Last week, our Supervisors adopted the FY 2015 Fauquier County budget. They took into account the needs of our schools, firefighters, and police officers as they balanced the budget with limited resources. The real estate tax rate was kept under $1.00 with a 4.1% tax increase to fund our programs. This was not an easy task but it shouldn’t have been so difficult. After all, we were ranked by the Census Bureau in 2011 as the 8th wealthiest county in the U.S.
(Source: 2011 U.S. Census Bureau, retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/special/local/highest-income-counties/)
Placing a premium on keeping our open green space has led to opportunity costs for Fauquier County. With conservation a high priority, the County must have a strategy to successfully fund its schools and other programs by increasing our tax base through business development within our Service Districts. Without this strategy, homeowners will continue to expect an upward climb in real estate tax rates to adequately fund our programs.
The commitment of our Supervisors to promote economic development is a ray of hope that we are moving forward to expand our County’s tax base. For the first time in Fauquier County history, substantial funding has been committed to provide the necessary infrastructure for bringing business here. There will be $500,000 initially designated for the public water supply in the Opal Service District with $5.5 million more to follow from the County’s 5-year Capital Improvement Program. Providing infrastructure here sends a message that the County is supportive of new businesses, businesses which will one day offset taxes for homeowners.
Opal is a very promising location for business in Fauquier County. The Opal Service District is an 853-acre parcel strategically located around the intersections of Rte. 15/29 and Rte. 17. There are many good reasons for welcoming new businesses to this prime location. According to 2012 VDOT estimates, more than 40,000 vehicles pass by Opal daily which makes it a perfect location for a traveler’s stop for food or convenience shopping. Fauquier County must make Opal an attractive option for capturing this travelers’ market. To do so, drivers on Rte. 15/29 must be able to clearly see and conveniently and safely navigate to businesses in the Service District. These elements in planning will help ensure that travelers pick Opal to stop instead of some other destination along their route.
Opal has been designated as a Service District since the first Fauquier County Comprehensive Plan in 1967. The plan for developing Opal has been reworked numerous times between then and now without forward progress so, nearly a half century later, a development plan has still not gotten off the ground. Forward progress has been stymied by the resistance of special interest groups and a few citizens and the lack of public water.
To get Opal development off the ground, a citizens’ committee was tasked with planning the Opal Service District. The Opal Service District Steering Committee (comprised of landowners and their representatives within the Opal Service District) began brainstorming February 2013 to provide practical solutions to Opal development. The committee members worked countless hours throughout the year and presented a very comprehensive plan to the County last fall. Their plan thoughtfully addresses concerns and impediments to moving forward with development. Within the framework of their plan, Opal businesses will be provided high visibility; safe, convenient, and easy access from Rte. 15/29; and will be guaranteed the traffic to ensure their success. Unfortunately, progress may be stalled by amendments to the committee plan by the County’s Planning Commission. These amendments would make it a challenge for businesses to come to Opal by reducing their access and visibility from the highway and creating more stifling bureaucracy.
The development of the Opal Service District into a vibrant, business-friendly community is long overdue and can be a solution to broadening Fauquier County’s tax base. With the support of our Supervisors and the adoption of the Steering Committee plan, we could see new businesses in Opal as early as in 1 – 2 years with projected tax revenues of $10 million annually at full build-out. Our County can be shown as an example, not only for a strong conservation program, but for having the ability to support our programs with robust economic development. Let’s move forward with the Steering Committee plan. Show your support for increasing our tax base in Opal by writing your Supervisors or attending the BoS public hearing on April 10th 6:30 p.m. at the Warren Green Building in Warrenton.