The annual budget discussions between the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and the Fairfax County School Board began in earnest last week, just before the Thanksgiving holiday. Comparing the meeting to a holiday dinner, there were lots of hungry programs at the table, not much sweetness (as in potatoes or pie), and the turkey was the struggling economy.
County Executive Edward L. Long said that the lack of a long-term deal on the federal budget has created a lot of uncertainty which, in turn, hurts the County’s economy. Even though jobs are up, and the housing market is improving, retail sales tax receipts have declined for four consecutive months through November, and hotel taxes fell eight percent from the prior year. These are sources of revenue the county depends on to reduce the burden on the residential taxpayer. Additionally, the automatic sequester is still in effect, and the government shutdown suppressed business and consumer demand, Mr. Long said.
Projections for General Fund Revenue increases range from 2.26 percent in 2014, to a modest 2.91 percent in 2016. Residential property values are expected to rise about 4 percent in the next two years, offset by small declines in non-residential property values. Since FY 2009, county disbursements have increased only 1.4 percent per year. Millions of dollars in agency cuts, elimination of more than 600 positions, and pay freezes for county employees have restrained growth. That restrained growth includes limiting the county transfer to schools.
County Executive Long announced that budget forecasts are based on a two percent increase for schools, or approximately $34 million over previous transfers. In her budget presentation, new School Superintendent Karen Garza said that only two percent is devastating to the school system. Student enrollment continues to increase (enrollment in FY09 was 168,384; it is 181,259 in FY13), teacher pay is a priority, and large contributions to the Virginia Retirement System are required to meet the actuarial rate. Dr. Garza said that an eight percent increase, at least, is needed for FY15. The difference, at this point in time, is about $100 million, or an additional five cents on the tax rate.
The budget forecast meeting was the first of several between the two boards. No decisions about county and school needs were made. The forecasts set the stage for intense deliberations when the County Executive’s Advertised Budget is released in late February 2014. Preliminary information about the county’s FY15 budget is available on-line at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/dmb/FY2015/county-budget-nov-2013. School system budget information is available at www.fcps.edu/news/fy2015.shtml.
The annual Green Spring Gardens Gardener’s Holiday Open House is this Sunday, from noon – 4 p.m. You can complete your holiday shopping and enjoy seasonal music and refreshments at the park, 4603 Green Spring Road in Alexandria. See you there!
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at email@example.com.