Post 5: “The Name is Bond.”

First in a Series on the Fairfax County Park Bond

By Tony Vellucci

There are brands and sayings that are known the world over, regardless of language or culture – like Coca Cola, Mercedes Benz, and of course – The Name is Bond.  James Bond!  Well, this lead article is not about any international mystery or spy-story.  Rather, it’s about a different bond – the Park Bond.

Recently, Fairfax voters approved a $182 million public safety bond question on the Nov. 6, 2018 general election ballot.   Bond funds will be used to build, renovate or expand four fire stations, three police facilities, and courtrooms.

Many of the county’s agencies (Public Works, Libraries, Parks) use funds raised from bonds outside of taxes for building, renovating or expanding county facilities to support constituent services.  The question often arises:  why not just raise taxes and pay as you go.  Well, there’s lots of reasons why the county issues bonds, and the county website provides copious information on the process and the who, what, where, when and why.

Suffice it to say, if you are going to build an addition to your house, you probably don’t have the funds on hand to pay for it outright; so, you get a loan.  The county is doing essentially the same thing, but is asking you the voter, if you agree, before going out and saddling you with the resulting debt.  That’s why we have bond referendums in November.

This article, and those that follow, will focus on bonds issued by the county to support the Fairfax County Park Authority.  Park Authority bonds usually come before voters every four years and if the past is any guide, we can expect the next one in November 2020.

Over the course of the next few months, we will look at the who what where when and why of how the Park Authority does bonds.

We’ll look at the Park Authority Board and the Bond Committee processes, policies and procedures; how the staff develops bond project recommendations and how the proposed bond package is fed to the board.

We’ll look at bond interaction with the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) and how the proposed bond package lines up with the Park Authority Needs Assessment.  Is the Park Authority identifying bond projects that fit and dovetail with the Needs Assessment?

We’ll look at how a new community grass roots effort – the Community Vision Plan – can play a role in identifying bond projects along with Park Authority-developed park master plans.

We’ll also look at past bond packages and do a quick hindsight-assessment on them.

The reason for all this is to ensure that you, the citizen, have input to the bond package so that it satisfies your needs, and so that you cast an informed vote.  After all, the bottom line is that this is not fake money.  It’s our money and since bonds are usually issued for 30 years. it’s a long-term liability that we the voters agree to take on.

The next article will discuss the Park Authority Board, the bond committee and the timeline for how a bond gets from the drawing board to the November ballot.

Tony Vellucci is a former Fairfax County Park Authority Board member, Braddock District (2011-2017).

Post 4: Recreation Under One Roof? Nature Conservation Given New Attention?

Providence Rec Center
Providence Rec Center
James Lee Community Center
James Lee Community Center

As Noted in our Post No 2, Fairfax has two Parks & Recreation agencies, the Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA), and the Fairfax County Department of Neighborhood and Community Services (NCS), formerly Community and Recreation Services (CRS).

Through their recreation centers (FCPA) and community centers (NCS), both agencies offer recreation facilities and programs. Teen and senior centers are housed at NCS recreation centers.

The agencies’ other primary missions are nature preservation (FCPA), historic preservation (FCPA) and social services (NCS).  FCPA is run by an appointed board; NCS is under the County Executive.

 

This to propose merging one or more of their functions. 

Read morePost 4: Recreation Under One Roof? Nature Conservation Given New Attention?

Post 3: Open the Parks for Improvement by People, Please!

A Crying Need for An Open Door to the Public to Work Together with Government for Better Parks: A slightly long post exploring this idea

New York City long ago saw the need to unleash citizen power on parks.   Maintenance needs grew, funding shrunk.   There was a need for a program of encouragement and facilitation; citizens could take on development and maintenance, AND bring parks to life with their own vision and energy.   One result was the New York Partnership for Parks, and its People Make Parks program — please click the link to get a taste of what they do:

“We equip people, organizations and government with the skills and tools they need to transform these [park] spaces into dynamic community assets.”

Read morePost 3: Open the Parks for Improvement by People, Please!

Post 2: What is a Park Authority?

FCPA Park SignNVRPA Park Sign

Above:  park signs used by our two park authorities

What is a Park Authority? An Introduction

“Authority: a person or body of persons in whom authority is vested, as a governmental agency” – Collins English Dictionary online

“Public authorities are agencies created by governments to engage directly in the economy for public purposes” – Oxford Research Encyclopedia of American History

“Authorities borrow from both municipal corporation law (that is, the laws responsible for the creation of cities, towns, and other forms of local government) and private corporations law” – Wikipedia

We in Fairfax have two park authorities: our county park system, managed by the Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA); and the multi-jurisdiction Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority (NVRPA), also known as NOVA Parks.

An authority is like a piece of government that has been split off.   The FCPA’s Annual Report refers to itself as ‘a component unit of the County of Fairfax.’  The FCPA looks like a county agency, its employees are county employees and it follows most if not all administrative practices of the county government.  It is, however, like a public corporation.   The FCPA Executive Director does not report to the Fairfax County Executive, but rather to the FCPA Board, who has hired him or her.  FCPA Board members are appointed by the county Board of Supervisors (BOS) – one by each district supervisor, 3 at-large by the Chair of the BOS.  The FCPA’s budget pie chart has 5 slices, and the FCPA Board has direct oversight of 2 of those slices.

The Virginia Legislature authorized the creation of park authorities by localities in 1950. You can find the language in The Virginia Code, in the section called “Counties, Cities, and Towns,” direct link:  https://law.lis.virginia.gov/vacode/title15.2/chapter57/.  The same year, our county park authority was formed using the instruments of a county ordinance and a memorandum of understanding between the BOS and our new Authority.

The NVRPA was founded in 1959 by Fairfax, Loudoun and Arlington Counties, together with the cities of Alexandria, Falls Church, and Fairfax.  The NVRPA receives its government funding as contributions from member jurisdictions, based on population; and usually receives a slice of park bonds (f the $107 million bond referendum for parks in 2016, $94.7 million went to the FCPA, $12.3 million to NVRPA) .  It is governed by a board of directors each appointed by his/her member government.

Is a Park Authority typical in Virginia?  It takes a bit of hunting to find out, as Virginia does not have a central office or point of contact for its authorities.  It turns out that our two are about the only ones in the state.  Virginia’s next largest jurisdictions: Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Chesapeake, Richmond have regular parks and recreation departments.  Next-door Prince William County had a Park Authority that was founded in 1977; it dissolved in 2012 and turned over operations to the county.

You may know that authorities can borrow money by selling revenue bonds, to fund for construction and maintenance.  The debt is repaid from the authority’s revenue such as that from admission fees.  The Park Bonds we vote on, however, are “general obligation” bonds.  The debt is repaid out of the county’s budget; think of this as a second public fund for the two park authorities.

Last, we note that we have another county recreation agency, the Fairfax County Department of Neighborhood and Community Services.  Its focus is strong on social service, but it offer lots of recreation — see their community center calendars , and operates community centers which have sports courts and other sports facilities.  NCS also schedules the use of the Park Authority sports fields.

These 3 major park & recreation agencies operate independently.

In our Reference section, we have compiled a list of all park agencies operating in and near Fairfax County.

Questions or comments? Send to pfpfairfax@gmail.com and we will post (your name omitted) with reply.

 

 

 

Post 1: Hello from Parks for People

Covering the world of parks in the Fairfax County, Virginia Area

[updated July 16]

Parks are a major public resource, representing major public investment.  Per the Fairfax County Park Authority’s recent annual report, its nearly 24,000 acres of land, building and equipment of that agency are valued at $624 million.  It employs thousands, and thousands more contribute to parks as volunteers and donors.  We can’t put a number on inherent value as natural holdings and public commons.   Parks touch on every aspect of physical, social, environmental, economic, cultural, and educational health and vitality.

This blog and site will focus on parks, with an emphasis on advocating for the role of people.  How can we citizens best work together with each other and with our government for parks that are at their best?  In the most enjoyable and productive ways?  Using creativity and sound practices? What information, what tools and kinds of discussions do we need for the best outcomes?

We’ll publish regularly, and grow the site with other useful pages, such as the Reference Page with its lists of organizations and publications you may be interested in; and we’ll seek to bring people and organizations together.

This is dedicated to our parks and to all of us in Fairfax County.  Below I write about why this blog is important to me.

Marie Reinsdorf, editor

Read morePost 1: Hello from Parks for People