Fairfax County has officially expanded its tax relief program for seniors and people with disabilities for the first time in more than 15 years.

At a Tuesday (Dec. 7) meeting, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved expanding the county’s real estate tax relief program by allowing people with higher incomes and net worth to qualify. A 75% tax relief bracket was also added, and the program gives some residents the option to defer payments.

The changes are expected to serve an additional 2,500 Fairfax County residents, according to Jay Doshi, director of the county’s Department of Tax Administration.

Doshi said the county’s tax relief program is now three times the size of Virginia Beach’s program, which is the next largest jurisdiction in the state.

“These proposals represent the largest change and an increase for our residents,” Doshi said.

The maximum gross income to qualify for tax relief was raised from $72,000 to $90,000, while the limit on net worth increased from up to $340,000 to $400,000.

The program also allows homeowners to exclude up to five acres of land that can’t be subdivided when calculating their net worth.

The 75% relief bracket would be available to households with a combined income of between $60,0001 to $70,000. But the amount of tax relief for all brackets would be capped at 125% of the mean assessed value of county homes.

Residents can also defer payment of real estate taxes if the household has a combined total income not more than $100,000 and a net worth of $500,000. Deferred taxes would be subject to interest.

Changes will go into effect on Jan. 1 and will be phased out over the next two years.

Older adults pushed for the changes at Tuesday’s board meeting.

“Having a tax relief program designed for the economic reality of 2006 does not make sense in the economic reality of 2021,” said Catherine Cole, chairwoman of the Fairfax Area Commission on Aging.

Cole noted that rapid inflation, rising economic insecurity among the county’s older populations, declining assets, and rising housing costs have strained many seniors, pushing some to leave Fairfax County.

“It would make sense to encourage those who are growing older to remain in their homes,” Cole said.

But others said the changes did not go far enough.

Daniel Campbell, a Fairfax County resident with two adult sons who are handicapped, said the county should consider freezing property tax assessments once residents retire and remove net worth as a requirement for seniors to qualify for property tax relief.

He said the net worth requirement penalizes people who have significant savings. Campbell and his wife hope to leave savings for their sons in the form of a special needs trust.

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said the changes — though imperfect — were long “overdue.”

“This has become an acute need at this point,” McKay said, calling the changes a significant advancement. He said the changes increased the yearly fiscal impact on the county from $28 million to $48 million.

McKay said he would like to evaluate tweaks to the program in the future.

Others said the county needs to find other ways to diversify its income beyond real estate taxes as the primary revenue source.

“Tax reform is really where we have to go,” said Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn. State law limits sources of revenue for jurisdictions.

But Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity — who supported the changes — said that controlling spending, not diversifying revenue should be the priority.

“It’s unfortunate that it took the pandemic for us to do this,” he said.

Graphic via Fairfax County Government

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The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved slight changes to the boundaries of local electoral districts yesterday (Tuesday), following population changes reported by the 2020 Census.

The board voted 9-1 to adopt a new map that keeps the county at nine magisterial districts. The dissent came from the county’s lone Republican supervisor, Pat Herrity, who represents Springfield District, which is affected by five of seven voting precinct changes.

County leaders heralded the redistrict process as transparent and equitable.

“These small adjustments aim to take population changes into account while minimizing the disruption to the daily lives of our residents and keeping communities together,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said in a statement following the vote.

The redistricting primarily sought to make supervisors have roughly the same amount of constituents represented in districts and treated equally, McKay said, noting that all districts grew during the last decade except Springfield District.

The board moved forward with a slightly tweaked citizen-proposed plan that shifted seven precincts to a different district:

  • Saratoga (626) — from Mount Vernon to Springfield
  • Fort Buffalo (703) — from Providence to Mason
  • Woodburn (717) — split along the Capital Beltway between Providence and Mason
  • Penderbrook (730) — from Providence to Springfield
  • Irving (827) — from Springfield to Braddock
  • West Springfield (840) — from Springfield to Lee
  • Compton (933) — from Sully to Springfield

The approved map was one of 64 plans proposed by citizens and the county’s 20-person Redistricting Advisory Committee (RAC).

The adopted 2021 Fairfax County Redistricting Plan (via Fairfax County)

Appointed by the county board in June, the RAC voted on Sept. 27 on their preferred nine, 10, and 11-district plans. There was only one submitted map with 11 districts, and the two preferred 10-district maps were chosen without much contest, but the committee struggled to agree on two nine-district recommendations, ultimately only choosing one.

Stating that he only learned about the anticipated changes to his district on Monday (Dec. 6), Herrity requested that the board vote on the Redistricting Advisory Committee’s preferred nine-district plan, but he failed to get a second to take the matter to a vote.

“The public or the RAC has not seen this particular map,” Herrity said in a lengthy statement that accused Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw, who chairs the board’s legislative committee, and his other colleagues of adopting the plan behind closed doors based on politics.

The typically year-long redistricting process was shortened into five months, because the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the release of 2020 Census figures.

County officials noted that there was a public hearing on the matter and meetings throughout the process. Walkinshaw said at the meeting that his door was always open for Herrity to express concerns.

“This is a plan that’s minimally disruptive,” Walkinshaw said, as county officials noted that consistency was a driving factor. He added that ideas from the public can be the best approach, saying the modified plan of “RAC_9_0924_1309″ could have been made by someone in their pajamas.

The Board of Supervisors accepted the last redistricting plan for Fairfax County 9-0 a decade ago. Herrity agreed with that plan, but then-Hunter Mill District Supervisor Cathy Hudgins abstained.

Because of Virginia’s new Voting Rights Act, which took effect on July 1, the adopted district map needs to get certified by the state attorney general before becoming active.

Going forward, the Redistricting Advisory Committee has been tasked with evaluating potential name changes to districts. It has until March 1 to make a recommendation to the county board, which would then vote on whether to make any changes.

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Fairfax County housing officials want to assist religious congregations interested in using their existing buildings or land to help create affordable housing.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors talked about the idea at its housing committee meeting last Tuesday (Nov. 23). While in the preliminary stages of discussion, the proposed collaboration could help religious groups that need to sell vacant property to address struggling finances, officials suggested.

“A lot of these congregations are, especially the older ones, are facing economic and financial pressures, and they’re looking for a lifeline out of that,” Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw said. “We’re in a little bit of a race against time here.”

He shared that developers are asking to buy excess land from religious groups and build million-dollar-plus homes on those parcels, thereby giving faith organizations revenue that would help them continue providing services to their congregations.

Senior Facility Could Serve as Model

Faith organizations have a model for one way to approach redeveloping their land through Chesterbrook Residences, an assisted living facility with a capacity for 109 residents that opened at 2030 Westmoreland St. in McLean in 2007.

The project used land donated by the Chesterbrook Presbyterian Church, which sought to create an assisted living facility for low-income seniors when it dissolved in 2000, according to a history provided by Chesterbrook Residences.

The $13.5 million project also involved a partnership with the Lewinsville and Immanuel Presbyterian churches and Temple Rodef Shalom. Local and federal grants provided $12 million, and the religious groups raised the remainder, Rabbi Amy Schwartzman said in a blog post.

“The National Capital Presbytery donated the land for this project. Without this gift, the cost would likely have been too burdensome,” Schwartzman wrote.

Other Options for Religious Groups

Places of worship could also pursue other strategies, such as retrofitting part of a building, while still maintaining a worship space.

They could demolish an existing structure to build a new one with both housing and worship space, according to Judith Cabelli, director of the county’s Affordable Housing Development Division.

“There might be a…parking lot on site that is much larger than the house of worship needs, and a multifamily building could be built on that parking lot, and then parking could be reconfigured,” she said.

But the complex and sometimes lengthy permitting approval process can create barriers.

Chairman Jeff McKay noted that congregations could also face development challenges, from stormwater management to zoning. Their buildings may be located in environmentally sensitive areas that limit development.

To address those concerns, county leaders are looking for ways to streamline the approval process, possibly working with an initial batch of congregations to help their projects succeed. If that route is pursued, the initial group could later be expanded to more congregations, McKay suggested.

Next Steps

County staff proposed providing a handout, a video, or another resource to help religious groups. Cabelli said the county envisions having community educational meetings and adding a “Faith in Housing” section to the Department of Housing and Community Development’s website.

An informational video could be launched in early 2022 with meetings to follow throughout the year.

Housing and Community Development Director Tom Fleetwood said he plans to continue examining possible approaches to bring back to the housing committee.

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Fairfax County housing officials are looking at ways to make affordable homes more of a reality for residents, as the value of land continues to jump.

The Board of Supervisors discussed last Tuesday (Nov. 23) how local government could help with not just affordability, but also wealth-building through homeownership, Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust said at the housing committee meeting.

“We’re seeing this imbalance of more expensive properties and more need in the community,” Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross said.

Exacerbating the problem of affordable housing is a disparity among different ethnicities in Fairfax County. County data found that, for one period, 44% of Black people and 48% of Hispanic/Latino residents owned homes, compared to 67% for Asians and Pacific Islanders and 76% for whites.

On top of that, two-thirds of the homes in Fairfax County that low and moderate-income residents could afford are occupied by residents making about 80% of the area median income and above, according to a county presentation.

Community Land Trusts Proposed

Now, the county government could pursue a new strategy that mirrors what communities across the country have done: community land trusts, where a nonprofit owns the land and maintains housing as affordable into perpetuity.

Under a potential pilot program, the land could be held by the county’s housing authority, which would reduce the price of homes by taking out land costs, Department of Housing and Community Development Director Tom Fleetwood said.

The county identified a property adjacent to the James Lee Community Center in West Falls Church as one possible site but stressed that no final decision has been made. The presentation acted as an initial brainstorming session to further refine proposals.

The board requested more information from county staff, including how such a proposal would affect property taxes, how other communities have fared with such initiatives, and what would be the best resale formula allowing homeowners to sell while maintaining the properties’ affordability.

Currently, the county has an array of affordable housing programs that involve rental units as well as for-sale properties, which come with conditions like limits on the sales price.

However, housing prices continue to climb, and 67% of low-income households in Northern Virginia have to spend more than half their income on housing costs — the highest rate of any large metropolitan area in the country, according to the Community Foundation for Northern Virginia.

Gross said it seems like the region is fighting a losing battle, where it’s common for someone to pay $500,000 more than the assessed value of a property.

Board Expresses Interest in Idea

The county has touted the potential of using its available land for affordable housing efforts, but there’s still room to grow.

Fairfax County owns at least $50 million worth of assessed properties for over 100 parcels that could be used for commercial, residential, or other uses, not including properties in floodplains and land already in use.

At least $10 million in assessed property is listed as vacant but nonbuildable. It wasn’t clear if other restrictions, such as environmental issues, setbacks, and prior plans, limited the use of those properties.

Lee District Supervisor Rodney Lusk wondered if the county could quantify available parcels for the community land trust-like initiative.

“It’s a very large number of sites. I can’t quantify it for you, but only a small percentage may be appropriate for this,” Fleetwood said.

Chairman Jeff McKay said he thought the proposal presented was an excellent idea to see how it would work and examine how the county could tweak it in the future.

County leaders also noted that while new housing stock is important, they’re also looking for ways to improve existing homes.

Lusk suggested reexamining the threshold for the county’s existing affordable housing initiatives. Its first-time homebuyer program, for instance, is currently limited to people making up to 70% of the area median income.

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The Reston Town Center parking garages have a system that tracks the availability of spaces in real time

If you’ve ever lost precious minutes circling a parking lot for an available spot or questioned the amount of space devoted to parking in a new development, the time to voice those concerns has come.

Fairfax County kicked off a month-long series of town halls last week for the public to weigh in on its first comprehensive parking review in decades, inviting stakeholders from business interests and nonprofits to tenants and religious groups to provide feedback.

Any recommended changes are expected to go to the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors for votes in late 2022.

“We have lots and lots of privately owned parking, and sometimes it seems we have more than enough parking, and sometimes, we don’t have enough,” Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn said during an online town hall meeting on Nov. 10.

Dubbed Parking Reimagined, the county’s initiative focuses on off-street parking. It began last month and could run for 12-18 months. County rules regulate current parking as well as what future developments must build, though exceptions can be made.

The county is partnering with a consultant team, Clarion-Nelson\Nygaard, to study the matter, but a principal with Nelson\Nygaard, Iain Banks, noted that they’re looking at data from 2019 and earlier due to the pandemic’s effects on remote work, the use of transit, and other factors.

“Transportation is changing rapidly, not only as a result of COVID and the subsequent recovery from COVID but also into a future where perhaps traffic peak periods are going to change throughout the day,” Banks said. “It’s not going to be that typical morning and evening rush hour perhaps; it’s going to be more spread out throughout the day as flexible schedules perhaps become the norm.”

Residents expressed the need for parking and observed that parking costs money in the form of taxes, a parking permit, or a parking meter, though Fairfax County currently doesn’t operate any meters for off-street parking.

Michael Davis, parking program manager with the county’s Land Development Services department, said at the town hall last week that the initiative could help people think of parking as a resource.

He said they’re looking at “right sizing” parking, where the supply is appropriate for the demand. He noted that times of high and low demand can change by the hour and season, and there can even be times when cars are unnecessary, such as for nearby commutes.

Davis also raised the idea of shared parking. Instead of requiring a minimum number of parking spots, such as for a site with apartments, offices, and retail, a smaller parking area can be built that provides enough parking for all based on hourly demand.

County officials emphasized their interest in hearing from people at the town hall, which also turned into a brainstorming session of sorts.

Alcorn wondered if there was a way to track the progress of parking availability at developments. Davis noted that technology is already at Reston Town Center and Tysons Corner Center, which have electronic signs in their garages that show how many parking spots are available in real time.

But the changes in behaviors driven by the pandemic are leading officials to cautiously approach how to gather current data.

Information about upcoming meetings and other updates can be found on the county’s website for the project.

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Gas-powered leaf blower (via Cbaile19/Wikimedia Commons)

Fairfax County will phase out the use of gas-powered leaf blowers in county operations.

Gas-powered leaf blowers are too noisy, dirty, and do not adhere to the newly-adopted Community-wide Energy and Climate Action Plan, according to several county supervisors. Instead, officials are recommending the use of electric equipment, along with leaf and grasscycling.

Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw presented a joint board matter directing county staff to develop a plan for ending gas-powered leaf blower purchases at last week’s Board of Supervisors meeting. The board approved the matter by a vote of 9-1 with Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity dissenting.

“The use of gas-powered leaf blowers presents a number of problems,” said Walkinshaw at the meeting. “Most prominently, their extreme and pentertraing noise levels and the highly toxic emissions from the out of date two stroke engines.”

Walkinshaw noted that the blowers operate at a noise level that could potentially cause hearing damage. He also mentioned that they are inefficient in terms of its output and emit 23 times the amount of carbon dioxide as a Ford pickup truck.

The board matter additionally calls for contractors that work for the county to begin transitioning away from this type of equipment, encouraged by incentives from the county.

“By taking an incentive-based approach to our procurement policies, we can jumpstart the transition from dirty and noisy gas-powered blowers,” wrote Walkinshaw in a statement. “This initiative sends a strong signal to landscaping contractors that now is the time to invest in cleaner equipment.”

However, specific incentives were not discussed and will be established “when staff reports back,” a spokesperson from Walkinshaw’s office wrote to FFXnow in an email.

As of yet, there’s no deadline established for the phase out.

During the meeting, Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn noted that the county currently owns 133 gas-powered leaf blowers.

However, that number doesn’t include ones used by contractors who work for the county, a spokesperson from Walkinshaw’s office confirmed.

Alcron said he still hoped that this idea of banning gas blowers would be also adopted by the Virginia General Assembly, but stated that the county’s adoption was “clearly a step in the right direction.”

McKay acknowledged converting to an entirely electric fleet of blowers could be very expensive for some contractors, but hopes that the county phasing out this type of equipment is “leading by example.”

A cost estimate for phasing out this equipment isn’t available yet, but it’s expected to be minimal, according to Walkinshaw’s office.

Photo via Cbaile19/Wikimedia Commons

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Fairfax County should minimize disruption as much as possible when adopting new electoral district maps, the chair of the county’s Redistricting Advisory Committee (RAC) said at a public hearing yesterday (Tuesday).

Paul Berry urged the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors to make the least-disruptive changes possible, keeping each supervisor’s district — and who they represent — close to the same, while taking into account factors like population growth and equity.

“We strongly encourage the board to consider the concept of minimal disruption,” he said. “Minimal disruption is the idea that residents of a political geography have as much stability in their civic life as possible.”

With a condensed timeline due to the delayed release of 2020 Census data, the board-appointed RAC met 13 times between July 27 and Oct. 12 to develop recommendations for redrawing the boundaries that will determine local supervisor and school board districts for the next decade.

The committee ultimately released a report on Nov. 1 with 64 proposed reapportionment maps: 32 that maintain the county’s current nine-district setup, 25 with 10 districts, and seven with 11 districts.

Berry recommended keeping a 10-member county board with nine district seats and an at-large chair, the most common plan from both the public and RAC members.

The board agreed to adopt a redistricting plan on Dec. 7. The public hearing record has been left open, allowing written comments to be accepted until the vote.

Local Process Differs from State

Redistricting is legally required every 10 years in conjunction with each new Census to ensure electoral districts have proportional representation.

According to the 2020 Census, Fairfax County’s population grew 6%, from less than 1.082 million in 2010 to over 1.15 million in 2020, and it is now a minority-majority locality, with notable growth in its Asian and Hispanic populations.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay contrasted the county’s redistricting process with the one currently underway at the state level, where the new Virginia Redistricting Commission succumbed to the partisan gridlock it was intended to prevent.

The Commonwealth’s new General Assembly and congressional districts will now be drawn by the Virginia Supreme Court instead.

This is a very different process than used in Richmond for redistricting,” McKay said. “I, in past lives, have served on a redistricting committee myself, as has [Hunter Mill District] Supervisor [Walter] Alcorn, and I can attest how open and transparent our process is and a model for how you do redistricting.”

Berry, a substitute teacher for Fairfax County Public Schools, said the effort was 100% citizen-led, drawing more proposals than any previous redistricting effort in the county. RAC members came up with 24 maps, and the public submitted 40, an increase from three in 2011.

Equity, Development Among Concerns

The residents and leaders of public-interest groups who spoke at yesterday’s public hearing were split on whether Fairfax County needs change or stability. Read More

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The Fairfax County Police Department is grappling with high levels of understaffing and attrition, a problem that law enforcement officials warn could intensify in the coming months.

During a public safety committee with the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday (Oct. 26), officials said understaffing and retention are impacting the entire public safety sector, including the Fire and Rescue Department, 9/11 call centers, and the Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office.

“The FCPD is experiencing an unparalleled level of staffing shortages within its workforce,” FCPD Capt. Rachel Levy said, adding that the issue could become “an insurmountable task” for the agency to overcome if left unaddressed.

FCPD has 144 vacancies in its 1,484 authorized sworn force — a vacancy rate of nearly 10%. Currently, some officers work voluntary overtime. Others are pulled from special positions like neighborhood patrols and community outreach to fill gaps in shifts.

That’s despite undertaking what Levy described as an “unprecedented effort” for recruitment. This year, the police department hosted 109 recruitment events and initiatives, up from 54 in 2018.

Board members acknowledged that the county needs to increase the applicant pool, attract a higher number of qualified candidates, streamline the hiring process, and increase retention.

The missing piece — compensation — remains unaddressed. Lee District Supervisor Rodney Lusk, who chairs the public safety committee, called lack of competitive pay the “elephant in the room.”

Deputy Chief of Police Bob Blakley said the police department needs to be able to compete aggressively with other police departments to attract every candidate considering a career in law enforcement.

He says FCPD needs to double the number of officers it hires every year and slow attrition by encouraging officers near the 25-year retirement mark to stay for a few more years.

Blakley pointed to a recent 15% pay increase instituted through a collective bargaining agreement by the Prince George’s County Police Department in Maryland as a good example of competitive pay.

“We will never be able to compete with organizations that are going to just leave us in the dust. And [if] we’re going to be the best, we need to be the best,” he said.

Lusk said the board will work with its budget and personnel committees to determine next steps, including whether compensation increases are warranted.

FCPD did not immediately share its pay scale.

The issue of understaffing was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to board chairman Jeff McKay.

“Already, people are thinking if they want to work the same way they did,” he said, adding that he supports collective hiring and pay increases for public safety personnel.

The police officer shortage in the United States predates recent calls to “defund” the police, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. In fact, staffing has declined for the past eight years, with 86% of departments across the country reporting a shortage last year.

While the pandemic and anti-police sentiment have intensified issues, the shortage stems from staffing boosts granted by the federal government between 1996 and 2002. Hundreds of those positions are now eligible for full retirement, though some were eliminated through attrition during the economic downturn between 2008 and 2012.

This year, 27 Fairfax County police officers are expected to retire. Next year, an additional 48 will become eligible. The number continues to climb each year with not enough new recruits to fill in shoes.

Applications for the county’s police academy are down from 4,121 in 2015 to 1,450 as of last year.

Unlike previous years, Blakley said some officers who have been in the force for years are leaving for other careers like information technology.

Lusk suggested the county could bolster public safety recruitment efforts by improving the online hiring process.

The county sheriff’s office is facing similar issues, prompting it to eliminate some work-release programs to free up staff for other services. Further reductions may be needed in the future, officials say.

“We just can’t keep up with departures,” said Major Tamara Gold, sheriff’s office assistant chief. The office loses some of its staff to the police department, which offers between 2.5% and 7.5% more pay.

The Department of Public Safety Communications has started aggressively recruiting at the high school level. The department’s priority is ensuring its 911 call center is fully staffed, Assistant Director Lorraine Fells-Danzer said.

Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity said legislation that he called “anti-law enforcement” — like the Police Civilian Review Panel  — is deterring people from becoming police officers.

“What I haven’t heard today is our plan…moving forward,” he said.

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Safety crews investigate after the partial collapse and demolition of a Surfside, Florida, high-rise (via NIST)

Following the collapse of a 40-year-old high-rise in Surfside, Fla., officials in Fairfax County and across the country are looking to prevent a similar tragedy.

“Anything we can do to prevent such a [tragedy] from happening again, we want to do,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said yesterday (Tuesday) during a Land Use Policy Committee meeting.

County staff have identified 202 high-rises in the area that are at least 25 years or older, including 100 that are 25-30 years old, 41 that are 30-35 years old, and 46 that are 40 years old or more.

At nearly 50%, the biggest concentration of high-rises in Fairfax County is in Providence District, Fairfax County Department of Land Development Services Director Bill Hicks told the board. Those buildings were defined as being at least 75 feet or higher.

The Board of Supervisors unanimously directed staff on July 13 to assess the availability of resources for inspections and other options for improving the safety of aging buildings after the June 24 partial collapse of Champlain Towers South in Surfside.

For the Surfside condominium, a 2018 engineering report had warned of major structural damage. The 12-story building’s collapse killed 98 people.

In his joint board matter with Sully District Supervisor Kathy Smith from the July 13 meeting, McKay noted that Virginia lacks a recertification program for older buildings.

While buildings must undergo numerous inspections, reviews, and more to get an initial certificate of occupancy, they are only inspected again if there is a change in occupancy or alterations that require inspection, the City of Alexandria said in July when urging Virginia to update its regulations.

Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson raised the issue in the wake of the Surfside collapse, stating that the city has “most of the residential high-rise buildings” in the Commonwealth. The River Towers Condominium in Alexandria evacuated amid structural damage in 2016.

Like other local governments, Fairfax County has a complaint-driven code compliance system intended to address potentially unsafe building conditions.

“My concern is in a lot of these buildings, not only would people not necessarily know who to complain to, but if they did complain, they’d probably complain to the management or the rental office or the condo association, maybe not necessarily to the county,” McKay said.

The county’s website explains how people can contact staff by phone, email, and complaint forms to address issues.

But the board stressed that it wants county workers to provide proactive outreach, such as by having the county’s fire marshal office communicate with a property manager or homeowners’ association leaders.

“We can at least convey broader safety issues that maybe they hadn’t thought about, and it’s a good way of reminding them,” Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck said.

McKay suggested newer buildings might have different outreach approaches than older buildings, adding that the county’s review was not to raise alarm, but to help share county resources with residents.

Hicks told the board that the Department of Code Compliance will begin tracking cases that might be associated with an aging building.

“They track all of their work now, but they would categorize them so they would look for these sorts of requests,” Hicks said, noting that the county could also add more staff to assist with inspections.

The county chose the 25-year threshold for buildings to review to provide a level of comparison, Hicks said after the meeting. The age range was not meant to represent a program for building recertification or anything related to structural durability.

According to Hicks, Miami-Dade’s building recertification program, which covers Surfside, focuses on buildings that have reached 40 years, and other than one in nearby Broward County, it was the only such program that county staff could find across the country that’s currently active.

A program in Los Angeles is “forthcoming,” according to the presentation to the board.

The U.S. Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology is investigating the collapse of Champlain Towers South. According to spokesperson Jennifer Huergo, a final report could take years to complete.

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Fairfax County Public Library branches that serve low-income neighborhoods, including Reston Regional Library, tend to have more cards blocked due to fines

After a slight delay, Fairfax County Public Library has come to the same realization as dozens of other library systems in the D.C. area and across the country: that fining patrons for overdue materials doesn’t work.

The library’s Board of Trustees got informal but clear support from the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors at a joint meeting yesterday (Tuesday) to stop FCPL’s practice of charging late fees for unreturned books, DVDs, and other resources.

The trustees must still officially vote to eliminate library fines, but if that happens in November or December as anticipated, the new fine-free policy will take effect on Jan. 1, 2022, FCPL Director Jessica Hudson told the Board of Supervisors, noting that people will still be expected to pay back the cost of lost or damaged items.

“I have not heard anyone on this board that doesn’t wholeheartedly support [the fine-free strategy],” Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said. “So, [I] look forward to the library board moving forward with that, and being able to accomplish that would be, I think, a big win for all our users.”

Fines Affect Library Access

Inspired by the One Fairfax policy, which commits the county to considering racial and social equity in its policies and decision-making, the FCPL Board of Trustees started exploring the idea of eliminating fines with the creation of an ad hoc committee in April.

Tasked with reviewing trends and determining the effectiveness of fines, the committee found that fines are not only futile at incentivizing the timely return of materials, but instead, actually discourage people from returning overdue items and utilizing library services.

“If you have a book checked out, and it’s a month late, and you know that you’ve got fines accrued on it, it doesn’t really make you want to run into the library and quickly turn it in and pay your fine,” Hudson said. “Instead, it acts as a punitive measure that ensures that some members of our population are never going to come back to the library.”

The committee recommended that FCPL eliminate fines at a Board of Trustees meeting on July 14, citing the policy’s ineffectiveness, its disproportionate impact on youth and low-income communities, and declining revenue from fines in a statement that the board accepted on Sept. 8.

According to the committee, 17% of the approximately 420,000 library cardholders that FCPL had prior to the pandemic — including 23% of cardholders younger than 18 — had their cards blocked because their accounts carried more than $15 in outstanding fines.

The number of blocked cards correlated closely with neighborhood income, with low-income areas served by the Reston, City of Fairfax, George Mason, Kingstowne, and Sherwood regional libraries having particularly high rates, according to Hudson. Read More

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