Two months ago Fairfax County Supervisor Martha Pennino, calling herself the "fairy godmother" of Reston, went before the state legislature, pleading for legislation to allow the Northern Virginia community to establish its own government.
After weeks of anguished debate that left the region's legislators divided the General Assembly granted Pennino's wish and argued to let Reston's 37,000 residents vote on the issue in a November referendum.
Now that the legislative question seemingly has been resolved, many Reston residents are saying the whole debate was futile. They are unwilling to pay the price of creating the new town of Reston.
"We don't need any more taxes here," complained Reston shopper Dhari May, as she stood outside a supermarket there. "We're paying enough already, Reston is a very expensive place to live."
She is not alone. Recent interviews with Reston residents, ranging from political leaders and early settlers of the 15-year-old community to newcomers, found few who said they were willing to pay the additional taxes on a new town government there would require. Instead most of those interviewed said they would prefer to have Fairfax County remain their local government.
Of 43 Restonians who were questioned at random recently only six said they strongly favored incorporation. Twenty-seven others opposed it, chiefly on financial grounds, while 10 expressed no opinion. the presidents of both Reston's Republican and Democrat clubs are skeptical of it.
Even State Senior Charles L. Waddell (O-Loudoun, Fairfax), who pushed the referendum measure through the legislature, has declined to support calls for Reston's incorportation. "I hate absolutely no personal bias on whether Reston should become a town or whether they wish to do so," Waddell said. "My efforts though this legislation have been to provide the citizens of this community the personal and collective freedom of choice."
Reston attorney John Morris, self-proclaimed leader of a loose coalition of civic groups, which has been seeking town status for years, concedes the coalition will have an uphill fight in November. "It looks as though their initial reaction is "Gee, we don't want another layer of tax or another layer of government,'" says Morris. "But if you look at the long run, town status is going to be absolutely essential to us."
Under the measure approved this month by the General Assembly, Restonians could vote to establish a limited from of town government. The new town would have restricted taxing powers and would have its borders frozen forever. The town would be governed by an elected mayor and council, and would be empowered to collect taxes, provide police protection and establish a public transportation system withih the town's boundaries.
It would be required to seek county approval, however, in order to provide fire protection, libraries and street maintenance. Fairfax County also would have veto power over the town's borrowing of money, as well as land use and zoning.
The problem with all that, says attorney David Raiston, counsel for the Reston Apartment Owners Association, is that it adds another layer of government to an already bulky -- and costly -- governmental structure. Reston home owners already pay an annual fee of $90 to the Reston Home Owners Assocation, which owns and operates the area's recreational facilities and walkways, as well as paying taxes to Fairfax county, state and federal government.
"I guess if something were demonstrably bad in Reston that needed fixing, it might make sense (to incorporte as a town)," said Ralston. "But I've been here since 1969, and I haven't seen any problems."
Morris so far has declined to enumerate exactly what services a new town might provide or how much it might cost the individual taxpayer, saying that those decisions would have to be made by the town's mayor and council.
Based on a 1978 study by the Reston Community Association, Morris estimates that the cost of the town government could range from $100,000 to $3.4 million, depending on whether the town decides to provide recreation, street maintenance, trash pickup, snow removal and police and fire protection. With the highest level of services, he says, taxpayers probably would be assessed between 13 and 16 cents per $100 in assessed valuation, or up to $160 annually on a $100,000 home.
Critics say most allof those new services already are being provided by either the county or the home owners' association, and many of those polled were leery of what they saw as a good chance for duplication of services.
"The real cloud that hangs over us [is Reston begins to provide services] is that Fairfax County is going to check out on us and say "Hey, we won't do that for you. You can do it yourself," says Fran Steinbauer, general manager of the Reston Land Corporation and a member of the Reston home owners board of directors.
If that were to happen, he says, the fledgling town would not have the financial resources to provide services comparable to what Restonians are receiving today from Fairfax County.
Further complicating matters is the Reston Home Owners' Association itself. Created as a caretaker organization by Reston's first developer, the association is a nonprofit stock corporation that owns and maintains 660 acres of common land, 12 swimming pools, 36 tennis courts and many other recreational facilities in Reston. Unless it surrenders those assets to the town -- and there is no indication that it plans to do so without remuneration -- the town and home owners group could be doomed to tripping over one another in attempts to provide recreational services.
Perhaps at the base of the longstanding push for town status has been a simmering feeling that residents of the rapidly developing "new town" need to have more direct input into government decision-making because their needs are different from those of other county residents. Even that sentiment failed to strike a responsive chord with many of those interviewed.
"I get so sick of people saying they can't communicate with the county," says 15-year Reston resident Priscilla Ames. "[fairfax county] politicians are so open -- all their numbers are in the book.
"These people [incorporation supporters] just sit and gripe. They don't really try to contact the county."