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Op-Ed: The County’s Reston Road Tax Lies

by RestonNow.com — January 25, 2017 at 4:00 pm 11 Comments

Terry MaynardThis is an op-ed submitted by Terry Maynard, co-chair of the Reston 20/20 committee. It does not reflect the opinions of Reston Now.

By this time, most Restonians are aware of the County transportation department’s (FCDOT’s) efforts to add an additional property tax on Metro station area residents to pay an estimated $350 million for improvements in their streets to accommodate developer growth. The entire 16-month-long process to get Restonians, particularly the Restonians selected by Supervisor Cathy Hudgins to serve on the so-called Reston Network Analysis Group (RNAG), to nod “yes” to yet another Reston tax has been filled with lies and deception well worthy of our new President’s world of “alternative facts.”

We have already detailed a key Reston road tax assumption that is obviously false (p. 5): That the County cannot divert tax revenues from existing or future uses to improve Reston’s urban intersections. The County won’t even address the fact that the diversion of less than $9 million of the more than $4 billion in annual General Fund tax revenues will pay for all the roads it proposes to improve under its cost assumptions. That’s just two-tenths of one percent from current tax revenues, well less than its mid-year budget adjustment. Instead, FCDOT simply refuses to acknowledge this reality.

But there are so many other intentional, incessantly repeated mis-statements, failures to recognize certain obvious truths, and just plain poor County analysis that comprise the entire “big lie” of the need for a Reston road tax. An obvious place to start is the other side of the road improvement cost equation: The grotesquely huge profits of developers and massively increased property tax revenues of the County because of the major development that will occur in Reston’s station areas over the next four decades.   Not once has FCDOT acknowledged that reality, much less used it in any analysis of how street improvements could be paid for.

Based on Boston Properties per square foot 2015 profits from continuing operations nationwide, we estimate that filling out the Reston Master Plan over the next 40 years will generate more than $45 billion in profits in 2016 dollars for Reston’s station area developers. That’s more than one billion dollars per year on average — about double that with modest inflation — most of it from the operation of existing office and residential structures. Why can’t $9 million of that more than one billion per year — less than 1 percent — be devoted to improving Reston’s urban area streets?

At the same time, the value of property in the station areas will increase at least ten-fold from $6 billion to $60 billion, and possibly as much as $90 billion, with the growth in square footage and appreciation over the next four decades if the Reston Master Plan is fulfilled. That property value will generate over $11 billion in property taxes for the County without increasing the property tax rate or adding a new Reston road tax. Certainly the County can divert three percent of that massive Reston tax revenue flow to the improvement of Reston’s streets, but you haven’t heard a word about that possibility from the County. Not once.

The County clearly does not want to tie any of this huge increase in Reston tax revenues to expenditures in Reston. Reston is just a County tax “cash cow” — as it has been for decades — to be milked for County expenditures elsewhere.

In fact, FCDOT has gone so far as to create a roadway “funding gap” out of whole cloth that it values at $350 million. The gap is merely a foil based on faulty assumptions about the availability of road funds to generate a reason for an added Reston road tax. It has no basis in the reality of available of County, regional, state, or federal tax revenues for road improvement purposes. But if you don’t have a “gap,” no matter how phony, you can’t justify a new tax. So the County made one up.

Worse is the planned use of the Reston road tax funds. About 12 percent of it ($45 million) will be used to actually improve intersections on Reston’s through streets, the streets that are already clogged with rush hour traffic.

The other 87 percent ($305 million) or so will be used to flesh out the “grid of streets.” The purpose of the “grid of streets” is to create street fronts for commercial development.  They have no purpose in improving traffic flow; in fact, to the contrary, the development that will accompany them will actually add to the traffic flow burden on nearby through streets such as Reston Parkway and Wiehle Avenue, Sunrise Valley Drive and Sunset Hills Drive, used to access the rest of Reston, the Dulles Toll Road, and beyond.

Worse, almost all the streets that Reston’s road tax will be used to build are streets that would not be built in the absence of a Reston corporate welfare tax because of a lack of commercial demand. The streets financed by Restonians’ taxes will be at the extreme west and east ends of the station areas, near Centerville Road in Herndon and in the vicinity of the Reston Post office to the east. These locations are too far from any Metro station to be walkable and would not be developed at all unless paid for by the public, specifically Restonians’ tax dollars. In contrast, Tysons’ developers are paying for the entirety of the “grid of streets” there, even those well beyond walking distance to a Metro station. In short, developers will use Restonians’ corporate welfare to increase their profits with no traffic or other benefit to the community.

The entire County assertion of a need for a special Reston road tax, a so-called Tax Service District (TSD), on residents in Reston station areas is nothing more than a massive con built on fraudulent assumptions, half-baked analysis, ignored realities, and the gullibility of Restonians serving on RNAG (none of whom live in the areas to be taxed except an employee of Boston Properties), and even the Reston Association Board of Directors. In fact, the RA Board will be considering a resolution at its meeting this week to support the imposition of the Reston road tax on non-member areas of Reston so long as the rate remains constant at $.021/$100 valuation and the tax has a 40-year sundown provision. The Board of Supervisors will eliminate those proposed constraints with a dismissive wave of its hand if not at the outset, at the first sign that it might crimp its tax collection from Reston’s station areas.

It is time for Restonians, and the RA Board in particular, to quit being the sucker for County taxes imposed on Reston. We already pay an extra $.047/$100 valuation for the Reston Community Center (RCC) which is stealthily moving forward with a plan to build a large regional performing arts center in Town Center North, a mile from the nearest Metro station, and raising our RCC (STD#5) tax rate to pay for its construction and ensuing perpetual operating losses.

It is time for Reston to say not just “No,” but “Hell No” to more property taxes that go to subsidize commercial for profit ventures and county-wide spending initiatives. If a developer can’t pay a few extra dollars per year to cover the cost of the road in front of his property, they simply should not be in the development business in the highly lucrative Reston market. And if the County’s leaders can’t figure out how to do that, then they should be replaced by representatives who can. We, the people of Reston, should not be putting our money in developers’ pockets through added County taxes so they can make even more billions of dollars with no benefits for our community.

Terry Maynard, Co-Chair

Reston 20/20 Committee

  • The Constitutionalist

    Couldn’t have said it better myself. Unfortunately, except once recently, the residents of Reston love to say “YES” to more taxes.

    • Greg

      Likely because most don’t pay them?

  • 30yearsinreston

    The ripoff continues RAhave shown.how easy it is for Reston residents to be shorn

    If Hudgins worked for us instead of the developers they would pay for creating this gridlock

    Time to consider leaving this developing urban hole

  • Tammi Petrine

    The ‘committee’ that ‘studied’ this tax was heavily dominated by Developers vs. private citizens so from the beginning, what the developers favored was going to be what was ‘decided.” Only one committee member even lived in the corridor. He is wealthy, employed by a developer and proclaimed at one meeting that “this tax is nickels and dimes to us in the RTC.” So, folks, this is the group deciding to recommend another tax with a variable rate and an indeterminate time (which will NEVER end because once the county gets an income stream, they never give it up: See DTR tolls as an example!) on less fortunate Restonians in the Dulles Corridor.

    Early on, the decision was made to limit the tax area to corridor only because county staff knew that enough others outside of the corridor would raise hell if we were included. PLUS, the timing of the presentation of this ‘fait accompli’ RNAG recommendation was delayed until AFTER the November Meals Tax debacle.

    The starting premise that a tax was even needed is flawed. NO TAX is needed. Developers are making PLENTY of PROFIT to pay for the infrastructure that their development makes necessary. Does anyone really think that they will not come up with $350 Million over 40 years if their BILLIONS in profit are in peril???

    Haven’t we all had enough of insider decisions and plans being made without majority public approval? Developers have the right to develop but they also have the responsibility not to palm off on the rest of us the bills for public improvements that they make necessary. PLEASE, All of Reston UNITE to oppose this unnecessary and unfair tax.

    • Mike M

      This is a really old story. Reston has been a developer’s free fire zone since I moved here decades ago. The only drags on the pace we are seeing now was the lack of the white elephant excuse called Metro and two recessions. The center of gravity is the County Board of Supervisors. So long as one party runs unopposed at the County level, expect no change. At some point others will have to ask themselves while Cathy Hudgins and Sharon Bulova allow this sort of thing? I think they know they are acting contrary to the interests of the current citizens. So, why do they do it, besides the fact that they can get away with it? What’s in it for them?

  • Terry Maynard

    Folks–If you have not done so already, I strongly urge you to read and sign the
    “Stop the TSD road tax on Reston Metro station area residents” petition on Change.org.

    Here’s the link: https://www.change.org/p/fairfax-county-board-of-supervisors-stop-the-tsd-road-tax-on-reston-metro-station-area-residents

  • restonreston

    One thing I am beginning to see is that at least Supervisor Herrity at least cares about cost of things and impact on “actual” residents. Can’t say that for the rest.

  • Leila Gordon

    RCC has no “stealth plan” to build a performing arts center and no plan to raise our tax rate. We continue to anticipate that new facilities – including a performing arts venue – can be realized through proffer arrangements.

    • cRAzy

      Of course not. It won’t be a “plan” until it’s set in concrete, and then it will be too late. Just waitin’!

    • Tammi Petrine

      Gee, I’m glad to hear RCC is not planning to raise our tax rate! We already pay 4.7 cents vs. much more wealthy McLean’s 2.2 cents per $100 RE appraised value! WE were thinking we need a tax REDUCTION actually! And RCC is indeed planning to sponsor a performing arts center somewhere in Town Center North! Leila Gordon announced that at an August, 2016 RCC budget report meeting; so technically the plan may not be ‘stealth’ but how many of you know this? Only 5 citizens were at that meeting and no press.

      Her claim that proffers will build new facilities is misleading at best. It is the operation and maintenance of it in perpetuity that will bankrupt us. A general rule is 20% of cost goes for building an entity; 80% more goes to run it. If a foundation, university or the county (god forbid!) wants to sponsor this, fine. But no way should the captives of Small Tax District #5/RCC be forced to pay in perpetuity for this pipe-dream. STD #5 is a tiny demographic that can not and should never take on the burden of financing this expensive proposition! Not one performing arts center on the face of the earth breaks even. Ask the Kennedy Center which has a bit more public cache than RCC.

      Reston has learned its lesson with the Tetra purchase, and we’re not buying into another ill-conceived, unrealistic, budget-busting scheme.

      Message for Reston’s own native son, Bill Bouie, Chair AND Hunter Mill’s appointed rep to the Fairfax County Park Authority as well as an RCC member of its board of governors: When can we expect your long promised Indoor Rec Center “with all the bells and whistles.” to be located in TCN??? After all, Hunter Mill is the only jurisdiction still waiting after 51 years while we continue to pay for other districts’ 9 centers and their renovations located around the county! Focus on Reston’s recreational development proffers and FCPA bonds to finance this soon please! We all deserve and expect a grand facility with generous FREE parking for patrons from around the district.

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