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Fairfax County is planning pilot projects to get different parts of the community more involved in reducing greenhouse gas emissions (via Fairfax County)

The clock is ticking on Fairfax County’s goal of achieving net-zero new carbon emissions by 2050.

With local government and school operations accounting for just 5% of all emissions, the county is developing a plan to help residents and organizations take action to reduce their carbon footprint and combat climate change.

Presented to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors at an environmental committee meeting on Dec. 13, the proposal suggests starting to implement the Community-wide Energy and Climate Action Plan (CECAP) adopted in 2021 by partnering with businesses, nonprofits and others that will serve as “climate champions.”

“Every single person and organization can have negative or positive impacts for reducing our greenhouse gas emissions in time to prevent serious harm to our children, nature and communities,” Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck, chair of the environmental committee, said in a statement. “Each segment of our community…must have simple, easy, adoptable actions to get started and get done the changes we need.”

Expected to roll out early this year, the Climate Champions initiative will take a three-pronged approach, Office of Environmental and Energy Coordination (OEEC) staff told the board:

Having pilot projects focused on specific sectors will help the county tailor its resources, policies and messaging to their needs, Storck said.

A hotel owner, for instance, could provide insight into how their building could be more sustainable — and what incentives would make those changes feasible. Homeowners’ associations could raise awareness of programs like Solarize Fairfax County, which aims to reduce the cost of solar panel installations.

“We can sit in this room all we want, but we need messengers out there in the community, taking ownership of elements in CECAP to make sure we’re successful,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said at the committee meeting.

Convincing churches and other places of worship to take action on climate change isn’t a challenge for FACS, a nonprofit with over 190 religious groups in Northern Virginia that has been a vocal advocate for CECAP and other environmental measures.

Many faith communities are already tackling climate projects, from solar sanctuaries that would turn them into refuges during power outages to staff at Reston’s St. John Neumann Catholic Church volunteering to clean up for events if they utilize reusable dishes and silverware to reduce waste.

The county’s pilot will help better coordinate those efforts and share ideas, while hopefully encouraging more congregations to get involved, FACS Executive Director Andrea McGimsey told FFXnow. Read More

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The Sully Community Center, which is slated to get rooftop solar panels this spring (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

More than three years into a groundbreaking agreement, this spring should bring solar power to one of Fairfax County’s facilities for the first time ever.

The county had 30 sites lined up for solar panels under a power purchase agreement (PPA) initiative that was touted the biggest ever undertaken by a Virginia locality when it was announced in December 2019.

Then, lease negotiations with the company contracted to install and operate the panels stalled, forcing the county to start from scratch with a different provider in July 2021.

“With the pandemic, there were supply chain issues within the solar industry and the cost of some construction materials went up,” said John Morrill, the county Office of Environment and Energy Coordination’s (OEEC) division manager for innovation and sustainability. “The county negotiated and accepted revised pricing from the vendors. But it’s still challenging, and the size of the system is still important to make the numbers work for both parties.”

Though the PPA initiative remains in place, the county is also pursuing other options to outfit its properties for solar power — specifically, incorporating it into new construction projects or enlisting energy services companies to do energy efficiency upgrades.

The solar project expected to be completed first will come from the general contractor hired to build the Sully Community Center, which opened in the Dulles area on Sept. 17.

The contractor is currently getting permits for the solar photovoltaic panels, putting the installation on track for completion by May, according to the Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services.

The general contractor route will also ensure that the new Seven Corners Fire Station has solar panels when it opens in spring 2024. The existing station on Sleepy Hollow Road was demolished last month.

Projects are also in various stages of development for the Woodlawn and Reston fire stations, the Spring Hill Recreation Center in McLean, and the Pender building, which hosts the county’s Housing and Community Development offices.

For those sites, the county will buy solar panels from energy services companies hired to install them along with other efficiency upgrades. The fire stations are in the final design phase with delivery target dates in August, while the Spring Hill project is in engineering design and slated for completion in winter 2024.

The county is targeting October for the Pender building upgrades, which are “a bit more complex,” Morrill says. In addition to a rooftop solar array, the project will retrofit the facility’s lighting and replace some other infrastructure, according to a permit under review.

“This combination of approaches gives the county maximum flexibility, as smaller systems…are not suitable to the PPA model,” Morrill said. Read More

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A sign warns about parking tickets in a lower Springfield Plaza parking lot (staff photo by David Taube)

Parking requirements in Fairfax County — which are getting their first major overhaul since 1988 — are set for public hearings later this year.

The multi-year effort — coined Parking Reimagined — is the focus of an open house coming this week.

“Access to the internet, along with flexible telework options and convenient home delivery of goods, has decreased the need or desire to drive to shop or work,” the county says. “Growth of transit availability with the expansion of Metrorail and bus service and the movement toward compact walkable mixed-use communities has decreased the need for auto trips and parking demand.”

The county is now seeking feedback on draft recommendations related to off-street parking, loading and bicycle parking. A final draft is expected to be released later this year, with public hearings slated for the spring.

“County staff’s final recommendations will be presented at each of those public hearings,” the county says.

One of the most significant changes is the introduction of a tiered system for off-street parking requirements in the county’s specialized planning districts. The effort is intended to accommodate and encourage more modes of transportation in walkable and high-density areas.

Most of the county would be designated as tier 1, which covers low-density areas that would only see modest parking rate reductions. Tier three — the highest tier — would see the most significant changes.

The tiered system sets rates based on the development’s gross square footage instead of the number of people served:

Proposed parking requirements (via Fairfax County)

The proposal reduces the parking rate for shopping centers by excluding interior open areas of centers under 1 million square feet from parking calculations.

For residential uses, apartment unit spaces would be reduced from 1.6 to 1.3 spaces per unit.

For townhouses, 2.7 spaces per unit are required, with 0.2 set aside for visitor or shared parking. That’s lower than a previous proposal of 0.7 in response to concerns about increases in impervious surfaces. A similar change is under consideration for stacked townhouses.

With regards to off-street parking, the county would round down instead of up when calculating the parking requirement. For example, if the tabulated parking is 3.7, only three spaces would be required instead of four.

Also, the number of required accessible spaces will be calculated using the overall baseline minimum for a particular building or use before taking into account any adjustments allowed for suburban centers and revitalization areas.

After holding a meeting last week, the county is set to hold another open house on Thursday (Jan. 12) at 7 p.m., followed by a discussion before the Board of Supervisors’ land use policy committee on Feb. 14 at 1:30 p.m.

Comments should be submitted by next Monday (Jan. 16) to be reviewed by staff for inclusion in the final draft.

“It continues to be important to strike a balance between the importance of parking and the environment while maintaining shared parking opportunities,” the county says.

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Bamboo spotted by the Washington & Old Dominion Trail (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Fairfax County property owners are officially required to contain running bamboo on their property — or face potential fines.

Effective as of Jan. 1, the county’s new running bamboo ordinance calls for property owners to get the invasive grass species under control and imposes civil penalties on property owners who let it “spread to adjacent properties or any public right-of-way.”

The ordinance was approved by the Board of Supervisors back in March 2022, along with a fine structure that includes $50 for the first complaint or violation, $200 for subsequent violations, and a $3,000 cap on fines over a 12-month period.

Officials have reiterated that staff will first seek to educate and allow for violations to be corrected voluntarily before imposing fines. When the issue went to a public hearing in February, several residents and supervisors expressed some concern about the financial implications of the fines.

In March, though, Fairfax County Director of Code Compliance Jack Weyant suggested fines would only be invoked for cases that have gone on for a year or longer.

Running bamboo is a fast-growing, invasive grass with an even more aggressive root system (rhizomes) that can spread underground up to 15 feet per year.

“Once planted, running bamboo can eventually take over yards and travel across property lines, creating issues for adjacent property owners and local jurisdictions,” Weyant told FFXnow. “Roots can push through brickwork, drains, cavity walls, patios, and exploit cracks or weaknesses in concrete.”

Weyant noted that the new ordinance “does not ban bamboo” but requires property owners to prevent it from growing on adjacent properties, including public property.

The county has set up a webpage to advise residents on the best methods to contain, prevent overgrowing, and dispose of bamboo.

Options include setting up a metal and plastic “bamboo root barrier” that deflects rhizomes back towards the bamboo owner’s property, encouraging the plants to grow vertically instead of spreading horizontally.

The county also suggests mowing bamboo often and using herbicides to prevent further growth. All cut bamboo should go in trash pick-up, not yard waste, per the county.

The complete removal of bamboo from a property is extremely difficult.

“Digging out bamboo requires heavy equipment and coordination with Virginia 811,” the website says.

In 2017, the Virginia General Assembly passed a law that let localities impose financial penalties on property owners who allow bamboo to run wild. However, Virginia still allows commercial sales, an issue that Fairfax County supervisors have previously said needs to be corrected by the state.

The county itself will also have to adhere to the new ordinance.

The Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA) manages about 204 acres of bamboo that draw 10 to 20 complaints a year from neighboring homeowners. FCPA removes two to three bamboo sites a year, but it’s expensive.

In April, the FCPA told FFXnow that a recent removal of about an acre of bamboo cost about $35,000, mostly due to herbicide treatment costs.

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A sample design of the county’s redesigned website (via Fairfax County)

Fairfax County is refreshing its website.

A website redesign is currently underway as the county looks to update “the look and feel based on new design trends to serve our community better,” the county’s digital content lead Greg Licamele told FFXnow in an email.

The new website is expected to be launched in early 2023. No interruptions or downtime are expected for the site or services while work is underway, county officials confirmed.

The project is being led by the Department of Information Technology and was laid out in its 2023 adopted plan.

Residents can take a peek at sample designs for both the desktop and mobile versions and can provide feedback via survey until tomorrow (Dec. 7).

Making sure the website is easy to navigate and accessible on mobile devices is a county priority.

“Mobile devices continue to be the main way people see the county website, we’re also conscious of presenting information that works well on smartphones,” Licamele said.

The refresh for both desktop and mobile includes a new color palette and “contemporary” design tweaks.

It will also add a Spanish option for the Fairfax Virtual Assistant, a chatbot that provides automated information on some topics.

Additionally, the IT department plans to integrate some website content with voice assistant devices like Amazon Alexa and Google Home.

Beyond updating the design and compatibility, the refresh was also prompted by resident requests to have important services and items accessible on the homepage.

“For years, we’ve heard people’s desire to have important services highlighted, which is what our current homepage provides with the Find, Pay, Report and Register section at the top,” Licamele said. “The proposed refreshed design keeps our laser focus on those top tasks people want to find easily, as well as spotlighting a few more priority items such as the county’s Strategic Plan.”

The county’s website was last redesigned five years ago, in 2017. There will be “no additional costs associated” with the new website update, the county says.

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A man walks by trash bins next to the curb (via Trinity Nguyen on Unsplash)

(Updated at 1:25 p.m.) The service and staffing challenges plaguing trash collectors throughout Fairfax County have prompted one company to call it quits, leaving thousands of residents in limbo with little notice.

Haulin’ Trash LLC has permanently shuttered, informing customers by email Wednesday (Nov. 30) that it will cease operations effective yesterday.

“We have faced many challenges over the past several weeks that we simply cannot overcome. This decision has not only affected our customers but it has affected dozens of employees and their families,” owner Bobby Frazier said in the message, apologizing for the resulting inconvenience.

Frazier said that the “keys to the business” will transferred to a court-appointed trustee “over the next couple of weeks,” who will be in charge of giving out credits or refunds.

Started in 2017, the Leesburg-based company served around 3,000 customers in the county, including homeowners’ associations and 1,800 single-household customers, the Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services (DPWES) says.

The county has over a dozen private, licensed haulers that serve about 90% of residents and businesses. The rest get waste collection services from the county government.

DPWES says its Solid Waste Management Program contacted Haulin’ Trash on Tuesday (Nov. 29) after receiving “a surge in resident complaints about missed collections.” The company told staff that it was “experiencing operational and financial difficulties,” but said it was looking at options to address the reported concerns, according to the county.

A day later, though, Haulin’ Trash notified the county that it had filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and would close on Dec. 1. An email sent to customers on Nov. 30 said plans to “catch up” on missed collections proved impossible because it had only four trucks — half its fleet – available.

Shared with FFXnow today, the email has a timestamp of 4:29 p.m. The announcement that Haulin’ was permanently closing went out at 9:39 p.m. that same day. The company didn’t return a request for comment.

While sudden, the closure doesn’t appear to be a total surprise to Haulin’ customers. One told FFXnow that the company’s service “had degraded to almost nothing this month,” while an Oakton resident said it missed three consecutive pickups in their neighborhood in November.

“The delayed/missed pickups have caused trash/recycle bin(s) and yard waste bag(s) sit on the curbside/street for weeks,” the resident wrote in an anonymous tip. “As a result, the neighbor looks disorganized with unpleasant smell, trashes littering on street, in storm drainage, on lawn(s).” Read More

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Fairfax County Fire and Rescue engine ladder (file photo)

Firefighters, medics and other Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department employees will have a union represent them in the county’s first collective bargaining negotiations for public workers in over 40 years.

Over 800 FCFRD workers participated in a 13-day election last month to determine whether to have union representation for contract talks with the county government, which will establish pay, benefits and other working conditions.

The only union in contention, the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) Local 2068 won with a decisive 797 votes, or 95.2%. The only other option on the ballot was to have no representation, which received 40 votes, the union announced Friday (Nov. 18).

With 1,533 members, Local 2068 represents firefighters, fire marshals, mechanics, medics and emergency dispatchers employed by Fairfax County. 837 eligible voters — 54.6% — cast a ballot in the election from Oct. 12-31.

“This is a monumental day for the members of our department,” IAFF 2068 President Robert Young said in a news release. “But it’s also a monumental day for all Fairfax County employees, and all of the residents of our community. We’ve shown that when Fairfax County workers come together…we have the power to have a say in the decisions that impact our lives and the lives of the communities we serve.”

After Virginia ended a 44-year ban on collective bargaining for public sector workers in May 2021, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors adopted an ordinance on Oct. 19, 2021 granting employees the right to organize, elect union representatives and participate in union activities.

Under the ordinance, the county will recognize separate bargaining units for the fire department, police and other county workers. Elections haven’t been held yet for the police and general government units.

With negotiations expected to begin in early 2023, Local 2068 says one priority will be addressing the staffing shortages that have affected the fire department and other county agencies, from police to the park authority and public library system.

Local 2068 says first responders have been forced to work mandatory overtime, adding 12 to 24 hours on top of their standard 24-hour shift “sometimes with little to no notice.” The union says its members have performed over 80,000 hours of “holdovers” — equal to 3,333 24-hour days.

“Having members work such excessive mandatory overtime isn’t just bad for their health, but it’s a potential hazard for the community members we serve,” Young said. “We look forward to addressing this issue at the bargaining table.”

Collective bargaining negotiations will last up to November 2023. A resulting agreement won’t take effect until July 1, 2024, when the county’s fiscal year 2025 begins.

Some issues could be addressed earlier as part of the upcoming fiscal year 2024 budget process, which will begin in earnest when County Executive Bryan Hill presents his proposed plan on Feb. 21.

Young said Local 2068 will advocate for merit and cost of living pay increases as well as funding for automated ambulance loaders — stretchers where the legs automatically fold up as the device is rolled into a vehicle.

“We’re the only jurisdiction in the region that doesn’t have access to these tools, tools that not only help prevent members from being injured, but also help us deliver faster and safer service to the community,” Young said.

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The Fairfax County Government Center (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Fairfax County’s new online platform for permitting, zoning and other land use activities has hit a speed bump.

A backlog of applications has emerged since the county finished rolling out its Planning and Land Use System (PLUS) on Oct. 31 due to issues with the technology, Fairfax County Land Development Services confirmed.

“Due to a technical issue, LDS is currently processing a backlog of applications following the launch of the updated Planning and Land Use System (PLUS),” LDS Director William Hicks said in a statement to FFXnow. “We are working to resolve the issue and temporary workarounds for customers are in place until a solution can be implemented.”

Fairfax County’s Planning and Land Use System, which is currently experiencing technical issues (via Fairfax County)

PLUS has been in the works for years, as the county’s planning and development agencies pushed to modernize and consolidate processes that had been siloed in a sprawling network of platforms.

The upgrade’s first phase launched in October 2020, moving materials related to food permits, street name and address changes, and zoning pre-application meetings over to the new system. Other transactions, from fire code permits to public facility reviews (known as 2232 reviews), followed over the next two years.

The rollout culminated in late October with the conversion of the permitting and inspections database (rest in peace, FIDO) and plans and waivers system (PAWS). The process required a 10-day shutdown of all land use systems starting Oct. 21.

Though the county announced on Nov. 1 that the full PLUS was now available, the transition has evidently not gone as smoothly as hoped.

An anonymous tipster told FFXnow that the system hasn’t been working since the temporary outage on Oct. 21, affecting occupancy and residential use permits:

Permits are not getting issued. This is also affecting tenants getting occupancy permit, not allowing them to move into the spaces, residents moving into their home because RUPs cannot be issued. The County has been at a dead stop for almost a month now and people are getting very upset. Fairfax also is not giving out any information on when the system will start to work again.

LDS didn’t specify what the technical issues are, but a spokesperson confirmed they’re affecting all applications, not just ones that migrated with the final phase of the rollout.

A new page added to the LDS website yesterday breaks down the known challenges with details about what happened and who to contact as staff try to fix PLUS.

For example, data for some development projects started before Oct. 21 got corrupted, preventing users from accessing their documents. The county has a complaint form that those affected should complete.

Hicks says customers with questions can call the LDS customer line at 703-222-0801, though there is currently an approximately 2-hour-long wait.

According to the alert issued at 3 p.m. yesterday, the county has over 1,000 building permits and plans to process, which could take over two weeks:

  • Customer Walk-in Service (no appointment): approximately 30-minute queue
  • Virtual Appointments with Customer Service: 3 – 4 business days
  • Processing Building Permits and Plans: 2+ weeks (over 1,000 permits in the queue)
  • Residential Inspections: 2 business days
  • Commercial Inspections: Next business day
  • Major Site Processing Time: +/- one week
  • Minor Site Processing Time: +/- two weeks
  • Other (e.g., waivers, plats, studies) Processing Time: +/- two weeks
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Flags outside the Fairfax County Courthouse (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Veterans Day is tomorrow, marking the 104th anniversary of the official end of combat in World War I.

Government offices for Fairfax County, Fairfax City, and the towns of Vienna and Herndon will be closed for the federal holiday, which extends to Fairfax County Public Schools students and the court system.

Notably, the COVID-19 vaccine clinic at the Fairfax County Government Center will be closed for the day. The county has scaled back its hours of operation, starting this week.

What to do

Commemorative events have been planned throughout the area to recognize those who have served in the military, including a full weekend of activities at the National Museum of the United States Army in Fort Belvoir.

Those looking to attend a ceremony will have several local options:

For anyone hoping to get outdoors, Veterans Day is one of the National Park Service’s five annual fee-free days, when admission is free for all visitors, including at Great Falls Park.

Trash and recycling 

Fairfax County won’t have any changes to its trash and recycling collection schedule, and recycling and disposal centers at the I-66 Transfer Station and I-95 Landfill Complex will remain open. Department of Public Works and Environmental Services administrative offices will be closed through the weekend.

The county advises residents served by private haulers are advised to contact those companies directly.

Trash collection in Vienna and Herndon will also happen as usual, but Fairfax City is picking up Thursday and Friday routes today. Curbside yard waste collections in the city could be delayed through Saturday (Nov. 12).

Transportation 

Metrorail will follow its standard weekday schedule, with stations operating from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. Metrobus, however, will use a Saturday supplemental schedule, meaning that not every route will be operating.

“MetroAccess paratransit service will operate regular service. On the holiday, scheduled recurring ‘subscription trips’ are automatically canceled,” the Metro alert says.

Fairfax Connector will provide holiday weekday service tomorrow.

Fairfax City’s CUE bus system will have modified weekday service.

Community centers

The McLean Community Center will close tomorrow, though its Old Firehouse Center for teens will be open.

The Reston Community Center’s Hunters Woods and Lake Anne facilities will both be open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Herndon will close its community center for the holiday, while Vienna’s will follow a modified schedule of 10 a.m.-10:30 p.m.

Libraries, Parks and Recreation

Fairfax County Public Library follows the same holiday schedule as the county government, so all branches will be closed Friday.

The Fairfax County Park Authority’s rec centers will be open, with people who currently or have served in the U.S. armed forces getting free admission for the day.

Park closures include the historic sites at Colvin Run Mill and Sully, Green Spring Gardens, all nature centers, and the visitor center at Riverbend Park. Frying Pan Farm Park’s farm and indoor arena will be open, but not the visitor center.

Editor’s Note — FFXnow is also taking a day off tomorrow for Veterans Day, but we’ll be back to our regular publishing schedule next week.

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Sample ballots for Fairfax County’s 2022 midterm election (via Fairfax County Office of Elections/Twitter)

(Updated at 7:35 p.m.) The race to finalize voter rolls for next week’s midterm elections may come down to the wire after Fairfax County received thousands of new applications today (Monday).

A computer error that affected Virginia’s voter registration system earlier this summer resulted in the state sending another 11,000 applications to the Fairfax County Office of Elections, which says it “will do whatever it takes” to process the documents in time for Election Day on Tuesday, Nov. 8.

The applications came from people who registered to vote at the Department of Motor Vehicles between May and September, according to the Virginia Department of Elections. Individuals who updated their address or made other changes to their voter information were also affected.

State officials said the delay stemmed from “intermittent network issues” that were first reported on Oct. 5, according to The Washington Post.

“These new applications are in addition to the previous 11,789 DMV voter registrations from this summer that the state delayed sending to the county until Oct. 5,” the county elections office said in a news release, noting that all of the earlier applications were processed before the registration deadline on Oct. 17.

The state elections department said the new backlog was identified after it conducted a review of the registration system, prompted by reports of “several voters” trying to vote early only to find that their information hadn’t been updated.

Those voters were able to cast a ballot after the local general registrar updated their information on-site, the department said.

“I am very grateful for the vigilance of Virginia’s general registrars in quickly surfacing concerns during early voting,” Virginia Elections Commissioner Susan Beals said. “With information from local officials, ELECT’s IT professionals were able to scour the election system data to identify the additional transactions for processing.”

This isn’t the first hiccup that the state has encountered in the run-up to the upcoming election. The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved a letter last week calling for a full investigation into an erroneous mailer sent to voters in the towns of Herndon, Vienna and Clifton that directed them to a polling site in Fairfax City.

The functionality and reliability of the Virginia Election and Registration Information System (VERIS) has been a concern for years. Beals announced on Oct. 24 that the Department of Elections has awarded a contract to replace the 15-year-old system.

However, “coordination with the Virginia Department of Elections has been more difficult than in the past,” Fairfax County Director of Elections Eric Spicer told FFXnow.

Del. Mark Sickles (District 43) suggested that the technical challenges are being exacerbated by the departure of former elections commissioner Chris Piper, who resigned in March after Gov. Glenn Youngkin declined to reappoint him.

Fairfax County voters can confirm their registration status online or by calling the county elections office at 703-222-0776, TTY 711.

Same-day registration is also available for the first time in Virginia voters, though those voters will cast a provisional ballot that won’t be counted until after Election Day.

“It is critical that you fill out the same day registration application accurately and completely,” the county elections office said.

The county has 16 early voting sites open and is accepting mail-in ballots, though the deadline to request an absentee ballot passed on Friday (Oct. 28).

This year’s general election will determine the county’s Congressional representatives as well as Herndon’s new mayor and town council.

Photo via Fairfax County Office of Elections/Twitter

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