Fairfax County Committee of 100
Chairman Sharon Bulova, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors
Meeting Notes, January 30, 2018
Amphora Restaurant, Vienna
Fairfax County Board Chairman Sharon Bulova spoke to a group of 35 members and guests of the Fairfax County Committee of 100 at its dinner meeting at Amphora Restaurant on January 30, 2018.
Bulova opened her remarks noting that starting the Virginia Railway Express was one of the best things she had done entering public service. The Metro system’s Silver Line, a priority of hers, was in operation to Wiehle Avenue in Reston and under construction to Dulles Airport and eastern Loudoun. Also a priority is making sure that there is adequate funding to restore the Metrorail system and maintain it in a state of good repair.
Bulova noted she was elected in 1987, the beginning of a slow growth era in Fairfax County, when Audrey Moore was Chairman of the County board. A recession came shortly afterwards and impressed on her the important positive impact of economic growth.
At dinner, David Huddleston had asked if she ever thought that one of her major challenges would be in the public safety sector. Bulova told the group that the tragic shooting of citizen John Geer (August 29, 2013) had caused the County Board to look at the Police Department and public safety issues. In handling the incident, the Fairfax police appeared to be doing everything right until one officer shot him. She admitted the board did not handle the situation very well. Fairfax County had a fantastic Police Department that was highly trained, but some of their practices were old-fashioned. Training was provided to the officers.
As a result of the situation, the board established an Ad Hoc Police Practices Review Commission consisting of individuals from a variety of backgrounds. The board was seeking transparency. The key for police was learning how to respond in special situations, for example, how to respond to someone in mental distress. The board adopted the recommendations from the commission and established two bodies to ensure things were done correctly. First, they established an Office of Independent Police Auditor, currently Richard Shot, and established a Civilian Review Panel of seven individuals.
Previously, if somebody was stopped by the police, they took any complaints to their County Supervisor or a police commander. Now individuals can submit their complaints to the Civilian Review Panel, which we will review the case and, if necessary, have Police look again at the issues. To enhance communications with the public, the County hired Julie Parker, a former reporter, as the Police Department’s Director of Public Affairs.
Bulova noted that body cameras were worn by police in other jurisdictions. Fairfax is a big and diverse County. The Board was concerned that if they adopted cameras countywide, it could be a big failure. Instead the County is doing three demolition projects beginning in March that will last 4 to 6 months. Half of the policeman in Mason district, Mount Vernon, and Reston will be mounted with cameras. This will provide more information about incidents.
Another outcome is the creation of the Diversion First program, which was implemented before final recommendations were made. Currently there is a mental health center in Merrifield. The police help get people into it. Treatment was provided starting in 2015.
Diversion First offers alternatives to jail for people with mental illnesses or developmental disabilities who come into contact with police for low level offenses. It was designed to prevent repeat encounters with the criminal justice system and improve public safety. It is a more cost effective and efficient use of public funding.
Out of 6,000 police calls, 600 cases were diverted for people who would have otherwise gone to jail. Bulova said her new focus is now on mental health. The Community Services Board focuses on development disabilities.
We are also working on opioid issues; she knows there is more that the County could do on mental illness issues.
Opioids. People often get the opioid pills from us – families and friends. When people get prescriptions for good reasons, others are sometimes able to access the medicine cabinets and take the opioids. This can lead to addiction. Then we have addicts who can’t extricate themselves. Disposal of drugs is an issue. Walmart is now accepting extra opioids for disposal free of charge, which significantly expands the opportunities for people to get rid of drugs.
Transportation Issues.. Bulova has been involved in Metrorail funding issues, serving on the Council of Governments Metro Strategy Group (MSG). Members want to assure themselves that the Metro system gets the funds it is asking for. She is convinced that $500 million in new funding is needed that can be bonded and used for capital expenditures.
Bulova remembers when Metro was a bright and shiny new system (opened in 1976).
The Metro board should have established a reserve fund for capital replacements. Over the years, the Metro Board has had disagreements about what was a priority: buses versus rail versus operations versus late-night service, etc. The additional money being requested now is for infrastructure-replacing and buying new infrastructure. Work is being done now in the General Assemblies in both Virginia and Maryland to pass legislation to earmark the needed funding.
The original bill Metro submitted by Virginia Governor McAuliffe was flawed. It took money away from the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority. However, it provided a vehicle for legislators to work with. They’ve already produced a second draft. Bulova feels cautiously optimistic that it is going to happen. Maryland legislators are working hard on the issue. Congressman Gerry Connolly just introduced a bill in Congress for additional federal funding for operations and infrastructure. All of these funding sources are contingent on reform of Metro governance. It is critical that the funding approvals happen.
I-66. Bulova noted that the tolls on the newly opened stretch of I-66 inside the Beltway were high, but she noted that before single occupant vehicles could not use it during the peak periods. These peak hours have been extended. The funds generated by the tolls are being used for transit. She is on the boards of the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission, The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, and the Virginia Railway Express. She is not on the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority board and does not serve on COG’s Transportation Planning Board.
The toll funds are used for transit improvements. Buses now leave from the Fairfax Government Center and travel on I-66 with stops at the State Department, the World Bank, and the George Washington University campus. The fare is $4. Plans for widening I-66 outside the Beltway include two new express toll lanes in addition to the three existing lanes. Tolls are also being used to establish park-and-ride lots and slug lines.
Public Education continues to be a number one County priority. The County now has a new County Executive, Brian Hill from James County City, and a new School Superintendent, Steve Lockhart. Fortunately, the two appear to be friends. The School Board and the Board of Supervisors are getting together prior to beginning work on the budget. The County is looking to get a better, bigger share of funding for education from the General Assembly.
County Budget. On February 20, the second County board meeting in February, the County Executive will release his budget. Revenues have increased 3.5 percent. The School Superintendent is asking for a 5 percent increase in education funding. The Board of Supervisors will advertise the highest tax rate on March 6. The budget will be officially adopted on May 1. The markup process will begin on April 24.
Economic Development. Bulova hopes to see Amazon put its second headquarters in Fairfax County. The County has partnered with Loudoun County on the location at the intersection of Route 28 and the Dulles Toll Road (northeast corner – The Hub next to CIT). The County’s economic development strategies include improving the commercial tax base. The County needs to diversify its sectors. Previously, it depended a great deal on the defense contracting sector. She noted the County was home to Bechtel, CVent, Innova Hospital Systems, which is also working on developing personalized medicine/ translational medicine, a promising new industry sector.
The Fairfax County Board had a joint meeting that morning with the Economic Development Authority. A priority is workforce education.
Bulova said that for weather issues and snow, you can go to FairfaxCounty.gov/snow for information in Fairfax County. It includes information about the location of snow plows and links to the Virginia Department of Transportation.
In the question-and-answer period, Chairman Bulova made the following points:
- Budget difficulties. The board seeks to increase revenues from the commercial sector. As part of the review of the County budget, they are looking at County benefits provided to employees to see where they are more generous than the norm. The Board is committed to not change the situation for current employees. One opportunity is to change the retirement age. It used to be 50 years of age, then it was raised to 55. It has been suggested that the County raised it to 60. We are always looking for opportunities for savings. Significant funds should be saved from the Diversion program, which reduces the cost for jails. The Board Members are mindful of their constituents ability to afford what Fairfax County provides. The County is undergoing a line of business review, which looks for ways to make the government more efficient.
- As to what she sees in 30 years in Fairfax County, Chairman Bulova responded that there is a growth and development philosophy adopted by the board. We are targeting growth where we feel there is a need for redevelopment. as well as where there are revitalization opportunities to urbanize and provide more lifestyle choices.
- One example is Merrifield where the Mosaic area has developed. This is the kind of place where people want to live – mixed use, walkable. The County is also looking at the Springfield Town Center, the Richmond Highway corridor/Route 1. Development is also being focused in Tysons. Decision about retaining immigrants.
- Chairman Bulova noted that in Fairfax County, the Sheriff is an elected official, currently Stacy Kincaid. It is a constitutional office and independent from Fairfax County. She is not a Fairfax County employee. This immigration situation was her call. The police will still pick up people who commit crimes. At the jail they will get fingerprinted. ICE knows they are in our jail. They have to complete their sentence and stay up to 48 hours before release. Sheriff Kincaid did not like keeping the citizens beyond their release date. It is also a fiscal issue. The funds provided don’t pay for the longer prisoners days. The County picks it up.
- Where is the $500 million funding for Metrorail coming from – Richmond? What’s on the table? Answer: Part of it is coming from statewide funding that is being reallocated. They are going to increase the hotel tax, the grantors tax and get another component from local governments. Several years ago when the assembly passed HB 2313, a regional pot was created for several years ago when past. Provided new money to Fairfax County which used it for trails and sidewalks. Part of that money would now go to Metro. Fairfax County is already struggling with its transportation needs. The transportation bond referendum several years ago all went to Metro. Bulova noticed that noted that she was also feeling a little nervous. She is working through the Council of governments MSG committee. There are a number of new general assembly members.
- There are a number of new general assembly members. We are transitioning to the Northam administration. This governor is very supportive of Metro. Senator Dick Saslaw put the budget bill in himself.
- George asked about Bulova’s thought process. How do you determine priorities? Answer: fire and rescue issue depends on the cultural climate. The police department is top-notch people love them in the fire and safety personnel. Together there both critical. Respect and professionalism need to be there always. Convinced will happen as appropriate.
- Chairman Bulova said that her philosophy is balance, balance, balance. Education is the number one priority.. People are better able to make better decisions. Education is number one in the budget at about 53% of the total. Now the greatest priority is teacher pay.
- The environment on clean air commission at the Council of Governments. We are working regionally. We are so much smarter now about what to do. For example years ago we used to channel storm water to get to the streams as fast as possible. We found that that just gouges out the streams so now we’ve developed different strategies. Clean energy. I tried to listen. I tried to listen, my door is always open. I tried to help keep things in the state of balance.
- Chairman Bulova noted several of the Fairfax districts were funny shapes. However they were created to avoid partisan redistricting. We create communities. The Federation, the League of Women Voters, one person, one vote. Fairfax County does a good job. The state and Congress do not. Bulova was on a McAuliffe committee that made recommendations for voting district reform.
- Bulova encouraged the Fairfax Federation to continue to pursue submission of a redistricting bill. Northam supports this in his platform. Boulevard step Federation to continue to submit a redistricting proposal. She noted Governor Northam supports it in his platform. She was concerned that these districts created too much sameness. They lack a variety of opinions. That’s part of the difficulty we are in now.
- As to the impact of the adoption of the new federal tax bill. Chairman Bulova said she was just disappointed that the state and local taxes can’t be deducted. Paying taxes on taxes. Still evaluating the impact on the taxes in the next fiscal year. She noted that over the holidays, people rushed into pay their property taxes early by the end of 2017. The Treasury Department said that that was not acceptable, and then people re-flocked to the County building to get their money back.