Cutting taxes is all the rage these days. So when Fairfax Supervisor Nancy K. Falck focused her tax-cutting gaze on the McLean Community Center, she could hardly have expected what she got:
In a move that has provoked an outcry from the leaders of Fairfax's most fashionable community, Falck, a freshmen Republican on the county board, has begun a campaign to bring the McLean Community Center under much tighter county control and in the process cut property taxes in McLean.
McLean residents are fighting back, saying they do not want a tax cut if it means less control over the 5-year-old center. To them, the Great Struggle for the McLean Community Center pits a personal, proud community against a monolithic, faceless county.
"This is a community center, not a big bureaucracy or a big institution. Decentralization is always better," says Philip Sperling, a retired psychologist and chairman of the center's governing board.
Other board members agree. "The central issue is whether we bring services closer to the people here or whether we remove them from the people," said Barbara Phillips, board vice chairman and the wife of former Fairfax supervisor Rufus Phillips.
Falck says that's nonsense. The real issue is whether the county board has effective control over a facility whose budget has jumped from $196,000 in 1980 to an estimated $530,000 next year.
"I'm suggesting that the Board of Supervisors shouldn't be just a rubber stamp," Falck says. "I'm just calling attention to what the borad's proper responsibilities are."
The center, which has a 300-seat theater, meeting rooms and halls, was built in 1975 after McLean residents agreed to establish "Special Small District #1" as a taxing area and tax themselves to operate the center.
A memorandum between the supervisors and the center's board delineated the powers and responsibilities of each, giving the 11-member borad the lion's share of power in running the center, while reserving approval rights for the county.
The community center board has taken to the arrangement, virtually controlling the center's budgetary and personnel matters. The supervisors, until now, have maintained a hands-off policy.
Nancy Falck thinks it's time things changed.
Falck, whose Dranesville district encompasses the Special Small District #1, has drafted a new memorandum of understanding, scheduled to come before the supervisors July 20. Her proposal puts much of the policy-making power for the center in the hands of the County Department of Recreation and Community Services and downgrades the center's board to an "advisory council."
Falck charges that the center is spending money at a wild rate, and that it needs much closer supervision by the county. "Less could be spent and more programs had," she says.
Page Shelp, a county employe who is director of the center, defends the boom in expenses, arguing that the center's income has risen in proportion to its outlays, and that the higher budgets simply reflect that the center is doing much more. The center never has been over budget, she points out, and Falck and the other supervisors have approved the center's budget each year.
Indeed, Shelp declares, the center has run a surplus for the last several years, and that excess is slated for capital improvements. The surplus for fiscal 1981 was about $274,000, she says proudly.
To which Falck responds: "Why should they be carrying a surplus of tax money?"
Falck also maintains that there is a great deal of community dissatisfaction with the center, that its programming for senior citizens is inadequate, and that the center generally is underutilized.
Officials at the community center deny the charges, of course, saying that their record has been sparkling, and that Falck is misinformed.
Falck sees the issue otherwise, arguing that county control would lower the center's expense and tax bills.