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Clarke Outlines Metro Stance

The Loudoun Board of Supervisors vice chairman explains her concerns about Metro financing and what it would take to win her support.

 

 

As the Loudoun Board of Supervisors prepared to huddle for a work session to discuss potential scenarios to pay for the construction, operation and maintenance of the proposed Metro Silver Line extension, Vice Chairman Janet Clarke (R-Blue Ridge) sent a letter to constituents explaining her position and outlining her concerns.

Below is the text of the message Clarke sent:

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.

Janie Oldham June 08, 2012 at 08:20 PM
What's so scary about growth? I don't want Loudoun's traffic problems to get even worse and with metro they will! I don't want Loudoun to grow even faster and have to pay the increased taxes to support all that growth. Metro means MUCH higher tolls, MUCH more development, MUCH more traffic, and MUCH higher taxes! Who the heck would want that, all to make a few developers even richer, even more quickly?!
Janie Oldham June 08, 2012 at 08:26 PM
You are totally and completely incorrect. This letter should make it clear, even to you, that Supervisor Clarke will not be voting to support metro. She will join the 4 others to stand up to MWAA's threats and bullying and defeat 2.8 miles of metro into Loudoun, a project that won't solve anything, but will create huge traffic problems, higher tolls, and higher taxes. Janet will do what is right for the taxpayers, and not the developers. That's what a leader does.
Janie Oldham June 08, 2012 at 08:27 PM
The difference is, we must have schools, we don't need to have metro and be beholdened to them forever.
The Chump June 09, 2012 at 02:18 AM
why spend millions and millions of dollars just to make a commute a few minutes shorter? Driving to Reston only takes a few minutes from a Loudoun metro stop to the Reston metro stop. i thought everyone was complaining about debt? isn't this going into much more debt? What's weird, Loudoun residents will be paying for this through property taxes and user fees. but those from outside Loudoun only pay the user fees. and lots of Loudouners will not use it to commute to work anyway.
David A. LaRock June 09, 2012 at 03:03 AM
We can do so much better http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xkjfh5klUzM
abroderick June 09, 2012 at 03:51 AM
The Metro takes cars off of the road for part of their daily commute. There is no way to argue that it doesn't effect traffic.
abroderick June 09, 2012 at 03:54 AM
The Metro stops fill up. Having a stop in Loudoun will allow more people to commute. It will also bring in more business to those in Loudoun County.
J Williams June 09, 2012 at 04:10 AM
Rob, your tone is indeed rather hostile, in MY opinion. I was simply stating my thoughts, which is that the metro is an expensive project, but one that will be well worth it in the long run as the benefits to us will far outweigh the cost. My neighbors and many other people believe as I do, yes to metro!
Sunshine Daisy June 09, 2012 at 04:38 AM
to say the metro wont help solve traffic congestion is just ignorant. It will alleviate the congestion and stress and road rage for many commuters!
Janie Oldham June 09, 2012 at 07:03 AM
Sunshine dear, have you ever been to Vienna, or anyplace with a metro? Were their traffic problems solved? or even made better? No dear, they make traffic worse. Metros cause MORE traffic, not less. Please, expand your horizons, visit Vienna, or anyplace with a metro and come back and discuss the traffic situation there.
Janie Oldham June 09, 2012 at 07:11 AM
Here's an idea, let the people of the county decide. The board of supervisors will have to issue bonds to pay for the initial $300 million, plus $112 we owe for phase one if we opt in, and for the yearly $30 million maintenance. Usually when the county is going to borrow this much money for a big project they put it to the citizens to vote on issuing the bonds. Let the citizens vote in November to decide if they want to float those bonds. MWAA can wait a few more months for their $300 million. We also owe $112 million for phase 1. The total cost, according to a supervisor, will be $1.2 BILLION. Shouldn't the people to be allowed to vote on a project that big, bonds that big? Put it to referendum!
Janie Oldham June 09, 2012 at 07:14 AM
The 'official' estimate is 2% of the population will ride metro. When they find out how expensive it will be to park and take the metro from Loudoun, about $35 a day, (parking $10, Greenway fees, $11, and $15 for metro, all expected to increase) I suspect even fewer to ride it.
David A. LaRock June 09, 2012 at 11:03 AM
Thank you Ashburn Patch for allowing me to comment. I have been an outspoken critic of the project but always have kept comments friendly. Loudoun Times Mirror has blocked my ability to comment for about 2 weeks now and failed to correct the problem. This is called view point discrimination. Very bad!
Concerned_Citizen9 June 09, 2012 at 12:15 PM
I would like to trust that our representatives would do the prudent thing - perform the analysis fully, understand where the finances will come from, anticipate the impacts upon our community and its residents (realizing the type of people who chose to live in Loudoun, instead of, say, Arlington), understand the impacts upon our infrastructure, etc. Unfortunately however that doesn't look likely. Leaving the vote to the citizens is probably a better idea. At least that way there is an opportunity for everyone (...or at least those who choose to think, and put aside their emotional 'give it to me now and we will figure out how to pay for it later' desires, and act like a responsible adult who wants to understand the ramifications of their actions) to become educated, and understand the FACTS. I fear that the developers, and others who stand to profit from this deal, have too much influence over the decision makers. Look at the debt at ANY level of government in our nation, and you can see the effect of that fact - unsustainable debt, due to bad financial promises made by politicians seeking greater power. I agree Janie, put it to a vote.
joe brewer June 09, 2012 at 01:29 PM
Well thank the lord glen is here to speak for business and families, I guess his totem pole has few members going to the top of it. Speaking of facts where do you come off with the 3rd worst traffic in the United States. You are entitled to your opinion but not your own facts Baconater!
Antoinette Purdon June 09, 2012 at 04:28 PM
How about asking everyone who is planning on using the Metro in Loudoun County whether or not they are willing to pay at least $15 per day to park their car or $10 to drop off the person in their family that will be taking the Metro, PLUS the cost of the Metro ride, PLUS the cost of any tolls generated from their travel to the Metro station, PLUS a much highter percentage on their property tax rate, (PLUS...PLUS...) and require that they do the math on the individual homeowner's or family's total costs to bring in the Metro, I truly believe the pocketbooks of all sane people in Loudoun will suddenly snap shut.
Bob Bruhns June 09, 2012 at 05:39 PM
Wait - does that mean that my stocks have to go up, because I expected them to? I'm calling my broker right now, because that's certainly not what happened! But with a Billion and a half dollars of overcharge in this rail project, I can understand how SOME people might get what they hoped for.
Bob Bruhns June 09, 2012 at 05:48 PM
Oh boy, here is the old taxes versus tax rate game. I saw it in Herndon some years ago. The Big Spending Mayor and Council took a bow for reducing the tax rate about 8%, when the property valuations had jumped about 30%. There they were, taking a bow - while the Real Dollar tax, of course, was skyrocketing. Interestingly, that Mayor got booted out of office, and wound up... on the MWAA board. You just can't make this stuff up!
Bob Bruhns June 09, 2012 at 05:56 PM
I keep showing how Dulles Rail Phase II costs almost two times what it should - but nobody seems to think that matters, or anything. This is what Ben Franklin was talking about, when he said that people get the government they deserve.
Melvin Summers June 11, 2012 at 03:55 AM
It's about time Loudoun got Metro and I can hardly wat to see them vote yes to it this coming July. Our taxes should pay for it, just get some of them back from Richmond. Yes to Metro
joan zawacki June 15, 2012 at 12:50 PM
I agree. Ms. Clarke has delivered the most cogent arguments against the rail that I have heard to date. I live in Ashburn, so the rail to Dulles is enough for me, and considering that we have not seriously set monies aside for the project and will probably raise everyone's taxes without seeing a real benefit for a long time, the entire project is aimed at profits by already too-profitable private business interests. I especially would not like to see that Greenway get any more business
joan zawacki June 15, 2012 at 01:49 PM
I believe that those businesses who stand to profit most should pay a greater share of the taxes for Metro..kind of like Dulles Corridor. I like Clarke's arguments against the Metro...she wants to hear more and know exactly how it will be paid for, not just going along because others say she should. However, I also believe that Loudoun will continue to grow with or without Metro..I don't believe you can stop the growth, and the traffic is unbearable now for anyone traveling points east. We only have two inadequate arteries..7 and 50, and that Greenway gouge road, plus the Dulles toll road which is becoming more expensive every year. So love it or hate it, I believe Metro will happen.
Bob Bruhns June 15, 2012 at 02:49 PM
The main reason the Dulles Toll Road tolls are going up (and you haven't seen anything yet), is that they are paying for most of the Silver Line. If you think that the Dulles Toll Road tolls are higher every year NOW... do people realize that the REAL skyrocket ride comes a little bit after the Phase II papers are signed? That's when we'll start to see buyers remorse on this Silver Line ripoff. The skyrocketing tolls will first cause many drivers to take local roads, which will be totally jammed, and this will cause screaming to elected representatives. Toll road drivers will be screaming too, and some of them are local taxpaying voters. Guess what the elected leaders will do. First, they will pretend to be surprised. Then, they will float billion dollar bonds, meaning a $50 to $75 million dollar tax hike - for 50 years or more. (That's on top of all of the other costs.) Meanwhile, WMATA needs $13 billion for Metro maintenance. Guess where that money will come from? A) Martian space colonies B) Invisible microbes C) Taxpayers If you guessed "C" - you got it.
not20148 June 18, 2012 at 08:17 PM
Melvin you've lost your mind! You don't get 10,000 in value increase unless you SELL. The additional tax however, comes out of your pocket no matter what. I'll say it again Melvin, if this were your money, would you agree to double taxation like this? If so, give me your credit card, I need some new shoes!
not20148 June 18, 2012 at 08:24 PM
Melvin needs to take the metro to school so he can learn about economics. You're so pie-in-the-sky, get some more tax money from Richmond, let my neighbor pay for it, it's very sad. Just where do you think Richmond gets the tax money? Oh Melvin, I feel sorry for you and your family.
Jack Seeley June 27, 2012 at 08:10 PM
Dear Supervisor Clarke: I totally support you not supporting the Dulles Rail project--and that means all phases, including the extension to IAD. Even if we were in a period of national plenty it would be a poor use of taxpayer dollars. With the current economy, it would be criminal. --Jack Seeley
ACitizen4BetterGovernment June 27, 2012 at 08:33 PM
Time to start a petition to recall Supervisor Janet Clarke.
Crybaby#36 June 27, 2012 at 10:01 PM
I think metro to loudoun is dumb. I want to take my horse and buggy to work, wear wooden teeth, and dream of a day when blacks and women get to vote.
joe brewer June 27, 2012 at 10:54 PM
To heck with the gov, Romney should vet Mrs. Clarke. BTW investing in the stock market or a college education are indivdual choices. Taking my money in the form of taxes to pay for rail that benefits the MWAA the most is silly. Alond with the tolls from Loudoun they want to add 270 mil, no thanks!
Peter Schaefer June 28, 2012 at 08:04 PM
Ms. Clarke has hit the nail on the head with her thoughtful, thorough analysis. I move between my work as a development economist and businessman in or with poor countries. In country after country I can tell you that the most dishonest group of people are almost always the property developers. I find it fascinating that they almost always equate happiness with progress, progress with development and, of course, development with their personal benefit. That the town of Purcellville may legally cut down hundreds of fruit trees to make an access road, doesn't mean they should do it. Washington was a land speculator and developer who placed his bets in the marketplace, not by buying off compliant regulator. But the Trancontinental Railroad was simply a gigantic land development scheme plotted well in advance by developers who bullied and bribed their way through congress to get goodies. Most development is good and but some isn't. Citizens have a right to be informed and debate when regulators and polticians make decisions that trade off quality-of-life for development. If these decisions are made in secret, developers will always prevail. Thank you Ms. Clarke for bringing it out into the light.

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