Armed with an even larger partisan majority on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors that begins its new term today, Chairman Katherine K. Hanley (D) envisions a broad agenda for the next four years that includes shrinking the county bureaucracy while increasing funds for school construction, environmental protection, transportation and public safety.
Fairfax's population is expected to hit the 1 million mark within four years, but Hanley says she doesn't want the county government to expand as well. Instead, she said, the county's 11,000 employees should learn to be more productive and efficient.
Having more residents means "we are going to have to have more people be firefighters, school-age child-care teachers, librarians," Hanley said. "But we need to be able to expand those numbers without increasing the overall size of county government."
In a speech at her recent installation as chairman for a second full four-year term, Hanley promised to move thousands of the county's students out of trailers and into regular classrooms, to hire more police for bicycle patrols and to put more satellite police stations in neighborhoods. She also promised that the county will do a better job of protecting the environment by controlling pollution runoff into streams. Residents who need substance abuse and mental health treatment will face shorter waits for service, and more county workers can expect to telecommute, she said.
Hanley also said the county must expand its use of the Internet by adding county services available to residents by computer. Four years from now, she predicted, residents should be able to schedule inspections, request special trash pickups and track the progress of rezoning cases by computer.
"To stand still is to lose our place in a competitive global economy," she said. "To be satisfied is to be overtaken."
November's election increased the Democratic majority on the 10-member board from six to seven, so Hanley's odds of success with her agenda are high even if she doesn't get support from the three remaining Republicans.
One of those Republicans, Michael R. Frey (Sully), said he wonders whether Hanley or any other county official has the leadership, vision or power to steer the county through many of the complex issues that face it, such as the need to improve transportation, contain sprawl and revamp the tax system.
Although Hanley addressed those issues in her speech, she has little real authority and has just one of the 10 votes on the board, Frey said.
Frey and others argue that the county should elect its county executive, as Montgomery County does, to provide strong, centralized leadership. Fairfax's executive is an appointee who serves at the pleasure of the Board of Supervisors.
"These are big issues, and I don't think people are confident that the leadership exists," Frey said. "I still want to start the debate about changing the form of government. That means electing a county executive."
Frey said that Republicans also have an agenda and that he plans to push once again for a reduction in the real estate tax rate, a proposal he has advanced in each of the last four years without success. He conceded that Democrats have the numbers to say no again. And he said the GOP agenda differs little from Hanley's in its broad scope.
"There is bipartisan agreement," he said. "We've disagreed on specifics, and we're going to continue to disagree over specifics. But I'm not going to go into these four years saying whatever they are for, we are against."
So with little partisan bickering on the horizon, the challenge for Hanley's vision of Fairfax County's future will be finding the money for new spending while keeping her carefully worded campaign promise not to raise taxes.
Without a big increase in the value of land--which would lead to higher revenue from real estate taxes--Hanley will be at the mercy of state legislators, who she and others say should divert more money from the robust state treasury to Fairfax County's local government.
"We now have a Republican, conservative legislature," said Supervisor Gerald E. Connolly (D-Providence), pointing out that conservatives often tout local control as the most effective mode of government. "And yet I continue to see local government under assault. The struggle will be with Richmond."
Hanley said she is prepared to fight once the General Assembly session begins this week.
She argues that the state needs to take more responsibility for funding costly school construction, social services and transportation improvements. Currently, much of the money for such projects and services comes from county real estate taxes, which fluctuate from year to year as property values move up and down.
"They could peg the cost of education correctly," Hanley said of the state legislators. "They could assume a different share of social services. At the end of four years, I would hope the burden on the real estate taxes is lessened."
State legislators said Fairfax can expect some help during the next four years. But several cautioned that Hanley and her Democratic majority should not assume that Richmond will solve all of their problems.
Del. James M. Scott (D-Fairfax) said Northern Virginia legislators are committed to fighting for more money for Fairfax. But he said recent efforts by Republicans to shift money away from the county suggest that it won't be easy. Already, a GOP-supported plan would stop Fairfax from levying a fee to support the county's 911 call center.
"How can we possibly be talking about cutting local government revenue sources when everyone is saying they don't have enough revenue sources as it is?" Scott said.
CAPTION: Katherine K. Hanley (D), chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, said that although the population is expanding, the government shouldn't.