The Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance is founded and operates on the precept that you CAN fight city hall - or in FCTA's case county government - even if you hardly ever win.
The alliance's 23-year history is one of continual suits against Fairfax County - most of which have been either thrown out or lost - and repeated campaigns against bond referanda - the majority of which have passed, despite the organization's opposition.
But today, its leaders say, the alliance is stronger than ever, 2,000 members and growing. The reason for its continued good health in the face of so many defeats is undoubtedly its singleminded purpose, i.e. holding down local taxes.
The alliance's appeal is blatantly aimed at the self-interest of the homeowner. There's no appeal to civic duty here. "Join the only organization in Fairfax County dedicated to you," says its membership flyer.
Harley Williams is the organization's anchor. Serving his third two-year term as president, Williams was one of the original members of the alliance when it was founded in 1954 to protest the plight of an 80-year-old couple, whose property taxes had risen so high they had to leave Fairfax County.
"We were unable to provide relief for them."
Williams recalled. "But we did work on legislation to give tax relief to the elderly. It finally passed in 1972."
Williams, a retired civil servant, orchestrates the alliance's activities from the ground floor den of his split level home east of Fairfax City. The room is a thicket of metal shelves holding county reports and files in cardboard boxes. More boxes are stacked on the floor. And near the end of a long formica table, which is loaded with still more cartons and files, is perched a typewriter, which Williams uses to turn out the alliance "Bulletin."
The bulletin goes to all members, informing them of what tax or bond matters are coming up. Full membership meetings are held only occasionally, about three times a year usually to act on particular bond referenda. Otherwise the alliance is run by its 20-member board of directors and Williams.
"I guess we're the spiritual descendents of those orginal taxpayers who fought the American Revolution," explained Williams. "We represent the silent majority - the solid citizens who go about making their livings."
The organization's philosophy is best expressed in a quote by Thomas Jefferson, also carried on the membership flyer: "To preserve our independence we must not let our rulers load choice between economy and liberty, or profusion and sevitude."
And Williams doesn't have much use for what he calls Fairfax county's "frenetic government." He says as far as he can tell, it is made up almost entirely of spendthrifts.
"There are so many areas where the taxpayers are getting so little," he said. "Look at education. Up until recently we've had increasing school budgets with decreasing pupil enrollments. College boards scores are down; yet costs of special education are up.
"Metro is an endless rat hole," he continued. "And our parks system is unncessarily luxurious. In fact, public parks are being used to drive out private recreation and health businesses. I think there is a need to encourage development of private recreation facilities.
"As for housing, our major stand is that the Fairfax County redevelopment and housing authority should be put to a referendum. Their actions are so deplorable most voters would throw them out."
Williams could think of no bond referendum the alliance has supported in the past.
"But there have been some we've had no position on," he added.
The alliance opposed both the $24.9 million in school bonds ad the $51.1 million in park addition, the group opposed the $18.7 million courthouse bond referendum, which suceeded at the polls last February.
It is probably their continual opposition to bond issues which has had the most impact on the alliance's public image.
"I think they're good group and sincere." said Fairfax County Board Chairman John F. Herrity. "But they would be a lot more effetive if they didn't oppose everyting."
Gilbert Ryback, first vice president of the organization, agrees it is unfortunate that the alliance has developed a negative image in relation to the county's schools.
"We get identified under opposition to school bond issues, particularly," he said. "And that's too bad. But school bonds are one of the few areas where voters have any say."
The alliance, when it takes a stand, campaigns for its position avidly - making phone calls, passing out flyers, whatever can be done with volunteer help.
"But for every $1 we spend fighting school bonds, or other bonds, the county spends $100 supporting them," says Ryback.
The alliance contends that in the June referdem the county school administration used $10,000 in public funds to prepare printed matter in support of the bond issue; the school administration has admitted to $9,000 for printed material. In June the alliance sought an injunction to prohibit distribution of the material. But the action was dismissed.
Four years ago the group did win a court battle to prohibit school principal from using school children to distribute pro-bond literature.
"But now they mail it, at even greater expense to the taxpayer," sighed Ryback.
Both Ryback and Williams say they would like to see Virginia adopt a system similar to California's. There each voter receives a government printed booklet explaining the pros and cons of each bond referendum.
In the meantime, the alliance continues not only to campaign activity against further bonding by the county but to bring suits to combat what they feel are unfair tactics and taxation by the county government.
The most recent suit was brought last month colling for all property in the county to be reassessed each year for tax purposes.
According to Ryback, despite Virginia's law requiring yearly real estate reassessment, about 20 per cent of the property in the county is escaping yearly review. Most of it, contends the alliance, is industrial development or apartment buildings. No hearing date has been set for the suit.
Although the alliance has dubbed the present county board a "spenders' board," they do see an improvement over the previous Board of Supervisors.
At least one member of the county board, Audrey Moore (D-Annandale), sees an improvement in the alliance as well.
"For a long time this was just a group against everytime," she said. "But I see a change in them in the last year. They're becoming more constructive. There's a real concern among more and more people about taxes. I think the alliance is an organization to be reckoned with in the future."