Colin Mills: Information, Please

Colin Mills/File photoIf you read this column on a regular basis, chances are you like to keep up with Reston community issues. You’re probably better versed on what’s going on than most Restonians. And that’s great; the more citizens that we have who pay attention to what’s happening, the better off we are.

But for a lot of folks, especially in today’s time-pressed and overscheduled society, keeping up with community issues can be a challenge. Between jobs and families and household chores and other duties, something has to give.  Even those who do make an effort to keep up with local issues can’t follow it all. It’s hard to find the time to attend community board meetings, read official documents, and form informed opinions.

This led us at RCA to ask: How can we help?  What can we do to keep our citizens informed in a way that’s quick and easy to follow for time-pressed people?  We produce a lot of information about issues that matter to our community, but not everyone has the time or inclination to read Terry Maynard’s latest 100-page analytical report, or do a deep dive on our website to learn the history of an issue.

That’s why we’re rolling out a new series of white papers entitled “Reston 411.” These papers will contain key facts and figures to help you make informed and educated decisions about local issues that affect Reston’s quality of life or relate to our founding principles. They’re designed as public service announcements in paper form.  It’s an easy way to get up to speed about what’s happening now in our community.

Each paper will focus on a key issue.  Some issues might be dealt with in a single paper; more complicated issues (the Silver Line, for instance) will rate a series of several papers, each one dealing with a particular aspect of the issue.  We plan to tie the series to issues that are active right now in the community, so that you’re learning facts and information you can use right away.

Each paper in the Reston 411 series is only one page long, designed to be read in just a few minutes.  You can read one on the Metro on your way to work, or while waiting for an appointment. If you’ve got 5 minutes to spare, you’ve got time to read a Reston 411 paper. You’ve got time to learn what’s going on and why it matters.

And if something really catches your eye and you want to learn more about an issue, each paper will include links to sources where you can go for more information. Those links might lead you to official websites with details or data on the matter and hand. Or they might lead to one of RCA’s long analytical reports. The Reston 411 series allows you to tailor your reading to your time and interest. You can just read the paper and get the quick facts you need to be conversant, or you have the resources to really study an issue and become an expert. The choice is yours.

Since the Baron Cameron Park Master Plan and the related discussion of a possible new RCC rec center are in the news, our first entry in the Reston 411 series deals with Small District 5, the Reston-based tax district that funds RCC. As we’ve talked to Restonians about the rec center proposal, we’ve discovered that a number of people don’t know about Small District 5, don’t realize they’re paying the tax, or don’t understand why they’re paying it. That’s why we decided to start here.

This paper will answer questions like: What exactly is Small District 5? Why does it exist? When was it created?  How much are you paying as a result of it? How does the Small District 5 tax relate to your Fairfax County property tax? When you finish reading the paper, you’ll have these facts and more.

Why is this important?  Because as Reston continues to grow and develop, we’re going to face tough questions about how to use our limited resources to fund our community’s needs and wants. As a citizen, you’re going to be asked to weigh in on those decisions, either when they come up for a vote or by giving input to our County Supervisor on the community’s priorities. It’s more important than ever to understand how we fund the amenities we enjoy today and where the money comes from, so that you know what can be done and can form an educated opinion on how our resources should best be used for the good of our community.

Future installments in the Reston 411 series may include an explanation of the services that Fairfax County provides for Reston, a primer on the Soapstone Connector, and what changes Reston’s newly amended Master Plan might bring to our community. In each case, the goal will be to provide you with the facts and figures you need to be an informed citizen and an informed voter.

With the change coming to Reston in the years and decades ahead, our elected leaders will need to hear from the citizens about the issues and priorities that matter to us.  In order to contribute to the discussion, our citizens need to be educated about the issues we face. The Reston 411 series is designed to help busy citizens learn about the community in a simple, straightforward, easy-to-digest manner.

We at RCA hope that the Reston 411 series will be a valuable community service.  Assuming that the papers prove to be a hit, we plan to provide them on a regular basis. It’s just another way that RCA plans to help Restonians become better informed and more involved.

Colin Mills is the president of Reston Citizens Association. He writes weekly on Reston Now.

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