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Discussion Title 2012 Election Day Bond Referendums

Four county bond questions will be on the ballot on Election Day, Nov. 6. Get answers to your questions about how the county plans to use this money to improve libraries, parks, public safety and stormwater facilities during the Ask Fairfax! chat on Wednesday, Oct. 24 at 10 a.m.


John Dargle, Jr : Welcome on behalf of Fairfax County!  We have gathered several staff from different agencies to include Parks, Libraries, Stormwater, and Public Safety in order to discuss and respond to questions about the approaching Bond Referenda.  We are here to answer your questions.


Anonymous User : Is the library bond referendum bound up with the parks and other bond issues? Is the $10 million for construction of new Reston library a low figure (it seems, compared to $5 million to renovate other libraries) because other monies will be used for construction since this sounds like the library is part of a larger govt. mix?

Jane Goodwin : The $25 million library bond referendum is one of four separate bond referendum questions that will appear on the Nov. 6 ballot and is not related to the parks bond referendum. The library bond referendum will finance the renovation of the John Marshall, Pohick Regional Library and Tysons-Pimmit Regional Library. The mixed-use development of the land on which the Reston Regional Library now stands is still in the planning stages and the $10 million allocated will be used for site, studies, design and construction. Whether monies will be used for renovation or new construction and the source of any additional funding will be determined at a later date.


Anonymous User : I understand this is earmarked for the Huntington Community flood problem. How many houses flood, how much does the county spend per flood, how many houses have been lost or had to be totally rebuilt (replaced) due to damage?

Randy Bartlett : Yes, you are correct. There are 180 homes at risk in the FEMA-designated flood plain in Huntington, and approximately 160 homes flooded in 2006 and 2011. (These homes were built in the 1940s and 50s before today’s floodplain rules were in place.) As far as we know, no homes were completely lost. If voters approve the stormwater bond, the county plans to use the money to build a 2,865-foot-long levee and pump station along Cameron Run to protect the Huntington community. An independent study by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimated that this is the cheapest solution to address flooding in this neighborhood.


Barb : What is the location of the Herndon fire station potentially up for renovation?

Laurie Stone : The Herndon Fire and Rescue Station will be rebuilt at its current location at 680 Spring Street since this is the best location for emergency response coverage.


jaybird : The Library bond issue includes money to build a new regional library in Reston. Does the county own the land on which the current library rests? If so, will the land be sold when time comes to build a new library. If that is the case, will the proceeds from the sale be used for the new library?

Jane Goodwin : Fairfax County does own the land on which the current library is built which, because it will be located near the new Reston Metro station, may be redeveloped into a more urban, mixed-use center with government facilities. As part of the redevelopment, the library may be relocated within this area north of the town center. Bond funds will be used for the site studies, design and construction once the library location is confirmed. The use of the land the Reston Regional Library now occupies is still in the planning stages.


Darilyn Gould : I live in New Alexandria (22307) where I and many of my neighbors were wiped out in Hurricane Isabel. We pay ever increasing flood insurance every year. How will this help with flood mitigation in New Alexandria?

Randy Bartlett : You are right that there are many homes in this area that are affected by flooding. Unfortunately, this year’s stormwater bond will not help with the New Alexandria project. There is separate study trying to find solutions for that area, and the county is holding a public meeting about this study on Thursday, Oct. 25, at 7 p.m. at the South County Government Center, Room  221 (8350 Richmond Highway, Alexandria, VA 22309). If you can attend, more detailed information will be provided then. However, you can read the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer’s study on what can be done to prevent flooding in the Belle Haven/New Alexandria area at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/dpwes/publications/stormwater/bellehavenfinalreport.pdf. Measures include a levee, floodwall and other options.


Park Lover : As FCPA prepares for budget cuts, it's contemplating the closure of beloved facilities such as Hidden Pond. John Dargle has said that the Bond Issue will not save the facilities slated for closure. Bonds must be repaid. A bond issue will increase FCPA's fixed expenses. How can FCPA justify an enormous expenditure when they expect their budget to be cut -- and, in fact, cannot afford to keep open the facilities they already have?

John Dargle, Jr :

Dear Park Lover,

The goal of the Park Authority is to provide a balance of park and recreational experiences along with providing stewardship of our natural and cultural resources.   Park Authority operating costs are funded through a combination of general county funding (tax dollars) and Park Authority generated revenue (User Fees).  Projects to be developed under the 2012 Park Bond are a mixture of revenue generating facilities and non-revenue generating facilities and as a result require General Obligation Bond Funding to proceed. Completed facilities will allow the Park Authority to meet our financial sustainability goals going forward and allow us to continue to provide and sustain quality park facilities along with continuing good stewardship practices.


Anonymous User : If the Levee is built what will happen to the Wildlife here, the animals go back and forth from that river every day and use it as a constant water source and hunting ground

Randy Bartlett : The levee is a grass hill and wildlife will be able to cross it.


Harry Lenclair : Fairfax County Park Authority per state law has the power to issue revenue bonds at its own will. Question: With this ability to issue its own bonds why must the residents float their bonds? Also the FCPA attaches itself to each and every new zoning or re-zoning of residential developments by way of the proffer process. These proffers can bring in millions of dollars for large projects. Based on 2010 data the FCPA was 5.7 million dollars in arrears in collecting proffer cash 'owed' them. Question: Should not the FCPA be required to balance its books before asking the residents to approve a new bond? Thank you for this opportunity.

John Dargle, Jr : Mr. Lenclair,
Unlike general obligation bonds, revenue bonds are repaid with revenues generated from the capital facility they fund.  For instance, revenue bonds were used to build golf facilities that are repaid from golf revenues.  Capital facilities funded through the proposed general obligation bonds do not fall into the revenue bond category.  Proffers are voluntary contributions from the development process and are not a sure source of cash contributions.  While county policies support the offsetting of park impacts through the development process, the pace of development is unpredictable, the scale of development is generally smaller and proffers can seek to balance competing public facility needs such as transportation, schools and public safety.    Many cash proffers are insufficient to actually fund the design and construction of new facilities needed to offset new residents and must be supplemented by bond funds or other capital improvement funding sources. In some cases the proffers are directed to specific projects that can be underfunded and therefore languish.  The uncollected proffer funding report you cite was in error.  Collection and transfer of proffer funds is managed by the Department of Public Works and Environmental Services and to our knowledge, all park proffers funds have been transferred to the Park Authority and we actively use the funding for capital projects.   


karl : all of these bonds seem to address what should be relatively high priority items, particularly the one dealing with safety. that being the case, why are they not funded within the budget, and lower priority items being addressed through bonds? are these really the lowest priority items in the whole County budget?

Joe LaHait : The county sells bonds to pay for capital improvements for several reasons. One of the most important is that it’s a way to build more projects more quickly. This is because the county can spread the cost over time, rather than paying for the entire project requiring a larger share of existing tax revenues. If we can’t spread the cost over time, this means there are fewer projects that can built at any one time. This is similar buying a car or a house. Many people buy these items with loans rather than paying the full cost upfront, but they get to use them right away. Bonds also allow the costs for the facilities to be paid by current and future residents who will use them—not just current residents.  The County also has a Triple A bond rating and is issuing bonds while taking advantage of historic low interest rates. 


Linda : Which libraries will be renovated and where will a new one be built? What park facilities will be affected?

Jane Goodwin : The library bond referendum will finance the renovation of the John Marshall, Pohick Regional Library and Tysons-Pimmit Regional Library. The mixed-use development of the land on which the Reston Regional Library now stands is still in the planning stages. We don't anticipate use of park facilities will be affected by these renovations. If you would like more information about parks bond projects visit online at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks.


Scott : Was there not a Corp of Engineers study which indicated that it was not cost beneficial to protect Huntington from flood waters? Why fight Mother Nature? Can the residents and community be relocated (see Grundy, VA) for cheaper?

Randy Bartlett : The Corp of Engineer study determined that their cost benefit ratio calculation did not meet the requirements for federal funding. To proceed with the project to provide protection to the community  the County will need to provide funding, thus the proposed bond.


Anonymous User : My understanding is that a bond is the same as debt. Is assuming debt a good idea in these economic times?

Joe LaHait :

Fairfax County has adopted a prudent financial management policy designed to protect its triple-A bond ratings.  Under the program, the county’s net long-term debt is not to exceed 3 percent of the total market value of taxable real and personal property in the county.  It also provides that annual debt service (the cost of principal and interest payments) be kept below 10 percent of annual combined general fund spending, and that bond sales shall not exceed an average of $275 million per year or $1.375 billion over 5 years.

For Fiscal Year (FY) 2012, the county’s actual net long-term debt is 1.26 percent of the market value of all taxable real and personal property.  Debt service costs in FY 2012 are 8.52 percent of the combined general fund disbursements.  The FY 2013-2017 Capital Improvement Program adopted by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on April 24, 2012, anticipates issuance of an average of $244 million of general obligation bonds per year.   This policy is expected to keep debt service at lower than 9.0 percent of general fund disbursements, which will maintain a balance between operating expenses and long-term capital needs.

The County will continue to adhere to these debt ratios and adjust future bond sales to remain within our self imposed debt limits.  The County is issuing debt at historic low interest rates to make much needed and planned capital improvements.   


County taxpayer : Why park bonds funds slated for artificial turf fields when the research shows these fields contain toxic substances?

John Dargle, Jr : Synthetic turf fields using crumb rubber have been installed and used in many athletic and playing fields throughout Fairfax County, the United States and the world. The benefits of synthetic turf are numerous to include 62% greater capacity, limit need for use of pesticides, and reduce maintenance costs to name a few. Questions have been raised about potential health, safety, and environmental effects from the use of synthetic turf. We are working with the Fairfax County Health Department to develop a fact sheet which will provide information on research conducted by numerous state and national organizations who have studied these issues. The health and safety aspects of synthetic turf have been reviewed and addressed by many national and state organizations, including the U.S. Environmental Health Agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and numerous state agencies in California, Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York.  They generally conclude that several scientific research studies carried out in the United States and Europe have assessed potential exposures and health risks for people using turf fields containing crumb rubber. According to the research findings, health effects are unlikely from exposure to the levels of chemicals found in synthetic turf and that these fields do not pose a serious public health concern.


Alan Ruof, Huntington Community Association : Do floods put the lives of residents and first responders at risk?

Randy Bartlett : Yes. It's important to be prepared and stay informed. Residents may sign up for CEAN which is the Community Emergency Alert Notification system at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/CEAN. You should also sign up for updated information about emergencies at our blog at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/emergency/blog. Flood preparation information and FEMA flood plain maps are available at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/dpwes/stormwater/ under flood protection information.  


Barb : I've read that the county is considering moving the Reston library to another location. Can you give more details about where that location would be, when this major change would occur, and what the parking situation at the new library would be? The current library is easily accessible, and this proposed change is concerning.

Jane Goodwin : We do not know if the library will move or where a new location would be. The mixed-use development of the land on which the Reston Regional Library is located is in the planning stages. The $10 million allocated in the bond referendum will be used for site, studies, design and construction. Whether monies will be used for renovation or new construction and the source of any additional funding will be determined at a later date.

Parking decisions would be part of the study and final design. We anticipate having adequate parking for library customers as we have with previous library projects. Accessibility is a key element when evaluating a potential location.


Dom Correa : Have studies been done on the effects the levee would have on nutrient replenishment of the soil where wild life would be affected? Is the system built with this in mind?

Randy Bartlett : The focus of the project to date has been to provide protection to the existing community. Environmental impact statements will be part of the final design.


Elizabeth S. : Can you be more specific about the larger projects that the park bond will be used to pay for?

John Dargle, Jr :

Hi Elizabeth,
Using the Needs Assessment ten-year capital plan, facility condition assessments, park master plans and stakeholder input as tools for project selection, the allocation of the proposed 2012 park bond would fall into several categories: stewardship and land acquisition, existing facility renovations, community parks/new facilities and facility expansion. The project list balances priority needs, reinvestment in aging facilities, investments in land, natural and cultural resource protection, advancement of phased projects and improving the park experience. Some of the projects include expansion to Spring Hill RECenter, trail upgrades and connections to the park trail network throughout the County, athletic field improvements such as conversion to synthetic turf, field upgrades and lighting improvements at Rolling Valley West, Arrowhead, Ellanor C. Lawrence, Langley Fork, Pine Ridge, McNaughton and Grist Mill parks, restoration of the miller’s house at Colvin Run Mill and renovation of the tenant house at Historic Huntley, construction of a shelter at Hidden Pond Nature Center, and an environmental education center is also planned in Sully Woodlands.  Other projects include the first phase of improvements at Monticello Park, Hartland Road Park and White Gardens and continued phased development at Laurel Hill Park and Patriot Park. Additional features at The Water Mine at Lake Fairfax would be added to enhance the visitor experience and increase capacity. For more information, please visit our web site at http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/2012bond.htm


Anonymous User : How much of each bond is for critiical maintainance of facilities rather than expansion or upgrades? Once the bonds are sold, how much are they expected to cost the General Fund or park funds annually? I understand why critical maintenance is needed now, but why would expansion and upgrade funds be requested until after FY2015 when funds are going to more likely be available to pay for fees and retirement of the bonds? The information going out says the bonds will not force a tax increase, which is marginally true, but don't they take away from funds available in the General Fund?

Joe LaHait : The county’s policy of rapid debt retirement and strong debt management guidelines serves to keep debt per capita and net debt as a percentage of estimated market value of taxable property at low levels. Annual debt service costs as a percent of the total budget are projected to remain under 10% of annual county disbursements.
 
The County sells bonds when funds are needed for construction.  These amounts coupled with a record low interest rate environment for municipal bonds equate to manageable debt service that has been built into our capital financial models and the debt ratios cited above.    


Dom Correa : Where can we find the cost benefit analysis of the proposed levee? Why did it not meet the standard for federal funding and doesn't that mean that it is not a cost effective measure? Was cost of the initial design and development along with maintenance cost both taken into account and compared with costs of relocated people or other solutions? Where other solutions even vetted?

Randy Bartlett : The  Corp of Engineer's studied the alternatives and developed the cost benefit analysis, the following is a link to their study  www.fairfaxcounty.gov/dpwes/stormwater/floodreport.htm


Anonymous User : what is the term of the bond and please provide a total cost with interest. how much savings in recovery effort does the total cost save.

Joe LaHait : The actual interest rate will be determined when the bonds are sold and the re-payment schedule is amortized over 20 years. The county doesn’t sell bonds until it needs the money, which is usually around the time projects are ready for construction. This saves taxpayers money because the county doesn’t start paying interest on the bonds until the money is actually needed. Another point to keep in mind is that Fairfax County is one of only 39 counties in the U.S. with a triple-A credit rating from all three bond ratings agencies. This means that the county can sell bonds at very low interest rates, and Fairfax’s triple-A rating has saved taxpayers more than $543 million since 1978.


John Dargle, Jr : We appreciate your interest in these four upcoming Bond Referendums.  The questions you posed were insightful and we hope you found our responses helpful.  Please visit www.fairfaxcounty.gov/bond for further details and remember November 6 is Election Day!

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