Reston, VA

With tax season in full swing and Fairfax County plugging away at its latest budget proposal, you may wonder where exactly your tax dollars go.

Fairfax County is hammering out the details of its spending for the 2022 fiscal year, which is expected to gross more than $8.5 billion. But your tax dollars go to a smaller piece of the pie that encompasses funding for county government operations and contributions to Metro and Fairfax County Public Schools.

Totaling $4.48 billion, the general fund disbursements money comes from taxes — primarily real estate and personal property taxes, but also taxes on hotels and retail sales — as well as fees for licenses and permits. About $1.6 billion of this bucket sustains the operations of all county departments.

Real estate taxes paid by individuals and businesses contribute about $3 billion (or 68%) of the money needed to support county departments, schools, Metro, and debt services. In fact, residents’ property taxes make up about 74% of the county’s real estate tax income. The rest comes from commercial properties, such as apartments, offices, retail spaces, and hotels.

While homeowners could see their real estate tax rate lowered by one cent to $1.14 per $100 of assessed value in the upcoming budget, they will likely still see their bill increase due to rising property values. The one-cent reduction, however, will bring in $27 million less than if the current rate remained in place.

The county, meanwhile, is contending with falling commercial property values for its income from non-residential real estate taxes, a nationwide phenomenon.

But where does this tax revenue go?

After schools, which receive slightly more than half of the general fund disbursements, the county’s next two largest allocations go to public safety, including police and fire, and health and welfare, including family and neighborhood services.

Within those areas, much of the recurring spending is tied to personnel, both existing staff and requests for additional hires. The county government says an additional 109 positions are needed to staff new facilities and continue initiatives previously funded by grants and stimulus funding.

County Executive Bryan Hill’s proposed FY 2022 budget devotes $11.91 million to fund 46 positions to continue implementing the police department’s body-worn camera program and to staff the South County Police Station, a new 61,000-square-foot police station and animal shelter, and the Scotts Run Fire Station.

There is also additional funding to support the Fairfax County Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney, which Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano said last year is in a state of crisis and needs more staff, especially to handle the body-worn camera program.

The proposed budget adds seven positions to the county’s opioid task force and five positions for the Diversion First initiative.

Police and fire are the biggest drivers of the public safety budget, each accounting for around 41% of expenses, or $219 and $218 million, respectively. Overall, public safety accounts for 33% of the total general fund direct expenditures of $1.6 billion. Fairfax County lands in the middle of Virginia localities for how much it spends per person on public safety ($671 per person). Read More

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The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted yesterday (Tuesday) to approve changes to the county’s zoning ordinance intended to make the codes easier to navigate and understand.

The 7-3 vote — with Supervisors Walter Alcorn, Daniel Storck, and Pat Herrity dissenting — serves as the culmination of a four-year Zoning Ordinance Modernization Project, or zMOD, that began in 2017 to update zoning laws codified in 1978.

Although the updates to the document were sweeping in scope, three proposed changes drew a great deal of public attention and comment. These included proposals to loosen restrictions on accessory living units and home-based businesses and revise size and height regulations for flags and flag poles.

“There are…very few issues receiving much attention,” Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust said. “I believe that demonstrates that, given everything that we’ve done, it was a fair and transparent process.”

Storck, who represents the Mount Vernon District, said he supports many aspects of the 614-page draft, but a few areas surrounding the accessory living units and the home-based businesses, including the permit process and enforcement, give him pause.

He worries that some of the proposed changes to require only administrative permits could lead to a lack of engagement and that enforcement, which he calls “the bread and butter of public confidence,” is not going to be swift or strong enough to stop zoning violations.

Approved changes to the regulations for accessory living units include allowing interior units with an administrative permit and removing the requirement that only those 55 and older or disabled people can live in them. However, the owner must live in the main home, can only operate one ALU in which up to two people can reside, and must provide a parking spot.

To operate a home-based business, people will need to get special exception permits to have customers visit between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m., unless they provide instruction to fewer than eight students a day and up to four at a time.

Acceptable businesses include retail — as long as sales and delivery occur online or offsite — as well as exercise classes, repair services for small household items, hair salons, and clothing tailors. People can also operate an office or as a music, photography, or art studio out of their home.

Residents can have up to three flags, and flag poles can be up to 25 feet tall when in front of a single-family home or up to 60 feet tall on other lots. Property owners can apply for a special permit to extend the height of a pole.

The board opted not to adopt any regulations limiting the size of flags.

In voting for the final draft of the plan, Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik said the document represents a compromise that goes “further than some would like to go, but not as far as others would like.”

The supervisors highlighted the Herculean effort that went into overhauling codes for a county as large as Fairfax and taking into account community input. Foust said that the most recent draft, which was subject to a public hearing on March 9, “includes revisions that significantly improve the initial package that we considered.”

Board of Supervisors Vice Chair Penelope Gross said that home-based businesses and accessory living units are both “already here,” so the changes help clarify what is allowed and set guardrails to preserve neighborhoods and allow people to work from home.

“I know there’s a lot of speculation about what will happen. Speculation is usually just that: speculation,” she said. “It sometimes is fear.”

Palchik said she does not discount the people who expressed legitimate concerns, but she argued that many of those have been addressed during the zMOD process. She aargued that many of the changes are similar to, if not “much more modest” than policies that are already in place elsewhere in the D.C. area, including in Montgomery County, D.C., Arlington, Loudoun County, and the City of Alexandria.

“While there are many changes to the zoning ordinance, I do believe it’s critical in seeing that our housing market is under pressure and costs of living continue to rise, especially for those who struggle to live here,” she said. “While accessory living units do not fix all of these problems, the added flexibility for our most vulnerable residents and additional options for those who want to remain in their homes can be part of the solution.”

Photo via Fairfax County

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A consultant is recommending a dozen ways Fairfax County can uplift people whose livelihoods have been harmed by the pandemic in the short-term and promote long-term economic resilience.

Specific short-term measures include launching “Buy Local” and “Made in Fairfax” campaigns, focusing on women- and minority-owned businesses, and finding ways to reduce rent or other costs for struggling small businesses.

Other recommendations target those hit hardest — including people without high school degrees, women with children, and people of color — with services like career centers, workforce training programs, and affordable childcare.

“A lot of these things have ongoing aspects, but tying them together and focusing on economic recovery is really going to be an effective approach,” Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust said.

County staff presented plans for implementing the consultant’s recommendations and assisting small businesses during the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors economic initiatives committee meeting on Tuesday (March 16).

Fairfax County has up to $15 million in reserves to support economic recovery efforts and could also use some of the anticipated $222.56 million in federal funds coming from the American Rescue Plan, according to Foust, who chairs the committee.

Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn called the staff proposal “fantastic” but added that transportation — which did not figure into staff planning — should play a role in the county’s recovery efforts.

“Since we’re doing something new, I would just recommend putting more structure into collaboration across agencies,” Providence Supervisor Dalia Palchik said.

Fairfax County hired the consultant HR&A last summer to analyze how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected its economy and what the county government could do to expedite a more just recovery. More than 65 organizations and small businesses participated in the study, providing input on perceived barriers to and strategies for economic recovery.

According to the consultant’s report, before COVID-19, flourishing technology and government sectors contributed to a decade of strong economic growth for Fairfax County. The total number of jobs grew by 9% annually, and employment had reached its lowest level since the Great Recession.

In 2018, the county had the third-highest median household income in the D.C. area, but significant racial disparities lurked just below the surface: The median household income for white residents was about $140,000, exceeding that of Black households (~$86,000) and Hispanic households (~$81,000).

The pandemic reversed that job growth and exacerbated the existing disparities.

Through December 2020, Fairfax County lost an estimated 48,200 jobs, mainly in food service, hospitality, retail, and the arts. Small businesses in these three sectors will have a particularly long road to recovery, HR&A said.

The consultant also reported that job losses were most acutely felt by low-income people, people of color, and people with lower levels of formal education and training, which will make “the road to economic stability longer and more challenging.”

The job market appears to have settled down since the upheaval of the pandemic’s early days, when initial unemployment claims in Fairfax County soared to a high of 21,302 filings during the week of April 4. The Virginia Employment Commission reported today that 543 people filed new claims for the week of March 6, though the numbers ticked back up over 1,000 for multiple weeks over the winter.

HR&A outlined several ways Fairfax County can facilitate job opportunities for those suffering the most, namely, getting people who lost jobs in hard-hit industries access to jobs in industries that have weathered the pandemic better, including government and technology.

In the short-term, HR&A recommends Fairfax County employ artists to design public service announcements or put on performances. The county could also hire workers to fill temporary needs like contact-tracing, while partnering with the private sector to place people in long-term jobs.

Home to more than 8,900 technology-focused businesses, Fairfax County could pursue policies that support workforce training in health technology, digital services, and green jobs. Given its proximity to D.C., Fairfax County will continue attracting government workers, so the county should keep expanding the workforce pipeline for government and contracting work, the firm said.

The workforce will likely need skills training to acquire new qualifications, as well as equal digital access and digital literacy and adequate childcare access. This will require investing in job centers, improving certification and training programs, and making it easier to connect people with county and private services, HR&A writes.

In the long-term, the consultant recommends Fairfax County continue efforts such as easing online permitting processes and contributing to affordable housing.

Photo via Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

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Dominion Energy plans to have new electric vehicle charging stations up and running in Northern Virginia this year, joining five other utility providers to create an interstate charging network that could extend from D.C. to western Texas.

The provider announced last week that it is partnering with American Electric Power, Duke Energy, Entergy Corporation, Southern Co., and the Tennessee Valley Authority to form the Electric Highway Coalition, which will provide electric vehicle charging infrastructure along major highways within their service territories.

About 18 million EVs could be on U.S. roads by 2030, according to estimates from The Edison Electric Institute. But while charging options becoming more plentiful to support everyday travel, anxiety remains among drivers about how to tackle long-distance road trips.

Dominion wants to enable electric long-distance travel for customers and its company fleet on major interstates and other well-traveled roadways, spokesperson Peggy Fox said. The charging stations will be capable of getting drivers back on the road in approximately 20-30 minutes.

“For example, in Virginia, we want to enable EV drivers to travel from the mountains to the beach or from the nation’s capital to the Virginia coast,” she said.

New stations in Fairfax County could be along I-66, I-95 and 495, and other well-traveled roads, she added. The stations will be about 100 miles apart or less, but exact locations and a concrete timeline have yet to be established.

“The partner utilities have started discussions to collaborate on site locations, site partners, design, and equipment,” Fox said.

Dominion will be coordinating with the other utility partners to provide sufficient charging capacity while using existing infrastructure and avoiding duplication, she said. The utility company plans to have a minimum of two charging stations at each location.

It has also been working with the state and locally with Fairfax County government to electrify transit. It rolled outelectric school buses in January, and in October, it debuted a self-driving shuttle that runs between Dunn Loring Metro Station and Mosaic District.

Del. Mark Keam (D-35th), who represents part of Tysons and has supported many environment-focused bills, said he welcomes Dominion’s new partnership as a “good news story,” but the General Assembly approved a number of bills in its recent legislative session to indicate the state government is serious about electrifying transit, too.

“No company is going to go do things on their own, without knowing what the state will do as a partner,” Keam said. “Us providing that level of priority allows Dominion to say, ‘OK, here’s what we will do.'”

Virginia will join a dozen other states that have adopted clean car standards requiring low- and zero-emission vehicles to be available, he said. It will also be providing a “small but still meaningful rebate” for those looking to buy one.

Keam says Dominion’s plans could work in tandem with approved bills supporting the expansion of charging infrastructure. Legislators also requested a statewide study of transit equity, and Keam successfully introduced a bill to establish a state electric school bus fund.

“We’ve really put Virginia on the map,” he said.

Still, Keam added that Dominion’s role in electrifying transit should be an ongoing discussion. It owns substantial infrastructure and supplies much of Virginia’s power, so the utility needs to be included, but state lawmakers have been unable to agree on a regulatory approach.

“We have to look at all of this with clear eyes,” he said.

Image via Dominion Energy

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Inundated with messages from staff and community members on proposed changes to the 2021-22 calendar, Fairfax County School Board members directed Superintendent Scott Brabrand to redraft it.

During a work session on Tuesday (Mar. 2), the board told staff to consider ways to add flexibility through floating holidays. They said the calendar should take into account legal considerations, instruction, student wellness and pay for support staff, as well as survey preferences, absenteeism data, transparency and equity.

The school board will vote on a final calendar on Mar. 18.

FCPS announced last June that the school board will consider two ways to add in four religious holidays: Rosh Hashanah (Sept. 7, 2021), Yom Kippur (Sept. 16, 2021), Diwali (Nov. 4, 2021), and Eid al Fitr (May 3, 2022).

FCPS drafted a third proposal without those holidays in February, as some board members expressed reservations about the potential disruptions they would create.

“Support staff have been very vocal in terms of what the impact on their work will be,” School Board Chair Ricardy Anderson, who represents the Mason District, said on Tuesday. “I’m very mindful of what this means for our families who rely on schools for breakfast and lunch. We also know that we’re coming out of the pandemic, and we have had a lot of impact in terms of continuity of learning.”

Anderson reported receiving 269 messages from support staff, estimating at least 100 more. Member-at-large Karen Keys-Gamarra also said she received more than 700 written responses on the calendar.

Meanwhile, 286 students have signed a petition, and 76 clergy and faith organizations have signed a letter initiated by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington (JCRC) urging the board to add the holidays.

Responding to the news that FCPS would be developing a new calendar, the Pozez Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia said in a statement that it was heartened to see the board reject the calendar that did not include the new holidays.

“We are optimistic that the next option proposed will be one that is forward-thinking — acknowledging and respecting the cultural and religious diversity of the staff and students of faith in the county, as well as the community at large,” Pozez JCC Executive Director Jeff Dannick and President Susan Kristol said.

Member organizations of a Religious Observances Task Force, which FCPS formed to advise the school system on supporting religious minorities, had “strenuously” objected to the third calendar draft, saying its proposal lacked transparency.

“Given where the community has been at, where the process is so far, what data has revealed, it goes without saying that we need to give this a deliberate look,” member-at-large Abrar Omeish said.

During the work session, FCPS staff presented data from the past five years indicating that the number of absent students and staff rises on days of religious or cultural significance that are not observed in the calendar. But some board members said it is not high enough to provide secular justification for closing schools.

“Such data is a flawed indicator in this situation. It is well-known that public school students and employees very often feel forced to attend work and classes on even their most sacred holidays, for fear of being penalized or academically disadvantaged,” the Religious Observances Task Force argued in its February letter.

The school system has not “done a good job honoring religious holidays for students and employees,” Braddock District Representative Megan McLaughlin said. She told Brabrand that he and his team need to do better, and the board needs formal language to would hold him accountable.

Brabrand said FCPS can “do a better job” communicating what the division expects of children and staff on days of religious and cultural significance.

On top of concerns about pay, meals, and special education services, the proposed changes also carry legal ramifications. Schools can’t close for religious reasons unless it can be justified for secular reasons, such as absenteeism being too high for them to operate.

School board members suggested adding flexibility and protections without closing schools, such as “blackout days” — when students who choose to be absent would not be penalized — and “floating holidays” allowing staff to cash in a paid day off at any time. Some said the unenforceable guidelines for homework and test guidance around holy days should be turned into regulations.

Members also spelled out multiple areas where the calendar development process broke down, including the treatment of the Religious Observances Task Force.

For instance, the task force’s work was only included in a year-end ombudsman report, rather than being presented to the board on its own, which Mount Vernon District Representative Karen Corbett-Sanders says resulted in the findings becoming lost in the frenzy of Return to School planning.

The task force and other participants in the calendar development process had certain expectations for the calendar because of their advocacy, Hunter Mill District Representative Melanie K. Meren said.

Prince William and Arlington counties recently approved calendars with school closures on Eid, Diwali, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Loudoun County approved a calendar with closures on Eid, Diwali and Yom Kippur.

Photo via Sandeep Kr Yadav on Unsplash

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Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam is easing some of the public health restrictions prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic, including the 10 p.m. curfew on alcohol sales.

Effective Mar. 1, Virginians will be able to buy and drink alcohol at restaurants, food courts, breweries, distilleries, and wineries until they are required to close at midnight.

The changes to the current executive order come amid declining rates of hospitalizations and infections and rising vaccination rates in the Commonwealth, Northam said during a press conference this morning (Wednesday).

Northam is also easing restrictions on outdoor entertainment and social gatherings, where evidence shows the risk of airborne transmission of COVID-19 is lower.

“Thanks to the hard work and sacrifice of all Virginians, hospitalization and positivity rates across the Commonwealth are the lowest they have been in nearly three months,” Northam said in the press release. “As key health metrics show encouraging trends and we continue to ramp up our vaccination efforts, we can begin to gradually resume certain recreational activities and further reopen sectors of our economy.”

He attributed the rise in cases over the winter to cold weather and the holidays.

The state’s Safer at Home strategy will remain in place, along with its accompanying requirements for physical distancing, mask-wearing, gathering limits and business capacity restrictions.

“Even as we take steps to safely ease public health guidelines, we must all remain vigilant so we can maintain our progress — the more we stay home, mask up, and practice social distancing, the more lives we will save from this dangerous virus,” he said.

The current modified Stay at Home order will expire on Sunday (Feb. 28).

The full press release from the governor’s office is below.

Gov. Ralph Northam today announced that as COVID-19 hospitalizations and infection rates continue to decline and vaccinations rise in Virginia, certain outdoor sports and entertainment venues may begin to operate at increased capacity starting Monday, March 1. He amended Executive Order Seventy-Two with the next steps of the “Forward Virginia” plan to safely and gradually ease public health restrictions while mitigating the spread of the virus.

“Thanks to the hard work and sacrifice of all Virginians, hospitalization and positivity rates across the Commonwealth are the lowest they have been in nearly three months,” said Governor Northam. “As key health metrics show encouraging trends and we continue to ramp up our vaccination efforts, we can begin to gradually resume certain recreational activities and further reopen sectors of our economy. Even as we take steps to safely ease public health guidelines, we must all remain vigilant so we can maintain our progress-the more we stay home, mask up, and practice social distancing, the more lives we will save from this dangerous virus.”

The Commonwealth will maintain a Safer at Home strategy with continued strict health and safety protocols including physical distancing, mask-wearing requirements, gathering limits, and business capacity restrictions. The current modified Stay at Home order will expire on February 28, 2021.

Governor Northam is beginning to ease public health restrictions by taking steps to increase capacity limits in outdoor settings, where evidence shows the risk of airborne transmission of COVID-19 is lower. The key changes in the Third Amended Executive Order Seventy-Two include:

  • Social gatherings: The maximum number of individuals permitted in a social gathering will increase from 10 to 25 people for outdoor settings, while remaining at 10 persons for indoor settings.
  • Entertainment venues: Outdoor entertainment and public amusement venues will be able to operate with up to 1,000 individuals or at 30 percent capacity, whichever is lower. If current trends continue, these venues may be able to operate at 30 percent capacity with no cap on the number of people permitted to attend starting in April. Indoor entertainment and public amusement venues must continue to operate at 30 percent capacity with a cap of 250 people. All entertainment venues were previously limited to a maximum of 250 individuals.
  • Dining establishments: The on-site sale, consumption, and possession of alcohol will be permitted until midnight, extended from 10:00 p.m. All restaurants, dining establishments, food courts, breweries, microbreweries, distilleries, wineries, and tasting rooms still must be closed between midnight and 5:00 a.m.
  • Overnight summer camps: As of May 1, overnight summer camps will be able to open with strict mitigation measures in place. Registration can begin now.

The new guidelines will be effective for at least one month and mitigation measures may be eased further if key health metrics continue to improve. Current guidelines for retail businesses, fitness and exercise, large amusement venues, and personal grooming services will remain in place. Individuals are strongly encouraged to continue teleworking if possible.

The full text of Third Amended Executive Order Seventy-Two and Order of Public Health Emergency Nine is available here. Updated guidelines for specific sectors can be found here.

Last week, Governor Northam amended Executive Order Seventy-Two to increase the number of spectators permitted at outdoor youth sporting events to 250.

Visit virginia.gov/coronavirus/forwardvirginia for more information and answers to frequently asked questions.

Image via Virginia Public Media/YouTube

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On Friday, Girl Scouts troops will start selling cookies in-person at least eight locations between Herndon and Reston.

For those looking to stay home, Girl Scouts Nation’s Capital is also offering online cookie sales, which will be delivered through the Girl Scouts Nation’s Capital chapter. Online sales began on Monday.

Here are the locations for Reston and Herndon, according to the Girl Scouts’ cookie finder:

Reston

  • Ledo Pizza (2254 Hunter’s Woods Plaza)
  • Starbucks (11170 South Lakes Drive)
  • Dunkin’ Donuts (2280 Hunter’s Woods Plaza)
  • Flippin’ Pizza (11130 South Lakes Drive)
  • CVS (11680 Plaza America Drive)
  • Starbucks (1857 Fountain Drive)

Herndon 

  • Food Lion (3059 Centreville Road)
  • Lucia’s Italian Ristorante (2531 John Milton Drive)

Most of the booths will be out on weekends, with some also selling cookies on Fridays. The cookie finder lists dates next to all locations.

All cookie sales end March 14.

“This year we had a decrease [in in-person booths], but of course, Girl Scouts have found a way,” said Tygerian Burke, the marketing and communications manager for Girl Scouts Nation’s Capital.

Buying cookies online works like this:

  • Customers can type their zip code into the cookie finder and find local troops selling cookies virtually. Each time the page loads, it will feature a different virtual booth.
  • When customers click the link corresponding to the troop of their choice, the link will take them to a page with a description of what the sales will go toward and directions for buying the cookies.
  • The cookies can be shipped to the customer’s house or to someone else as a donation.

The Girl Scouts are also having cookies delivered via GrubHub, a promotion that started in the D.C. area on Thursday, Burke said. Drivers can deliver cookies to homes within a 25-minute radius of where a scout or troop is located, which in D.C. traffic, will mean varying distances, she added.

She advised checking social media for Facebook Live promotions of GrubHub deliveries throughout the month-and-a-half of sales.

Burke said some troops within the council are setting up drive-through locations as well as signs with QR codes linking to their personalized virtual booth pages.

Girl Scouts are selling Thin Mints, Samoas, Trefoils, Do-si-dos and Tagalongs — as well as a new cookie called Lemon-Ups — for $5 a box. Two specialty cookies, S’mores and Toffee-tastics, go for $6 a box.

Image via Girl Scouts Nation’s Capital

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Vaping has reversed years of incremental progress in Fairfax County Public Schools in the number of students who report being drug-free, according to a report from the school system.

“The slow improvement FCPS had shown over the last several years on the drug-free youth metric ended during SY 2019-20 due to increased numbers of students who reported vaping,” the report said.

Over the last couple of years, vaping has emerged as the drug of choice among students in schools across the United States. Experts and school leaders have labeled it an “epidemic,” and studies have found that it is easy to access, targeted toward teens, and highly addictive.

In FCPS, one-third of middle and high school students reported alcohol and drug usage for the 2019-20 school year. The drug-free metric FCPS uses has not moved too much in recent years, but the uptick in vaping led to a “dramatic dip” for the 2019-20 school year, when 11% of students reported that they vaped, but did not use other drugs or drink alcohol.

The rapid downward trend due to vaping “requires direct and swift action to counteract, especially given the negative health impacts that have been associated with vaping,” the report said. It concluded that more funding may be needed to address the root causes of vaping.

FCPS included vaping in its drug-free metric for the first time for the 2018-19 reporting year. At the time, the report said, vaping did not have much of an impact — students who reported vaping also reported drinking or using other drugs.

Last year, the 11% of students who vape moved the needle 2 percentage points. When vaping is added in, the percentage of students who are drug-free drops from 79% to about 77%.

During the 2020 school year, 11.2% of students reported vaping while not using alcohol or other drugs. Broken down by grade level, 9% of eighth-graders, slightly more than 12% of sophomores and 12.5% of seniors reported vaping only.

Vaping appears to have also led to an increase in drug-related suspensions. Through March 2020, the number of students with suspensions for drug and alcohol offenses was 448, an increase of 6 percentage points when compared to the 2018-19 school year — 424 offenses through March 2019.

The report found that Asian and Black students were more likely to be alcohol and drug-free than Hispanic or white students.

In its report, FCPS concluded that its current interventions may not be enough to lessen vaping and other kinds of drug and alcohol use among students overall. The report said it is unclear whether any of FCPS’s traditional interventions would have specifically impacted vaping rates.

For example, substance abuse specialists were “likely managing students with more serious drug abuse issues,” the report said. Further, the “enhanced access to middle school health lessons would likely have had only an indirect or low-level impact on vaping.”

Photo via Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

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Hotel rooms have suddenly become difficult to come by in Fairfax County ahead of Inauguration Day on Wednesday.

That is a welcome problem for the lodging sector of the hospitality industry, which has been in a downward spiral since the COVID-19 pandemic prompted a slew of travel restrictions and stay-at-home health guidance.

But this inauguration will be unlike any other in recent political history. The general public’s ability to attend President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’s Oath of Office ceremony has been sharply curtailed due to the pandemic, but hotels are hosting another large group of guests: the National Guard.

Up to 21,000 members of the National Guard have been authorized to come to D.C. and secure the city ahead of potential attacks, after Trump supporters stormed Capitol Hill on Jan. 6. Fairfax County hotels are reportedly housing some of the 15,000 guard members already in the D.C. metropolitan area.

“We are indeed hearing anecdotally from hoteliers that there has been an uptick in reservations compared with the past 11 months, but we are unable to ascertain whether those reservations are directly related to the inauguration and/or the National Guard or people who are visiting for leisure or business travel,” Visit Fairfax President and CEO Barry Biggar said in a statement.

The pandemic and ensuing shutdowns devastated the hospitality industry across the U.S. In Virginia, COVID-19 has resulted in the loss of about 100,000 jobs, according to the American Hotel and Lodging Association.

In November, the AHLA found that 71% of its member hotels said “they won’t make it another six months without further federal assistance given current and projected travel demand.” 47% of respondents said they would be forced to close hotels.

Many hotels were forced to layoff more staff this winter, even as access to the second round of the Paycheck Protection Program has expanded to all lenders.

But the employees who remain taking the sudden surge of guests in stride, Biggar explains.

“What we do know is that our hotels have been working tirelessly, even with staff shortages and for long hours, to ensure that our guests are treated with the utmost hospitality,” he said.

Photo courtesy Sheraton Reston

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Updated at 11:45 — The fatality and crash numbers in this article from the DMV reflect statistics for Northern Virginia, not just Fairfax County as previously stated. The Fairfax County Police Department says that the county’s fatality and crash rates are much lower.

With 38 pedestrian fatalities, 2019 was the deadliest year in the last decade to walk in Northern Virginia, according to Virginia DMV data.

The number of deaths dropped to 29 in 2020, but the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and county transportation officials are still working on strategies to improve pedestrian and bicyclist safety with a countywide initiative.

“Unfortunately our incidents of pedestrian fatalities and crashes continue to be at unacceptable levels,” FCDOT bicycle and pedestrian program manager Chris Wells said during a transportation committee meeting yesterday (Tuesday). “Due to a number of factors, those numbers are trending up — not just in Fairfax, but in Virginia and across the United States.”

Bicycling is safer, but crash rates are still high: 216 crashes in 2019, and 157 in 2020.

Wells added that certain portions of Fairfax County’s population are disproportionately affected by pedestrian crashes, a trend that has been documented nationwide.

The county hopes to reverse these statistics. Wells told supervisors that FCDOT and VDOT have recently improved walking and cycling conditions by programming head starts into signals for pedestrians, re-striping four-lane roads as two-lane roads, and installing rapid-flashing beacons for crosswalks without lights.

VDOT awarded FCDOT $1.2 million last year to install nine more flashing beacons, bringing the county’s total to 17, Wells said.

VDOT also has a pedestrian safety action plan for improving safety along particularly dangerous corridors. In Fairfax County, the highest-priority roads are Columbia Pike, Little River Turnpike, Richmond Highway, Lee Highway, Lee-Jackson Memorial Highway, Braddock Road, and Ox Road.

Officials said that work on roads in Fairfax County is a lengthy process compared to other jurisdictions, because VDOT owns the roads.

“They’ve really stepped up this year to help us to advance pedestrian safety in a way that we have not seen in years past,” FCDOT Director Tom Biesiadny said.

Looking ahead, supervisors suggested introducing better lighting and longer crossing times at mid-block crosswalks. They are also still interested in reducing speeds in the county.

FCDOT officials said a multiagency group, including transportation officials and attorneys, is working through the logistics of speed cameras. Meanwhile, VDOT is preparing to examine where speed limits can be lowered.

Chart and map via Virginia DMV data dashboards

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Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand is asking for a $3.1 billion budget for the 2022 fiscal year that focuses “on the most pressing needs” of the school system.

He presented the nearly level-services budget — “a modest request” with an approximately $400,000 increase — to the county school board last Thursday (Jan. 7).

The proposed budget requests a $42.7 million increase in transfer funds from the county government to pay for new preschool special education classes, retirement rate increases, and rising health care costs, which would patch over a gap created by drops in county and state revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As all of you know, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted FCPS, our students, families, and staff in ways we couldn’t have imagined,” Brabrand said during the meeting. “I have designed a budget to meet the educational and social-emotional needs of our children so they can continue to learn and grow despite the challenges of the past year.”

The proposed budget includes money for distance learning, including cybersecurity protection and Zoom, which will replace Blackboard for web-conferencing, he said.

The budget does not contain compensation increases for most employees, though there is $3 million to finish a three-year initiative to increase the salaries of instructional assistants and public health training assistants.

In December, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam outlined a state budget for schools that features a one-time, 2% bonus for teachers and support staff, with the potential for the salary boost to become permanent. But Brabrand said Fairfax County is opting out because it cannot afford to participate.

The burden would be on Fairfax County to match state funds with $32 million in county-level funding, he said.

“We understand that [FCPS] kept everybody whole,” Fairfax Education Association President Kimberly Adams said. “But many staff see it as a slap in their face.”

In comparison, Prince William County offered compensation increases in its budget last year , and Loudoun County’s proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year includes money to cover compensations that were frozen last year, she said.

“If Loudoun and Prince William moved two steps ahead of Fairfax, we’re behind,” she said. “People are already irritated. This is a potential reason to leave.”

The lack of compensation particularly hurts Virginia teachers, who have the largest teacher wage penalty in the country at 32.7%, Fairfax County Federation of Teachers President Tina Williams said.

“We’re disappointed that the FCPS proposed budget does not include a pay increase for school employees, especially after a year that is the hardest in their career,” she said in a statement. “We urge FCPS to demonstrate it values the hard work and dedication of its employees by providing wage and cost of living adjustments to help keep employees whole.”

The Fairfax County School Board will hold a work session to discuss the proposed budget tomorrow (Tuesday). A public hearing has been scheduled for 6 p.m. on Jan. 26, though it could carry over to Jan. 27 if needed.

The school board will adopt its advertised budget on Feb. 18 and present it to the Board of Supervisors on April 13. A final approved budget is scheduled to be adopted on May 20.

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The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors gave the county’s transportation department permission this week to start work on plans for managed curbside parking in Tysons and Reston.

Whether the plan includes paid parking, time-limited parking, designated commercial vehicle parking, or some combination, the Fairfax County Department of Transportation will need at least a year to draw one up for the Board of Supervisors to review, staff said during a board transportation committee meeting on Tuesday.

The incremental step forward comes after professional traffic engineers released their findings from a two-year study that analyzed current parking habits in Tysons’ urban center and Reston’s transit station areas as well as potential options to manage parking.

“Currently in the county, we have a very limited toolbox of parking restrictions that can be implemented by either the Board or VDOT,” FCDOT Section Chief Neil Freschman said. “Generally, most on-street parking on public roadways is uncontrolled.”

The study found that public on-street parking in Reston is incredibly limited.

Parking is available on just 6% of the 15 miles of public curb space surrounding the Wiehle-Reston East, Reston Town Center, and Herndon Metrorail stations, FCDOT Senior Transportation Planner Henri Stein McCartney said.

“We found 211 total public on-street spaces within the study area, which is pretty low,” she said. “Most parking is on private streets, which we don’t manage.”

Comparatively, Tysons had more parking. Staff found 1,272 spaces along 22 miles — or 29% — of curb space on the roadways surrounding the Greensboro, Springhill, Tysons, and McLean Metro stations.

However, parking in Tysons suffers from other problems, including cars parked in “No Parking” zones and travel lanes, along with large commercial vehicles that overstay their welcome.

“Some of these vehicles are reportedly parking for days or weeks without moving,” McCartney said. “Our parking staff has received multiple complaints from Tysons businesses about commercial vehicles that are parking long-term near their building, so we know this is an issue.”

Transportation Committee Vice-Chair Kathy Smith, who represents Sully District, told Tysons Reporter that commercial vehicles parking for extended periods is a county-wide issue.

“I think it’s good that staff is looking into how to balance people’s ability to get into businesses and getting more turnover,” Smith said. “Everybody would agree you don’t want commercial vehicles taking up space for days.”

This parking plan is being developed alongside changes to the street grid in Tysons and Reston, Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn told Tysons Reporter. In some cases, parking policies will be developed for streets that do not yet exist, but have been incorporated into the two communities’ comprehensive plans to be more transit-oriented.

The management plan should encourage parking spot turnover to ensure that these future streets near transit stations, which are lined with mixed-use properties, do not become commuter lots, he said.

However, managed parking in Reston’s transit areas will have to overcome the controversy that Boston Properties ignited when the property manager introduced and later modified paid parking at the Reston Town Center.

“The number one lesson is, don’t make all your streets private,” Alcorn said. “We have an awful lot of private streets. What we’ve learned is that the public doesn’t have any say — it is up to the private street owner.”

While private streets make planning events more flexible, Alcorn says the 2017 flare-up, which focused mostly on the garage parking, could also be attributed in part to community members not having a say.

For the most part, though, what FCDOT is working on “is apples and oranges” compared to the RTC, he said.

Image via Fairfax County

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Fairfax County Public School administrators are looking to write a new policy that will ban secluding children across the division by 2023.

The new policy governing when and how children can be restrained or secluded would also require administrators to contact parents the day of an incident and to review data every quarter. After being restrained or put in a room alone, students would meet with a trusted staff member who could provide positive supports.

“We are delighted that FCPS recognizes that they were in shocking non-compliance with federal regulations,” Fairfax County Special Education Parent-Teacher Association President Michelle Cades told Tysons Reporter. “We are really optimistic that reporting is going to improve and that there is going to be more transparency.”

According to the policy, starting in 2021, seclusion will only be allowed at Burke School and Key and Kilmer Centers.

“We’re requesting that it be prohibited in 99% of schools now, but 100% is our desire, 100% is our goal,” Assistant Superintendent of the Special Services Department Michelle Boyd said in a work session last week.

The policy would go into effect Jan. 1, 2021, and includes some clauses that respond to feedback from parents and other stakeholders. FCPS will hold a public hearing on the new policy on Friday.

These changes come one year after a 2019 WAMU investigation found hundreds of instances of restraint and seclusion in FCPS, even though the school division had not reported a single incident to the U.S. Office of Civil Rights for 10 years.

“We have to make sure that people feel confident, not just in the new policy, but that we are implementing the data collection with fidelity,” Superintendent Scott Brabrand said during a Dec. 1 work session. “We have to acknowledge that for too many years, we reported no information, as did other school districts, and it was wrong.”

At-Large School Board Representative Abrar Omeish questioned what data FCPS is relying on to be confident that a new restraint and seclusion policy will be implemented properly.

“I worry about relying on this information, when we have reason to believe that it is not reliable,” she said. “We should imagine the worst-case scenario and put in place the checks that are going to hold us accountable to make sure we’re not wronging kids in the process.”

The school board and community members both raised concerns about an initial draft of the policy that was released prior to the Dec. 1 work session. That version gave a window for notifying parents of two school days, did not prohibit supine restraints (where the child is lying face-up on the ground), and had no explicit mention of eventually banning seclusion at all schools.

SEPTA criticized the initial proposal as failing to meet state regulations and best practices, saying that it “appears to discriminate against students with disabilities.”

“Given [the county’s] history, the public and the special education community of Fairfax County do not have faith that FCPS will act with integrity and transparency in any use of restraint or seclusion,” SEPTA said in a statement.

School board members argued that same-day notification in particular should be a priority.

“I can’t find that it is tenable that this school system is capable of notifying parents when there is a discipline issue or a health issue, but we’re not going to notify if their child has been restrained or secluded,” Braddock District School Board Member McLaughlin said.

The most recent draft of the proposed policy was released on Dec. 4 and incorporates some of the school board’s requested changes, including the same-day notification requirement and a ban on supine and prone restraints.

“They went back and, it looks like, put a lot more thought and consideration into how the regulations will be implemented here in Fairfax,” Cades said. “[Supine and prone restraints], where you have multiple people forcibly holding a child down on the floor, are more dangerous. You have a much greater likelihood of injury or death.”

Omeish said during the school board’s Dec. 3 meeting that she will likely be bringing a motion to “ban seclusion and to replace the rooms with sensory rooms.”

SEPTA is encouraging the community to register to speak at the public hearing. The group is facilitating anonymous participation ahead of the public meeting, where volunteers could read testimonies from parents.

Photo via FCPS

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About 250 more people are using Fairfax County’s emergency homelessness services this November over last November, and there are enough beds for just over half of them.

That number could increase as the federal ban on evictions draws nearer.

“As we look at potential rising eviction numbers, we need to be aware of the capacity for the homelessness system,” Fairfax County Health, Housing and Human Services Chief Strategist Dean Klein told the Board of Supervisors during a Health and Human Services committee meeting on Tuesday (Nov. 24).

With COVID-19 cases rising, Fairfax County is dealing with increasing numbers of people experiencing homelessness as well as the threat of rising eviction rates. Klein says rent assistance and partnerships with landlords will be critical for preventing evictions and keeping people in homes this winter.

“Our ongoing efforts to reach out to vulnerable populations is increasingly critical,” he said.

One step Fairfax County has taken is to form an eviction prevention task force with representatives from various county agencies, the county sheriff’s office, and the nonprofit law firm Legal Services of Northern Virginia.

Klein says he hopes to receive financial support from the Board of Supervisors next month. His staff anticipates spending at the same level as it is right now, which is about $600,000 a week.

Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik said a board matter is in the works that would “give additional local support for our continuation of basic needs, which we know continues to be a concern for us.”

Although funding comes from a number of sources, some are set to run dry soon, adding to the sense of urgency.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency stepped in this year to pay for hotel rooms so that people experiencing homelessness could have a place to sleep safely during the pandemic. However, it is unclear how long FEMA will continue to provide funding, Klein says.

Fairfax County Office to Prevent and End Homelessness Deputy Director Tom Barnett said the FEMA commitments are on a month-to-month basis and will last through the middle of December.

“We will continue to request extensions every month as they will support most of these expenses,” he said.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has committed emergency-solutions grant funding to support shelter and rehousing efforts, but those funds “would be quickly used up if FEMA does not continue their support,” Barnett said.

Fairfax County also received more than $30 million in federal and state CARES Act funding and community development block grants to cover basic needs, including rent and mortgage assistance, on top of the $5 million that the county contributed.

“Not only do we need strategies and assistance to move through the end of the year, but we absolutely know this is not ending in 2020,” Palchik said. “Hopefully we will have more state and federal support to address the needs of our community.”

While some social support efforts tackle the challenge of sheltering people during the pandemic, others focus on preventing residents from ending up on the street in the first place.

In August, Klein’s office assigned social workers to 900 people in the legal system who are at-risk for evictions. So far, social workers have helped 300 people. Klein says the likely reason why so many did not respond is that the only way to reach this group of people was by mail.

The office is also beginning outreach to landlords, who might not receive rent payments from third parties. A $150,000 grant from the Kaiser Foundation has gone toward hiring people to work with landlords, but more outreach is needed, Klein says.

On the tenant side, Klein said his office developed guides that explain the current eviction moratorium and help tenants contact the organizations that provide rent payment assistance.

“With the numerous moratoriums, you can imagine how confusing it can be,” Klein said.

Dipti Pidikiti-Smith, the director of advocacy at Legal Services of Northern Virginia, says a number of new provisions protect tenants from being evicted.

Landlords cannot evict tenants unless they provide documentation of what they’re owed and information on available rental assistance programs. Landlords who own five or more units, or have at least 10% interest in five or more units, must offer a payment plan without late fees. Tenants cannot be evicted unless they refuse the plan.

These provisions remain in place through Dec. 31 and will be replaced by similar ones in January, Pidikiti-Smith said.

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The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors indicated interest in a pilot program for electric-powered buses during its transportation committee meeting on Tuesday (Nov. 10).

During the meeting, Fairfax County Department of Transportation Director Tom Biesiadny delivered an presentation that explained the “ins and outs” of electric vehicles and and included a proposal for moving forward with a pilot plan.

The next step would be to return to the supervisors with a more in-depth financial plan that includes details such as when and where this would take place, and how long the demonstration would last, which could be in the early part of 2021, Biesiadny says.

“This is exciting,”said Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeffrey McKay. “Clearly we need to jump into this area and we need to do it quickly.”

Providence Supervisor Dalia Palchick supported a pilot because it would help ensure the county implements these changes correctly.

“This is the future,” she said. “We need to stop going backward. I’m hopeful to see a plan not just to see a pilot but do a demonstration project, which in my mind, means ‘how can we move forward?'”

A pilot with four buses could cost between $3.8 million and $4.2 million, a gross cost that does not take into account sources of funding. Some money has been set aside through a bus replacement program, and there are grants available, Biesiadny said.

FCDOT has in-house and external expertise from Fairfax’s “ongoing partnership with Dominion Energy” and the Richmond Highway Bus Rapid Transit team to draw from, said Tom Reynolds, the FCDOT Section Chief of Transit Services Division.

The pilot would help the department learn about the buses’ range and charging, how they perform during different seasons of the year and on various local and express routes, and what staff training needs to be done, Reynolds said.

“The sooner we do the pilot, the sooner we see the results of it, the sooner we can start to make longer-term decisions about some of the capital costs that would be necessary if we were to expand this,” McKay said.

When the county talks about costs, Palchik — who said she developed childhood asthma living in the area — and Braddock Supervisor James Walkinshaw emphasized the costs of treating asthma and the health impacts of poor air quality.

“In Virginia, we spend $87 million a year because of asthma hospitalization,” Walkinshaw said. “Fairfax County is lower, but Route One is higher. Annandale is higher. Other parts of the county are higher. It would be a small thing, but as we look at this pilot, we might want to look at locating it in parts of the county that have been hit harder by asthma.”

Fairfax County’s first effort to introduce electric vehicles into public transit came this year with the autonomous Relay shuttle now operating in the Mosaic District. That demonstration project is a partnership with Dominion Energy, Biesiadny said.

Photo via Electrify America

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