By Sandhya Somashekhar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
It might not be known for its nightlife or cosmopolitan flair, but Fairfax County Executive Anthony H. Griffin suggested yesterday that it might be time for his urbanizing community to become a full-fledged city.
Griffin told the Board of Supervisors that city status would allow Fairfax greater autonomy over taxes and transportation. But it would also turn the tables on the nearby capital city: With 1 million residents, a new Fairfax City would dwarf the District of Columbia, which has fewer than 600,000. (Set aside for a moment that the county already surrounds a smaller Fairfax City.)
"In reality, we do everything a city does aside from maintain the roads," Griffin said. "I think there are substantial arguments to be made for conversion."
Attaining city status, Griffin said, would require a referendum and approval by the state legislature. The idea has intrigued some supervisors because it would help Fairfax County gain control over its road network. The Virginia Department of Transportation is running out of money for basic maintenance, such as median mowing and road striping, and state lawmakers have deadlocked over how best to provide the money necessary to alleviate congestion in Northern Virginia.
Fairfax could simply negotiate with state officials to take control of the roads. But by attaining city status, officials would gain greater authority to raise taxes and fees to pay for road maintenance and operations.
The county explored the possibility of taking over roads in 1990 but rejected it partly on concerns about cost to taxpayers. Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.), former chairman of the Board of Supervisors, said it would be unwise to revisit the issue during a recession.
"I think it would be a grave fiscal mistake at this time," Connolly said. "It will cost potentially hundreds of millions of dollars each year. Here's the county executive telling the board that there's another $300 [million] to $350 million hole in the projected budget. This is not the time to be talking about taking on new responsibilities."
But Chairman Sharon Bulova (D) said it was worth another look. And she said perhaps it is time for Fairfax to lose the "county" label.
"Fifty, 60 years ago . . . we were one of the largest producers of dairy products," she said. "Now we are a mostly suburban community with some urbanizing areas. The city label more accurately describes what Fairfax is."