Fairfax County officials have launched a mass-mail campaign to inform voters of five bond issues, totaling more than $63 million, that will be on the general election ballot Nov. 4.
The five issues include requests to renovate and expand a new county jail, to make a series of improvements in older neighborhoods in the county, to build several new fire and police facilities, to make storm drainage improvements and to build three branch libraries. None of the five issues would require a tax rate increase, according to county officials.
During the next several weeks every household in the county will be sent a copy of a bond information brochure. In addition, county supervisors have appointed a 16-member citizen's task force charged with keeping the public informed on the referendum.
Already, the task force and the brochure have sparked some controversy. Task force chairman Kevin H. Bell said the citizens' group rejected a request from the supervisors that the task force act as a sales groups for the bonds, instead is answering questions about the bonds -- without taking a position for or against any of the issues.
However, task force member Stuart Finley noted that some members do have positions on several of the issues.
"We decided at our task force meetings that we had to try and present the conception that this is a countywide, universally attractive bond referendum," Finley said. "Some of the issues are so urgent that if the referendum is defeated, the county will go ahead with some projects out of the general fund which could mean a substantial increase in taxes."
Although the county says the brochure is informational only, members of the Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance claim the brochure takes a very definite stand in support of all five issues. In a position paper expected to be approved tonight, the alliance objects to the five proposals and the use of $31,000 in county funds to mail the brochures.
The alliance contends that the issues on the November ballot are deceiving -- that these are not the only bond issues the voters will be asked to consider over the next two years. The additional referendums, alliance members say, would finance the building of new schools, a government center relocation, Metro and parks. Altogether, the alliance says, those proposals and the five issues on the November ballot could total more than $303 million. a
County officials insist, however, that no decision has yet been made on how many bonds will be placed on the ballot in the future.
The most controversial of the five current issues appears to be the $8.5 million proposal to renovate and enlarge the county's adult detention center. The issue comes just two years after the center was completed, as a replacement for the 22-year-old county jail.
Because of Fairfax County's AAA bond rating -- one of only nine counties in the country to earn that rating -- county officials expect to be able to sell the bonds for about 6.5 percent interest. The rate, according to county officials, is very good.
"The last time bonds were sold the interest rate was 6.29 percent" says task force member Stuart Finley. "And that was at a time when the prime interest rate was over 16 [percent]."
All five bond issues require a simple majority for approval. A yes vote would approve the sale of the bonds on each issue; a no vote would reject the sale.
Neighborhood Improvement: $12.33 million .
This program is an off-shoot of the federal Community Block Grant Program which has been used to improve older neighborhoods in the county for two years. This is the first time, however, that funding for the program has been proposed through the sale of bonds.
If approved, the bonds would provide funds to bring older neighborhoods up to the standards of new subdivision, especially regarding sidewalks, gutters and curbs.
Under the program, a neighborhood must ask the county to consider it for improvements and must secure majority approval for the changes from neighborhood residents.
When the improvements are made, residents are assessed for the work, based on their ability to pay.
Members of the task force say this program is the hardest for many people to understand because it is so new.
Storm Drainage Improvement: $12.06 million .
These funds would be used to construct storm water detention ponds, flood protection walls, storm sewers and other devices to correct drainage problems.
Task force members emphasize that the program would not only benefit the areas where the actual construction would take place, but if successful, would aid in drying out several watersheds which contribute to drainage problems all over the county.
Public Safety Bonds: $19.7 million .
This is actually a bundle of bonds that deal with public safety.
Under the proposal, the county would build three new fire stations and a new fire training facility. The proposal also calls for construction of two new police stations, renovation of a vehical maintenance garage -- which services county vehicles and school buses and renovation of the old courthouse.
The courthouse renovation would enlare the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court, and according to Bell, would provide private areas for juveniles to meet with their lawyers.
According to task force member Finley, the public safety bond issue has gained wide support in the county because all parts of the county would derive some benefits from improvement of the various facilities.
The Adult Detention Center: $8.55 million .
This would finance renovation and enlargement of the detention center, which was built in 1978 at a cost of $5.3 million.
Fairfax County Sheriff Wayne Huggins contends the present jail was overcrowded the day it opened and has steadily increased in population.
The Adult Detention Center was built to hole 198 inmates: 178 men, 12 women and 8 juveniles. Earlier this week, Huggins reported that the county had 383 inmates, included 52 being held at jails outside the county because of overcrowding at the detention center.
Under the bond proposal, the center would be enlarged to hold 398 inmates.
"At the present time we have 58 inmates sleeping on the floors," Huggins said. "The service areas of the jail -- the food and medical facilities -- have especially suffered. We have been unable because of the overcrowing to provide the services which are needed."
Taking an opposite view on the issue are members of Community Ministry, a Christian group comprised of lay members of various religions.
Community Ministy has asked the county to reemphasize work-release programs and alternatives to jail rather than enlarge the detention center.
"If there are cells available, they will put people in them," says Jack Thompson, a member of the organization. "If they build them, they will fill them up. There are never empty cells . . . "
Huggins calls the Community Ministry position "naive."
"The people in jail are less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the people arrested . . . (almost 80 percent of those in jail are awaiting trial) of those, 85 percent are charged with felonies, 20 percent have detaining orders elsewhere and 45 percent are recidivists," Huggins says. "The judges have decided they [the inmates] are dangerous to the community and they are just not going to release those people."
Public Library Facilities: $10.43 million .
This bond would allow the count to build three new libraries in the Reston, Tysons and Pohick areas and to renovate the Central Library at 3915 Chain Bridge Rd.
Critics of the say that only a small portion of county residents would benefit from the $10 million outlay.