Tysons Fire Station prioritized, but other projects deferred for proposed bond funding

Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department (file photo)

Facing financial constraints, Fairfax County hopes to defer some public safety projects as part of its bond referendum plan.

At a Fairfax County Planning Commission meeeting late last month, county staff announced intentions to establish a 2024 bond referendum for the Tysons Fire Station. The move would push a referendum for the Chantilly Fire Station from 2024 to 2030 and plans for the fire department’s well-fit training facility to 2030.

The discussion comes as part of the county’s proposed Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) for fiscal years 2024-2028, which was unveiled on Feb. 21 in conjunction with a proposed county budget.

A significant portion of the bond program goes to required contributions toward Metro, county staff say.

“It eats into our capacity for other program areas,” Martha Reed, the capital programs coordinator of the Department of Management and Budget, said.

According to Reed, fire department officials were comfortable with postponing the planned project for a new Chantilly Fire Station. The building, which is currently aging, is surrounded by a new development. She also noted that there are early and preliminary talks to redevelop the fire station.

Public safety officials also said they were comfortable with delaying a referendum for a new police station in Tysons.

The county is considering including a new place for the Criminal Justice Academy in the 2024 bond referendum, which would push out a referendum for Tysons Police Station to 2030.

In other parts of the county, a new Chantilly Library was pushed out from 2026 to 2032.

The Tysons Fire Station is the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department’s top priority, according to a summary of the proposed CIP. The county has money for the project design, but not enough for construction, and funds from proffers were also delayed, Reed said.

The project deferrals reflect challenges with the county’s bond referendum plan — namely backlogs in unsold bonds. After they’re approved by voters, bonds must be sold within eight years unless the courts grant a possible two-year extension.

Challenges include restrictions on annual bond sale amounts, changes to projects after voter approval, and project delays, Reed said.

Additionally, the county has factored in a roughly 10 to 12% buffer to project costs due to inflation and escalating costs in construction bids.

A report by a joint county and schools CIP committee recommended devoting one penny on the real estate tax rate toward debt service payments.

The report, completed in 2021, also recommended gradually increasing the limit on annual General Obligation bond sales from $300 to $400 million. Bonds are typically what finance most capital projects.

The county is also exploring other sources for project funding. The old Mount Vernon High School redevelopment, for example, will be supported by Fairfax County Redevelopment and Housing Authority bonds. The Tysons Community Center relies on a partnership with the Dominion Square developers.

Bonds by the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority are expected to be sold in fiscal year 2024, which begins on July 1.

But Dranesville District Commissioner John Ulfelder said he was concerned about the Tysons police station’s deferral “in light of current events” in the area, namely the recent fatal police shooting at Tysons Corner Center.

“My concern is there is a fair amount of crime in Tysons, or certainty it gets publicity,” Ulfelder said.

The county will revisit its CIP with the commission on March 29, followed by public hearings before the Board of Supervisors on April 11, 12, and 13. The final version will be adopted on May 2.

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