The board’s lone Republican on taxes, spending, schools, and Trump - Work begins on pickleball courts at Wakefield Park - Wakefield skatepark set for renovation
Libraries to return to normal service - Amazon has more than 3,000 job openings in Northern Virginia - Local resident seeks improvements to memorial at Howrey Field Park
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The board’s lone Republican on taxes, spending, schools, and Trump
An interview with Pat Herrity
The Springfield District’s Pat Herrity, the lone Republican on Fairfax County’s 10-member Board of Supervisors, isn’t happy with the board’s current direction. “We used to deal in common sense,” said Herrity, a 13-year incumbent last reelected in 2019 by a razor thin margin. “This board seems to be dealing more in politics.”
Herrity recently proposed an alternative county budget designed to limit spending and keep property taxes effectively flat—a plan that was derided by his Democratic colleagues as unrealistic and swiftly dismissed.
Here at Braddock Buzz, we felt there was value in hearing about the tradeoffs required to stop property taxes from rising, so we reached out to Herrity for an interview. The wide-ranging discussion touches on the budget, what it’s like to be the board’s only Republican, the search for a new police chief, schools, and even his thoughts on the 2020 presidential election.
The transcript is below, edited for length and clarity.
Q: Hi, Supervisor Herrity. Let’s start by laying out the problem your alternate budget is designed to solve. The board cut the property tax rate by one cent per $100 in assessed value, to $1.14. Why, for you, is that not enough?
A one penny reduction in the tax rate still means a 3.4% increase for the average homeowner, due to rising home values. We've seen a 45% increase in the last 10 years. The highest increases are on the lower value properties—townhomes, primarily—the people who can least afford it.
Q: Your proposal reduces the rate by four cents, to $1.11.
That's correct. It would have been about a half a percent increase on the average homeowner.
Q: What are the tradeoffs required to achieve that?
You have to look at spending and make difficult choices, just like our homeowners have to make difficult choices. Almost everything that gets proposed to the board sounds good, but you've got to balance that against what our taxpayers can afford and what government should be doing and what government shouldn't be doing.
A year ago I said, let's look at the programs started in the last 10 years and look at the effectiveness and whether we should be reducing or eliminating any of those programs. I didn't even get a second on that request, and since then, I haven't heard another single board member propose a spending reduction.
Q: It looks like the biggest source of savings in your proposal is a reduction of over $100 million in the transfer to FCPS.
That's not entirely true. I would have reduced the net transfer to schools by $45 million. My budget had a cut of $105 million to account for a 3% reduction in students—and right now the number is over 5% who have fled our school system for private schools or homeschooling during the pandemic. I've talked to enough parents who are going to stay there that I think there's certainly going to be a reduction next school year.
But there are some increases in my budget, as well. I would give teachers a 3% raise, instead of the current 2%. Our teachers have been through an awful lot this year. And to have the best school system, you have to have the best and highest paid teachers.
Q: Chairman Jeff McKay and other supervisors said your proposal would force FCPS to cut over 1,000 teaching positions, but you say that’s not the case. What’s the discrepancy?
That is a fabrication. It was not my intention, and it's not what I proposed. It was a fabrication by the chairman and Supervisor [James] Walkinshaw. It’s not hard to find savings in the FCPS budget without the fabrication of cutting 1,000 teachers.
The FCPS budget currently has $10 million for bus vehicle replacement. We haven't been running school buses for a year, so that's certainly $10 million that can be reduced.
I recently had an interesting meeting with a teacher's group. I asked, “What do executive principals do?” There were four teachers on the phone, and not one of them could tell me what an executive principal does. So, executive principals certainly are not helping teachers. What I’ve been told is that they evaluate our principals. That’s a lot of money to be spending.
Q: Where else would you look for savings within the schools budget?
It's administration. When I talk to teachers, their number one complaint typically isn't their pay. It's the administrative burden that is regularly placed on them. And I've yet to see the School Board, or this Board of Supervisors, or the school administration, work on that problem of reducing the administrative burden on our teachers. Especially this year, they significantly increased it with the pandemic requirements and concurrent learning, which has been, by all accounts, a failure.
Q: How confident are you in Superintendent Scott Brabrand’s pledge to reopen schools this fall, five days a week, in-person?
We've had pledges before that have not materialized. I hope this one materializes. Schools need to get reopened. The stress and the amount of work that teachers have been put through has been unbelievable. I have been pushing for schools to open and get back to five days a week full time, which is way overdue. The unfortunate part is, I still don't know that FCPS has a plan to get open.
Q: In the news media, you’re often described as “the board’s lone Republican,” a role you’ve had since the beginning of 2020. What’s that been like for you, and do you feel you have a good relationship with your colleagues?
I've always had a cordial relationship with the board, but I think that's been stressed a little bit with the pandemic. I think the other thing that's stressing it is that the issues in Virginia at both the state level and the local level have become much more partisan. I will tell you it's not as much fun as it used to be, because we used to deal in common sense. This board seems to be dealing more in politics than common sense.
Q: Do you feel you’re able to achieve compromises?
Absolutely. I've had success on a number of different things where I've impacted the course of the discussion. For some time now I've been talking about the need for senior tax relief and that we're taxing seniors out of their homes. I put it in my alternate budget. But what was in the chairman’s budget that was passed was a commitment to do senior tax relief next year. So I would consider that a victory on my part because that's an issue that I've been harping on for years.
Q: Fairfax County’s new police chief, Kevin Davis, recently responded to the controversy over his hiring by describing himself as “one of the most progressive reform leaders in our country.” What are your thoughts on the scrutiny Davis has received?
There's been a lot of focus on what he did 23 years ago. But there was not a better candidate. I think the majority of the community and the troops have responded positively to him and his message. I specifically like his quote that police reform is something you do for officers, not to officers. He's going to move the department forward, and he's got a plan.
I think there are a few groups that are disappointed they did not have a chance to interview the chief. The reality is, that just doesn't happen. It can't happen because no chief who’s employed is going to participate in a process where he gets publicly outed. We needed to have the best of the best in our pool, and I think we got some good ones, and I think we ended up with a good one.
Q: We usually stick to local issues here at Braddock Buzz, but we feel this is an important question for elected Republicans at every level right now. Do you believe Joe Biden was fairly elected as president of the United States?
I haven't been asked that question before. It depends how you define fairly. Do I think there were issues and are issues with our voting integrity? I would say 100% yes. Are there things we need to do to improve the integrity of that process? Yes. Do I think those things would have swung the election the other way? No.
I think the party needs to move past President Trump and come together, and we’ve got a great opportunity to do that here in Virginia.
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Work begins on pickleball courts at Wakefield Park: Site prep work has begun on a project at Wakefield Park to convert two platform tennis courts to pickleball, the Park Authority announced. Construction is set to wrap up in the late summer or early fall.
Pickleball advocates are pushing for more dedicated courts in the area and have zeroed in on Wakefield Park as an ideal spot because it’s centrally located within the county and offers restroom access at the Audrey Moore RECenter. But Park Authority officials note that the courts there are already heavily used for tennis—and have pledged to provide more details on their plans for additional pickleball facilities in a comprehensive study to be released this summer.
Wakefield skatepark set for renovation: The Park Authority has released a public survey seeking input on the upcoming renovation of the skatepark outside the Audrey Moore RECenter. The wooden facility was built in 2004, with an expected lifespan of 15 years.
Here’s more info via the Park Authority:
The skatepark has been repaired several times, but due to the age and make-up of the facility, it is no longer feasible to prolong the use of the original equipment. A phased renovation of the skate park is envisioned, to include a new layout, demolition of the unsalvageable equipment, and installation of new equipment. The project goal is to create an updated design that incorporates newer styles of obstacles and features that are found in today’s typical skateparks.
Local resident seeks improvements to memorial at Howrey Field Park: Local resident Terry Powers has launched a Facebook page advocating for improvements to a memorial at Howrey Field Park, the Annandale Blog reports. The memorial is to honor six U.S. Army soldiers who died in a tragic accident at the park in 1967. They were installing a flagpole there as part of a community service project when the pole touched a live power line, killing them instantly.
News in Brief
Fairfax County Public Libraries will return to normal service June 5, with no time or capacity limits. Curbside services will remain available.
The Virginia Railway Express will return to full service June 1.
FCPS and the Fairfax County Health Department will host vaccine clinics for students ages 12 to 18 at several high schools this week, including Annandale High School on Thursday.
Burke Lake has been named the best park in the state by readers of Virginia Living magazine—one of several Fairfax County facilities honored in the magazine’s “Best of Virginia 2021” competition.
Amazon has more than 3,000 job openings in Northern Virginia, according to the Washington Business Journal. About 2,100 of the jobs are attached to the new HQ2 in Arlington, while others are attached to the Amazon Web Services office in Herndon.
The Park Authority will host a ribbon-cutting ceremony June 5 at 10 a.m. for the new pedestrian bridge in Smokewood Park.
Jennifer Mack column: What’s the best day of the year to sell a home?
The company ATTOM Data Solutions, the leading provider of nationwide property data, recently released its annual analysis of the best days of the year to sell a home—which is a question I get all the time. Not surprisingly, the report shows that the months of May and June offer the top home seller premiums—and ten of the best days to sell are in the month of May alone.
According to the analysis, which looked at over 40 million transactions in the last ten years, home sellers who listed their properties in the late spring or early summer got the biggest premiums—an average of 13.4% above estimated market value in May and 11.7% above in June.
The report specifically cites May 23 as the best day of the year to sell a home. Over the past decade, homes sold on that date have produced a premium of 19.3% above market value. The report also ranks the months with the biggest home seller premiums: May (13.4 percent); June (11.7 percent); July (11.2 percent); April (9.2 percent); August (8.9 percent); March (8.6 percent); February (8.2 percent); September (7.5 percent); January (6.6 percent); November (6.4 percent); October (5.8 percent); and December (5.8 percent).
Overall, I would say this holds true in our area, where many buyers are extremely focused on the quality of schools and want to be sure to move in before the start of a school year. Does this mean you should wait until next spring to sell if you aren't ready to go on the market this May or June? Not necessarily. Homes are selling well in our area year-round, and ultimately there are many factors that go into the timing of a move, beyond just the time of year that you might get the best price.
Jennifer Mack has more than 16 years of experience in the real estate industry, with her team servicing Virginia, Maryland, and D.C. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 703-672-0038.
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