State of the County 2009
Dec. 18, 2009
Good evening and thanks for joining me today for this review of the State of our County as the challenging year of 2009 comes to an end.
Albert Einstein once said, “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.”
We are indeed in the middle of difficulty. As our community prepares for the holiday season, we continue to be affected by a severe breakdown in our economy.
Our nation’s economic crisis was rooted in predatory lending practices and risky sub-prime loans that began more than 10 years ago. In the fall of 2008, when our national housing bubble burst, many of our country’s major financial institutions, including Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, AIG, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, failed.
We have felt the repercussions here in Fairfax County.
Our major source of revenue – making up over 60% of our budget – is from residential and commercial real estate taxes. In the current fiscal year, the value of property in Fairfax County declined by 10%. That’s a loss of $244 million.
Had the Board attempted to maintain services, programs and staffing levels at the previous year’s level and provided performance-based salary for our employees, we would have come up $640 million – or nearly 20 percent -- short in our $3.3 billion General Fund Budget.
As we prepared for this past year’s budget, I initiated a series of Community Dialogues with residents throughout the County.
We presented information regarding our budget and discussed with you ideas for addressing our fiscal challenges. Together, we examined our priorities and discussed possible service reductions or organizational changes.
Thanks in large part to this inclusive process, and aided by Stimulus funding that provided a bridge for our public schools, our Board was able to unanimously adopt a budget last April that struck a responsible balance. We were able to keep average tax bills steady. We also made a number of cuts and reductions:
- We eliminated all employee pay raises for a savings of $19 million.
- We reduced library hours, cutting 34 positions and saving $3.4 million. We also cut library material by $1 million.
- We delayed buying new vehicles to save $2 million.
- We cut FASTRAN service by more than $3 million and reduced CONNECTOR routes for additional savings.
- We closed the Mason Police Station Lock-up, cutting four positions and saving $250,000.
- We eliminated Police School Education Officers, cutting 8 positions and $62,000.
- We closed the Western Fairfax Outpatient clinic and outsourced some business and personal property tax collections for additional savings.
- We cut back on printed materials, including the County newsletter and closed 2 Computer Learning Centers for more than a half million dollar savings.
- Schools increased the number of students per classroom
- And reduced the summer school program.
We also found new ways to deliver services in a less costly manner:
- 1,300 county employees now work from home telecommuting, saving us money on office expenses, reducing congestion and cutting carbon emission.
- The schools made significant changes to school bus routes and school hours, saving over $4 million.
- Our energy program is saving us millions of dollars in energy costs and operating expenses.
- We consolidated Warehouse Functions between the County and the Schools, and
- Implemented a shared approach between the County and the Schools to save $400,000 on legal resources.
As we look ahead and prepare for next year’s budget we continue to be seriously challenged.
Property taxes continue to fall (this time by $232.5 million). Costs for debt service, utilities and retirement are increasing. These two factors combined create a projected shortfall for Fiscal Year 2011 of $316 million dollars. Schools – which make up 53.8% of the County’s Budget -- project a shortfall of $176 million.
Once again, beginning in September, we have worked together through the Community Dialogue process to prepare for next year. You can find more information about the Dialogues, and see suggestions and comments online.
At the same time that our County has experienced the most severe financial decline in most of our lifetimes, we are challenged by an increase in the needs of many in our community.
County residents are still losing their homes to foreclosure. In September of 2008, foreclosures in Fairfax County peaked at more than 2,200. Last July was the first time in 16 months that we had less than 1,000 foreclosed homes on the market. A hopeful sign, home sales are up 5%. As the inventory of foreclosed homes diminishes, home prices are likely to stabilize and, hopefully, even increase.
Fairfax County offers help to citizens facing the loss of their homes.
- The Fairfax Housing Agency has helped more than 700 families by providing counseling and help to either stay in their homes or become home owners.
- First time buyers may qualify for a no-interest second trust loan under our Silver Lining Initiative. If you are trying to keep or buy a home, please call 703-246-5087 to reach the Fairfax County Homeownership Resource Center.
- We also provide grant money to non-profit organizations to help them buy foreclosed properties and convert them into affordable rental properties. This provides low-cost housing for people in need.
- In its first eight days of operation, our new Housing Opportunities Support Teams (HOST) prevented 18 households from becoming homeless. This program, operated as a partnership of local faith-based and nonprofit organizations, is coordinated by the new Fairfax County Office to Prevent and End Homelessness.
Loss of a home is often directly related to loss of employment. Unemployment nationwide remains high at 9.7%. We are faring better in Fairfax County. Still our 4.7 percent unemployment rate is up 1.5 percent from last year. Prior to this downturn, unemployment in Fairfax had never been above 4%.
If you are affected by this rise in unemployment, you can find assistance by contacting our Department of Family Services, Skill Source Centers at 703-704-6286.
This economy has caused a dramatic increase in demand for our county’s human services. Our Department of Coordinated Services Planning was established in the mid 90’s to handle urgent human services-related situations.
In all of 2007, that office had only 5 days with more than 400 calls. During 2008, it received that many calls one out of every four days. In 2009, it received that many calls every other day.
The top calls (PDF) are for:
Emergency food and food stamps
- Utility assistance
The demand for such services is widespread. Chances are that someone on your block or in your neighborhood needs help.
For assistance from the Coordinated Services Planning office, call 703-222-0880, TTY 711. The office is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Or you can contact Crisis Line at 211.
While many economists believe the market is bottoming out, the path to economic recovery is steep and winding.
Despite the current economic conditions and the challenges our county faces, my colleagues and I are looking using this downturn to identify opportunities – or, using the popular current phrase, we are “not letting a crisis go to waste.”
In June of this year, I led our Board in a two day retreat to determine our priorities, both within the county and in our districts.
At our Board Meeting on December 7th, we unanimously adopted a slate of Goals and Priorities to guide us during these difficult years that read:
“By engaging our residents and businesses in the process of addressing these challenging times, protecting investment in our most critical priorities, and by maintaining strong responsible fiscal stewardship, we must ensure” these goals:
No. 1 -- A Quality Educational System
Education is Fairfax County’s highest priority. We will continue the investment needed to protect and enhance this primary community asset.
No. 2 -- Safe Streets and Neighborhoods
Fairfax County is the safest community of our size in the U.S. We will continue to invest in public safety to respond to emergency situations and to prevent and intervene in destructive behaviors, such as gang activity and substance abuse.
No. 3 -- A Clean, Sustainable Environment
Fairfax County will continue to protect our drinking water, air quality, stream valleys and tree canopy through responsible environmental regulations and practices. We will continue to take a lead in initiatives to address energy efficiency and sustainability and to preserve and protect open space for our residents to enjoy.
No. 4 -- Livable, Caring and Affordable Communities
As Fairfax County continues to grow we will do so in ways that address environmental and mobility challenges. We will encourage housing that is affordable to our children, seniors and members of our workforce. We will provide compassionate and efficient services to members of our community who are in need.
No. 5 -- A Vibrant Economy
Fairfax County has a well-earned reputation as a business-friendly community. We will vigorously pursue economic development and revitalization opportunities. We will support the business community and encourage this healthy partnership. We will continue to be sensitive and responsive to the needs of our corporate neighbors in the areas of workforce development and availability, affordable housing, regulation and taxation.
No. 6 -- Efficient Transportation Network
Fairfax County makes it a priority to connect People and Places. We will continue to plan for and invest in transportation improvements to include comprehensive bicycle and pedestrian initiatives, bus and para transit, road and intersection improvements and expansion of Metrorail and VRE.
No. 7 -- Recreational and Cultural Opportunities
A desirable community is one where there is a lot going on that residents can enjoy. Fairfax County will continue to provide for athletic, artistic, intellectual and recreational activities, in our communities, parks, libraries and schools.
No. 8 -- Taxes that are Affordable
The property tax is Fairfax County’s primary source of revenue to provide services. We will ensure that taxes are affordable for our residents and businesses, and we will seek ways to diversify County revenues in order to make our tax base more equitable. We will ensure that County programs and services are efficient, effective, cost effective and well run.
Meeting these goals in these challenging times will not be easy, but I remain optimistic. By working together, we have been able to adjust to these changing economic times, while protecting the quality of life we value.
Ask county residents what bothers them the most, the answer is most often traffic congestion. Essentially all roads in Fairfax County are owned and maintained (or not!) by the Commonwealth of Virginia. At our retreat, my colleagues and I agreed to examine and pursue options for improving our share of transportation funding, as well as possibly seeking more authority over maintenance and operation of the State roads and intersections in Fairfax.
A number of major transportation projects are underway (or are being planned in our County - which I would like to share with you:
Dulles Airport is closer to reality than ever before.
Major transportation projects are difficult undertakings and require
years of effort. In concept, this project began 4 decades ago when
Dulles Airport was built. Finally, after many years of hard work and
planning, the Metro “Silver Line” will be a reality in just a few short
On March 10th I participated in the signing of a Full Funding Agreement for the Federal share of this project. The Board has approved the Phase II special tax district for commercial land owners in the Reston/Herndon area where three Metrorail stations will be built.
Four stations, now under construction, will serve the Tysons Corner area. By 2013 we will have service to Whiele Ave. in Reston. By 2016 we will have service all the way to the airport!
Construction has begun on the Capital Beltway HOT
Lanes. This is a public-private partnership that will construct
High Occupancy Toll lanes for a 14-mile stretch of I-495. We expect to
complete it in 2013. At the insistence of our Board, sound walls will
be built along its entire length as well as reforestation and
landscaping. As Chairman, one of my top priorities is to include
Express Bus or Bus Rapid Transit on the HOT Lanes.
Congestion will lessen on I-95 as we add a fourth lane in each
direction on I-95 between the Fairfax County Parkway and Route 123.
This will be done by the end of this year.
The Telegraph Road Interchange is being re-built. This final
major project of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge replacement will improve
traffic flow and provide pedestrian access.
The final two miles of the Fairfax County Parkway, which runs
through the Engineering Proving Ground, is under construction. Thanks
to federal stimulus dollars, we expect to complete Phase 1 and 2 of
this project by the end of 2010.
We are working with our federal partners to identify other sources of
revenue for the hundreds of millions of dollars in additional
improvements that will be essential to support the relocation of
military facilities to this part of the county.
- During this year, our Department of Transportation conducted public meetings to gather comments and suggestions for a comprehensive 10-year plan for enhanced bus service countywide that includes both the Fairfax Connector and Metrobus.
Meanwhile, a number of major redevelopment and revitalization projects are transforming our community in a positive way.
construction of the Metro Silver Line, we are well underway on plans to
redevelop Tysons Corner into a
planned, transit-oriented, green, walkable, multi-use urban community.
The Planning Commission is currently reviewing Comprehensive Plan
language that will guide the redevelopment.
The “Tysons Vision” calls for creating 8 distinct districts oriented to 4 rail stations and laced with 160 acres of parks and open space.
The county’s proposed plan calls for:
a blueprint for storm water management,
an urban grid of streets,
a thriving transit system,
- and reduced congestion.
- affordable housing,
Public hearings on the new plan are expected to be held before the Planning Commission in March, with Board of Supervisors hearings in May.
- In July, the Board approved the rezoning necessary to allow Springfield Mall to be revitalized into a pedestrian-oriented town center of mixed retail, office, hotel and residential uses. The project calls for a grocery store, dog park, tot lot, athletic courts, fitness center, and state of the art movie center. The application we approved seized an opportunity to enhance the image of Springfield, and transform the mall into a thriving amenity for the community once again.
Other Redevelopment and Revitalization projects in the County include:
- The Mosaic at Merrifield, south of Lee Highway,
- Re-planning activities in the Reston/Herndon area of the County, which will take advantage of extension of the Silver Line through that area,
- The Re-use of the former Lorton Prison into the Lorton Arts Center and the Laurel Hill mixed use community – an exciting new component of our South County area of Fairfax, and
- Plan amendments for commercial revitalization in the Richmond Highway corridor. This will allow for revitalizing the area in concert with the Defense Department Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process and the relocation of more than 19,000 military jobs to Fort Belvoir and the Engineering Proving Ground in southern Fairfax County. When the relocations are fully realized in 2011, we’ll double the workforce currently stationed at Fort Belvoir. This move will have a transformative effect on nearby communities like Lorton, Mount Vernon, Kingstowne and Burke. It will also be a tremendous catalyst for revitalization in central Springfield and the Richmond Highway corridor.
On October 19th, our Board adopted a Fairfax County Energy Policy, consistent with our Cool Counties Climate Stabilization Initiative. We are also looking at ways to remove barriers to residents wanting to generate their own electricity with solar panels.
On November 18th, I hosted a Town Meeting that described this policy and gave specific examples of what we are doing in Fairfax County.
- We’ve adopted a Sustainable Development Policy for Capital Projects greater than 10,000 square feet, with a goal of achieving LEED Silver certification.
- Facilities Management started an energy efficiency program which not only reduced the amount of energy consumed by county operations but has saved millions of dollars in operating expenses.
- The Park Authority has initiated an energy management effort which will pay for itself when completed later this year. We’ll reduce park operating costs and energy consumption by 16%.
- This year wind power provided 10% of the county’s energy needs. That will enable us to reduce CO2 emissions by over 23,000 metric tons over three years.
- We now have 104 hybrid vehicles in the county’s vehicle fleet. One was converted to a plug-in hybrid that can achieve over 100 miles per gallon on some trips. We are seeking grants for a plug-in hybrid school bus.
You can watch the Town Meeting.
When I was sworn in as your Chairman 10 months ago, I acknowledged that we were in the middle of difficult times. I said that it was important that we remain hopeful and we have. Our Fairfax County community has rolled up our collective sleeves and worked together to navigate these choppy waters.
As we near the end of 2009, we can look back on some very positive accomplishments.
- Our school system continues to be one of the best in the Nation. Our Thomas Jefferson High School was ranked #1 in the U.S.
- We continue to be the safest jurisdiction of our size in the United States. This past year, crime statistics fell.
- We still are among the most sought after address for the nation’s businesses. This year, Hilton Worldwide and SAIC chose to locate their headquarters here in Fairfax County.
- And we have become the new home of the IGNITE Institute, a new biotechnology company for personalized medicine. The addition of this new primary industry sector to Fairfax County's economy will bring significant improvements in medical treatment and will be a major catalyst in the evolution of health care. Thanks to pioneering research at the Ignite Institute, Fairfax County will be tied to major developments in this field and will become major players in the field of bio-technology.
While there are many difficult challenges that lay ahead, I am committed to turning those difficulties into opportunities - to move Fairfax County forward, and to meet the needs of our community.
I know I can speak for all of my Colleagues on the Board when I say that we will work – with you - every day to keep Fairfax County the place where we want to live, work, play, raise our families and grow older comfortably. As we weather this economic storm, we will focus on the opportunity for engagement, change and growth that lies ahead.
As the generations who have passed before us we are committed to making every difficulty into an opportunity, every struggle a chance to leave our community just a little bit better than we found it.
Thank you, and have a Happy Holiday and a blessed New Year.