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New tax rates approved to pay off Fairfax County’s Silver Line debts

A Silver Line train at the McLean Metro station (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

The final touches on the first phase of the Silver Line project that brought Metro into Tysons are falling into place, almost a decade after the five new rail stations in Fairfax County opened.

Construction on the shoulder of the Dulles Connector Road — which links the Dulles Toll Road in Tysons to the I-66 interchange in Idylwood — has been completed, according to a presentation that the Fairfax County Department of Transportation gave to the Board of Supervisors’ Phase 1 Dulles Rail Transportation Improvement District Commission on Tuesday (March 28).

The shoulder reconstruction, which began in April 2022, and some manhole repairs were the last “outstanding” items in the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project’s first phase, FCDOT Special Projects Division Chief Martha Coello told the commission.

Some lane closures were in place this week for the shoulder construction. A spokesperson for Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority didn’t respond by press time on whether that was the last round of closures.

With a total cost of $2.98 billion, the first phase expanded Metro to Tysons and Reston, launching passenger service in July 2014.

To continue paying off debt from the project, the commission approved a flat tax rate of nine cents per $100 of assessed value for commercial and industrial properties in the special tax district created to fund the Silver Line.

Fairfax County Department of Management and Budget Deputy Director Joe LaHait recommended continuing the current tax rate into fiscal year 2024, which begins July 1, “since coverage in the prior fiscal year (FY2022) cannot be maintained at or above the 1.4x threshold,” an advisory board reported to the commission.

The tax district’s policy, adopted in 2013, dictates that the tax rate should be set at a level that would cover 1.4 times the amount of debt owed each year. The rate can be lowered by up to two cents if that level of coverage has been maintained for two consecutive years.

Though coverage is projected to exceed 1.4 in 2023 and 2024, it dipped below that target to 1.36 for the first time ever last year, according to county staff.

Since it took effect in 2005, the Phase 1 tax district has generated approximately $428.5 million, including $15.5 million in the current fiscal year 2023, as of February — enough to cover the $400 million that Fairfax County was tasked with giving to the MWAA for the project.

“All debt has been issued for this tax district and reached the $400 million cap paid to the Airports Authority,” the advisory board’s minutes from its March 15 meeting said. “The funds were collected via cash contribution and bonds.”

With the county’s obligation covered, the tax district revenue will now be used to pay off debts. As of June 30, it had about $125 million in outstanding debt.

At its Tuesday meeting, the commission also approved a tax rate of 18 cents per $100 of assessed value for the special tax district for the Silver Line’s second phase, which extended Metro from Reston to Ashburn in Loudoun County.

The approved rate represents a two-cent reduction from the current fiscal year 2023 rate, which staff said in March 2022 couldn’t be lowered.

Per a staff presentation, the Dulles Airport and Ashburn stations remain the busiest of the new stations since they opened in November. New Fairfax Connector bus routes supporting the stations in Reston and Herndon are carrying 579 passenger trips per day.

The tax rates for both the Phase 1 and Phase 2 districts will be formally adopted when the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approves a budget for FY 2024 on May 9.