Budget season has begun! Fairfax County Executive Edward L. Long, Jr. released his proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2018 on Valentine’s Day. While there were few surprises, there also wasn’t much “love” in this proposed budget. Real property values remain relatively flat, with residential equalization increasing only .68 percent, with non-residential commercial values a little less anemic at 1.85 percent. In Virginia, local sources of revenue are controlled or capped by the Virginia General Assembly, and the reliance on property taxes as the primary source of local revenue hasn’t changed much since Thomas Jefferson was governor of Virginia. Mr. Long’s proposed budget does not increase the current tax rate of $1.13 per $100 of assessed value, recommends little in new or expanded programs, and eliminates another 13 staff positions. Since 2009, 753 existing positions have been eliminated. In the proposed budget, the average annual tax bill would increase by $40.69.
Public education is a board priority, and the proposed budget recommends a transfer of $2.17 billion for school operations and debt service, or a 2.41 percent increase from last year’s budget. The Fairfax County School Board’s request is for an additional $61 million (equates to an additional 2.5 cents on the real estate tax rate) so school funding will continue to be a discussion topic, especially since the level of federal funding support for education is questionable at this time. Fairfax County receives about $32 million in federal program dollars for social services aid, just 0.08 percent of the General Fund budget. It is a small, but important segment of annual General Fund revenue, but the new administration’s budget approach creates uncertainties for local and state government budgets, too. As Board Chairman Sharon Bulova recently noted, “we’re sort of adopting a budget this year blindfolded.” She added that we don’t yet know what we might lose in federal funding and what we will need to pick up locally, if anything.
Unfunded challenges in the proposed budget are many, as county needs are greater than available resources. Local revenues cannot support the significant needs for Metro operations and capital anticipated in the next year; some recommendations of the Police Policies Ad Hoc Commission regarding police span of control positions and the second tranche of funding for Diversion First are unfunded; and the Market Rate Adjustment (MRA) in the employee compensation plan, adopted in 2014, is not funded.
The Mason District Budget Town Meeting will be held on Thursday, March 9, at 7 p.m., at the Mason District Governmental Center, 6507 Columbia Pike in Annandale. County Executive Long will discuss his proposed budget, followed by a question and answer session. Public hearings about the budget will be held on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, April 4, 5, and 6, at the Fairfax County Government Center in Fairfax. To sign up to speak, contact the Clerk to the Board’s Office by calling 703-324-3151; TTY 711, on-line at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/bosclerk/speaker_bos.htm, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at email@example.com.