One-term City of Fairfax mayor and longtime councilman Scott Silverthorne is facing a challenge from political newcomer in his bid for re-election.
John Norce, an insurance agent who has lived in the city for 12 years, said he was motivated to run because he doesn’t believe the city is making enough forward progress.
Norce said he is asking voters to consider, “What has the city done in the last two years?”
“I don’t feel like enough has been done,” he said.
Norce said he would use the leadership approaches he has successfully used as a businessman and a baseball coach to move the city forward.
For his part, Silverthorne lists off several items that he considers major accomplishments of his first term.
The sale of the city’s water system to Fairfax County’s water utility, Fairfax Water, will ultimately bring significant savings to city water customers, cutting bills nearly in half, he said.
The council has also initiated the first major overhaul of the city’s zoning ordinances in decades.
“The goal is to streamline our regulatory processes,” Silverthorne said, making it easier and more efficient for businesses in the city.
Growing the city’s economy is a top priority for both candidates.
Norce said he wants to promote a “Fairfax first” purchasing mentality, encouraging people to purchase as much as possible from businesses located within the city. He would extend this to city government as well, he said.
“The backbone of any community is the business community,”
Norce would work to improve the city’s business climate by lowering business taxes and making it easier to do business with the city, such as streamlining zoning review processes.
The rates for the city’s business professional and occupational licenses, which officials often refer to as BPOL taxes, are among the highest in the state and therefore serve as a disincentive to locate in Fairfax, he said.
“We need to bring it in line with the surrounding counties,” he said.
Silverthorne wants to continue efforts to spur redevelopment of the Route 50 corridor, known as Fairfax Boulevard in the city, that began several years ago. While the city is revising its zoning code, he said, “it is time to dust off the master plan for Route 50” that the city developed with stakeholder groups.
He also believes that the footprint for the city’s downtown, which is just a few blocks, is now too small. Silverthorne wants to launch a new planning process, working with residents and businesses, to develop a new master plan for that area that could include redeveloping a shopping center and some parking areas with retail and housing.
“Right now it is just too small of a downtown footprint to compete with other areas,” Silverthorne said, such as Fairfax Corner and Merrifield, which have seen significant new development in recent years.
In addition to making Fairfax more attractive to businesses, Norce said he also believes the city needs to compete by lowering its real estate tax rate.
A lower tax rate “is an incentive for you to move here,” he said. While the city’s rate is still slightly lower than Fairfax County, Norce said increasing city taxes over the past few years mean that “we no longer have a competitive edge.”
Silverthorne said that the growth in the real estate tax rate the last two years was primarily driven by factors outside of the city council’s control, such as increasing costs for schools. The city contracts with Fairfax County Public Schools and does not run its own school system or control costs.
He also noted that city residents receive more direct services from their tax dollars, such as trash pickup, than they do in other jurisdictions.
You get a good value for your dollar here in the city,” he said.
City of Fairfax elections take place May 6.