Local Commentary

Delegate Hull’s Richmond Report

All Over Again

I was struck with deja vu after reading the last few editions of the News-Press, as the issue of selling part of the city’s water system to Fairfax County came up again.

It was over a decade ago, if I am not mistaken, that publisher Nick Benton first proposed this idea while also serving as president of the Greater Falls Church Chamber.

We who live in Fairfax County, but receive water from Falls Church, would love to receive cheaper water from the Fairfax County Water Authority.

But, the county sections of that water line are old and constantly being repaired. The maintenance costs are probably seen as too high for Fairfax Water.

I think that the water system is probably more valuable to the city, as it returns revenue each month, than it is to the county.

Greener Grass?

The issue of annexing part of Fairfax County also came up again. I believe that it was also over a decade ago when that issue came up, too.

I recall that then-Mayor Dale Dover proposed annexing the Greenway Downs subdivision, along with its adjacent shopping center.

Fairfax County was not tempted then and I do not think that it wants to give up the Seven Corners and Lake Barcroft areas now.

I know that the city needs to have a sustainable source of long-term tax revenue. But, I do not think that annexation is needed to achieve that.

I think that the current economic development focus of attracting upscale office and retail businesses mixed with residential uses is sound in the long run.

Strong Base

It was about 27 years ago when Fairfax County set about trying to increase its commercial tax base to help relieve the tax burden on residential properties.

As I recall, the Board of Supervisors set a goal of increasing its commercial tax base to 30-percent of the county-wide total.

That was a successful goal and it has fluctuated a little above and a little below that level in Fairfax County for some time.

Most localities strive for that type of a mix. But, Falls Church might want to look to Fairfax City as an example of a diversified tax base.

Commercial properties account for about 53-percent of its tax base and the tax rate there is low at $0.71 per $100 of assessed value.

When I first ran for office 15 years ago in a district that then included Falls Church, I was asked at a candidate forum about the city’s economic development.

I said then that I thought that Falls Church could have both a strong commercial district and a village atmosphere. I think that is still possible.

Tough Times Ahead

On August 20, Governor Tim Kaine presented the annual fiscal year end report to the General Assembly’s money committees.

I was there as a member of the House Finance Committee and heard the

Governor say that we are looking at large revenue shortfalls.

For the fiscal year that ended on June 30 and the one which began on July 1, we will be behind earlier tax collection estimates by more than $600 million.

As I predicted a year ago, the slump in the housing market is greater than expected. In fact, the end may not be in sight until 2009.

Because of that, I do not anticipate that we will be able to enact any new programs that will add to the base of our annual expenditures.

The exception to this is that we need to immediately pump tens of million of dollars in new funding into our mental health system.

People in need of mental health services are not being served and those being served are not receiving adequate services because of insufficient funding.

Not only that, but we do not fund adequate staffing levels at the Community Services Boards and the process for involuntary commitment is flawed.

As the Virginia Tech Review Panel concluded, Virginia’s "mental health system has major gaps in its entirety."

Heroic Actions

In my review of the recently released report of the Virginia Tech Review Panel, I find that several valiant efforts stand out.

First, there can be nothing but praise for the Fairfax County school system for its efforts to help Seung Hui Cho with his mental health problems.

His elementary school recommended mental health therapy for him and his middle school recommended a psychiatric evaluation.

His high school performed a battery of assessment tests on him and developed an individual education plan that allowed him to succeed.

All of these efforts, in turn, were buttressed by therapy and diagnostic services at the Center for Multicultural Human Services, headquartered in the city of Falls Church.

Unfortunately, none of this information was conveyed to Virginia Tech, which accepted Cho because of his good grades and high SAT scores.

This lack of communication between one entity and another was one of the focuses of the Virginia Tech Review Panel.

They made many recommendations on changing state and federal privacy laws and this will be an area of emphasis in the 2008 General Assembly.