News and notes from Reston (tm).

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Rumor du Jour: Would RA Cede Its Recreation Facilities to Fairfax County?

simpsons-movie-dome-1.pngTalk about a trial balloon -- taking those fancy enclosed tennis courts and swimming pools and whatnot everyone seems to want and kicking the can over to our friends in Fairfax County government. A secret Restonian operative shared this tidbit from a recent RA Parks and Planning Committee meeting, which sadly we missed because of those tempting Family Matters reruns. Damn you, Urkle!

Vicky Wingert and Bill Bouie of the RA Parks and Planning Committee announced their proposal for RA to turn over all of its recreational facilities to Small Tax District #5 (a wholly owned subsidiary of Fairfax County).

So now all of the 1,000,000 citizens of Fairfax County [would] be able to use the Lake Newport pool and the Glade tennis courts without paying taxes for them!  The people of Reston are just that generous to their supportive friends and neighbors in Great Falls and Oakton.
Let's be clear that this was just a proposal from two members of the committee, not something anyone is currently acting on. But stranger things have gotten off the drawing board of late, so who knows?


  1. Great. Fairfax County can have South Lakes park. Oh, wait. That's already a county park. Doh.

  2. Great, lets us RA types spend $5 million of our assessment dollars so the other 1,140,000 FFX residents can crowd us out of the Jim Elder employment facility or the Lake Newport Pool.

  3. It's just the committee (member volunteers) making their ideas known. Obviously these two, with known agendas, are testing the waters. I would not worry too much about this one...

  4. Bill Bouie is the Chairman of the Fairfax County Park Authority in addition to his position on the board of the RCC. Bill doesn't just "float" ideas or test the waters. He already knows what he wants to do. It will just take the rest of us a while to figure it out.

  5. This just goes to show the importance of keeping RCC employees, board members and other conflicted people off the RA board. Thank goodness that Kevin Danaher didn't win his bid for the Lake Anne/Tall Oaks seat. Both Kevin and his wife work for the RCC. If a proposal like this goes forward to the RA Board you can bet how Kevin would have voted.

  6. First RA gave up our rights to the Town Center Property. Then RA gave up our oversight of architectural design for the RCIG. Now the county wants our recreational facilities?

    This looks like a slow steady move to dismantle Reston Association.

  7. Well, let's get rid of RA once and for all. At least we could take a deduction on the taxes we pay. Of course, I would either eliminate STD 5 or not increase taxes and have the county pay and maintain those recreational facilities. Of course, that would also make Milty get a job with the county and reduce his $180K free ride to much less.

  8. Everyone knows Bill... he tries... Members of the new Board are not big fans of his...

  9. Reston needs to be its own City.

    Then RA could turn its facilities over to the City and the City could limit the use of the facilities to City residents only eliminate the risk of Restonians losing use of the facilities to hordes from Great Falls or Oakton.

  10. "Which city?", you ask. Why, Gulagorad.

    Today, the Gulag; Tomorrow, Reston! These shall be my last territorial demands. Bwahaha.

  11. Reston could and should become a city.

    However, the city could not enact an ordinance to make the pools only city residents.

    RA should remain as the private entity which owns and operates the pools that can legally bar non members from using the pools.


  12. Is there something I'm missing here, HKCD? Why couldn't the city limit access to the pools for city residents only? Even if they can't limit access to residents, the city could charge one fee for residents (say, $1) and another for non-residents (say, $100).

  13. That would run afoul of the US Constitution. There could be a reasonable fee charged to non residents. But discrimination based on State (or municipal) residence is in contravention to the 4th amendment Privileges and Immunities clause.

    Ffx co can charge non residents more than residents to access co facilities, but it cannot restrict either on its face, or in effect through an unreasonable disparity of fees like you suggest above.

    A little Con-law lesson free of charge.


  14. Before you get to dreamin'too much about the City of Reston or Reston City.. say "Dillon Rule" a few times... and that'll wake you up.

  15. Count me as confused. Given the least opportunity, Restonians whine about paying too much for public services. Yet, offered an opportunity to get more for their money, they turn up their noses. If Small Tax District No 5 funded all the recreation facilities, everyone in Reston could increase the deduction for local taxes on their federal income taxes. And the costs would be spread more equitably than under the current flat fee charged by RA.. so some folks would save even more.
    Now the best solution would be to do away with Small Tax District No 5 entirely and have all the recreation facilities funded by Fairfax County's general fund -- spreading the costs over the whole county and correcting the longstanding injustice that Reston pays for both its own recreational facilities with no help from the rest of the county while paying for a share of the rest of the county's facilities. But really if everyone would simply prefer complaining, don't let me stip you.

  16. That solution would be best if Restonians want the rest (ha ha pun intended) of Fairfax county to enjoy our pools.

    Reston pays for its own recreational facilities and gets to keep them exclusive. The RCC is a different story, but in comparison to the summer pools and tennis courts and fields and other recreation RA dues provide, the RCC is a drop in the bucket.

    I don't want to share my pool and actually find my $500 for the year was well spent. I can enjoy my pool in relatively uncrowded conditions. $500 for a membership to a pool for an entire family is a deal.

    Now if you add in all the other things your assessment pays for, it is an even better deal in my opinion.

  17. HCKD

    The Terk, Hoeven and Baldwin cases hold that access to recreational opportunities is not a fundamental right protected by the P&E clause of the Constitution.

    Anon 4:11

    A city charter would have to be granted by the General Assembly. Other than that what does "Dillon's Rule" have to do with this discussion?

    Anon 5:29

    If taken over by STD #5, the facilities would be overwhelmed by non-Reston County users. The same problem who occur with County take over. (Its really the same thiing.) RA members' mortgages paid for these facilities (the developer included the cost in the price of the home) and non-RA members would crowd out RA users. There are, after all, 1.14 million of them and only 65,000 of us. NO to STD or County take over of RA facilities.

  18. Not sure if my prior comment posted so please forgive a double post if it happens:

    Just because there is no fundamental right to access recreational activities does not make disparate treatment of non state citizens legal per se.

    It means that a rational basis would be applied to the hypothetical Reston City ordinance charging non residents $100 and residents $1

    The City would have to prove:
    1) legitimate state interest
    2) rational means of enforcing it.

    $100 for a non-resident day pool pass would not be a rational means of ensuring that the pools are not crowded.

    $10 for non residents would probably fly.


  19. HCKD

    Read the cases. You're wrong. In one case the permit was 7.5 higher for non-resident. In another there was a prohibition on use of rec. facility by non-residents. No P&E coverage.

  20. Wow. I'm impressed by all of this legal banter. Remind me not to threaten to sue either of you.

    There are few things more refreshing than listening (or reading, as the case may be) talk about things that they know about.

    The main reason to me to keep the pools out of the hands of the county isn't to make sure that the south county scum can't come here and leave bathtub rings in our pools but so that the county can't just arbitrarily use our pools as a financial pawn in their quest for higher tax revenues. If the county takes possession, they will, at some point, threaten to shut them down (or at least some of them) because of a projected revenue shortfall in the county budget. Most governments pull this kind of crap in order to cow their constituents into accepting higher taxes. With Fairfax County, they usually hold the cops and firemen and librarians and teachers hostage. Then, miraculously, the BoS finds the money from somewhere. The best case in point was the threatened cuts to the bus service.

    Besides, giving them the pools opens us up to a take over of other facilities, like golf courses, the Brown's Chapel ball parks, garden areas, our nature center, even the lakes, which I'm sure they'll threaten to drain if we don't hand over more treasure. And if they should decide to put a rec center on Brown's Chapel, taking on the BoS is going to be much more difficult than smacking around Smyers and company.

    No, if we have to give it over to anybody, I would rather give it over to the Town of Reston or Reston City or Gulagorad.

  21. All three cases you cited have to do with hunting and game permits.
    Terk: NM v TX hunting license fees
    Hoeven: MN v ND re: waterfowl permits
    Baldwin: MO Elk hunting license fees.

    The Court found that yes the states can discriminate in fees, never once did the court suggest that non residents could be barred entirely.

    You could analogize them to swimming pool access and you would be correct that the hypothetical City of Reston could discriminate against non-residents for the fee.

    (This I never disputed. I mentioned that FFX Co discriminates against non residents for admission fees to rec centers)

    However, a $100 to $1 disparity would never survive even a rational basis review.

    Find me a case that allows a municipality to completely bar all access to non residents. Then find me one that would allow a $100 to $1 disparity.

  22. Most local pools are not owned by the county, but by homeowners associations, and this is the way it should be. If the county owned our rec facilities like pools, they would ruin them. Have you tried to go to the Watermine or other FC pools. They are crowded, not with people from Reston, they are dirty, badly run, etc.

    And don't think that Bill offers this solution out of the goodness of his heart. The county would love to get a hold of RA's rec facilities and open them up to the rest of the county. They would love to get our local parks, like Browns Chapel, and turn them into county facilities.

  23. The best example that I can think of where the county bars non-county residents would be social services. Non-county residents, I believe, can not apply for Medicaid in the county. If a non-county resident wants to apply for Medicaid, they must apply in their county. We ran into this problem when we were preparing application(s) for my mother.

    Public schools work the same way. They're free to county residents. County residents can move between schools with the school system's permission, but the education is still free, and at a substantial cost to the county. However, non-county residents must pay for access to schools. Because schools are free to county residents, any fee to non-county residents would be an infinte ratio, as opposed to a 100:1.

    But Medicaid and schools are different from parks. Or are they?

  24. HCKD

    In one of those cases, the non-resident was not allowed to hunt the animal at all = total prohibition on use!

    The point is recreation is not covered by P&E.

    But you're also cleverly trying to shift the burden of proof. ;-)

    Since all municipal ordinances are presumed valid until proven otherwise and since you advanced the unconstitutionality of such an ordinance, it's up you to cite the U.S. Supreme Court case striking down an ordinance limiting the use of municipal recreational facilities to that localities residents.

    Good luck

    [Jeopardy theme plays in the background]


    Medcaid and schools are different from parks under the P&E section of the Constitution as I'm trying to demonstrate to HCKD

  25. If Reston's facilities were open to all County residents, what would happen? We don't have to speculate, because RCC offers a real world test. It is safe to assume, I believe, that anyone from outside STD5 who wanted to use RCC could do so. RCC lacks the means to screen out non-residents. The Board has discussed various alternatives, but settled on none. In times past, the staff made little or no effort to identify non-residents. RCC does charge non-residents higher fees, but the difference in fees is nominal. Nevertheless, RCC is hardly overrun by non-residents.

    From another perspective, the RCC fees again demonstrate the failure of supposedly fiscally alert Restonians to recognize real issues. RCC has no real basis for setting fees. It has never even tried to calculate the full cost of, for example, of operating the pool. Its sloppy financial practices make doing so difficult. It has left fees unchanged literally for decades. When it has adjusted fees, the staff have persuaded the Board that RCC should offer other County residents a lower fee than other non-residents, even though the County contributes nothing to RCC's funding. As a result, the current fees for non-residents don't come close to covering their fair share of the operating costs and STD5 taxpayers are, therefore, providing everyone else with substantial subsidies and non-users are providing users with substantial subsidies.

    As for RA's facilities, they are almost all underutilized. Moreover, RA lacks the financial means to maintain and repair them properly. In the near future, we will be told that RA has to close pools/tennis courts/etc because it does not have the capital need to carry out needed refurbishments. RA has done a better job than RCC in trying to accumulate a capital reserve with which to replace/repair old facilities, (that isn't hard because RCC has done almost nothing) but the amounts RA has managed to accumulate fall well short of what is needed. We may well see, as we have seen in the past, RA turning to the County in search of capital investment in order to replace old facilities. So why not do it right and have the County take responsibility?

  26. 8:23

    Terk: higher fees for non residents
    Baldwin: higher fees for non residents

    Hoeven: Right to hunt on land owned by non-residents in ND off season without a license not allowed. The non-resident was still able to hunt in season provided they bought a license. There was not a bar of total access which would NOT have passed a rational basis review.

    This case is distinguished and not germane to Reston City's hypothetical $100 non resident pool use permit.

    I'm not going to concede that a $100 non resident vs $1 resident permit is valid. I don't have the time to research a case where municipalities could entirely bar non-residents from facilities either on its face, or in effect though an onerous user fee). (Which I would suspect is non-existent because such a statute would never be written, it would fail even a rational basis review)

    But I have enjoyed this little tete-a-tete and suggest you get a handle because you add to the discussion and it would be nice to refer to you by name instead of gutless anon 8:23

    Anon 9:15
    If RCC is doing such a shitty job of running its two facilities, what makes you think the county will do so much better with all our pools and tennis courts?

    What is this Madness?

    As someone pointed out, Restonians have paid for these facilities, why in earth would we just give them over to the county?

    What you offer is an undifferentiated fear that RA will be shutting facilities, with nothing to back up your predictions.

    I don't believe the facilities are underutilized at all. They always seem to have plenty of people using them.

    Pools ans Schools, that is what makes Reston what it is. We're already getting cuts in the schools, why would we ever want to do the same to our pools which add to all of our property values considerably?

  27. Anon 9:15:

    "We may well see, as we have seen in the past, RA turning to the County in search of capital investment in order to replace old facilities. So why not do it right and have the County take responsibility?"

    The pools, tennis courts, ball fields, parks are our PRIVATE property. We bought them when we bought our homes. If RA doesn't hasn't budgeted money to keep these facilities in good order, somebody else should be in charge of finances at RA. Giving our facilities away to the county is not a plan.

    If RA turns to the county it's because we have been doubled taxed: once through STD5 to support the RCC and a second time to pay for county-wide recreational facilities. The county collects more money in Reston than it spends here.

    The reason Bill Bouie wants the county to take over RA facilities is so our pools, parks, tennis courts, etc., will be available to the new residents coming into the Dulles corridor. Under proposed development plans under review right now that could be upwards of 50,000 new people. If RA inherits the responsibility for the recreational needs of the new residents, the county and the developers are off the hook for providing parkland and recreational facililties at our expense. Sweet for them.

  28. Anon 2:03

    You make an excellent point.

  29. anon 9:15

    Reston's tennis courts and pools are not underutilized according to every survey undertaken. Some pools are used less than others (shadowood) but in the aggregate supply & demand are in balance.

    RA has the means to maintain & repair those facilities and has done so. Major renovations have been completed at several pools and tennis courts.

    A reserve study of RA faciities has or is about to be presented to the RA Board. We'll see if there is any shortfall between reserves and needed repairs and renovations.

    RAs annual assessment is among the lowest in the nation for HOAs of comparable size. If reserves need to be accumulated, there's plenty of time and capacity for RA to do so.

    RCC just completed a major renovation of the Hunters Woods center and still has $4 million in reserves.

    There is no basis for an RCC take over of RA facilities.

  30. Will RA have sufficient funds to replace its major facilities when the time comes?

    History suggests not. RA had to turn to the county for capital funds to replace the Southgate center and to put a park in the old Barn space. When the RA board was offered a plan to restore the streams for $3 million, it declined to do so on the grounds that it did not have the money. (When the plan was credible or whether restoration should cost $70 million as the current contractors claim are both other stories.)

    RA's revenues have been and continue to be restricted by the cap on assessments -- which applies to both regular and special assessments. If RA had to replace a building or pool, unlike condo associations, it could not turn to the members and ask for the funds through a sizeable special assessment.

    RA has made a reasonable effort to build up the necessary reserves, but they are still limited. As RA staff explained during discussions of the revised documents, RA accumulates reserves to replace the current facilities, but not to bring facilities up to current law and regulations (think Americans with Disabilities Act) or to meet new or expanded needs. The staff added that when the time comes to replace a facility, there is always a push for improving the facility. RA, and almost any organization, has a hard time accumulating reserves to address such demands.

    It also should be said that RA was to a real extent crippled at birth. RA was set up to suit Robert Simon's needs, not the needs of the community. It came into the world without anything like the capital funds it needed and was saddled with restrictions on fees from the start. That RA has been managed to minimize the assessments regardless of the long term consequences has only made the problem worse.

    Fairfax County, as a government entity capable of borrowing at very low interest rates, faces none of these problems. One could hope that the County would accumulate reserves against repair and replacement (after all, it has a $2 billion backlog in school repairs) but it is infinitely better placed to repair and replace facilities than RA.

    It may seem that RCC is better off than RA, but that's only because it's better to be lucky than good. RCC has a pile of cash only because the Board of Governors (and the wider community) was asleep at the switch as property values rose. The Board kept tax rates unchanged and the cash poured in. At the same time, the Board was busy(?) neglecting its building and found itself faced with a multi-million dollar repair bill. Happily the two mistakes cancelled each other out. To this day, I doubt that RCC has ever had professionals prepare a repair/replacement plan for its facilities or put in place a reasonable strategy for accumulating the needed reserves.
    Giving RCC responsibility for RA's facilities has some superficial appeal, but it certainly would not improve the day to day management. The RA board may have been shortsighted for much of its history, but the only thing the RCC board has been good for is eating cookies and chocolate covered strawberries (at public expense) during board meetings.

  31. anon 8:39

    Wasn't the Southgate refurbishment part of the County take over of Stonegate from the previous private owners?

    By "barn" are you referring to the Pony Barn? What's the story with that?

    The cap on increase in assessments was a FHA/VA requirement.

    We all know that when a project isn't desired a lack of funds is a convenient excuse and not necessarily a reflection of revenue capacity.


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