In a few years, Fairfax County could be a conglomeration of as many as 15 or more towns, each with its own mayor, manager, police, planning, public works and recreation departments and perhaps most important of all, taxes.
Fanciful as the prospect might seem it could happen if a bill now being considered in the General Assembly becomes law.
Under the bills, towns could be created in any community in Fairfax that has a population of a least 10,000. According to county officials, 19 georaphical places recognized by the post office as separate communities have at least 10,000 people.
There are other qualifying areas, such as Groveton, which, while not recognized as communities by the post office, are already identified by signs insalled by the Virginia Department of Highways and Transportation along major roads.
Any legislation authorizing new towns is likely to heighten growing sentiment in the county - as elsewhere throughout the country - for government on a smaller scale, for a government with a bureaucracy small enough to be reached by any irate taxpayer with a telephone.
"People like the idea of a town," says Town Manager Clay Harrel of Vienna, one of the three existing towns in the county. "It's a concept that a lot of people feel comfortable with."
Fairfax officials are horrified by the prospect. To show their concern, the Board of Supervisors recently cut short their weekly meeting and went en masse to Richmond to testify against the bill.
What worries Fairfax officials about the possible creation of a number of towns in the county can be summarized in one word: money.
"When a town is created, eight sources of revenue go to the town with no realistic decrease in county services," Fairfax County Board Chairman John F. Herrity said.
These sources include the local portion of the sales tax, the business, occupation and professional license tax, the motor vehicle sticker tax and others.
County Executive Leonard Whorton sees another financial problem. "If there were 10 to 15 towns, the market-ability of the county's bonds would be a significant issue." Whorton said any borrowing by towns creates an "underlying debt" which can be applied against the debt of the country when it goes into the bond market. Two big big and underlying debt, he said, could imperil the county's superior bond imperil the county's superior bond rating, which permits Fairfax to borrow at favourable low interest rates.
Herity and Whorton also contend that a conglomeration of towns in the county would bring a decline in government operations, including the delivery of services. Planning, now carried out in a newly adopted blueprint covering the entire county, would be fragmented and possibly undermined, they say.
There is another side of the story, though, officials of the present towns in Fairfax say county officials exaggerate the possible problems.
Robert Noe, town manager of Herndon, says: "I honestly think towns are a good deal for Fairfax County."
He acknowledges that the town takes in about $400,000 in taxes that otherwise would go to the county, but points out: "For that $400,000 the county is in effect buying for us 15 full-time police officers, 50 miles of roads that are maintained, trash pickups and snow removal, water and sewer line maintenance, sidewalk construction and subdivision control."
Answering the claim of county officials that large scale government brings greater efficiency, Noe says: "We think Fairfax is so large and bureaucratic that its inefficient, uncontrollable and unapproachable."
Noe, like Vienna's Harrell, says that in a town, people are coser to their government, that they have more access to officials, including the ones on the top. "Have you ever tried to get the Fairfax county executive?" he asked.
While sentiment for smaller government appears to be gaining, it is hard to say what various communities in Fairfax would do if they had the right to incorporate as towns.
The area probably farthest along the route is Reston. In many respects, it already is a town: it has precise boundaries (defined by its "residential planned community" zoning), a home-owner's association and on elected community association. There is also, among a number of residents, a strong feeling of community generated by Reston's poineering new town status.
"There is great sentiment here for us to have our own town," said Reston Community Association President Joanne Brownsword. "But some people say, How much will it cost really know the answers yet." [TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE] and what will we get? We don't.
Being a town does cost more. The Vienna residents, in addition to paying a real estate tax to Fairfax (for all the services, including schools, provided by the county), must pay an additional 20 per cent levy to the town. In Herndon, the additional levy is bout the same.
Vienna's town manager Harrell says the fear of a stampede toward town creation in the county is overdrawn. He says no towns were formed in Fairfax from 1890 to 1966 when the county got an urban form of government barring their creation.
"The evidence says it's not going to happen," he says.
The bill, sponsored by Thomas J. Michic Jr. (D-Charlottesville) would end in two years, the current moratorium on the creation of new towns and cities. Fairfax's apprehension about the formation of new towns has been overshadowed during the past few weeks by worries over other provisions of the compicated measure, which already has been amended 50 times in the Senate. One of these would end the long standing moratorium on attempts by cities to annex parts of surrounding counties. But amendments Friday in the Senate version of the bill have eased Fairfax's worries on that point, by giving Fairfax two years to study the measure.
That doesn't mean that Fairfax won't continue to have other problems with cities in the northern Virginia area.
For example, there has been long standing friction between independent Fairfax City and the county which surrounds it. The city has an equal voice with the county on regional issues. Last year the city, all alone, was able to kill a regional gasoline sales tax that the county and other neighboring jurisdictions wanted.