Local Commentary

A Penny for Your Thoughts: The News of Greater Falls Church

Last week’s Legislative Day in Richmond, sponsored by the Virginia Association of Counties (VACo) and the Virginia Municipal League (VML), convened nearly a thousand local elected officials from all over the Commonwealth. The annual trek to lobby General Assembly members about legislation with local impacts often is an exercise in futility, as some delegates and senators view local governments as “just another special interest group,” as one delegate put it last year.

One particular bill, SB 768, the so-called proffer bill introduced by Senator Watkins (R-10) from Chesterfield County, would deal a serious blow to local governments’ efforts to pay for growth. The current cash proffer system has worked well for the past 30 years or so, allowing the development community to help pay for growth of infrastructure to support new residential projects. SB 768 would repeal local authority to accept voluntary cash proffers, would limit the authority to accept off-site non-cash proffers, and would replace voluntary negotiated proffers with a formulaic impact fee per house ($8000 for a single family house in Northern Virginia, $5000 elsewhere in the Commonwealth). Schools, roads, parks, fire stations, and other public facilities would be the sole responsibility of the local government and taxpayers to fund out of existing tax dollars. Fairfax County would not be able to accept land for schools, libraries, and other public facilities. Two examples of proffered land are the recently opened Oakton Library and the South County High School. Both sites were proffered by developers in rezoning negotiations. SB 768 would remove that opportunity, costing Fairfax County taxpayers millions of dollars in lost value.

The VACo Board of Directors, representing all 95 counties in Virginia, unanimously adopted a resolution calling for defeat of SB 768. Such a major revamping of an important land use regulation must be done correctly to protect local governments, taxpayers, and the development industry. A re-worked substitute bill, introduced on Monday, would allow voluntary proffers for portions of Reston and the Tyson’s area, but still does not provide the flexibility needed. This bill must be carried over to allow localities an adequate opportunity to fully assess its effects.

Another bill, which would authorize a constitutional amendment to grant a residential homestead exemption on the ballot this fall, failed in the Senate Finance Committee on an 8 to 8 vote. The bill may be reactivated by the House of Delegates, but there is no provision for implementation of local authority to grant the exemption in the legislation. VACo and VML support the constitution amendment, but asked that enabling legislation be enacted this session. Without the enabling legislation, local governments would not have the tools to grant the homestead exemption.

Today is Valentine’s Day. I hope everyone gets at least one hug to celebrate!