Connolly Proposes Elimination of Automobile Decal Tax
Fairfax County Office of Public
12000 Government Center Parkway, Suite 551
Fairfax, VA 22035-0065
703-324-3187, TTY 711, FAX 703-324-2010
Feb. 13, 2006
Chairman Gerald E. Connolly Proposes Elimination of the Fairfax County Automobile Decal Tax
In his 2006 State of the County address tonight, Chairman Gerald E. Connolly said he will ask the nine other members of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors to join him in voting to eliminate the automobile decal tax in the county.
In a major announcement, the chairman proposed elimination of the county’s vehicle decal and the decal tax. If adopted, Fairfax County will be the first jurisdiction in Virginia to do both. County residents are required to affix and display a different colored decal every year to the windshield of every vehicle they own in order to demonstrate compliance with personal property tax payments. Currently, the county’s vehicle decal fees are $25 per car, truck or van; $18 per motorcycle; and $23 per taxicab. If adopted by the board, this proposal means that this year’s green decal will be the last one ever needed or paid for in Fairfax County. This tax relief would be available to everyone who owns a vehicle in the county.
In addition, Connolly proposed cutting the county’s real estate tax rate below $1 — a first in modern county history. If adopted in the fiscal year 2007 budget, this cut would be the fifth consecutive rate reduction enacted by the board. The current real estate tax rate is $1 per $100 of assessed value.
The text of the chairman’s address is below. On Tuesday, Feb. 14, the address will be available online at Chairman Connolly’s Web page located at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/chairman.
The State of the County address was cablecast live on Fairfax County Government Channel 16 on Monday, Feb. 13, at 7:30 p.m. Channel 16 will replay the address on Fridays and Sundays at 5:30 p.m. and Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m. The address will also be available for viewing anytime on Video on Demand at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/cable/channel16/vod.htm.
For more information, contact Ellice Amanna in Chairman Connolly’s office at 703-324-2321, TTY 703-324-2319.
Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald E. Connolly’s
2006 STATE OF COUNTY ADDRESS
Feb. 13, 2006
Good evening. It is a privilege to be with you tonight and a pleasure to report to you once again on the progress we have made in our agenda to move Fairfax County forward and on our goals for the coming year. Tonight the State of the County is strong. We have once again turned in an extraordinary economic performance, maintained a low crime rate, strengthened a world-class education system and launched a landmark environmental program. We have taken significant steps to ensure that young families, teachers, firefighters and police will have affordable homes to live in. And we have launched a new effort to address the needs of our fastest growing population – the senior citizens who have invested a lifetime in our community.
The credit goes to you, the residents, who continue to support the investments that have built our enviable quality of life in Fairfax County. I am deeply gratified by your support, and I am ever mindful of the responsibility that comes with it. Your faith in your government to use these investments wisely makes it incumbent on those of us you have elected to provide the essential services and amenities you need and value, and the relief from taxes that could otherwise impinge on your ability to care for your families and to prosper.
I am proud to say that this year we have done this; and tonight I will announce some of the Board of Supervisors’ plans to continue and to expand on those efforts.
As our region, state and nation have changed over the years, so too has Fairfax. We have grown in population, jobs, economic prosperity, scholastic accomplishment, environmental protection, public safety, recreational opportunities and much more.
The high quality of life we have built has drawn some of the country’s most vibrant businesses to Fairfax County, providing good jobs and revenue and insulating us from the economic stresses of a changing world. CEO’s continue to cite the reputation of our school system as a primary reason for relocating here; to give their employees the world class education they want for their children. They want their families to be able to enjoy our growing park and recreation network. And they want to feel safe. In a jurisdiction that boasts the lowest crime rate in the nation, they can.
With this success comes the responsibility to ensure that the attendant population growth is wisely managed and that the infrastructure to support it is built and maintained. Families must have places to live, work and go to school and the transportation system to get back and forth. The Board of Supervisors has worked diligently this year with local environmentalists and smart growth advocates to begin making the adjustments to land-use policies that will prevent sprawl, loss of green space and gridlock by concentrating this growth at transit stations. The funding for critical infrastructure – transit systems, roads and schools – must be forthcoming from our federal and state governments so that local taxpayers will not be unduly burdened. Along with these funds, we need the tools from Richmond that allow us more flexibility to manage our growth.
This year saw the election of a new Governor. Gov. Tim Kaine was elected on a platform of a groundbreaking commitment to finally address transportation gridlock. If ever an elected official had a mandate, this is it. The Governor has now proposed the first major influx of transportation improvements in recent history and we look to the General Assembly to give that program the support it already has from the public.
In 2005 Fairfax County continued to build a community with a lot to offer:
Once again this year, the Fairfax County economy led the region. We added another 25,000 jobs. That means that in a jurisdiction that is just 20% of Metropolitan Washington’s population, we added 28% of the region’s total job growth.
Last month the U.S. Census Bureau reported that there are 29,857 woman-owned businesses operating in Fairfax County, an 18.5% increase since the count was last taken in 1997.
The County’s unemployment rate of 2.4% remains well below both the Virginia average of 3.2% and the national average of 4.7%.
In just 2 years we cut our office vacancy rate in half, from 15.6% in 2003 to 7.5% in 2005. A strong economic engine drives a high quality of life.
One of the key components of a high quality of life is safety. The Declaration of Independence speaks of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Thanks to the men and women in our public safety sectors, Fairfax County safeguards every life.
Our Fire and Rescue Department responded to an impressive 89,130 incidents in 2005, including 61,843 Emergency Medical Service calls; 21,506 fire calls; and 5,781 public service calls. That’s over 244 calls a day.
The County’s internationally renowned Urban Search and Rescue team, funded by the federal government, deployed to 26 separate locations including Afghanistan, Mississippi and New Orleans. The expertise developed through this federally-funded training benefits our citizens in times of need.
In 2005 we opened the Crosspointe Fire Station in Lorton. As that area of the County transforms itself from prison site to the rejuvenated community of Laurel Hill, we must see that those residents receive the same high quality emergency response that Fairfax County is famous for.
The safety and security of our jail and court system has been so well administered that the Sheriff’s Department is easily overlooked. In 2005, over 1.1 million people visited the County’s court facilities and our Sheriff’s deputies saw that each of them remained safe. They also ensured the safety of our jail, overseeing an average of 1,031 inmates every day.
And deputies undertook the difficult task of serving 234,432 civil processes in 2005. The Sheriff also operates the Community Labor Force, comprised of non-violent offenders, who, under supervision of deputies, perform labor throughout the community. From ground maintenance of government facilities to upkeep of bus shelters, the Community Labor Force performed 67,403 hours of service in 2005, saving the taxpayers over $1.1 million.
Our police department is one of the nation’s finest. The overall crime index for Fairfax County declined by roughly 4% in 2005 -- our lowest rate of crime in the past 32 years, and the lowest in the country.
When crime does occur, we aggressively pursue it. In 2005, the County’s Cold Case Unit successfully closed five homicide cases dating back as far as 1986.
In 2005, we broke ground on our new Public Safety and Transportation Operations Center, encompassing multiple public safety and transportation agencies from the county, state and region. It will provide critical infrastructure to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of both public safety and transportation services in the county and Northern Virginia.
The one cloud on the horizon of public safety is the rise in the region, and the nation, of gang violence. In 2005 we launched an effort to combat gangs and ensure that Fairfax remains at the forefront of preventing gang crime and the influence of gangs on our children. To kick off this program, the Board of Supervisors hosted a Gang Summit that brought together several hundred residents, community-based organizations and business leaders to discuss gang prevention, intervention and suppression. The summit focused on coordinating existing gang prevention and intervention efforts between county government, schools and community groups.
While focusing on prevention, the Board also funded the addition of four gang unit detectives. With Congressman Wolf’s support, the regional Northern Virginia Gang Task Force continues to be a model in this effort.
As part of our prevention effort, we have been working with the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Washington and Cox Communications to expand club locations in the County. Cox Communications’ $3 million pledge to expand our Boys and Girls Clubs was announced at our Summit. Already we have gone from one club to three. By the end of the year we will have six.
As part of the anti-gang effort, The Board has worked with the Schools to expand middle school after-school programs. By March of 2006, ten middle schools will extend their after-school programs from three days a week to five and the remaining schools will have programs by next year.
By investing in our kids now we can help them avoid the destructive gang lifestyle.
A quality education ensures that our children will have many opportunities and prepares them to be productive leaders. It guarantees a skilled workforce for our employers and undergirds every aspect of our quality of life.
The Fairfax County Public School system is home to 163,530 students, making it the largest school system in Virginia and the 12th largest in the country. Since 1995, the largest increase in the Fairfax County budget went to education. We doubled our investment in schools from $725 million to $1.43 billion, or from 49% of the County’s General Fund to the current 53%.
That investment has paid high dividends. In 2005, our students scored an average combined SAT score of 1114, the highest ever reported for our county schools. Fairfax students scored higher than the statewide average of 1030 and the national average of 1028. An astounding 94% of our students go on to post-secondary education, compared to the national average of 66%.
In partnership with the public schools, business and community leaders and early childhood professionals, the County is now leading an effort to invest in early childhood education so that all of our children enter school well prepared to succeed.
In the Commonwealth of Virginia, it takes 1,500 hours of training to become a licensed barber or hairdresser. To become a teacher in a licensed child care center requires only 12 hours of training. That must change, and Fairfax County has initiated a collaboration with the public schools to develop a professional development model for the child care workforce that will include a School Readiness Certificate and Centers of Excellence. There the local elementary schools and child care programs will work together to support children’s learning and preparedness for school. With funding from the business community and the recently launched School Readiness Network, the County will offer training as well as professional achievement stipends to recognize and reward those who have completed the course of study. We know that for every one dollar invested in early childhood learning there is a return of seven to twelve dollars.
Over 100 languages are spoken by Fairfax County school children, reflecting the rich diversity of our community. In the current school year, 50.2% of the students are white, 17.4% are Asian American, 16% are Hispanic, 10.4% are African American, 4.9% are multiracial, and 0.3% are American Indian. One thing they all have in common is outstanding academic performance that keeps Fairfax County schools the best in the nation.
The challenge to prepare and protect our children does not end here. From 2002 to 2004, the percentage of motor vehicle deaths of victims aged 21 or younger more than doubled to nearly 25% in our County. For our children’s sake, we had to intervene. The Board of Supervisors held a Young Drivers Summit in June 2005, bringing together students, educators, parents, law enforcement representatives, traffic safety experts and county officials to find ways to address this growing threat to our children.
We received many good ideas, especially from students themselves. Following the summit, the Board of Supervisors turned to the Virginia General Assembly for help in banning cell phone use by drivers under the age of 18, and making current seatbelt and curfew infractions primary, rather than secondary offenses. Sadly, our legislative request died in the Virginia Senate Transportation Committee. We continue to work on other efforts to ensure that the death of this year’s legislation will not result in future deaths on our roads.
Our success in public safety and education shows that prudent investments produce significant payoffs in our quality of life. The same holds true for our transportation network. While transportation remains, by statute, a state responsibility, we in Fairfax recognize that we also must make investments in our transportation infrastructure.
In 2004, I proposed a Four-Year Transportation Plan designed to help Get Fairfax Moving. The Board of Supervisors unanimously supported the proposal and, later in the year, we put a transportation bond referendum before voters. It passed with a 78% approval rate. I'm pleased to report that we're putting that bond money to good use: in addition to investments in major transportation projects, such as Rail to Dulles and the Richmond Highway Public Transit Initiative, the Four-Year Plan laid out 30 specific construction projects, including sidewalks, road widenings and intersection improvements. I'm proud to announce that 8 of these projects have already been completed and another 7 are under construction, with more to begin this spring.
Our plan recognizes that a successful transportation network provides commuters with choices, especially transit, so the 2004 bond referendum provided funds to add capacity to our Metro system.
The Board will add another Transportation Bond Referendum in 2007, our second in three years. The Bond will include a major pedestrian initiative, safety and other enhancements to bus stops and significant improvements to roads and bridges.
Several other important transportation projects are moving forward
rapidly. The first span of the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge will open this
spring, with the second span and the Route 1 interchange improvements to
be completed by 2008. This will dramatically improve capacity as the
bridge moves from three lanes to six lanes, including space dedicated for
HOV and transit.
We are widening Route 123 in the Occoquan area. The last segment, including additional capacity on the bridge over the Occoquan River, will be finished this fall.
The widening of West Ox Road is occurring in two segments; the northern portion will be completed this year; the southern section in 2008.
The Springfield Interchange Mixing Bowl has already completed five of seven total phases. Last year we opened the I-95 southbound flyover which has dramatically improved the flow of traffic. The final two phases will be completed in 2007.
We remain committed to the completion of the Fairfax County Parkway, the major alternative to the Beltway for travel from the Southeastern to the Northwestern portion of the County. Unfortunately, the timetable for this project has been delayed by the State. As we prepare for the 21,500 new workers at Fort Belvoir, mandated by BRAC, the federal Base Realignment and Closure Commission, we must redouble our efforts to encourage the State to finish the final segment that runs directly through the Fort.
The County is also helping to provide choices through the Fairfax Connector bus service, which is celebrating its 20th year providing residents with reliable, efficient service. In FY2005, ridership showed a 6% gain from the previous year, up almost 80% since 1999. This boost is tied to service improvements in both the Dulles and Richmond Highway Corridors - another example of making investments that produce significant results.
The Board, on my motion, has also asked the County's Department of Transportation to develop a Comprehensive Bicycling Initiative. Our initiative will look at on-road bike lanes on roadways that can easily accommodate them; the creation of a countywide bicycle facilities map; and the creation of a Bicycle Program Manager position to oversee our efforts to ensure that two-wheeled transportation is a viable option for Fairfax residents.
Safe and useful opportunities for pedestrians remain an important component to any transportation strategy. The County’s Pedestrian Task Force recently laid out a plan to focus on pedestrian initiatives in the Route 1/Richmond Highway Corridor; pedestrian crossings at the County’s 40 largest intersections, and providing easy neighborhood connections.
The Board of Supervisors mandated the creation and implementation of a plan for the proposed 10-Year Pedestrian Capital Improvement Program. We are also reviewing more cost-effective ways to construct sidewalks.
Progress continues in our push to bring rail service to Tyson’s Corner and the Dulles Corridor. Preliminary Engineering for Phase I is continuing, with the goal of securing a full funding federal grant for the first segment of the project, to Wiehle Avenue, by next year. The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority has recently put forward a proposal which would accelerate construction of the second phase of the project - from Wiehle Avenue to Dulles Airport and into Loudoun County. This deserves consideration.
Funding of the Metro system remains a critical priority. Metro is the second most heavily used subway system in the country, behind only New York, yet does not have a stable, dedicated source of revenue. Providing dedicated funding would allow us to access matching federal monies of $1.5 billion over 10 years. We cannot lose this opportunity.
In 2004, Fairfax County citizens supported bond sales for Metro Matters, the capital improvement program designed to bring the system to a state of good repair and purchase 120 additional rail cars and 185 buses to accommodate ridership growth. This is moving forward.
Since the Commonwealth has the responsibility for transportation in Virginia, it is vital that Fairfax work with the State to improve our transportation picture. In concert with State Delegate Jim Scott, I presented a congestion mitigation plan to Governor Kaine in January. We identified a severe crisis facing the State: By 2014, Virginia will not have enough money to provide matching funds for federal transportation allocations. Losing those funds would be disastrous to our transportation system. Our plan also discussed solutions including greater usage of the State’s vastly underutilized debt capacity. Under its current guidelines, the State has roughly $7 billion of excess capacity over the next 10 years. Our suggestions included:
- Creating a high-level Office of Congestion Management (OCM);
- Creating public-private partnerships to prioritize and promote low-cost congestion reduction strategies;
- Providing incentives for transit-oriented, mixed-use developments and infill development in areas with transportation infrastructure;
Promoting flextime and telework to alleviate congestion.
Fairfax County practices what we preach; we have aggressively promoted telework at the local level to significant results. In 2000, as Chairman of the Metropolitan Area Council of Governments (COG), I initiated a regional goal, endorsed by this Board, to have 20% of the eligible workforce teleworking by 2005. For Fairfax County, that goal meant having 1,000 employees teleworking. I’m gratified to report that, as of December 30, 2005, the County has exceeded its goal.
One-thousand County employees telecommuting one day a week will save 1.8 million commuting miles and prevent 720,000 pounds of pollutants from entering the air we breathe.
This past year has also allowed us to celebrate payoffs from investing in the County's parks. An idea I put forward seven years ago, the Cross County Trail, a 38-mile hiking, biking and equestrian trail officially opened on December 17, 2005. It ties together stream valley trails to create a route from Lorton to Great Falls, allowing citizens to experience the rich natural habitats right here in Fairfax.
In addition to promoting more transit-oriented mixed-use development, we must continue to address the affordability of housing. Increased housing values demonstrate the sound investment that our homeowners have made in purchasing their property in Fairfax. At the same time, it makes it increasingly difficult for many of people who work in Fairfax County to live here. Only 30% of our police and firefighters live in Fairfax. The dearth of affordable housing contributes to traffic congestion as we make longer commutes from our homes to our jobs.
Last year, I updated you on the County’s progress in our Affordable Housing Initiative – our plan to save at least 1,000 affordable housing units over four years that would otherwise be lost. We backed up that initiative by dedicating one penny of the real estate tax to this effort. Now two years into our task, we stand at 846 affordable units preserved. We are well on our way to meeting, and I strongly hope, exceeding our goal. Just last week we announced the purchase of The Crescent, a 16.5 acre, 180-unit apartment complex to be preserved as affordable housing, the first purchase using “the Affordable Housing Penny.”
In 2004, the Board of Supervisors demonstrated its commitment to the environment by adopting a 20-year Environmental Agenda entitled “Environmental Excellence for Fairfax County,” a plan I developed with the help of a number of Fairfax environmentalists. We thus became the first Board to adopt a comprehensive plan for the protection and enhancement of our precious natural resources. This past year, the Board took a giant step in implementing that plan by dedicating one penny on the real estate tax rate for stormwater management projects.
We have over 900 miles of streams in Fairfax County, all of which feed into the Chesapeake Bay. A survey of our streams in 2003 found that 70% of them are in fair to poor condition. We must do better, and this penny of the real estate tax rate, equaling $17.9 million, will go a long way towards rehabilitating our streams.
Fairfax County’s 30 watersheds have been grouped into15 planning projects to develop management plans to increase their health. Each of these projects is guided by a citizen advisory committee. Several have finished their work and others are nearing completion.
Recreation does not just occur outdoors, and in 2005, the Park Authority opened its newest RECenter, the first in 17 years, in western Fairfax County. Cub Run RECenter provides residents with a 65,000 square foot, state-of-the-art facility.
As our region continues to develop, it becomes ever more important that we preserve parkland and open space in order to provide our residents with ongoing opportunities to enjoy the environment.
Since last year, the Park Authority added 536 acres to its inventory for a total of 23,523 acres, including 1,600 acres of parkland at the former Lorton Prison site where the County is also moving forward on our efforts to bring an arts center and other amenities to residents. The Fairfax County Park Authority now owns roughly 9.3% of the entire land mass of Fairfax County.
I have asked the Park Authority to adopt a goal of preserving 10% of the entire land mass in the county so that one out of ten acres in Fairfax will be parkland.
Land acquisition can take many forms including the purchase of conservation easements that preserve open space and protect historic and cultural attractions. The 41-acre conservation easement we preserved at Salona in 2005 represents one of the last sizable open spaces in McLean. That property has now been saved for our future enjoyment.
Conservation can take other forms as well. Fairfax County residents and businesses have recycled almost 2.5 million tons of recyclables since 1999. Fairfax leads the state by consistently exceeding the required recycling rate of 25%; we are at 32%.
The Center for Digital Government and the National Association of Counties, has named Fairfax the top digital county for large jurisdictions in the country. The accessibility and ease with which Fairfax residents obtain information and services remains a top priority of the Board of Supervisors. Being named the top Digital Government in the Nation is a wonderful acknowledgment of those efforts. Paying taxes, filing a Consumer Services complaint, registering for a Park Authority class, reserving a library book, filing a police report, finding the location of the nearest hospital, and receiving emergency weather alerts are but some of the services that we can now access from our homes or any Internet-capable location.
Our quality of life in Fairfax County is a product that we as citizens have created through careful investment. Investing in Fairfax County pays dividends. Excellent schools, a low crime rate, a quality of life that is the envy of the country. Yet there is a cost associated with that investment that we must continue to address.
In April of last year, the Board of Supervisors approved the largest real estate tax rate reduction in Fairfax County’s history, a 13-cent cut – taking the rate down to $1.00, the lowest in our history. Combined with our previous three rate cuts, we have reduced the tax rate 23 cents since Fiscal Year 2002. With these reductions, the average homeowner saved $1,655 in real estate taxes. That equals $365 million in revenue that the Board of Supervisors returned to homeowners in the form of tax relief.
Responsible tax relief is a continuing endeavor and we will go further in the upcoming Fiscal Year 2007 budget. The Board’s adopted budget guidelines call for another real estate tax rate reduction this year. I can tell you tonight that we will reduce the tax rate below one dollar for the first time in our history.
Additionally, we expanded our real estate tax relief program for senior citizens and the disabled to the state-permitted maximums. Real estate taxes can be especially burdensome to those on fixed incomes. Due to this expansion, the Board provided relief to an additional 3,486 senior citizens this past year.
Last year, I told you that the Board of Supervisors would dedicate all revenue from new sources granted to us by the General Assembly to real estate tax relief. We did just that. The hotels, cigarette and recordation taxes we were given by the General Assembly were dedicated 100% towards real estate tax rate reduction. Now, I reiterate my promise to the General Assembly: Grant us additional revenue options and I will support a corresponding reduction in our real estate tax rate. It is simple: if you give us the tools, we will diversify our revenue and further reduce our reliance on the real estate tax rate.
Not all of our residents own homes. Yet they still pay taxes, whether through the sales tax or through personal property taxes on vehicles.
Tonight I am announcing a proposal to completely eliminate a portion of those taxes – the decal fee for your vehicle. Technology has rendered our need for a visible decal to enforce the payment of personal property taxes obsolete. In addition to the cost, the time and effort to keep the decal current is a burden on our residents. During our upcoming Fiscal Year 2007 budget, I will ask the Board to eliminate both the $25 decal fee and the need for decals on your vehicle. If adopted, this proposal means that the current green decal on your car will be the last one you will ever need or pay for. This tax relief will be available to everyone who owns a vehicle. The time has come to eliminate the auto decal tax.
Our quality of life is not always measured by what we have, but also by what we give. Fairfax is a community known for its volunteerism. That was never more evident than during our response to Hurricane Katrina. Many, many Fairfax County residents and employees helped their fellow Americans in countless ways.
The Fairfax community also banded together on a grand scale to create Fairfax Families Care, a collection of government, nonprofit, business and civic organizations and individuals. Fairfax Families Care offered housing, jobs and schooling to those affected by Katrina. The County’s Red Cross served 1,367 people, or 634 families. We enrolled 214 children into our schools. We provided almost 100 homes to families and over 500 jobs.
I know you share in the pride I feel that our community is there for others in their time of need.
February is Black History month, so it is fitting to conclude tonight with the words of George Washington Carver who said, "When you do the common things in life in an uncommon way, you will command the attention of the world."
Local government is very much about doing “the common things” and in Fairfax County we can proudly say we do them uncommonly well. You, the residents of our community, deserve the credit. For this, and for the honor of serving you, I thank you. Goodnight and God Bless.