Q&A with Franconia District Supervisor Candidate Mark Welch
Mark Welch, a resident of Fairfax County since 1985, resides in the Springvale section of Franconia District. He retired after 30+ years of service for the federal government and now can be found picking up litter around the community, counting collections at his church and volunteering with the AARP Tax Aide program. He and his wife raised three children who graduated from Fairfax County Public Schools and Virginia public universities. Welch recently answered some questions for On the MoVe about his campaign to become the next Franconia District Supervisor.
Q. When did you formally enter the race?
A. I am a bit of a budget wonk and annually review the proposed County budget in great detail. I was becoming increasingly appalled with Supervisor Lusk’s voting record on what I know to be unnecessarily high real estate tax increases (18% over the last three years). Knowing he ran unopposed in 2019 and believing he should be challenged on his record, I began initial preparations to become a candidate in the summer of 2022. I formally entered the race on May 9.
Q. How does your platform differ from that of the Republican candidate?
A. I believe my answer can be summed up by the four campaign pledges unique to my campaign. If elected, I pledge to: 1) only vote for an annual budget that keeps residential taxes unchanged. I have laid out a realistic plan as to how this can be done while still maintaining the current level of County operations — including providing reasonable salary increases to County employees — at www.markforsupervisor.org; 2) donate my entire Board member salary to County charitable organizations. I am running to be a voice for fiscal restraint on the Board, not for monetary reasons; 3) to serve one term and not seek re-election. I will make decisions, take positions and issue votes that in my judgement are solely in the interests of my constituents, and for no other reasons; and 4) to strive for a 100% response rate to all constituent requests and questions. I cannot pledge that constituents will like or agree with the response, but I believe it to be of paramount importance to provide a timely response, good or bad.
Q. What led you to run as an Independent?
A. Like many others, I am becoming increasingly disillusioned by the current two-party system as both parties are trending to the extremes. I believe both Mr. Lusk and Mr. Beran represent the extremes of their parties. I'm running as an Independent without political party affiliation to be a moderate, centrist voice, focused on common-sense solutions to our problems, irrespective of party politics and positions.
Q. In the Mount Vernon District race, the Independent candidate challenged the current Supervisor to a debate on the issues. Would you also like to see a debate held in the Franconia District?
A. Yes. As mentioned in the first answer, I believe Supervisor Lusk’s constituents are owed an explanation on his votes to raise real estate taxes. For example, in May of this year he voted to raise real estate taxes by 5.5%. An explanation or justification for that vote has yet to be provided in any subsequent constituent newsletters (i.e., “Lusk Reports”).
Q. What are some of your key priorities involving the parts of Franconia District that are along the Richmond Highway Corridor?
A. My key priorities as a candidate align closely with the needs of these parts of the Franconia District. Those priorities are keeping the tax rate stable, improving public safety and focusing education dollars for the classroom.
Keeping real estate taxes stable is critical to reversing increasing housing unaffordability along the Richmond Highway Corridor. Real estate taxes have increased 18% over the past three years. That directly increases the cost of homeownership or indirectly increases rents as landlords pass on these increased costs. Should that trend continue (i.e., a 6% annual increase), housing costs will increase 26% over the next four-year Board term.
Crime is increasing in Fairfax County. County police statistics show that between 2021 and 2022, assaults increased 11%; forcible sex offenses increased 20%; larceny/theft offenses increased 29%; motor vehicle thefts increased 13%; and robberies increased 37%. We need to give our police department the resources and support it needs to attract, train and retain the best officers to make our community safer. Yet how can the County effectively recruit when starting salaries for County law enforcement officers rank near the bottom across the Washington Metro area? As Supervisor, I will fight to ensure that unjustified and unnecessary spending in other program areas will be re-allocated to public safety to make the County a safer place to live.
The School Budget in the last four years has increased by $557 million (18%), yet the number of students in the school system has decreased. This additional funding has not been used by the School Board where it matters — in the classroom. Instead, much of it is used to expand the school bureaucracy. For example, compared to FY 2020, when there were 4.5% more students (and the same number of schools), the FY 2024 School Budget includes 61 new assistant principal positions ($12 million) and 250 new “specialist” positions ($41 million). In none of the budgets since FY 2020 has the School Board clearly articulated a need for an increase in these positions. As Supervisor, I will serve as a check on the School Board to ensure we spend our education resources effectively, and that they are required to justify and defend their proposed budgets.
Also, I fully support the Embark Richmond Highway program to promote the revitalization of the Corridor, including expanding mass transit such as the Bus Rapid Transit system, continuing infrastructure improvements and creatively looking at new land use mixes.