Attendees at the annual Mason District budget town meeting last week got a closer look at the proposed FY19 county budget from County Executive Bryan J. Hill and Chief Financial Officer Joe Mondoro. The nearly hour-long formal presentation was followed by a lively question and answer period that covered a range of issues – schools, roads, bonding capacity, human services, and taxes.
As noted in previous columns, the proposed budget fully funds the School Board’s transfer request, and also includes a 2.25 percent Market Rate Adjustment (MRA) for county employee salaries. One young father, whose wife is a teacher, asked how the county plans to keep qualified teachers since teacher salaries are not keeping pace with other jurisdictions. The answer, of course, is two-fold: the schools’ transfer request includes salary increases for teachers, and the Commonwealth of Virginia (General Assembly) needs to include more funding for teachers in the state budget.
One woman pointed out that, when she lived in another state, if you maintained and plowed your own roads, a tax break was granted. Her homeowner’s association (HOA) takes care of its own roads, and she wondered why there wasn’t a tax break for the neighborhood. What was explained in the conversation was that most HOAs, including hers, own their roads, making them private, not public. The Virginia Department of Transportation, the state agency that controls and maintains most public roadways in Fairfax County, has neither the authority, nor the responsibility, to maintain private roads. HOAs with private roads also can control parking, and enforce it (towing, for example) without involving VDOT or the county. Owning a private road also means that potholes, paving, etc., are the HOA responsibility, too.
Fairfax County’s advertised tax rate, based on the recommendation of the County Executive, calls for a 2.5-cent increase, from $1.13 per $100 valuation, to $1.155. The eventual adopted tax rate can be less than advertised, but cannot exceed the advertised rate. Nearby jurisdictions that have advertised tax rates include Prince William County, remaining flat at $1.125; Loudoun County, a very slight decrease to $1.105 from $1.125; and the City of Fairfax, $1.085, an increase from the current $1.06. The City of Falls Church has not advertised a proposed rate yet, but City Manager Wyatt Shields proposed a 5.5 cent increase, from $1.33 to $1.385. The advertised rate will be announced on March 26 by the City Council.
In Virginia, funding for local services must come from local taxpayers and rate payers. Income taxes are paid to the state and federal governments, but less than 25 cents of every tax dollar sent to Richmond comes back to Fairfax County, so county services rely heavily on the colonial structure of property tax. Counties in Virginia may not create new sources of revenue without authorizing legislation by the General Assembly, and any new source of revenue, like a meals tax, is subject to voter approval. Ensuring efficiencies in county government programs, eliminating duplication, and using scarce revenues wisely to serve all Fairfax County residents provide a basis, and a goal, for budget deliberations and decisions.
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at email@example.com.