In the delicate, mix-and-match maneuvering to fashion a bond referendum package for Fairfax County's fall elections, politicians are learning one thing: Office buildings may be no match for parks.
The county and regional park authorities together are asking for a $58 million bond referendum on the Nov. 2 ballot to finance parkland acquisition and development.
Public support for a large park bond referendum is ardent. Park boosters, known in Fairfax political circles as the Green Machine, appeared en masse before the county Board of Supervisors last week in a heady display of grass-roots clout. Nearly 60 people spoke at the public hearing on the referendum, with nearly three-quarters in favor of the parks. Only one suggested $58 million might be excessive, and none spoke against a park bond.
"I wouldn't want to get in front of that steamroller," said Board Chairman John F. Herrity.
No such constituency exists for the proposed new Fairfax government center. Most officials and politicians say the center, which would require the county to borrow more than $50 million, has little chance of making it onto the ballot this year.
One principal reason the government center may be in trouble is the emergence of a curious coalition of politicians and citizens who bitterly oppose the proposal, and those who favor it but think it stands a better chance of passage another year.
There was some talk of offering a government center bond referendum for $5 million, $10 million or $15 million, with the balance of the $50 million price tag to be in a referendum another year. Some thought that might make the project more palatable to voters leery of big government, but the idea was attacked sharply by several supervisors, and now appears moribund.
This year's bond referendum may be somewhat cramped. Parks seem to be popular, although whether the board will opt for a $32 million or a $58 million proposal is still an open question.
In addition, two other hefty proposals seem certain to win a place on the ballot when the Board of Supervisors votes on it Aug. 2--and in the victory circle in the fall.
One is a roughly $25 million proposal for Metro. Fairfax voters last passed on a Metro bond referendum in l968, when they approved $61.9 million to launch the regional transportation system. Now it seems too late to turn back, and little opposition has surfaced to going through with the Metro subway construction plans.
Also sure to be on the ballot in November is a $10 million to $15 million referendum for secondary road building. Last year, a $30 million bond proposal to improve secondary roads received the largest victory margin (more than 45,000 votes) and the highest vote tally (94,903) of any referendum on the ballot.
This year's road proposal may well meet with similar success in a county where citizens' frustration with the state-maintained road system is well-known.
"All you have to do is include the word road in a referendum around here, and it'll be approved and the voters will say 'yes,' " a county aide said.
If the park bond referendum is sent to the voters by the board at $58 million, rather than the $32 million recommended by the county staff, the ballot could feature more than $100 million in bond proposals for the second straight year.
Although the bond referenda are only authorizations for the county to borrow to finance major capital projects, and not actual expenditures, Fairfax County does have a self-imposed borrowing ceiling of $60 million a year. Successive years of $100 million debt authorizations could cause huge stockpiles of unsold bonds dating back to 1978.