A Fairfax County government panel reported this week that it found no strong reasons for the county to become a city.
The committee report, presented to the Board of Supervisors, is the most recent development in a long-standing controversy about how best to govern the sprawling, 400-square-mile county.
After more than 12 years under an urban county executive form of government, Fairfax officials complain that the current system does not grant them enough power to upgrade local roads, control land development, restrict annexation attempts by neighboring jurisdictions and respond to constituent needs.
But the committee report concluded than changing to city status would not solve most of those problems. The only real benefit, the committee said, would be a city could take charge of building its own roads.
Even that power could be a double-edged sword, the report pointed out. The committee estimated that first-year highway costs would probably top $21.8 million in Fairfax, adding 11.4 cents to the current property tax rate of $1.59 for each $100 of assessed value. Such an increase would add $912 to the tax bill for an $80,000 home.
If the county did become a city, it would receive a slight increase in state aid payments and might collect an additional $12 million a year in amusement, hotel and cigarette taxes, the report said, but that would not offset the additonal costs of building and maintaining county roads.
City status would offer Fairfax the power to issue bonds without first consulting the voters, the report stated, but that option enjoys little support among county supervisors.
Fairfax, one of Virginia's fastest-developing areas, is served by deteriorating roads that, in many ways, are ill-equipped to meet the needs of the county's thousand of commuters. Under Virginia law, the state Highway Department owns and operates most county roads, and county officials long have complained that Fairfax doesn't receive its fair share of state highway monies.
The report from the Committee on City Status, appointed this spring by the supervisors, suggested that the county attempt to get General Assembly approval of a county charter tailored to meet the special needs of Fairfax. While such a charter would not eliminate the need to ask Richmond for certain additional powers each year, it would at least allow those requests to be consolidated into one charter amendment bill -- not the dozens of special measures that are often lost in the legislative paper mill.
A county charter also could solve the annexation problem, the report said, because state law allows large, densely populated counties such as Fairfax to obtain immunity from annexation by neighboring cities. County officials have feared that other jurisdictions could, through annexation, snatch away large chunks of the county, and thus decrease its tax base.
The board is not expected to take action on the report for several months.