Fairfax County Executive Anthony Griffin released his proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2011 last Tuesday. As expected, there was a lot of anguish and little to celebrate.
The proposed General Fund budget of $3.294 billion is a decrease of $133 million, or 3.9 percent, from the FY 2010 revised budget plan. Mr. Griffin proposed cuts of more than $100 million, elimination of nearly 300 positions, no compensation increases for county employees for the second year in a row, and a tax rate increase of five cents, from the current $1.04 to $1.09. He also recommended implementing a $33 annual local vehicle registration fee.
The proposed budget transfers $1.6 billion to the school system, a one percent decrease from last year, but nearly $82 million less than the School Board requested. Additionally, the proposed budget includes $160.7 million for School Debt Service on school construction bonds. The total proposed transfer to schools represents 53.8 percent of General Fund disbursements.
Also last week, the General Assembly presented budget amendments to the state biennium budget, with heavy cuts to education and human services. Cuts at the state level affect support for K-12 funding, but do not reduce the costs that already prevail in localities and school divisions to educate our children. That means the unfunded mandates on localities remain unfunded, forcing local taxpayers to pick up the slack. The General Assembly has until March 13 to complete its work, so the impact of proposed state cuts on Fairfax County programs and services still is being determined. Of great concern is the ripple effect that cuts to programs might have on delivery of all services, at both the state and county levels.
In his transmittal letter to the Board of Supervisors, Mr. Griffin said that “maintaining core functions and services that protect and enrich the quality of life for our residents” would position the county to sustain commitments to future generations. At the same time, he said, “we cannot fund everything based on our projected revenue levels.” The FY 2011 budget strategies “will not likely please most of our residents,” he noted, mentioning that the combination of service cuts and tax enhancements will have consequences for many in our community.
Reflecting the national economic recession, residential and commercial real estate values continue to decline, and reduced consumer spending further darkens the revenue side of the ledger. Ironically, demand for services has increased at the same time that resources have decreased. The county’s unemployment rate, 4.6 percent in December, is enviable when compared to the national double digit average. We are somewhat insulated by the high number of federal-related jobs in the region, but the “new normal” means that we must identify innovative and creative ways to do more with less. Most Mason District neighborhoods experienced declines in housing values of 5 to 25 percent. There was no change in a very few areas and, curiously, two older townhouse complexes near the Fairfax County/Arlington County border saw increases of 11 percent or greater, apparently reflecting recent home sales there.
Future columns will focus on some of the particular budget recommendations, including schools, public safety, the environment, parks, and libraries. The Mason District Spring Town Meeting will be held on Monday, March 15, at 7 p.m. at the Mason District Governmental Center, 6507 Columbia Pike in Annandale. The topic, of course, will be the budget.
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be e-mailed at email@example.com