Thursday, June 7, 2012

Janet Clarke "...Questions That Still Need to be Answered"

Great job Janet for getting at the nuts and bolts of this thing. It is a shrewd person who can sort through so much information to come to the conclusion that the unanswered questions are what make this so risky.The questions that are most relevant are these:

1. Is it the role of a county government to consider entering into such a proposition? If you get past that question next is

2. What is the cost? The answer to this is that cost is very high and uncertain. If you get past that then

3. What is the risk? According to the experts, the risk is enormous. The next question is

4. What is the benefit? It FAILS as a transportation project, FAILS as an economic stimulus, generally 
FAILS to hold promise of improved quality of life, now or in the future. 

Janet's explanation is a wonderful breath of fresh air. She does not attack the proposition of Metro coming, just the terms and conditions that exist largely because the federal and state governments are offering to be minor or non-participants in Phase 2.

There has been a leadership failure on the run up to bringing Metro to Loudoun. Consequently, our current Board has inherited a mess. 

There are two major errors that have been left uncorrected. One is that the public has been kept in the dark as to the extent of costs and effects. Second, is the "Who pays?" As structured now, the profit will go to a few wealthy developers and the taxpayers bear the cost. This supervisor did her job.

We all owe a "Thanks" to Janet for shining bright on this not so savory matter.

Supervisor Janet Clarke's Summary Letter
The Board of Supervisors has held a number of Dulles rail work sessions over the past two months with presentations from staff and various rail entities. Two weeks ago we held our first financing meeting walking away without knowing what financing mechanisms the BOS is going to apply to our citizens and businesses in order to pay for this project if it is approved. Tonight we are meeting again, in an attempt to figure out how and when we will pay for this expensive project.
Based on public comments and emails I have received, it appears that many people think that the county’s decision centers on whether or not rail is good for the county.  In my opinion that is not the issue.
Multi-modal transportation is desirable for a large and growing community; however, I believe the question we need to answer is – “How do we pay for rail without crippling our county residents and businesses with new and higher taxes?”
Rail to Loudoun was originally designed to be funded primarily by federal and state dollars. However, that plan changed in recent years so that now there are NO federal dollars and such a small (one-time) amount from the state, which only helps buy down the Dulles Toll Road/267 tolls for two years and does has no effect on the Greenway tolls.  Prior Boards merely endorsed the concept of rail to Loudoun, they did nothing to establish a means for paying for rail. At least Fairfax had the foresight to set up tax districts years ahead of time and to have a certain level of development in place to generate the income before bringing rail there.
During our first financial work session, it was alarming to learn that sometime after 2004, the entire funding scenario shifted  to make 54% of the funding for rail coming from the Dulles Toll Road tolls and that these tolls are expected to more than double over the next 10 years.   Rail to Loudoun is not even expected until 2017, another five years down the road, while the county will still have to find the money to build the stations before the needed revenue is here. If Loudoun does opts out of the project, it is likely it will still be built to the airport, and would decrease the total cost of the project.  In fact, Jack Potter of MWAA even stated such.
Now it appears that this Board will have to create tax districts in order to finance the cost of Dulles rail.  These special tax districts could add up to 20 cents to the tax rate for residents and businesses in a two mile or more radius around the proposed rail stations, and a possible countywide tax on all commercial and industrial properties in the county or to half of the county, east of Leesburg. When this was being discussed during the first finance meeting, I asked staff if this type of tax would apply to residents as well as businesses, as we also have residents in the areas zoned C&I.  I also asked if the C&I tax would apply to the businesses within the seven incorporated towns that are in the county. The answer was yes! I then asked if staff had spoken to the Towns regarding the possible burden of an additional tax to support rail and they had not.  The businesses within the towns already pay county and town taxes and a C&I tax would be a third tax that would put some of our small businesses out of business.  I want our county to be business friendly – not to bankrupt the businesses that are already here. Obviously, more questions need to be asked.
As a former 15-year executive in the technology industry and having negotiated multi-million dollar contracts and complex bids, it is irrational to me that the financing details of this $2 billion plus project were not visited until some of those on this current Board started asking the difficult questions. I am a fiscal conservative and a realist and I do not believe in inking a deal without understanding how it will impact those who have to pay for it – in this case, county residents and businesses. I asked for a tote board for us to run through possible funding scenarios before our first finance session and that did not happen, so the Board agreed to hold another finance work session to do just that, which is being held tonight 6/6/12. The evening of the day the PLA provision was removed from MWAA’s requirement, which is an aspect that does not impact the financial analysis needed.
I am disappointed in the approach by many surrounding the rail to Loudoun project with the purposeful lack of information on the financial impact side, manipulation of information by those who will benefit financially from land deals, strong arming and veiled threats by some developers and elected officials and condescending remarks by some. I take my job seriously and will vote on Dulles rail with the best interests of the people of Loudoun County foremost on my mind and will not make a decision based on threats, bullying, or to position myself for a future re-election.
At the end of the Dulles rail public input session, Chairman York placed two notebooks on the dais, one notebook representing pro Dulles rail and one representing those opposing rail. Those notebooks did not include all the emails, particularly those that were sent directly to each supervisor that the Chairman was not copied on. It also was not stated as to whether those emails included the many emails we have received from many who live outside of Loudoun with development interests or those who sit on committees whose organizations have a financial stake in Dulles rail.
It has been interesting to watch the output of money and publicity that is “marketing” rail, including the Greenway folks who are hurting our residents with their ever-increasing toll rates. As we ask the tough questions, we are finding more costs to the county, more challenges, and continued controversy around the oversight organizations. We are expected to commit to funding Dulles rail before the full IG’s report on MWAA that Congressman Wolf initiated, which is due in September or October. An oft-repeated comment I hear is, “Oh what are you thinking – just approve rail and then we’ll figure it out.” What in that statement reflects a fiscally responsible approach?
This is not the richest county in the nation.  We may have the highest median income, but we also have the highest taxes in the region, a high cost of living, and two toll roads, which our commuters pay dearly to use and which we have no control over. It should also be noted that the rail stations will be next to those toll roads and many people will still have to use the toll roads to get to the stations.  If we spend every possible dollar there is on rail that will affect the amount of money available to improve the already existing, inadequate and incomplete road infrastructure.  Also, unfortunately, the millions the county receives in gas tax, which helps to fund our transit buses and our local VRT buses, will also go toward Dulles rail and the Board will have to “find” money in order to keep these important transportation systems running.
Loudoun County is a beautiful and vibrant county which has been defined by many as being in the “Favored Region”. This is true with or without the last two rail stops in Loudoun. Loudoun county is 27 miles from DC and offers much that surrounding jurisdictions do not. We house Dulles International Airport and when Fairfax is built out, more people will overflow into Loudoun County, as we have seen happen for decades. If the last two stations of the Silver Line are built, there will be approximately 4,600 residential units more than what is already slated to be built without these stations. It is important to note that 4,600 residential units are more than the current number of units in the Brambleton community, about 3,500 homes. There will be children in those residential units (I grew up in apartments and townhomes in Fairfax), and even if land is proferred for schools, the county will have to come up with the many millions of dollars it costs to build the schools and other public facilities associated with these new residents’ needs.
It is also important to note that the county is over 500 square miles and since these two rail stations are on the eastern most edge of the county, still about 500 square miles of residents will still have to drive to get to those stations.  There is an estimated 3% of the county’s population projected to take rail to work, but many who will take rail to come into Loudoun County to visit or to get jobs here. Logically all of the new residents living around the two rail stations will also most likely own at least one car to get where they need to go, as rail doesn’t go to most of the 500 square miles of the county nor to Prince William or other surrounding areas.  There is no doubt that there will be many more cars on our roads with the additional development the two additional Dulles rail stations will bring; in an area where many road connections are lacking.
Also, note that regardless of whether or not the last two stations are built, the bus transportation network will need to be expanded in order to accommodate the growing county population that is expected to double in the next ten years.   More and more people will also continue to travel from the bordering counties of Prince William, Fauquier, Clarke, and Jefferson, in order to get to work.  These folks will continue to park in our commuter lots, use our commuter bus service or use our roads to drive to rail and bus stations. State regulations do not allow us to stop non-residents from using our transit system, just as our residents use other municipalities’ transit infrastructure. No matter what the Board decides, buses will still be able to take Loudoun residents to rail in Reston and the airport, which are closer than the existing stops in Fairfax County. For more immediate relief, the Wiehle Avenue and Tysons Corner stations will be opening next year, 2013.
For a greater understanding of where the two rail stations will be located and what they will bring to Loudoun, I have attached a schematic on where the two rail stations in Loudoun are planned for as well as the airport station and the Moorefield station type of development that is planned. There is no doubt in my mind that approving these two additional rail stations will speed up growth everywhere in Loudoun County.  I should also be noted that while a “Ballston-like” community with high density will accommodate thousands more residents, it will also push those who do not want to live in that type community to further out in Loudoun. There is already talk about government staffing having to be expanded to meet the additional workload that rail would bring.
I have provided county staff with spreadsheets and asked them to plug numbers into them to reflect different residential tax scenarios as well as commuting cost scenarios so that the residents can really take a look at what it will cost from year one. Staff has done a good job holding rail outreach sessions, but has not provided all the information many residents have been asking for. Unfortunately, it will take many years before the county receives the income projected from commercial taxes to off-set the money we have to come up with to actually fund Dulles rail. Our initial discussions regarding financing projected that it will be 2035 before we begin to break even.
The picture I am trying to paint here is that there are a lot of questions that still need to be answered and careful, involved planning that needs to take place in order to make the best, most informed decision for the citizens of Loudoun County.  That is why I am asking tough questions.  We need to look at the short and long-range scenarios and complete fiscal details, rather than throw our current residents over a cliff for new ones.  If at the end of the analysis, we can make Phase II of Dulles rail fiscally reasonable to residents’ pockets – then I will support it.

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