"TIMES ARE so good that it may seem that an incoming board of supervisors might not need to do much of anything," said Fairfax County Board Chairman Kate Hanley at the board's swearing-in Dec. 20, "other than stay the course or stay out of the way." Not so: The relatively high quality of life in Fairfax -- largest jurisdiction in the Washington-Baltimore area -- needs constant attention if it is to be sustained, she noted, citing changing demands that a growing population places on local government.
Certainly the portrait of Fairfax today looks good: The unemployment rate is less than 1.5 percent; the median household income is $82,000 a year; the crime rate is one of the lowest of any jurisdiction of similar size; more than 90 percent of the county's high school graduates go on to college; the county's bond rating is AAA; and officials see no tax increases in the offing.
Yet, as in every other jurisdiction in this region, Fairfax is experiencing strains on its school system. Adding classrooms, attracting good teachers and adjusting the curriculum to prepare more diverse student bodies for new jobs takes money as well as sensitive local policymaking. A good school system is essen tial to economic development, as is efficient transportation.
Parts of Fairfax, especially commercial areas, are showing their age. With less than 10 percent of the county's land still to be developed, renovation of these older sections becomes even more important and practical: Sewers, roads, schools and other services already are in place. Yet the county and the rest of the region must prepare to spend heavily for transportation: rail service for Tysons Corner, Dulles Airport and Centreville; more bus routes; widening of Route 123; completion of the Route 28/29 interchange; work on intersections, secondary roads and more coordinated signals and transport for the growing numbers of older residents. More telecommuting should be encouraged.
Even in these boom years, Fairfax County leaders still worry about county revenues, which are not growing as fast as the local economy or the state's revenue. Chairman Hanley supports revision of the state tax structure to reduce county dependence on local property taxes and "antiquated business taxes." Because Virginia localities enjoy limited home rule, they depend on Richmond for permission to raise revenues. Look for that to be a greater issue in the coming General Assembly session.