County. With over 12,000 employees, a $6 billion budget and over 1 million residents, we need a skilled, experienced and competent manager that can not only handle the day-to-day business of managing the County, but has the talent and skill sets to achieve the long term goals set by the Board.


Anonymous User : I really admire all of the work to attract major companies to Fairfax County. However, a lot of these companies receive a lot of tax benefits and other perks. What resources and benefits are available for small business (that one day may turn into a major corporation)? Thank you for your leadership.

Sharon Bulova : Fairfax County actually does not offer financial incentives or tax breaks to attract businesses. Instead, we invest in our quality of life that in turn has made Fairfax County the site for every major corporate relocation in the U.S. in the past five years.

For small businesses, our Board has recently worked with the Small Business Commission to revamp their bylaws to include the kind of outreach and assistance you mention in your question. To learn more about the resources the County provides small businesses, visit www.fairfaxcounty.gov/business/small-business.


Sharon Bulova : Thank you all for submitting questions and participating in the chat today. I hope you will take a minute to fill out the survey on our search for the new County Executive at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/cex/search. Also I hope you will sign up for my monthly online newsletter, the Bulova Byline, by emailing your information to chairman@fairfaxcounty.gov. Thanks for your interest in Fairfax County and helping to keep us the best place to live, work, play and grow older comfortably.

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