Burke Our new County Executive, former James City County Administrator Bryan Hill, started work on Jan. 2. He brings a wealth of experience and financial expertise with him to the County. In his tenure at James City County, Mr. Hill realigned the County debt portfolio, created the County’s first strategic plan, and led a number of impressive transportation and economic initiatives. In 2015 James City County received a AAA bond rating upgrade under Mr. Hill’s leadership. I expect Mr. Hill will be a collaborative, innovative, hard-working leader for Fairfax and the region. I look forward to working with him.
County budget season begins in mid-February, when the County Executive introduces his proposed budget, and ends with final adoption by the Board of Supervisors around May 1. I expect a slightly better financial picture than last year, but the County continues to face significant fiscal restraints. It is critical that we give top priority to employee compensation, both for County employees and for our teachers. We cannot ask people to do more with less unless we have the best people on board, and that requires competitive compensation and good working conditions.
Training New Neighborhood Leaders
One of my top priorities continues to be strengthening our neighborhoods. I will hold meetings with our homeowners and civic association leaders, our community pools, and other community leaders to continue helping our communities to help themselves. We are bringing back the popular Neighborhood College program to the Braddock District in spring 2018.
This six session program is built to create and empower community leaders by teaching them how to lead their organizations. Topics are expected to include an overview of County government operations, techniques for running meetings, legal requirements for HOA’s, zoning enforcement, environmental and recycling programs, emergency management, and crime prevention.
Metro Reform and Funding
The economic success of Fairfax County requires a strong and vibrant transportation infrastructure, and Metro is a huge part of that. There are two separate and distinct issues involving Metro. One is operations. Changes are required in operations, safety, and personnel so that the system runs better and costs are contained.
I chair the Governance and Personnel Committee of the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission. Our committee put forth a comprehensive plan for reforming Metro’s operations. It involves shrinking the Metro Board and requiring a vigorous avoidance of conflicts of interest, holding down personnel and pension costs, reforming the labor arbitration system to require consideration of fiscal constraints in labor negotiations, and eliminating the jurisdictional veto.
The other issue is capital. Separate from operations, there is a significant need for sustained capital funding to repair the physical infrastructure which was neglected for so many years. Operational reforms alone will not solve the capital issue. They are two separate pots of money. New capital funding, that is dedicated and bondable, must be passed by the states, federal government, and the District of Columbia this year.
Land Use and Development Issues
The principle few remaining pieces of empty land in the district are the subject of development proposals headed for decision in 2018. Erickson Living has purchased the 78-acre Northern Virginia Training Center site from the Commonwealth and has proposed building a 1,100-plus resident continuing care community there.
I will lead a community input process on a comprehensive plan amendment for the property where the community will determine its vision for the site. I will kick off this process at a community planning workshop to be held on Jan. 20, 2018 at Lake Braddock Secondary School from 9:30 a.m. until 2 p.m. Attendees will work with County staff to review various options, not just those proposed by Erickson, for the site.
Other pending development applications include a residential community proposed at the Roberts and Braddock Road intersection, a potential student and senior affordable housing project on University Drive across from the George Mason field house, and multiple potential proposals along Lee Highway between the Fairfax County Parkway and Shirley Gate Road. We will also continue to work with the Park Authority on planning for the future of Lake Accotink Park and look forward to beginning to develop plans for renovating the Audrey Moore Recreation Center.
Criminal Justice Reform and Diversion First
As Chair of the Board’s Public Safety Committee, I have gained an increased appreciation for the bipartisan efforts occurring around the country in the area of criminal justice reform. Simply put, we as a nation are spending billions of dollars locking people up in jail rather than attacking many of the causes of criminal activity.
In Fairfax County, the safest jurisdiction of its size in the country, we are very fortunate to have very little violent crime. Among our top priorities are addressing the opioid crisis and increased gang activity. But the vast majority of our police service calls are for domestic disputes, people in a mental health or emotional crisis, or people, often youth, making mistakes in non-violent offenses.
Jail does not solve these issues, but in fact makes them worse. Studies show that locking up youth perversely turns them into criminals. For adults, incarceration for as little as four days breaks down family connections, causes job loss, and disrupts medical treatment. Criminal Justice Reform is focused on techniques other than jail for non-violent crimes designed for long-term success in reducing criminal behavior.
One big part of our local effort is the County’s Diversion First program. Diversion First offers alternatives to incarceration for people with mental illness or intellectual/developmental disabilities who come into contact with the criminal justice system for low level offenses.
The program seeks to divert away from jail and into treatment those who need it. The program requires training law enforcement to handle such individuals, creating additional court supervision (probation) staff to oversee and enforce diversion opportunities, and funding more mental health treatment. It offers the potential for future reductions in jail costs and lower repeat criminal activity as underlying mental health and substance use issues are addressed.
And There’s More
These priorities are just some of what you can expect to see in the County and District next year. You will continue to see a concerted emphasis on constituent services from my office, support for our summer entertainment series (Braddock Nights), further efforts to reduce drunk driving and youth access to alcohol, and support for parents in raising healthy children.
The most important ingredient in these efforts is you – the concerned and engaged citizen. Become an active member of your community, and work with your neighbors to make your neighborhood, and our District and County, a better place to live.