Week of October 8-14, 2004 © 2004 Suburban Washington Newspapers Inc.

Civic Federation OK's Bond Referendums

By SCOTT McCAFFREY

Staff Writer

Delegates to the Arlington County Civic Federation on Tuesday adopted referendums in support of the four county bond referendums, but those who came seeking a rousing landslide in favor of the two largest bonds went away empty-handed.

There was a surprising amount of discontent with the county’s proposed school bond and its parks and recreation bond among Civic Federation delegates and alternates, who cast secret ballots on the bond package after pro-and-con presentations were made Oct. 5 during the federation’s monthly meeting at Virginia Hospital Center.

After the presentations concluded, delegates were asked to vote on four bond issues being sent to voters:

* $75.395 million for local parks and recreation, including $45 million to start development of the North Tract recreation site.

* $35.944 million for transportation and community infrastructure projects, including Neighborhood Conservation projects.

* $18.536 million for Metro funding.

* And $78.128 million for school funding, including funds to build a new Washington-Lee High School.

The Metro and transportation/community infrastructure bonds passed with relatively little opposition. The votes were 57-9 and 47-20, respectively.

The school bond passed on a closer 40-28 vote, while the parks bond won passage on an even more narrow 37-31 vote, after spirited debate about the merits of moving forward now.

Wayne Kubicki, a member of the county’s Fiscal Affairs Advisory Commission, spoke out against putting construction funds for the North Tract recreation site in the 2004 bond package, before the final design of the project is completed and more solid fiscal projections are made.

“This project has a huge financial impact,” Kubicki said. “This should not have been on the ballot at this time.”

Kubicki argued that funding for design of the large recreation center should have been included on the 2004 bond issue, and the county government should have come back next year for funding construction.

But Tobin Smith, chairman of the Parks and Recreation Commission, said the timing was right.

“We have aging facilities,” Smith said. “We need more open space. This money pays for more open space. North Tract is the largest tract of open space that is likely to come to the county.”

The North Tract is located north of Crystal City and east of Interstate 395. The county government obtained the North Tract site from a developer, in exchange for agreeing to higher density in the Potomac Yard project south of Crystal City.

Smith said it would be unrealistic to wait for every design detail to be ironed out before moving forward with the project.

“We spent two and a half years on the [design] plan – this has not been poorly-thought-out,” Smith said. “Every year you wait, the cost goes up and up. Let’s move to get it under construction.”

Kubicki countered that the parks supporters should learn a lesson from the planning for a new Washington-Lee High School. Original estimates suggested that a new school would cost about $50 million. More detailed planning showed that the school will cost at least $80 million.

He suggested that the county government leaders are trying to rush the North Tract project past voters in a presidential year, when turnout is high and there’s more likelihood of passage.

Smith countered that the project would fill needs, and ultimately would pay for itself through user fees.

The Civic Federation’s parks and recreation committee had recommended approval of the endorsement, but also was split: its vote was 4-2.

On the school bond, community leader Randy Anderson, who is co-chairman of the pro-bond forces, said a new Washington-Lee High School was needed.

“The current building is old and out-of-date – it’s crowded and it sprawls over the site,” he said.

The Civic Federation’s schools committee had recommended approval of the school bond endorsement, but also offered “significant concern” that it would add to already rising debt levels in county government.

Tim Wise, a Civic Federation delegate, said a recent tour of Washington-Lee had convinced him that, while the school was not in the best of shape, it was not so ramshackle that replacement was urgent.

“If anybody wishes to vote ‘no,’ they don’t have to have a guilty conscience that they are taking anything away from Arlington students,” Wise said.

The Civic Federation’s action adds to the support of the four bond issues. The Arlington Chamber of Commerce already has voiced support of all four bonds, and the Arlington Sun Gazette’s editorial page recently urged voters to support all four.

Also at the meeting, delegates by overwhelming margins voted in support of two state constitutional amendments that are on the ballot Nov. 2.

The first amendment would change how special elections for House of Delegates, state Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives are held in the aftermath of once-every-10-years statewide redistricting. The second would add to the list of those who would succeed to the governorship in case of a massive terrorist attack or natural disaster.

The two constitutional amendments were supported by votes of 60-7 and 62-4, respectively.