The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously this week to study the feasibility of moving the County seat from Fairfax City to another location in the county.
The vote was seen by some observers as an indication of the widening rift between the two jurisdictions caused by their inability to reach agreement on how much the city should pay the county for services provided by the latter.
Negotiations on contracts for sewer, school, health, solid waste disposal and other services provided to Fairfax City broke off Oct. 31 after the city rejected the amount of money demanded by the county for the services.
"Yes, I think it's political," Fairfax City Mayor Nathaniel Young said of the board's decision to set up a committee to study the question of moving the county seat. "They're trying to give some people nervous stomachs."
But Board of Supervisors Chairman John F. Herrity denied that the county is trying to punish the city because of their disagreement over the service contracts. "There are a lot of different factors. I think that factor is minimal," said Herrity.
The Fairfax county government complex currently occupies a 50-acre enclave within the city of Fairfax. A report to the board by county executive Leonard Whorton concluded that the site as it is now developed "is inadequate to meet present needs for all of the county's office facilities."
The government center is currently composed of the school and police administration buildings, the courthouse, the Massey Building and a new jail scheduled to open in several weeks.
The Massey building, which was completed in 1969, is a modernistic high-rise with 150,000 square feet of space. But because the county has grown so fast over the past decade and its government has grown with it, many offices are in leased space in Fairfax City.
"It is expected that further growth of the county will require new construction or rental of more private space to house additional personnel," Whorton wrote in his report.
The city of Fairfax has given the county the option of expanding into nearby office buildings, and there are some empty tracts on which new facilities could be located. A new courthouse has been planned next to the nearly completed jail. But some county supervisors feel that if the county government is to move, the courthouse should also be relocated.
Because a change in the courthouse site requires a petition to the court and approval by the voters in a referendum, the committee set up by the Board of Supervisors to study the issue has been asked to come up with a recommendation by the end of the year.
If the board does not act by Feb. 2, officials said, the required referendum on the courthouse site would have to wait until the regular primary scheduled for next June. This is because law requires that special elections be held at least 60 days in advance of a scheduled primary or general election.
Fairfax City Mayor Young said the county government could not force the courts to move. Young added that many attorneys had their offices in buildings close to the courthouse and that it would hurt the city economically if they moved.
"I'd hate like heck to have a bunch of white elephants sitting here in the center of town," Young said in a reference to the empty office space that a courthouse site change would create.
But Ed Castillo, Fairfax County spokesman, said it would be "quite conceivable" that the county offices would be moved to another location even if the courthouse remained in Fairfax City.
Castillo said in an interview that there are several possible sites where the county government center could be relocated. One of these is the Chiles Tract located where Rte. 50 crosses the Beltway, which also the area where the Mobil Oil Company is building its new headquarters. Castillo said the advantage of this site is its central location and proximity to good transportation connections.
Another possible site is the so-called "50-66 area" west of Fairfax City at the point where Rte. 60 crosses I-66. Here again the advantage would be good transportation connections. Other alternatives include the general areas around Reston, Centreville and Burke, but Castillo said these sites are too far removed from the major population centers of the county.
Mayor Young speculated there may be another reason for what he calls the "threat" to move the county government from his city. Young said other areas, such as Reston and Vienna, believe his city has benefited since it incorporated and have thought of doing the same thing.
"They (the county) have decided they're going to show these people that Fairfax City doesn't have a good deal," said Young.