Author Archive

Fairfax County seniors struggle with living costs

December 22, 2022

Fairfax County Times

By Richard H. Hronik III

Senior citizens are struggling to live and retire in Fairfax County, facing difficulties that include rising taxes, increased cost of living, and isolation.

Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity raised the issue faced by senior citizens in his newsletter late last month. He referred to concerns voiced by residents at a Springfield SHAPE the Future of Aging focus group, meant to act as a platform for residents to voice the needs and challenges of seniors as well as recommended solutions. Herrity is chairman of the Board of Supervisors’ Older Adults Committee and has been working with county staff on a follow-up to the 50+ Community Action Plan.

 “What I’m hearing from a lot of seniors is, their tax bill is now bigger than their mortgage used to be,” Herrity said. “And of course, most of them are living on a very fixed income. Their taxes keep going up, and their fixed incomes aren’t going up very much…Our taxes are significantly outpacing inflation. Taxes have increased 50 percent over the past 10 years.”

Despite some progress being made, Herrity said there is still a long way to go. “We’ve got an initial round of senior tax relief, passed last year. We’ve got some creative ideas that weren’t part of the 50+ Community Action Plan, things like home share to help keep residents in their homes…Seniors have 401ks that they saved to live on…and of course, our formula for senior tax relief is entirely asset-based, so if you did what we’re trying to encourage our citizens to do and save up for retirement, that ends up counting against you…”

While taxes are a sticking point for seniors in Fairfax, they are far from the only challenge. “When you get older, you have certain things you need to afford, but with a fixed income…that’s just not a good fit for me,” said Gina DiMatteo. 

DiMatteo lived in Falls Church for 58 years with her husband Frank. Now, her husband is in an assisted living facility, and she lives alone.

“I’m spending a lot more money as I’m getting older, not just for me but for Frank…I’m worrying about, if I survive Frank, what’s gonna be left for me?”

“No. It’s not [affordable],” DiMatteo said about the cost of living in Fairfax. “You have to be prepared ahead of time in order to be able to stay in Fairfax County, otherwise you’ll be forced to move out, from what I’m experiencing. [The cost of living] has definitely gone up, many times over.”

However, there are programs in place to help seniors struggling with living expenses. The SHAPE the Future of Aging Program, initially introduced in 2019, is scheduled to be approved in early 2023. According to Trina Mayhan-Webb, division director with Fairfax County Department of Family Services, Adult and Aging Services, the plan has changed a lot over the past two years.

“The initial Community Assessment Survey for Older Adults (CASOA) was administered in 2019,” Mayhan-Webb said. “In 2021, the Older Adults Committee requested that the community be re-surveyed to capture any changes that may have occurred because of the pandemic.”

According to Mayhan-Webb, SHAPE the Future of Aging aims to solve several challenges faced by Fairfax’s seniors today, including caregiver support, affordable housing, mental health, and isolation.

DiMatteo, however, believes there needs to be more than just a government effort to bring aid to senior citizens. 

“The younger generation should be encouraged to be connected with family members that are older,” she said. “If you have a neighbor that you know is elderly and needs a phone call, or someone to hold their hand, that’s up to the communities, not the government. The people in the communities should be amicable to give a helping hand – with their time, not money.”

“The Adult and Aging Division will monitor the progression of [SHAPE the Future of Aging] as approved by the Board of Supervisors,” said Mayhan-Webb. With the plan on schedule to be approved next year, it will remain to be seen whether it meets the needs of Fairfax County’s seniors.

Gov. Youngkin calls on Fairfax County, local jurisdictions to scrap vehicle tax

December 18, 2022


By Nick Minock

FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. (7News) — On Thursday, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin proposed $1 billion in tax relief and more spending for teachers, law enforcement, nurses, and behavioral health.

Shortly after Youngkin’s budget presentation to state lawmakers, 7News Reporter Nick Minock asked Youngkin if he would consider scrapping the annual property tax on vehicles that many Virginia drivers dread paying each year.

“As much as I would like to, it is a local tax,” Youngkin told 7News. “And so the counties need to go reflect on the fact that the number one complaint that we get is the car tax, and yet the counties continue to charge it. I think it’s a matter of tax reassessment on behalf of so many counties around the Commonwealth to see what they are doing in order to tax their citizens as well. Taxes are a stack of local taxes, state taxes and federal taxes. The state taxes have overwhelmed companies and individuals [and] I can fix that and I think local government needs to get to work on their own tax structures.”

“What message do you have for the Board of Supervisors in Fairfax County that are thinking about raising taxes as we’re maybe going into a recession?” Minock asked Youngkin.

“Virginia is already too expensive,” answered Youngkin. “We see it everywhere. We are heading into a recession. And I think that government leaders need to recognize that it’s individuals’ money, not theirs. That in fact they we need to find a way to be more prudent in what we’re spending. That’s exactly we’re doing at the state level. Last year, we found $1.2 billion that had been appropriated that didn’t need to be spent and we’re willing to give that back to the people that in fact, let us use it in the first place: the taxpayers. And we’re going to refund it back to them.”

Fairfax County Supervisor Pat Herrity says Fairfax County has increased taxes despite the county receiving hundreds of millions in COVID cash.

“Taxes in Fairfax County went up almost seven percent last year which given inflation, high gas prices, and the stimulus money is really unforgivable,” said Herrity.

Meanwhile, Fairfax County Board of Supervisor Chair Jeff McKay is proposing to spend taxpayer money on building a COVID-19 memorial which “remains a high priority for the county” according to the Fairfax County Park Authority.

This year, Youngkin signed legislation empowering localities to lower car tax rates to help prevent “huge tax hikes driven by dramatic increases in used vehicle values.”

Drivers say lack of signage on new I-66 express lanes is taking its toll

December 14, 2022


By Tom Roussey

FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. (7News) — It’s now been more than three weeks since new I-66 express lanes outside the Beltway fully opened both directions, and as we head into the heavy Christmas travel period there is lingering concern about a lack of signs making it clear to drivers how to use them.

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors member Pat Herrity (R – Springfield) told 7News his office has received complaints about a lack of signage indicating how to go from the toll lanes to the free lanes, what the price is to go the full distance on the toll lanes, and where one segment of the toll lanes ends and another begins.

“Overall I think it’s a great project, and I was happy to play a role, and I think it just needs some tweaking,” said Herrity, who added that similar concerns were initially raised when express lanes opened on I-95 eight years ago. “I know that we got signage fixed on 95, I think we can get signage fixed on 66.”

7News asked Nancy Smith, corporate affairs director for I-66 Express Mobility Partners – which VDOT chose to oversee the building and running of the new toll lanes – to talk about the concerns some drivers have.

She says each day crews are working on adding more signage to the express lanes, including debuting more electronic message signs.

“Those will help us control traffic conditions as well as give messages to motorists,” Smith said.

Smith explained that the express lanes on I-66 are divided into three segments eastbound and four westbound, and drivers are charged for each segment they travel on:

Eastbound Segments

  • Western terminus at Gainesville to Rt. 28/Fairfax Co. Parkway
  • Rt.28/pkway to Rt. 123
  • Chain Bridge Road to Beltway

Westbound Segments

  • Beltway to Chain Bridge Road/Rt. 50 (ramp in-between)
  • Chain Bridge Rd. to Rt. 28
  • Rt. 28 to Sudley Road
  • Sudley Road to western terminus

Although there are not many signs making it obvious how to do it, Smith says drivers always have an opportunity to go from the toll lanes to the free lanes before paying for a new segment. For example, an eastbound driver wanting to use the Gainesville to Fairfax County Parkway segment, and then get off before the next segment, needs to exit at the parkway and take a bridge and a long stretch of road before signs point them back to the free lanes on 66 East.

When a different eastbound segment ends at Chain Bridge Road, drivers have to turn right at a light and then stay right on to a ramp to get in the free lanes.

One criticism of the signs for the new I-66 express lanes is that most only give the price of one segment at a time. However, drivers can use the mobile-friendly website in order to get an estimate of the current cost of driving more than one segment. Smith warns the price on the website will just be an estimate that is subject to changing conditions. She says fast changing conditions are why the signs on the road itself only show one segment price at a time, and not the price for going a further distance.

“Travel conditions on I-66 can vary greatly from one mile to the next, and certainly over that distance, within a very short period, over 23 miles, the traffic conditions can vary greatly,” she said.

Smith adds that similar to when toll lanes opened on 95, 395, and the Beltway, drivers will eventually become comfortable with how to get around on the new I-66 lanes.

“My friends at VDOT would agree that it typically takes a couple weeks for people to figure out new traffic patterns, and this is no different,” she explained.

Fairfax County warns budget could be ‘challenging’ due to slowing real estate market, rising staff costs

November 29, 2022


By Matt Blitz

Local officials are already preparing for “one of the most challenging” budget talks in years due to inflation, the changing real estate market, and staff retention challenges.

Right before the Thanksgiving holiday, Fairfax County staff offered supervisors and the school board an early look at projected revenues, expenditures, and points of potential discussion as the county and Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) prepare to release proposed budgets early next year.

The fiscal year 2024 budget forecast that staff presented on Nov. 22 didn’t paint a particularly rosy picture, however.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay called the forecast “a real mixed bag.” County staff said that generated revenue remained “healthy,” but others weren’t so sunny.

“This is probably going to be one of the most challenging budgets in my 11 years on the [school] board,” Braddock District School Board representative Megan McLaughlin said. “It’s going to be a tough one.”

Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity concurred, saying there wasn’t “a lot of good news in here.”

As is the case across the country, the local real estate market has been slowing due to increasing interest rates and rising prices. While it increased from last year, growth is expected to flatten going forward for the rest of 2022 and into 2023.

Non-residential tax revenue is in even worse shape, at least partially due to the change in work-from-home habits resulting from the pandemic. It’s expected to increase by only 0.6% compared to last year when the growth was about 2.3% compared to 2022.

While hotel, retail, and apartment revenues are all expected to increase next year, office revenue is expected to decline between 5% and 6%, raising concerns among some supervisors and school board members.

Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw said he has talked to companies in the county that have no intention of renewing office leases due to decreased need with more employees now teleworking.

He called it a “slow-moving crisis” that could create a “very significant hole” in terms of missing revenue.

“[This] is very troubling,” Walkinshaw said. “It’s a structural challenge now in our economy…I’m not confident we have our arms around what that challenge is going to look like over the next 5 to 10 years.”

New construction and transient occupancy (or lodging) tax revenue are also expected to grow, but at much lower rates than prior to the pandemic.

Real estate taxes are the largest source of revenue for the county, providing more than two-thirds of generated money. Last year, home values soared, while commercial tax revenue dropped, resulting in a 3-cent decrease in the real estate tax rate.

All told, revenue is predicted to rise by about $266 million, a 3.8% increase from last year, per the presented forecast.

However, revenue isn’t keeping pace with expenditures, due mostly to anticipated staff salary increases.

Between recruitment and retention challenges and inflation, an additional $159 million will be needed for salaries and benefits compared to the current budget — plus another $113.5 million for school staff. Adding in other costs, the county and FCPS are looking at a combined shortfall of about $125 million for fiscal year 2024, which begins July 1, 2023, staff said.

Since this is a baseline forecast, a number of county and school priorities were not taken into account, including infrastructure upgrades, increased investments in affordable housing, and an expansion of early childhood education programs.

As county staff and McKay both reiterated, the forecast is only an estimation subject to change.

“As the economic outlook is uncertain, staff is approaching FY 2024 revenue forecasting very conservatively,” the presentation said.

Adoption of the fiscal year 2024 budget remains six months away. Advertised budget plans for the county and schools will be released in February with final votes coming in May 2023.

Short nearly 200 officers, Fairfax PD staffing ‘at a crisis level’ ahead of holiday season

November 22, 2022


By Nick Minock

FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. (7News) — Thanksgiving tends to be one of the most dangerous and deadly times on U.S. roads due to increases in impaired drivers and reckless driving.

Going into the holiday season, the Fairfax County Police Department is facing a shortage of police officers – officers who are responsible for enforcing traffic laws and getting drunk drivers off the roads.

Fairfax County Police Chief Kevin Davis said recruiting classes have gotten larger. However, the Fairfax County Police Department is still facing a staffing crisis.

“When you’re down around 200 officers and you’ve disbanded your specialty units, of course, it’s at a crisis level,” Fairfax County Supervisor Pat Herrity told 7News on Tuesday.

Herrity says The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors needs to focus on keeping current officers by paying them more.

“We’ve seen increases in crime, we’ve seen increased traffic accidents and pedestrians fatalities,” said Herrity. “Public safety isn’t something you can ignore. It will catch up to you and it is catching up with us.”

7News was the first to report the staffing emergency at FCPD over the summer.

At that time, FCPD was short 189 officers, Davis told 7News in August.

Vacancies later reached above 200, according to police sources. Now FCPD is short 192 officers, Davis told 7News on Tuesday.

“We’ve still seen a higher rate of resignations than retirements,” Davis told 7News. “We are doing all we can to keep people focused on the value of policing. It’s still the greatest job in the world. We just need to increase the volume of the right candidates who want to do this job for the right reasons.”

Davis hopes new recruitment efforts, including a $15,000 signing bonus for new officers, will help.

“This is a hot market and we are all in competition with each other. The application pool has dwindled over the past couple of years,” Davis said. “We have great support from the Board of Supervisors and the community at large. So we have to consider many things like compensation and financial incentives and other benefits to attract people to the job because a police applicant in 2022 has a varied menu of choices about where to go and young people are paying attention more now than they ever have.”

“In about a week and a half that 192 will go to 154 when we start our largest police academy class in several years,” added Davis.

“They’re still in a crisis level,” said Herrity. “We’re still around 200 short. Through September, we had 101 officers leave. We’ve had a couple of recruit classes, some transfers into a total of about 57. We got one more recruit class coming in. We’re going to have some additional resignations. So we’re still at a net loss on officers. We still got work to do.”

Herrity praised the $15,000 signing bonus for new officers, but he said it came too late. He blamed the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors for failing to act quickly enough. The Board of Supervisors is led by Chairman Jeffrey McKay.

“I think it was late, but I’m happy it was there,” said Herrity. “I wish we had given them the salary increases. The best thing we can do is retain our current officers. That’s going to help a lot with bringing new officers in, but we really need to focus on retaining current officers.”

“There were some ideas put on the table last budget,” Herrity added. “Salary increase that got cut in half and spread across all public safety agencies rather than given to the patrol staff where we really need them – Second Lieutenant below. We could extend Drop. That was also on the table. So there are some creative things that we should and can be doing. And I hope that the board will come around on it.”

Herrity predicts more officers will have to retire by the end of the year.

“Simply, [the ] Drop [program] is officers pick their retirement date three years out, and they can’t work past that date,” he said. “So they’re not allowed to work past that three years. We can extend that by a year or two years with literally no cost to the government.”

“And the board said no?” 7News’ Nick Minock asked.

“And the board said no,” Herrity replied.

One place some officers have gone to is Amazon.

“Amazon is certainly a challenge not just for Fairfax but for police departments around the country,” Davis said. “We have to be creative We have to be the employer of choice and there is a commitment to do so.”

But Supervisor Herrity expressed doubt that the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors has that commitment.

“We need to get back to public safety being a priority in Fairfax County,” said Herrity.

Fairfax County is beginning its budget process soon. 7News will let you know if the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approves pay raises for current officers – or not – to address the staffing crisis.

“We hope we are turning the corner a little bit on recruiting,” said Davis. “We had five Fairfax County police officers who resigned in the last year who came back, so they came back to the job. So that’s exciting. The grass isn’t always greener.”

Threat to Fairfax County Water

November 16, 2022

Prince William County approves massive data complex

The Connection

By Mercia Hobson

So, what’s in your water? Action earlier in November by one of Fairfax County’s neighbors may negatively impact the Occoquan Watershed, primary source of water for Fairfax Water’s Occoquan Reservoir.

The Comprehensive Plan Amendment #CPA2021-00004, PW Digital Gateway with changes approved on Nov. 2 by Prince William County allows for a technology corridor generally along Pageland Lane south of Sudley Road; north of Route 29; east of Conway Robinson Memorial State Park, Heritage Hunt and Catharpin Valley subdivisions; and west of Manassas National Battlefield Park and Sudley Mountain subdivision. It is where about 2,139 acres of the 80,000 acre Rural Crescent for the controversial PW Digital Gateway can be built. The massive size of the data complex could rival Loudoun County’s global notoriety. 

The proposal generated concern and intense opposition from Fairfax Supervisor Pat Herrity (R-Springfield) and the other supervisors on the board, the Fairfax County Federation of Citizens Associations and the HOA Roundtable of Prince William County as seen in letter by Sridhar Ganesan president of Fairfax Federation to the Boards of Supervisors of Prince William and Fairfax counties, and many others. 

After a grueling 14-hour public hearing and discussion, that began Nov. 1 and continued to 10 a.m. the following day, the Prince William County Board of Supervisors voted 5-2 along Democratic party lines and approved the controversial Gateway. The amendment with changes rezones the land from Agriculture or Estate and Environmental Resource to “Technology / Flex with a T-3 Transect, POS, Parks and Open Space, CRHS, County Registered Historic Site, and an Environmental Resource Overlay.”

The Prince William data center build is expected to generate hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue for the county. In 2021, the current Prince William data center hub generated approximately $80 million in tax revenue. Loudoun receives approximately $576 million. Estimates published in February by Prince William deputy finance director Tim Leclerc showed that the Gateway’s revenue could be $400 million per year at the end of 20 years. 

“I am very disappointed that the Prince William Board of Supervisors voted 5-2 to approve the Digital Gateway Comprehensive Plan Amendment before fully studying and understanding the impacts on the Occoquan Watershed, the water supply for millions of Northern Virginians, or taking the time to fully consider the testimony of the 200 that testified last night,” said Herrity on Wednesday, Nov. 2, reacting to news of approval of the Comprehensive Plan Amendment #CPA2021-00004, PW Digital Gateway, Item 3A, 

The Occoquan Watershed is a 570-square-mile basin. Three major impoundments are located in the watershed: Lake Jackson, Lake Manassas, and the Occoquan Reservoir. A dam in the Occoquan River forms the Occoquan Reservoir, one of the primary sources of water for Fairfax Water. It is the main water purveyor for the area, supplying water to nearly two million people, according “An Analysis of the Occoquan Watershed and Reservoir System” by Virginia Tech Apr. 15, 2021. 

The 2,100-acre Fairfax Water Authority impoundment reservoir supplies the water source for portions of Fairfax County, Fort Belvoir, and the City of Alexandria. Water from the reservoir is withdrawn by Fairfax Water at its Griffiths Treatment Plant at Lorton, Virginia, and distributed for potable uses. 

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors moved swiftly on the motion by Herrity concerning the downzoned Occoquan Watershed as a critical natural resource during Nov. 1 regular meeting. Herrity jointly presented the board matter with Chairman Jeff McKay (D), Supervisor Kathy Smith (D-Sully), and Supervisor Dan Storck (D-Mount Vernon).

Herrity said, “The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, on behalf of all citizens of Fairfax County, reaffirm its commitment to the continued efforts by the county, related agencies, and residents to protect and preserve this critical natural resource for future generations just as the previous Board did in 2016.” 

Supervisor Daniel Storck (D-Mount Vernon) said that water is truly life. “The quality of that water makes a difference to all of us, whether to our youngest children or the oldest of us. … Because of the amount of drinking water pulled from the Occoquan, it’s even more critical.” 

Supervisor James R. Walkinshaw (D-Braddock) said, “It’s timely we affirm our commitment to that.” The Fairfax County supervisors unanimously approved the Herrity’s motion. 

The Board Matter came late and did nothing to sway not more than two supervisors on the Prince William County (PWC) board.

Neither did earlier comments by many Fairfax County groups and others.

On Feb 23, 2022, a memo coordinated among the Fairfax County Departments of Transportation, Public Works and Environmental Services, and Planning and Development to Rebecca Horner, deputy county executive of Prince William Planning Office, said that critical to Fairfax County is the protection of the Occoquan Watershed. ”The proposal to expand public sewer and water to serve the proposed data centers would not be compatible with the critical need to protect the Occoquan Reservoir … We have an overarching concern about the proposal to permit higher density development within the larger Occoquan Watershed due to cumulative impacts on the Reservoir, which provides drinking water to a large portion of Northern Virginia.”

In a letter dated March 21, 2022, the Fairfax County Water Authority said, “Substantial changes in land-use patterns in areas of Prince William County (PWC) will impact water quality in the watershed and reservoir.” 

On April 29, 2022, Kyle W; Hart, field representative of Mid Atlantic National Parks Conservation Association, wrote that if the Prince William Digital Gateway were fully developed, sediment loss from the development could “be expected to be up to 57,000 tons, the equivalent of approximately 4,000 large dump trucks of sediment being dumped into the Occoquan Watershed.”

“The additional sediment would lead to decreased water quality in Bull Run and the Occoquan Reservoir, negative impacts to the recreational angling the lake offers, and decreased storage capacity of the Occoquan Reservoir. Additional impervious surfaces created by this development would cause an additional 280 million gallons of additional stormwater runoff into the Occoquan Watershed annually, thus increasing the risk
of flash flooding downstream and decreasing groundwater and aquifer recharge,” said Hart.

Hart based his statements on findings by CEA Engineers with whom National Parks Conservation Association contracted about its growing concerns about the water quality. CEA is an environmental engineering firm with significant experience examining water quality impacts from development proposals 

“On our side of the water, I will continue to work to protect the watershed and monitor any upcoming land use cases that may threaten its quality,” Herrity said in his Nov. 4 issue of “The Herrity Report.”

Equity concerns pauses county’s push to develop sports tourism facilities

October 21, 2022


By Matt Blitz

Concerns over equity and the recommendation of specific sites have delayed Fairfax County’s push into sports tourism.

At last week’s Board of Supervisors meeting, Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity proposed that the county start advertising that it’s seeking proposals from private entities to develop sports tourism facilities.

However, he pulled the motion when it became clear that there wasn’t enough support from other supervisors to move forward. When he made the request in May, the board voted instead to have staff reassess a consultant’s report to ensure equity is considered when evaluating future projects.

“We’ve been sitting on the sidelines far too long. It’s time for us to get in the game or not,” Herrity said. “This is something the board has clearly expressed that it would benefit both our sports community, our taxpayers, our hotelers, our restaurants, our hospitality industry. We need to move forward and stop trying to find ways not to do it.”

Board Chairman Jeff McKay argued that Herrity, in fact, had “delayed the process.”

“I want to make it crystal clear that this board supports sports tourism…What we are doing is trying clean up the fact that it wasn’t done right,” he said. “Equity was left behind.”

A consultant hired by the county released a report in August 2020 recommending how the county could “more effectively compete within the sports tourism marketplace,” including specific sites where a large facility could go in the county.

The Park Authority-backed study identified nine different sites that it said could support facilities like a rectangle field complex with 16 fields or an ice complex, comparable to the one in Ballston.

However, as several supervisors brought up, none of the sites were vetted for equity, environmental impacts, or even the land’s current ownership.

Many of the preferred sites are in the north and northwest part of the county, while none are located in the south. Several sit in protected watershed areas, while a few others are privately owned, like George Mason University property, as opposed to county-owned.

The equity review requested in May was finished over the summer. Last month, the Sports Tourism Task Force recommended proceeding with an advertisement and “to consider the equity impact review as it reviews potential public-private partnerships” instead of at this stage in the process.

This didn’t sit well with several supervisors, including McKay, who wanted to make sure that the advertisement made clear that the recommended sites in the study were not county-approved.

“Frankly, I wish the consultant report didn’t exist. I think it was created under false pretense…It had no look at equity,” said McKay. “I don’t necessarily support any sites in there…They are in no way in any shape or form an endorsed list of locations by this board.”

Herrity accepted an amendment that the ad include language urging developers to be “creative” and recommend a site not on the consultant’s list.

Additionally, McKay asked that the entire board look at the advertisement to vet the language prior to it being released.

The plan now is to have staff update the report before Herrity resubmits the motion. While he hoped to have it by the board meeting on Tuesday (Oct. 25), Herrity told FFXnow that November now looks more likely, though he “was ready six months ago.”

He said this is the first program, in his recollection, “forced” to have an equity review as well as the first time that he remembers where the board will review the language for a request for proposals.

Nonetheless, he’s ready for Fairfax County to get in the game and build facilities that could help bring more revenue to the county, particularly with increased hotel occupancy.

The rest of the board appears to agree with the idea of exploring sports tourism, but it has to be “done right.”

“We have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to get this done right that will permanently…affect the long-term sustainability of sports and sports tourism in this county,” McKay said.

The planned restriction on giving money to persons on street medians is once more rejected by the county board

October 20, 2022


By Patrick Huston

While declining — at least temporarily — to make it unlawful to engage with anyone in a county-owned road or median, Fairfax County is once again debating how to deter “panhandling.”

According to Herrity’s board case, soliciting for money in the middle of the road or in the median not only “generates considerable public concern,” but also puts both the solicitors and drivers at risk.

Pat Herrity, the Springfield District Supervisor, brought up the topic again at this week’s board meeting after it had come up several times in recent years.

According to a board resolution from Herrity, “Anyone who stands in the median of our busy crossroads seeking to engage with cars puts themselves in danger and offers a dangerous distraction to vehicles.”

A recent county study, however, partially challenges this claim. The board instructed staff to perform a study in May to determine whether there are “public safety issues” associated with persons standing in the middle of the road soliciting donations at Herrity’s suggestion.

This rule applies to everyone using the medians, including panhandlers, fundraisers, marketers, and others.

The study’s findings were sent to the board in July, and it was noted that, in part because that information wasn’t being gathered with sufficient detail, staff members were “unable to uncover a major public safety issue related to or originating from panhandling.”

The FCPD data is not consistent with claims that panhandlers are more likely to be hurt or killed than other pedestrians or that areas with panhandlers present have a higher risk of traffic accidents, the study concluded, despite the fact that panhandling appears dangerous and causes a lot of public outrage.

Herrity disagreed with the evaluation, arguing that “common sense” shouldn’t be replaced by a study. “I am truly horrified that we have not done more to protect our neighbours on this issue, given the horrible pedestrian fatalities we have had in this County, including one panhandler. What is common sense should not require a research to be determined, Herrity wrote in the board matter.

Herrity proposed asking staff to “draught a curb-to-curb safety ordinance that would prohibit anyone from engaging with motorists between the curbs of a road with the exception of recognised public safety entities” at the board meeting on October 11. This would include for the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department’s yearly “Fill the Boot” campaign. Subsequently 2013, Loudoun County has had a comparable ordinance in effect; however, it has since been modified.

However, the motion was not seconded, and it was defeated before a vote could be taken. The concept has already been rejected by courts, but board chairman Jeff McKay said he is not opposed to continue the topic in a secret session.

Despite the fact that the last board resoundingly rejected this, McKay told Herrity, “I don’t oppose to having that dialogue, but I do think that conversation should happen before the staff begins crafting an ordinance for the benefit of your colleagues who weren’t on the previous board.” Herrity had a little more success when she asked for a public awareness campaign to tell neighbours that there are better ways to assist the less fortunate than simply giving them money. Additionally, it sought to educate property owners about their legal options for limiting the act on their property.

No supervisor had an opposition to that motion, so it was approved. Tony Castrilli, the county’s public information officer, mentioned during the meeting that the county has previously published materials that discouraged “panhandling” and provided the best ways to assist those in need.

County board again rejects proposed ban on giving money to people on street medians

October 19, 2022


By Matt Blitz

Fairfax County is once again discussing how to discourage “panhandling” while also declining — at least for the moment — to make it illegal to engage with anyone in a county-owned road or median.

The subject was revived at last week’s board meeting by Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity after cropping up a number of times over the last several years.

Herrity’s board matter argued that people in the road or median asking for money not only “generates considerable public complaint,” but is a safety risk for both those individuals and motorists.

“Anyone who stands in the median of our busy intersections trying to engage with motorists puts themselves in danger and presents a dangerous distraction to motorists,” Herrity’s board matter said. “This applies to panhandlers, fundraisers, marketers, and anyone else in the medians.”

However, a recent study by the county somewhat disputes this assertion. At Herrity’s urging, the board directed staff in May to conduct a study into if there are “public safety risks” in relation to people being in roads asking for money.

Sent to the board in July, the study results concluded that staff was “unable to find a significant public safety risk related to or stemming from panhandling,” mostly because that data wasn’t being collected at that level of specificity.

“While panhandling appears dangerous and generates considerable public complaint, available FCPD data does not support a determination that panhandlers are more likely to be injured or killed than other pedestrians, or that locations where panhandlers are present have an increased risk of traffic accidents,” the study said.

Nonetheless, Herrity disagreed with the assessment by saying a study shouldn’t replace “commonsense.”

“With as many tragic pedestrian fatalities as we have had in this County, including one panhandler, I am frankly appalled that we have not done more to protect our residents on this issue. We should not need a study to determine what is commonsense,” Herrity wrote in the board matter.

At the board’s Oct. 11 meeting, Herrity proposed directing staff to “draft a curb-to-curb safety ordinance that would restrict anyone from engaging with motorists between the curbs of a road with the exception of recognized public safety entities,” including for the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department’s annual “Fill the Boot” campaign.

A similar ordinance has been in place in Loudoun County since 2013 but has since been tweaked.

The motion, however, did not receive a second and died before going to a vote.

Board Chairman Jeff McKay said he’s not opposed to continuing the discussion in a closed session but cautioned that courts have already ruled against the proposal’s legality.

“I don’t object to having that conversation, but I do think that conversation should happen before the staff goes about drafting an ordinance to the benefit of your colleagues who weren’t on the last board, knowing that the last board soundly rejected this,” McKay told Herrity.

Herrity had a bit more luck with a request for a public information campaign to let community members know there are better ways to help those in need other than physically handing out cash. It also looked to inform business owners of their rights in restricting the act on their property.

That motion passed without objection from any supervisors.

As noted by the county’s public information officer Tony Castrilli during the meeting, the county has put out materials in the past that discouraged “panhandling” and shared best practices to help folks who are in need.

As part of the passed motion, the Board directed staff to update those materials.

McKay advised residents to donate money to nonprofits and community organizations, as opposed to handing out cash to those standing in roads or on sidewalks.

“The best way to stop this is for residents to stop giving money to panhandlers. That’s a difficult task to accomplish,” McKay said. “If we are really going to make a dent in this…it’s for people to give money to legitimate organizations that can help deal with the homelessness problem in the county. The folks that are giving money are doing what they think is the right thing, but they are creating even larger challenges.”