Morning Notes

Van Gogh bridge at Lake Anne (photo via vantagehill/Flickr)

Gun Discharged in Reston — According to Fairfax County police, a homeowner in the 1700 block of Torrey Pines Court reported hearing gunshots around 2:49 a.m. on Thursday (June 10). The individual found damage to a car and property, but no injuries were reported. Officers located cartridge casings nearby. [FCPD]

Teen Injured in Herndon Car Crash — A 14-year-old boy was hit by an SUV at the intersection of Centreville Road and Parcher Avenue in Herndon on Friday (June 11). The boy was taken to a hospital with serious injuries, police said. [FCPD/Twitter]

County Health Department Took on New Roles during Pandemic — The Fairfax County Health Department ceased in-person inspections of food establishments, pivoting instead to a virtual process intended “to minimize possible COVID transmission between Health Department staff and restaurant employees.” Other staff in the food safety program shifted responsibilities, such as working call centers or supporting vaccination clinics. [Fairfax County Times]

How Northern Virginia Is Spending COVID-19 Relief Funds — “Fairfax County, Virginia’s most populous jurisdiction, expects to receive $200 million of Rescue Plan funds over the next two years, officials there said. So far, $50 million of that has been dedicated to specific uses: to help the hard-hit hospitality industry and, over the longer term, to preserve and create more affordable housing in the county, officials said.” [The Washington Post]

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On Tuesday night (June 8), the Reston Association Board of Directors talked about their program and services ‘wish lists,’ while deferring a detailed discussion about increasing member assessments in 2022.

The board was supposed to suggest an assessment range to CEO Hank Lynch during the work session, according to the meeting’s agenda.

But an agreement was struck to delay that decision after RA Fiscal Committee Chairman David Kerr recommended that the board start working through its budget plans by focusing on priorities, the cost of them, and operating expenses.

Once those are agreed upon, Kerr recommended figuring out what it will cost and, then, moving to how it could impact member assessments.

“Let’s think about what revenue could be and then see how much we can afford to spend,” Kerr said. “I think a better approach [is] what do we need to deliver and what that’s going to cost…and that way you are focused on what we have to spend as opposed to what we can’t spend.”

This led to more process discussion before giving RA board members a chance to pitch their “wish lists” of programs and services they’d like to see funded.

Among the items suggested were: planting of more trees, further investment in maintaining Reston’s lakes, expanded sidewalks, adding more ADA features to facilities, the hiring of a senior environment officer, and year-around indoor tennis courts.

One board member also requested assistance for members who can’t afford to pay member assessment dues.

“There are members who don’t necessarily qualify for [county] assistance, but are definitely struggling,” noted RA board member Sarah Selvaraj-D’​Souza. “We do have assistance programs available, but there’s a gap between those that are eligible and ones that can afford [assessment dues] comfortably.”

Lynch acknowledged that he’s received a number of hardship letters over the last year from members and recommended working with RA’s nonprofit arm Friends of Reston on that.

According to RA by-laws, the association has no authority to assist with membership assessments.

“We cannot remove someone’s obligation who is a member here to pay the membership assessment,” Lynch said. “Do I have authority to give or reduce or do anything to help individuals? The way the bylaws are written, we cannot.”

There was also a brief discussion of an “events barn” that could host arts, music, and food festivals. It would be a good way to increase non-assessment revenue, RA board member John Mooney said.

Member assessments were a hot topic of conversation at the RA Board of Directors meeting last week. A general conclusion was reached that an assessment increase is likely needed due to rising operational expenses as well as the plethora of capital improvement projects that need to be planned for over the next few years.

The assessment currently sits at $718, but additional expenses could mean a 6% increase — or nearly $40 — in 2022.

In a poll earlier this week, Reston Now asked readers if they support an RA assessment increase. 63% of respondents voted for keeping the assessment rate at its current level.

At the end of the meeting, the board deferred any further discussion about member assessments to the next budget work season, possibly in July.

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The Reston Association Board of Directors appeared to come to a general agreement during a recent meeting that member assessments need to be raised in 2022.

The question, of course, is exactly how much.

According to a table presented by RA CEO Hank Lynch, additional operating expenses are set to be added to the 2022 budget to the tune of about $850,000. These expenses include staff pay increases, insurance costs, and additional positions.

By Lynch and RA treasurer Bob Petrine’s estimates, this could mean assessments will need to increase by approximately 6%, or about $40 per member. The assessment currently sits at $718.

However, the exact increase may vary depending on RA’s non-assessment revenue (like facility rentals, camps, and garden plots) and budget cuts.

There’s also a host of capital improvement projects that are ongoing or upcoming. While nothing new is currently expected to be added to the budget, Petrine cautioned the board to consider what could come in the future.

There’s also a potential option of deferring some of these projects, something RA has done before.

Over the course of several budget meetings planned for the coming weeks, the board will discuss exact finances, potential cuts (including the potential “repurposing” of some pools), and what an increase could look like.

The first of these meetings is set for tonight (June 8). The plan for this evening is for the RA Board to provide Lynch with a percentage range for an increase that the RA board would be comfortable with.

Assessment increases are nothing new for RA members. Last year, it went up by $10, or close to 1.4%. In 2019, it went up by 2.2%. Overall, between 2010 and 2018, the assessment went up by a combined 34%.

However, this potential 6% raise would be the highest in a number of years.

Taking the rising costs of personnel and facility maintenance and improvement projects, how would you feel about Reston Association raising assessments again?

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The Reston Association Board of Directors is set to discuss increasing member assessments, potentially by as much as $40, at upcoming work sessions in preparation to draft the 2022 budget.

At a board meeting last Thursday (May 27), CEO Hank Lynch laid out factors, questions, and known expenses that will affect the upcoming budget, which will be discussed and drafted later this summer.

His report led to the conclusion that an assessment increase will likely be needed, along with possible cuts and ways to increase non-assessment revenue. The assessment is currently at $718.

Further discussion about what this increase could look like, including a proposed percentage range that the RA board would be comfortable with, will happen at upcoming work sessions. The first one is set for June 8.

Lynch said that the potential increase isn’t needed to add new items to the budget, but rather, to catch up on projects from the previous year.

“We are not planning, right now, any new programs or services,” said Lynch. “Mainly, we are trying to get things we had in the pipeline last year that we couldn’t do because of COVID up and running this year. We are not looking to do new things for 2022.”

A huge impact on the budget is an increase in operating expenses, particularly staff pay increases, hiring, staff turnover, and RA’s insurance policy.

Lynch authorized a compensation study by the human resources firm Archer Company in 2019. The study concluded that staff pay increases were needed for better retention and recruitment.

Adopting the study’s recommendations would cost an additional $400,000, according to a table that Lynch presented at last week’s meeting. There are also four new positions that have been requested to be filled, which would cost $430,000.

Overall, adding in the statewide minimum wage increase as well as rising costs for staff benefits, Lynch projects that RA can anticipate approximately $705,000 in new staffing expenses for 2022, even with some savings from higher-than-normal staff turnover.

There’s also a potential for an increase in the cost of RA’s insurance policy, bringing the total dollars expected to be added to the operating budget to nearly $850,000.

Without finding cuts or generating more non-assessment revenue, the additional operating expenses would mean a 6% increase, or nearly $40, in annual assessment fees for members, according to Lynch.

That’s four times the increase that was approved last year. Read More

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Fans of Friday Night Live! can breathe a little easier now.

The Herndon Town Council voted on Tuesday (April 27) to approve a budget for fiscal year 2022 that includes an additional $20,000 to support the Dulles Regional Chamber of Commerce’s popular free summer concert series, which is now tentatively aiming for a delayed start date of July 2.

“This is one of the things I think we need to build and grow upon,” Councilmember Cesar del Aguila said. “[Friday Night Live’s] got a lot of good things around it. It’s a good foundation to build an even better atmosphere for including more people.”

The vote came after a public hearing with several earnest speeches by supporters of the annual event, from longtime attendees and volunteers to an Ashburn resident whose band has performed on the Town Green as part of the series.

Speakers praised Friday Night Live as an attraction that draws both town residents and outside visitors to downtown Herndon, giving local businesses and restaurants a boost that could be especially critical now after a year of upheaval caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s an advertisement for the Town of Herndon that costs much less than the revenue it brings in,” Herndon resident Mindy Thunman said. “Dollars aren’t the only way to measure the value of Friday Night Live. There are so many other intangible ways, the most important one being the sense of community it brings, and you simply can’t put a dollar figure on that.”

After pivoting to an online-only format last year, Friday Night Live organizers hope to bring the event back in person this summer, but their ability to stage the concerts hinges on the Town of Herndon funding support services like police security and public works staff and equipment.

The possibility that Friday Night Live would be unable to go on inspired “an outpouring” of support for the event from citizens, Herndon Town Manager Bill Ashton told the town council on Monday.

According to FNL founder Doug Downer, who spoke at the public hearing, more than 90 letters of support were sent to the town council as part of the community input process for the FY 2022 budget. Councilmember Signe Friedrichs said that they received more comments on the concert series than any other issue she has voted on since joining the council in 2017.

Ashton said that he had approached FNL funding in his proposed FY 2022 budget with the expectation that the town would get federal stimulus funds from the American Rescue Plan Act in May, but it turned out that the money needs to be appropriated by the state and won’t be available until July.

Because the budget was already advertised at $55.7 million, Ashton proposed offsetting the $20,000 increase in expenditures for FNL by decreasing appropriations for a retiree health benefit program that the town ceased using for police employees in 2017 and is in the process of phasing out for all other government workers.

“What we did is we took the money from there to move to Friday Night Live,” Ashton said. “We’re going to monitor the retiree system moving into next fiscal year. Again, if we need to add additional money in there, I can under my authority maneuver up to $100,000 from one account to another.”

The town council approved the Alternate B fiscal planning resolution to adopt the FY 2022 budget by a 6-0 vote with Councilmember Naila Alam absent for the motion. Read More

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Morning Notes

Herndon Budget Vote Today — The Herndon Town Council will vote a fiscal year 2022 budget and real estate tax rate after holding a second public hearing when it meets at 7 p.m. tonight (Tuesday). The town has proposed maintaining the current tax rate and several spending cuts, but a $20,000 increase in funding for Friday Night Live! is on the table, giving hope to the summer concert series. [Town of Herndon]

2020 Census Results Revealed — Virginia recorded a total population of 8.6 million for 2020, a 7.9% increase since the 2010 census. However, that is not enough of a change to affect the state’s representation in Congress, which will stay at 11 House seats. [Patch]

Metro Extends Service for Sporting Events — “Beginning Tuesday, April 27, through the end of the year, Metro will “flex” service for an additional 30 minutes after the game ends, (until midnight), and will waive the fees normally charged to the team for extra late-night service.” [WMATA]

Virginia Launches COVID-19 Variant Dashboard — “The Virginia Department of Health has launched a dashboard to track the number and location of coronavirus variants that have been detected in the state. The Variants of Concern dashboard, which will be updated weekly, on Monday reported 965 coronavirus cases involving variants.” [The Washington Post]

Green Reston Scavenger Hunt Winners Announced — “Congratulations to Emma & Nora Ivanov, the winners from our Green Reston Scavenger Hunt! A huge “thank you” goes to everyone who took part and made our photo contest such a great success. #greenreston” [Reston Community Center/Twitter]

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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(Updated, 4:20 p.m.) Metro’s Board of Directors is set to approve a $4.7 billion capital and operating budget on Thursday (April 22) that includes $723 million in federal relief.

The influx of federal funds essentially renders concerns about drastic service cuts set to come in January 2022 moot. Those cuts would have potentially included closing 22 Metro stations across the system, shutting down Metrorail every day at 9 p.m., and limiting train arrivals to every 30 minutes at most stations.

Among the stations that were being proposed to close in 2022 were three yet-to-be-opened Silver Line Phase II stations — Innovation Center, Loudoun Gateway, and Reston Town Center.

Metro officials are now assuring the public that this possibility has now been taken off the table.

“If the Board does adopt this budget, I think it’s an important message to the entire community that these cuts are not coming,” Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority General Manager Paul Wiedefeld said at Metro’s Finance and Capital Committee meeting on April 8.

Instead, as the proposed budget states, current Metro services will maintain at their current level for at least another full year.

If adopted, the budget will also officially push back the start of service on the second phase of the Silver Line until January 2022 at the earliest.

The budget notes that “substantial completion” of the line is expected by Labor Day weekend, when the Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority says it will be able to hand over the project to WMATA.

Last month, Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn told Reston Now that he was relieved federal relief will save Metro from making drastic service cuts.

“While the WMATA board is working to finalize the FY2022 budget, the Silver Line Phase 2 will now open whenever it is ready and because of the federal funds all Metrorail stations will stay open,” Alcorn said in a statement.

Delaying Silver Line Phase II from the July opening planned in WMATA’s fiscal year 2021 budget will also save Metro money. At a work session in February, operating costs for Silver Line Phase II were estimated to be about $120 million annually, or $10 million a month.

The delay will likely amount to about $46 million in savings after factoring in retention costs like security and ongoing maintenance, which are about $28.5 million annually, or $2.38 million a month — even when stations and trains are not operational.

Metro will get about $723 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds, including $193.4 million from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) just enacted last month. In addition to sparing Metro from making drastic cuts, the funds will provide money to individual jurisdictions for infrastructure projects in WMATA’s capital improvement program.

Fairfax County is set to receive $40.6 million from Metro’s fiscal year 2022 budget for these projects and potentially $269 million over the next six years, the most of any Virginia jurisdiction.

While most of the questions that Metro asked in their public survey when first opened at the end of February are now moot, the transit authority still received a lot of responses.

Metro received more than 22,400 comments, the most in at least a decade for a budget public survey.

However, most of those comments came from Metrorail riders, even though Metrobus currently has more riders. Of those 22,400 comments, only 17% came from Metrobus riders, 5% from low-income respondents, and 24% from minority respondents.

In response to the now-moot questions about service cuts, most were not in favor of any of the more drastic ones.

Only 13% were in favor of closing up to 22 stations, and 30% were in favor of service stopping at 9 p.m. The 30-minute wait for trains was a more accepted drastic service cut with 44% of respondents in support, 44% opposed, and 12% not sure.

Yellow and Red Line turnbacks, which means fewer trains would go to the end of the lines, were the most popular service cuts, with more than 55% of respondents favoring it.

Photo courtesy Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority

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Fairfax County has been awarded approximately $3.3 million in federal funds to cover the costs of personal protective equipment, Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner announced on Wednesday (April 14).

The funds come from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and will be used to purchase and distribute masks, respirators, eye and face shields, and other PPE necessary to protect county workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a joint news release from the senators’ offices.

The money can also go toward tents, bags, door openers, and tables utilized by workers as part of the county’s pandemic response.

“We’re glad to see these federal dollars go towards managing, controlling, and reducing the spread of the COVID-19 virus,” Warner and Kaine said. “As Virginians continue to wear a mask, social distance, and get tested and vaccinated, we remain committed to ensuring that the Commonwealth has the necessary tools to continue to combat this health crisis.”

Fairfax County Board of Supervisor Jeff McKay says that, so far, FEMA has approved $11.5 million in requests for financial assistance from the county, including public assistance reimbursements for PPE, disinfectants, plexiglas, and communications expenses related to public health orders during the pandemic.

“I am appreciative of FEMA’s responsiveness in approving our submissions,” McKay said.

McKay’s office confirmed to Tysons Reporter that Fairfax County will receive $402 million in COVID-19 stimulus funds from the American Rescue Plan, the federal relief package passed by Congress and signed into law by President Joe Biden in March.

About $179.7 million will go to Fairfax County Public Schools, while the remaining $222.5 million will go to the county government. In addition, the Town of Vienna is expected to receive close to $15 million, and $2.8 million will be allocated to the City of Falls Church, according to Inside NoVA.

McKay says Fairfax County is still waiting for “specific guidance” from the Treasury Department for how to utilize its stimulus money, but the county hopes to continue initiatives like the Fairfax RISE grant program that were supported by previous relief funds.

“We expect the funds to be more flexible than the CARES Act funding so we will need some time to see what our options are,” McKay said. “Regardless, we are excited to have the support of the federal government and believe it will be crucial to continue to lift up our community.”

According to a March 12 memo from County Executive Bryan Hill, Fairfax County had finished allocating more than $200 million in the Coronavirus Relief Fund that it created with money from the CARES Act. The funds went to support public health programs, county government operations, and virtual learning at FCPS and to provide assistance for residents and businesses.

Hill also noted that the county will also receive additional funds from the American Rescue Plan for its emergency rental assistance program, though the memo doesn’t specify the amount.

Kaine and Warner announced on April 8 that Virginia will get more than $96 million, including $7.8 million for Fairfax County, to support access to safe and affordable housing for people who are experiencing homelessness or at risk of losing their homes.

The Board of Supervisors will formally accept its American Rescue Plan stimulus funds on April 27 when it approves the county’s fiscal year 2021 third-quarter review, according to Hill.

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Morning Notes

Fairfax County and Herndon Budget Hearings This Week — Fairfax County will hold virtual public hearings on its advertised FY 2022 budget and capital improvement program on Tuesday through Thursday (April 13-15). The Herndon Town Council will have a public hearing on its proposed budget when it meets at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, with a second public hearing scheduled for April 27. [Fairfax County Government, Town of Herndon]

Metro Phasing Out Original SmarTrip Cards — Metro will start phasing out fare cards that were made before 2012 starting in June as it prepares to rollout new faregates over the next year. The change will affect up to 400,000 out of the 6 million cards that were in active circulation prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. [WMATA]

County Talks Equity in COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution — At a town hall on Thursday (April 8), Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay shared that the county “has set up three “equity vaccine centers” and plans to establish more of them as the county receives larger supplies of vaccine doses. The county also plans eventually to get mobile vaccine clinics…up and running as soon as vaccine supplies increase.” [Patch]

Reston Consulting Firm Receives $1 Million in Damages — “A Reston government consulting firm seeking $1 million in damages related to a lawsuit it filed almost two years ago, has finally received its judgment, netting more than half what it asked for. Counter Threat Solutions LLC…filed a suit against Herndon IT services and intelligence analysis company Consulting Services Group LLC (CSG) in July 2019, alleging breach of contract related to a consulting agreement held by the two companies.” [Washington Business Journal]

Reston Association Volunteers Help With Potomac River Cleanup at Reston Regional Library — “Thank you ⁦@RestonOnline⁩ and RA volunteers for participating in today’s (4/10) Potomac Watershed Cleanup activities. A tremendous effort for a spring cleaning of our beautiful community!” [Supervisor Walter Alcorn/Twitter]

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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If Metro’s board of directors adopts the proposed Fiscal Year 2022 approved by its finance and capital committee yesterday (Thursday), the start of service on the second phase of the Silver Line will officially be delayed until next year.

The $4.7 billion operating and capital budget moves the start date for Silver Line Phase 2 from July 1, 2021 — as stated in the FY 2021 operating budget — to January 2022 at the earliest, citing the Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority’s expectation that it will be ready to hand over the project to Metro by Labor Day.

The budget also defers an additional $43.1 million subsidy contribution to the project until FY 2023, though $20 million will still be included in FY 2022 “to mitigate Silver Line Phase 2 service equity impacts,” according to the budget summary.

“We are preparing to welcome back customers as part of a return to normalcy, and welcome new customers who have long awaited the convenience of the Silver Line and new stations serving their communities and workplaces,” Metro General Manager and CEO Paul J. Wiedefeld said. “I am especially looking forward to beginning rail service to Dulles Airport as people resume travel to and from the nation’s capital as one of the great destinations in this country.”

Metro and MWAA officials stated as recently as January that construction on the second phase of the Silver Line, which will extend the transit system from Reston into Loudoun County, would be finished this spring, putting it on track to potentially start service in the fall of 2021.

However, the project continues to be plagued by construction issues that need to be resolved before the Metropolitan Washington Area Transit Authority will take over and begin testing.

In addition to delaying funding for the Silver Line, the proposed budget keeps rail and bus service at their current service levels, which are, respectively, at 80 and 85% of their pre-pandemic service levels.

Significant service and personnel cuts that were previously on the table have been averted, thanks to the infusion of $722.9 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds. That includes $193.4 million from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) enacted by Congress in March.

“The impact of the pandemic on ridership and revenue forced us to consider drastic cuts that would have been necessary absent federal relief funding,” Metro Board Chair Paul Smedberg said. “Thankfully, the American Rescue Plan Act has provided a lifeline for Metro to serve customers and support the region’s economic recovery.”

Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn expressed relief that the federal relief funds will save Metro from making the proposed cuts, which could have included the closure of 19 existing rail stations and three unopened ones on the Silver Line.

“While the WMATA board is working to finalize the FY2022 budget, the Silver Line Phase 2 will now open whenever it is ready and because of the federal funds all Metrorail stations will stay open,” Alcorn said in a statement to Reston Now.

WMATA says it received more than 22,400 responses during the public comment period on the FY 2022 budget, which lasted from Feb. 20 to March 16. That is the most comments the transit agency has gotten on a budget proposal in the past 10 years.

WMATA’s board of directors is scheduled to give final approval to the proposed FY 2022 budget on April 22. The fiscal year will begin on July 1 and last until June 30, 2022.

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Like other localities across Northern Virginia, the Town of Herndon is taking a cautious approach to its budget proposal for fiscal year 2022, which was made public this morning (Wednesday).

Requesting $55.7 million in total expenditures, the proposed FY 2022 budget calls for a 8.7% decrease in spending compared to FY 2021 and reflects the financial toll that the COVID-19 pandemic has taken on local governments in a demanding, unpredictable year.

“The fiscal year we are now concluding has been, to put it succinctly, a year like no other,” Herndon Town Manager Bill Ashton said. “The COVID-19 pandemic upended all aspects of daily life. Town services and programs were significantly impacted, as were revenues across the board.”

According to the budget document, Ashton developed his proposal around a 1.7% uptick in assessed property tax values, including new construction and improvements. Gains in residential values, which account for 56% percent of the town’s real property tax base, were offset by dropping commercial real estate values.

The proposed budget maintains the town’s current real estate tax rate at 26.5 cents per $100 of assessed value.

While the town projects a “modest” increase in revenue from business and professional and commercial licenses, business closures and restrictions necessitated by the pandemic are expected to continue affecting revenue from Herndon’s meals and transient lodging taxes during the first half of the coming fiscal year, which starts on July 1.

Herndon saw a 20% year-over-year decrease in meals tax receipts during FY 2021 and a 75% drop in transient lodging tax receipts, according to the FY 2022 budget proposal.

Ashton says the budget “reflects the austerity under which we are still operating.”

“It focuses on core services — public works, public safety — as well as pandemic-related relief that is in the town’s jurisdiction to provide,” Ashton said. “It anticipates an improving economy, but any recovery will likely be gradual. This budget outlines a prudent response to a fiscal crisis that is very much still with us.”

While the town is anticipating “a mild recovery” in the second half of FY 2022 as COVID-19 vaccinations become more widespread and public health restrictions lift, Ashton says he asked town departments to submit budget requests at 5% and 10% reduction levels in recognition of the “fiscal uncertainty that still lies ahead.”

The proposed budget says “several essential items” had to be deferred to the next fiscal year to maintain a balanced budget, though the town council could authorize additional spending in the future depending on the town’s finances and the arrival of new federal stimulus funds.

Areas where the town plans to significantly cut back on spending include professional services, tree maintenance and removal, recreational programs, mowing, special events, and office supplies.

The proposed budget also decreases capital expenditures by 57.4% from the adopted FY 2021 budget. It suggests making no major capital expenditures until revenues are collected late in the fiscal year, unless there is an emergency.

The budget maintains a hiring freeze on non-essential staff positions and omits market-rate adjustments for town employees for a second consecutive year. Herndon still hopes to give all of its workers a 3% pay-for-performance increase, unlike Fairfax County, which has proposed freezing worker compensation increases.

“Though in a funding shortfall situation, it is critical for the town to recruit, retain and develop employees to remain competitive in the marketplace,” Ashton’s budget says.

Projects in the proposed FY 2022-2027 Capital Improvement Program include alignment of Center Street, Elden and Monroe Street intersection improvements, vehicular and pedestrian access to Metro and Van Buren Street improvements, according to the town news release.

The Herndon Town Council will hold public hearings on the proposed budget at 7 p.m. on April 13 and 27.

Photo via Google Maps

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The real estate tax, a proposed freeze on county employees’ wages, and affordable housing were on top of residents’ minds at the Hunter Mill District virtual budget town hall on Monday (March 29).

Hosted by District Supervisor Walter Alcorn, the town hall gave residents the chance to provide feedback and ask questions about the county’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2022, which begins on July 1.

Fairfax County Department of Management and Budget Director Christina Jackson kicked off the meeting with a review of the proposed budget, which termed as “conservative” due to the ongoing pandemic and lost revenue associated.

Highlights include decreasing the real estate tax rate by one cent to $1.14 per $100 assessed value, schools receiving a half percent increase in funding compared to 2021, no pay increases for county employees, and “modest investments” in Board priorities like public safety staffing, environmental initiatives, and opioid use prevention efforts.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted on March 9 to advertise a real estate tax rate of $1.15. The final adopted rate could be lower but not higher than that limit.

The proposed decrease in the real estate tax rate is intended to give homeowners a bit of financial relief at a time when the unemployment rate remains high. Even with the reduction, however, the average real estate tax bill will still go up by more than $200 due to significant increases in assessed value for many county residential properties.

Lowering the real estate tax also takes about $27 million off the table for the county to use to fund other priorities, such as increased compensation for county employees and affordable housing initiatives, Alcorn noted.

“We tied at least one hand behind our back by [advertising] the tax rate at $1.15,” he said.

Under the proposed budget, this would be the second straight year that county employee wages will not be increased.

One resident participating in the town hall said she was “incredibly disappointed” in the potential salary freeze, particularly because some neighboring jurisdictions, such as Loudoun and Prince William counties, are raising wages for employees.

“We are failing our employees who can’t afford to be [county] residents,” the resident said. “It’s really disappointing to see that the county doesn’t want to retain us because they don’t want to pay us.”

Alcorn responded that he was also very concerned about the implications of the pay freeze. Jackson noted that the county is considering potential bonuses and are annually reviewing job classifications for potential increases in 2023.

“We are trying to find ways to reward our employees with compensation increases,” Jackson said. “I anticipate that 2023 is going to be different and we might have to do a little bit of catching up if those jurisdictions do provide sizable pay increases.”

Alcorn argued that decreasing the real estate tax rate will make it “very hard” to make progress on the county level to expand the availability of affordable housing, something that has long been a challenge for Reston and a priority for the supervisor.

One south Reston homeowner commented that the annual increases in value for her townhouse have become a concern not only because it raises her tax bill, but also because it means so-called “starter homes” are no longer affordable for those looking to live in Fairfax County.

“Frequently, I go out and there’s a new baby in the neighborhood. Those are the people buying these houses,” she said. “…Because of these increases, these [houses] are increasingly becoming out of reach for many people.”

Hanging over the budget discussion is the possibility that Fairfax County will receive as much as $222 million from the most recent federal stimulus package, though the county does not know exactly when that money will come in.

The budget does not factor that money in, because it’s a one-time payment, as opposed to recurring dollars, Jackson explained.

In the last stimulus package, Fairfax County received about $200 million that was used for a myriad of needs, including virtual education, contact tracing program, business relief grants, and pandemic-related administrative leave.

Public hearings on the proposed budget will be held on April 13-15. It will go through mark-ups on April 27 and is scheduled to be adopted on May 4.

Image via Fairfax County government

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The Town of Herndon’s popular free Friday Night Live! summer concert series may have to stop rocking, the event’s chairman fears.

After moving to a streaming format last year, the hoped-for 2021 plan is to return to live shows in July with limited capacity.

However, budgetary challenges may prevent that from happening.

In a letter to supporters, the series’ chairman Laura Poindexter wrote that specific line items would need to be approved in the upcoming Town of Herndon’s fiscal year 2022 budget in order for the concert series to continue.

While the event is produced by the Herndon and Dulles Regional chambers of commerce, organizers work very closely with the town, since it takes place on town property and requires public government services, such as a police presence and public works support for trash pick-up, fencing, and set-up.

With the town preparing to unveil a budget proposal on Thursday (April 1), the concern that these items will not be included stems from town budgetary concerns as well as other Herndon events already being canceled, including the Herndon Festival.

In her letter, Poindexter asks supporters to provide input and not to “delay letting your voice be heard” about how much Friday Night Live! means to the community.

The concert series first began in 1995 and is thought to be the longest-running free outdoor concert series in the D.C.-area. It traditionally starts the first week of May and runs through August, though the current plan for 2021 is to start on Friday, July 2.

Most often, the concert series hosts rock cover bands because they draw the largest crowds, Poindexter notes. 

Poindexter tells Reston Now that up to 2,500 people attend the concerts held each Friday night in normal years. Two thirds of them typically come from outside of Herndon.

“It’s an economic development tool, to bring people to downtown Herndon,” she says. “That’s why it was created. I believe downtown businesses benefit greatly and rely on us. This year, after COVID, not to have it would be a shame.”

In a statement on the town’s website, Mayor Sheila Olem alludes to needed cuts due to budget constraints related to the pandemic:

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant, devastating impact on local economies, and Herndon has not been immune. While our sound fiscal practices have buffered the impact somewhat, we are — like jurisdictions across the region — experiencing decreases in most revenue categories. Accordingly, our budget planning is focused on continued provision of the core services our citizens expect and value – public works, public safety and those services that are integral to our infrastructure and day-to-day lives.

While Poindexter and other Friday Night Live! organizers did also send a letter to the town council highlighting their concerns, she says she has not heard one way or another if those needed line items will be included in the proposed budget. She did reiterate that the event has had a long-running, great relationship with the Town of Herndon.

“We just felt it was important for our fans to make their voices heard in relation to the budget,” she said.

Overall, Poindexter says it costs about $10,000 to put on each individual Friday Night Live! event. With about 16 or 17 dates a summer, that’s about $160,000 to $170,000 a season.

“Friday Night Live! is a fantastic community event, but it’s an expensive event to put on,” she said. “There’s a lot of costs involved. Besides town services and security, there’s port-a-potties, there’s music licenses, there’s bands.”

While the event is free to attendees, alcohol and other concessions are sold to bring in revenue.

Poindexter says organizers are planning for 50% capacity. Currently, Virginia allows for 30% capacity at outdoor entertainment venues, but she anticipates that changing to match the governor’s capacity restrictions from last summer.

If capacity is limited to under 50%, it would be hard to the concert series financially worthwhile, Poindexter acknowledges.

All in all, she’s confident that the town will realize how important Friday Night Live! — and other outdoor events like it — is for Herndon businesses and residents this year.

“We think [the series] is so important for not only the downtown businesses, especially the restaurants that really need to have a fantastic summer, but the emotional health and well-being for our fans,” Poindexter said. “We haven’t been able to get out and do things like outdoor events. So, I think that it’s needed on multiple levels.”

Photo courtesy Laura Poindexter

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Metro’s Board of Directors is still proceeding as if the Silver Line Phase II will open this year, but a public survey is asking riders to weigh in on drastic service cuts, including closing the newly-opened Phase II stations in Janurary 22.

Last week, Metro announced that the public comment period for its 2022 fiscal year budget has officially opened.

As part of that, they’re asking riders to fill out a survey about what extreme service cuts they’d be willing to tolerate beginning on Jan. 1, 2022 if additional federal money is not available.

In these options is a question about the closing of 22 stations across the entire system, including two Silver Line stations – McLean and Greensboro – and three potentially newly-opened Silver Line Phase II stations – Innovation Station, Loudoun Gateway, and Reston Town Center.

Although the 2021 budget says that Phase II could open July 1, 2021, it could be delayed until, at the earliest, the fall.

At last week’s budget work session, an tentative estimate was noted as early November.

A Metro spokesperson tells Reston Now there’s “no clear answer yet” about an opening date, however the Metro Board has to proceed as if it will open in 2021 in order to pass the 2022 budget.

“The Board will take all public feedback into consideration before approving a final budget for FY22,” writes the spokesperson.

So, it is possible that the Silver Line Phase II could open this year, only for the stations to close a few months later due to the budget shortfall.

Complicating the situation is that Silver Line Phase II and the proposed drastic service cuts are essentially on two different timelines.

Earlier this month, Metro’s staff presented an update on 18 different safety and operational issues previously noted in December.

Of those 18, 17 were still in the midst of being resolved or remained unresolved. They range from maintenance issues with the station platform pavers to several thousand damaged track fasteners that need replacing to cracked third rail insulators.

The Metro spokesperson confirms that resolving these safety and operational issues have a greater impact on the timeline for the opening of the Silver Line Phase II than the budget shortfall in 2022.

In fact, Metro’s funding for Phase II construction hasn’t really been impacted by Metro’s overall financial woes.

“The Metro board has not done anything to delay the opening of Phase II as a matter of Metro policy or budget policy,”Metro Board of Supervisors member Matt Letourneau told Reston Now in January. “Thus far the position of the Metro board has been whenever the project is…. deemed acceptable and safe, and gone through testing, we should open it.”

That’s not to say that the Silver Line Phase II won’t cost Metro money that needs to be accounted for in the 2022 budget.

At last week’s work session, it was noted that operating costs for Phase II are about $120 million annually, or $10 million a month.

If it is delayed to November 2021 due to safety and operational issues, that would save Metro about $40 million.

However, retention costs like security and ongoing maintenance are $28.5 million annually or about $2.38 million a month — even if the stations and trains are not running and operational.

In the end, if Silver Line Phase II does not open in early November and gets delayed until additional federal funding does come through, it could save Metro about $7.5 million a month.

Metro is continuing to plan the 2022 budget under the prospect that they will not receive additional federal funding, though.

The most recent coronavirus relief package provided Metro more than $600 million in federal funds. That funding, notes Metro, helped avoid layoffs and provide essential services.

But even with that funding and other austerity measures, “there is not enough money to fill the entire budget gap for the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2021,” Metro’s press release reads.

Hence, the potential need to close 22 stations, including the possibly-just-opened Silver Line Phase II stations.

Among the other options for service cuts asked in the survey is closing Metrorail every day at 9 p.m. and trains arriving only every 30 minutes at most stations.

Metro is asking riders to fill out the survey by Tuesday, March 16 at 5 p.m.

There’s a decent chance, however, that these worries over closing stations on Jan 1, 2022 could become moot.

President Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus plan has $20 billion earmarked for public transit agencies.

At this time, however, it remains unclear how much would go to Metro if the plan does pass in Congress.

Photo courtesy Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority

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Tuesday Morning Notes

Wind Advisory In Effect — The National Weather Service has issued a wind advisory that will be in effect from 2-6 p.m. today. [NWS]

Metro Seeks Comment on Proposed Budget — Metro is seeking the public’s feedback on its budget, which faces a significant shortfall due to a decrease in ridership caused by the pandemic. Ridership is down about 90 percent on Metrorail. [Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority]

Reston Association Committee to Host First Public Forum — The organization’s multimodal transportation advisory committee is hosting its first public forum of this year on March 11. The committee seeks input on sidewalks, trails, pathways, crosswalks, and the overall pedestrian experience in Reston. [RA]

Death Penalty Repeal Sent to State Governor — Virginia could become the first state in the South to end the death penalty. The legislation was passed on Monday by state lawmakers and now heads to the desk of Gov. Ralph Northam. Virginia has executed more people in its history than any other state. [Reston Patch]

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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