The four candidates vying to be the Democratic nominee for Lee District supervisor participated in their first public forum Tuesday evening at Crestwood Elementary School in Springfield.
The event, hosted by the Springfield Civic Association, gave the candidates a chance to talk about why they’re running before answering a series of audience-submitted questions. The format allowed each candidate — Kelly Hebron, Larysa Kautz, Rodney Lusk and James Migliaccio — to give brief answers to the questions, which were not shared with the candidates beforehand.
The questions covered topics from county pensions to short-term rentals to bike lanes. In response to the question about bike lanes, all the candidates expressed support for expanding them in the county and said they sympathized with the plight of bike commuters navigating some of the district’s more treacherous roads.
Migliaccio noted that the county’s first bicycle master plan was released in 2015, but said it should be examined again to improve upon some weaknesses.
“Now is the time to take a look at [the bicycle master plan],” Migliaccio said. “I think that it’s another opportunity for engagement.”
Kautz recalled her days living and Arlington and noted how well-connected trails were there. She said Fairfax needs to add to its infrastructure, but singled out some of the county’s previous efforts for criticism, noting a recently added bike lane on Harrison Lane in Groveton provides a less-than-optimal experience for bikers in terms of safety.
“Just painting a bike lane on a road does not make it a true bike lane,” Kautz said.
The candidates spent a good deal of time responding to a question about pension reform for county employees. Lusk, who works for the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority, said he was open to new ideas, but added that many county employees don’t have large annual salaries, and that the county’s pension is a good way to attract and keep good employees.
“A lot of us are part of the county government primarily because we love service, ” Lusk said. “Many of us in public service recognize we’re not being paid a private sector salary, so the pension is kind of important in retaining qualified folks in public service.”
Hebron said any pension reforms needed to be examined as part of a larger conversation about the overall “quality of life” for county workers.
“The real question here is how do we make it affordable for our staff and our employees to live and work in the same place,” Hebron said. “What are our priorities? What do we want to invest in?”
Migliaccio noted the issue of pensions has already been looked at the current Board of Supervisors earlier this year, and said anymore tinkering with the system right away was a bad idea.
“The Board of Supervisors just had a big fight about this … what they have decided, we can’t just rip it out from underneath the employees right now, ” Migliaccio said. “If we keep messing around with it every other year, we’re not going to have folks willing to come here and stay for long.”
All of the candidates said they favored short-term rentals in the county. There were differences when it came to Fairfax County’s current policy, which was passed last August. While Lusk said he wanted to see data from the first year of the program before making any changes, Kautz and Hebron said they had issues with the county policy, calling it overly restrictive for homeowners who need the extra income from renting rooms.
“From what I heard from the Airbnb owners is that they don’t mind paying a tax, they don’t mind registering, but what they have a problem with is some of the onerous restrictions,” said Kautz, noting that privacy concerns had been raised by some owners who didn’t want the county sharing their information.
Hebron said short-term rentals are an issue of equity, and that the current 60-day per year restriction is too low and hurts residents who are trying to supplement their income in order to stay in the county.
“That’s not helping someone,” Hebron said. “If we are really about equity and affordable housing, this really is another mechanism to make that work.”