State of the County 2010


July 14, 2010

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Good evening, and thanks for joining me today for a look back and a look ahead at what is happening in Fairfax County.

When I was first elected chairman in February of last year, we were in the midst of a severe economic breakdown that was affecting Fairfax County.  We were struggling at the time, and we continue to struggle, with falling property values and revenues that we rely upon to provide County services.  At my Swearing In ceremony I said:

 “Fairfax County is an exceptional place to live, work, raise our families and grow older comfortably. If I were to sum up the ‘culture’ of Fairfax, I would say we are ‘engaged.’

We are creative and involved. We are problem-solvers. We are volunteers and advocates. It is our nature and culture to put back into our community.

I am convinced that, working together, we will come through these difficult times without sacrificing the quality of life that we value and, in fact, by adopting improvements, efficiencies and innovations that will put us in a better place than before. It is important that we remain hopeful and remember ‘The darkest hour is just before dawn.’

Budget

These words rang true as our Board adopted a budget for Fiscal Year 2011, which began on July 1.  The Adopted Budget closed a projected shortfall of $257 million, caused primarily by a continued drop in residential and commercial property values. This is on top of over $90 million in cuts and reductions taken last year to close a projected shortfall of $640 million.

While an editorial in The Washington Post compared us favorably to our sister jurisdiction, Montgomery County, Maryland (they described our budget process as “sweetness and light”) closing the shortfall was no easy task. 

It was the result of countless hours spent with our residents and workforce to identify organizational efficiencies and reductions that don’t cut too deeply into the core quality of life services that our residents value.

 The County’s $3.3 billion Adopted General Fund Budget:

  • Is based on a Real Estate Tax Rate of $1.09, an increase of five cents.  This results in a $48.55 reduction in the average homeowner’s tax bill.

  • Includes a ½ cent increase in the Stormwater Utility fee.  Both of these rates combined result in a net reduction for the average homeowner’s bill of $26.93. 

  • Includes an annual Vehicle Registration fee of $33 per vehicle.  Most other localities in Virginia utilize this fee to provide local services. The fee does not require a decal.

  • Increases the Sewer Service charge by 77 cents, from $4.50 to $5.27.  This fee increase addresses aging sewer infrastructure and compliance with State and Federal Clean Water and other environmental mandates. Our rates continue to be among the lowest in the region.

  • Fairfax County Public Schools continues to account for 53% of the County’s General Fund Budget.

Coupled with a positive formula change ($61 million) in the Local Composite Index (state funding to localities) our $1.6 billion Transfer to the Schools, while a 1% reduction from the previous fiscal year, fully funds the School Board’s requested budget and provides them with a $45 million balance for future Virginia Retirement System (VRS) requirements.

  •  The Fiscal Year 2011 General Fund (Schools & General County Combined) Budget is a 2.7%  reduction from the previous year.

The budget we adopted includes $91 million in reductions and savings over the past fiscal year.  It is full of organizational changes and efficiencies that help reduce the cost of providing services and improving the delivery of those services and programs. 

  • For example, the Department of Community and Recreation Services and Department of Systems Management for Human Services are merging to create the Department of Neighborhood and Community Services, since they shared similar goals and can provide more services to the community by pooling resources. 

  • Similarly, our senior services have been reorganized to improve access and delivery of services. 

  • Additionally, the Department of Family Services is exploring new service delivery models and partnerships to enhance the services they can provide. 

  • The Community Services Board (CSB) is working to improve their programs to ensure that county residents receive the full benefit of federal and state program dollars for which they are eligible, reducing reliance on county funding.

  • Lastly, we have consolidated all major code enforcement functions from the Department of Planning and Zoning and the Department of Public Works into a new agency.  The new Department of Code Compliance saves money and also enables us to provide one-stop shopping for our residents.

None of these changes were easy to make, but our county staff has risen to meet the challenges they are facing and, as a result of these reorganizations and efficiencies, we are able to continue to deliver quality services at reduced cost to the taxpayer.

Budget adoption was the culmination of an unprecedented level of community engagement. Community Dialogues were held throughout the County during the fall and early winter.  I hope many of you had the opportunity to participate.  

Throughout late February, March and early April more than 30 Town Meetings and Forums were hosted to receive feedback on the Advertised Budget.  

Brown Bag lunches and Employee Budget Briefings and Dialogues were organized by County Executive Tony Griffin and by our unions and employee organizations.  Many of these recommendations for savings were used to help close our budget gap.

And lastly hundreds of speakers attended three days – over 20 hours - of public hearings in April.  This generous level of public engagement enriched our process and has resulted in a better product.  

When we adopt our budget, we are investing in the priorities of our community.  I am glad to have had the community at the table with us during these months.

As it did last year, adoption of the budget included a motion on budget guidelines to prepare for next year and to follow up on issues identified by board members for further review and discussion.  Later this summer or early fall “mini Lines of Business review” or “LOB-light” sessions will be scheduled for this purpose.

We also agreed to enhance our Community Engagement process by making better use of social media and our Cable Channel 16 for Community Dialogues, which may include call in, or even online voting.  I will be sure to let you know more about these opportunities so that you are able to participate.

Region Forward

As we look ahead to our future, we know that “If we keep doing what we’re doing, we’ll keep getting what we’ve got.” 

The future success of our County and the region will depend in large part on how we approach and address the many interrelated challenges that we face:

  • How to accommodate our population growth and changing demographics
  • Our aging infrastructure
  • Traffic congestion and mobility challenges
  • Energy costs
  • Environmental stewardship
  • The need for livable communities
  • Housing that is affordable.

This spring, the Board of Supervisors entered into a compact with jurisdictions throughout the region.   This voluntary agreement is the result of a two-year effort by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments’ Greater Washington 2050 Coalition, which I had the privilege of chairing.

The Greater Washington 2050 Compact establishes a common vision for our region during the next 40 years – so that we are pulling together for our common good, rather than apart.  The Compact defines goals and provides benchmarks we can use to evaluate our progress.    

Adopting the Greater Washington 2050 Compact was a significant milestone for our Board and our region.  Moving forward, we need to constantly examine how we can continue to improve regional land use, transportation and environmental planning and coordination so that we use our resources wisely and ensure that Fairfax County and our region continue to thrive.

Land Use & Development

Over the next 40 years the Washington Metropolitan Region is expected to grow, adding nearly two million more residents. Some of that growth will come to Fairfax County.

Our goal is to accommodate growth in a way that maintains our excellent quality of life and does not exacerbate the challenges of past growth patterns and strategies.

With the adoption of the Comprehensive Plan for the Transformation of Tysons on June 22, our Board set in motion a new pattern of growth and development that concentrates growth in compact, high density, mixed-use communities that are easily walkable, less auto-dependent, convenient to public transportation  and amenities, and include a variety of housing choices.

Directing new growth to activity centers like Tysons will create communities that are accessible for residents of all ages, help protect our older stable residential communities, curb sprawl and protect our environment. 

The plan for Tysons is the result of a unique collaborative planning process that has taken place over the last five years. The plan calls for redevelopment to occur over the next 20 years, eventually creating a second “downtown” for the region with up to 100,000 new residents and 200,000 new jobs.

The plan was designed to orient growth around the four new Tysons Metro stations, which will open in 2013.  Seventy-five percent of growth in Tysons will be within a half mile of these stations. Many offices and homes will be a three- to six-minute walk from the stations, allowing people to get around on foot, bicycle, bus or rail.

Transportation 

Tysons is the epicenter of two transportation mega-projects in Fairfax County. The beltway High Occupancy Toll (HOT) Lanes project and the Dulles Rail Project intersect in the heart of Tysons Corner.  

  • Four new Silver Line Metro Stations are currently being constructed in Tysons.  Service from Falls Church to Wiehle Avenue is planned to begin in 2013.  This is the first phase of the project.

  • Construction of the second phase (Wiehle Avenue to Dulles Airport) with stations planned at Route 28, Herndon Monroe and Reston Parkway, is expected to be complete in 2016.
     
  • The construction of HOT Lanes on the Beltway is expected to be completed by the end of 2013. This project essentially rebuilds the entire beltway in the County, including all bridges and sound walls.  The new lanes will allow the option for express bus service between Springfield and Tysons. 

  • In addition to constructing HOT Lanes on the beltway, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) has plans to extend these lanes onto I-395 and on I-95 south to Spotsylvania County.

This expansion is currently on hold, but I have been meeting and working with my regional counterparts to resolve issues delaying the process.

In particular, it is critical to allow the project to go forward inside the Beltway on I-395.

  • The construction of the BRAC project at the Marc Center in Alexandria (a location that Fairfax County opposed) will be a serious challenge for area commuters and residents.  The opportunity for direct HOT Lane access off 395 and express bus service to this area will help alleviate the traffic impacts. 

I-66

One of our most congested transportation corridors is I-66.  In April, our Board directed our Fairfax County Department of Transportation to work with VDOT to open the Monument Drive and Stringfellow Road HOV ramps to all traffic during off-peak hours. This will provide much needed relief to commuters on I-66 as well as the surrounding network of roads and interchanges. Pending review by the Federal Highway Administration, these ramps should be open to all traffic in the near future.

In June our Board took another major step for I-66 when, as part of the adoption of the Tysons plan, we moved to accelerate planning and implementation of mass transit options for I-66. Options under consideration include bus rapid transit and/or the extension of the Metro Orange line to Centreville.

Richmond Highway

Several other major road improvement projects are underway in the Richmond Highway corridor:

  • The extension of the Fairfax County Parkway to Richmond Highway (all phases of this project will be completed by fall 2012).  Funding from the County was used to match federal stimulus funding for this project.  
  • The widening and extension of Mulligan Road in the Fort Belvoir area. 
  • Thanks to a County-funded planning and design initiative, we were able to secure, and will move quickly to begin construction with, a $150 million federal BRAC-related grant secured by Congressman Jim Moran to widen and improve Richmond Highway.

Housing/Human Services

Efforts to improve transportation and mobility options are mirrored in our commitment to create communities that are affordable and accessible for our residents and workers. 

In January 2010, our Board adopted a new strategy A Housing Blueprint – to address our housing needs. The Blueprint recognizes the spectrum of housing needs in the county and it represents a new direction for county programs.  

The Goals of the Blueprint are:

  • To end homelessness as we know it in 10 years by working with our non-profit and Faith Community partners.

  • To provide more affordable housing options to those with special needs.

  • Working, again in partnership with our non-profit partners, to cut the waiting lists for our affordable housing programs in half in the next 10 years.

  • To use County zoning and policy tools during the development process to ensure workforce housing to accommodate projected job growth.

The Blueprint is the product of impressive collaboration between county agencies, concerned citizens and local non-profit groups.  We now have a measuring stick which we use to evaluate our housing programs and adjust them to best serve the needs of the community. 

Creating caring, livable communities that are affordable to the income ranges of our workers is important for the success of our county and our region.  

Energy

Just as we have been coordinating regionally to improve transit and living opportunities, I have been meeting and working during the past year with our sister jurisdictions on strategies to coordinate policies and projects to ensure energy efficiency and sustainability. 

 By encouraging synergy in the way the corridor between Dulles Airport and Reagan National Airport is developed, we have the opportunity to create a strong green job sector, reduce energy costs for property owners and promote prosperity in the region. 

 In Fairfax County, our approach is based on our Environmental Improvement Program and the county’s commitment to the Cool Counties pledge, which was first initiated during the Chairmanship of my predecessor, Gerry Connolly. 

Currently, the County’s Energy Efficiency and Conservation Coordinating Committee is overseeing $9.6 million in federally-funded energy efficiency projects  including retrofits and efficiencies for public buildings which will save county taxpayers approximately $580,000 each year and prevent 4,200 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually.

This committee is also developing resources for the community. Information about energy savings for homeowners is available online and we will continue to expand the resources available in the coming months.

 A greenhouse gas inventory for the county is also being compiled and will serve as a guide for future programs to improve efficiency and conservation.

 In addition to these promising county programs, many individuals and organizations are already focused on reducing their energy use.  For example, over 200 households are participating in the Great Falls Citizens Association Carbon Reduction project.  The positive impact of individual and community efforts will continue to grow with each additional household that participates.

 Improving energy efficiency is an opportunity for governments, businesses and residents.  The investments we make in more efficient technology will result in savings on energy bills.

Our Community

One of Fairfax County’s greatest assets is the diversity of our community.

During the past year, I have hosted two naturalization ceremonies here at the Government Center.  It is an extremely moving experience to welcome new Americans here at the seat of local government and a great reminder of who we are as a community.

These ceremonies have been organized by our Asian American History Project Task Force.  Asian Americans are our County’s largest minority population segment.

Led by project leader Cora Foley, this Task Force has recently produced a book based on oral histories and written accounts of Asian Americans who have made Fairfax County their home. This book contains their personal histories, experiences and accomplishments.  The book is available for you to read in our libraries and for purchase by contacting my office.  Proceeds from the book are used for history-related country initiatives.

During the past two years, Fairfax County has become a sister city to the Songpa-gu District of Seoul, Korea and to the City of Harbin in Northern China. 

Sister city relationships are a unique opportunity for local governments to learn from each other and to foster economic development, international friendships and a better understanding of global concerns.

In collaboration with our colleagues on the Fairfax County School Board, we are conducting reciprocal teaching internships as part of these partnerships.  It is important that our children and our community are equipped to participate in a global economy.  

Economy and Summation

A year and a half ago I said that “The darkest hour is just before dawn.”  It is not yet dawn, but we are beginning to see some signs of recovery. 

While we continue to be challenged with falling property values, unemployment and foreclosures, Fairfax County is faring and recovering comparatively well during this Great Recession.

It is important that we maintain our vigilance - that we continue to maintain our commitment to work together positively.  By doing so, we will land on our collective feet.  We have begun to do so already!

I would like to take this opportunity to say thanks to our engaged community and our creative, innovative and dedicated workforce. Fairfax County could not maintain such a great quality of life without your efforts. 

Thanks so much for listening.  Enjoy your summer and I hope to spend some time with you during the months ahead.


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