/"
The Conversation Begins in Fairfax County: Budgeting Words
0
Votes

The Conversation Begins in Fairfax County: Budgeting Words

Board prioritizes compensation for teachers and county employees.

Springfield Supervisor Pat Herrity claimed the dissenting vote. “It probably is not going to surprise the board that I won’t be able to support this,” he said.

By an 8-1 margin, the Board of Supervisors advertised the county executive’s budget with the proposed two and a half cent tax increase.

Braddock Supervisor John Cook supported the advertisement but stated he won’t support a budget in May if it remains at the advertised tax rate.

“So I'll support the advertisement because I think the process dictates that there be something on the table. But if the board is inclined to pass it as is, it will have to do so without me,” said Cook. “If the board is inclined to do what a couple of other people have suggested this morning, which is look for reductions and perhaps go back to that concept of balancing, then I’m looking forward to being part of that discussion and will keep an open mind to where we should end up. But two and a half cents is not where it's going to be.”

Jeff McKay, chair of the budget committee, said advertising a lower rate “would be taking off the table an opportunity to hear from our public about whether our public employees from the schools and county side should be getting the type of compensation increases to move them into market and to deliver the services that we rely on in this county.”

In addition to community meetings scheduled around the county, the board slotted three days, April 10-12, for public hearings before the full board.

“We have two months of community conversation ahead of us, and some members of this board have declared how they are voting on the budget today or what they can’t support,” said McKay. “Two months we have to hear from our community about what their priorities are. And to me it would be irresponsible to decide how we are going to vote on the budget without hearing from members of our community and how they feel about it.”

The board will officially adopt the FY 2019 budget on May 1.

If the Board of Supervisors were to adopt the full two and a half cent tax rate increase, it would amount to an additional $268 on the average homeowner’s annual tax bill.

“When we advertise the tax rate, that will become the ceiling for what the tax rate can be. It can be lower, it can be the same, but it cannot be higher than” two and a half cents, said Chairman Sharon Bulova.

Below are excerpts from the March 6 board meeting. The supervisors spoke in the order presented below:

Pat Herrity, Springfield District

“It probably is not going to surprise the board that I won’t be able to support this. A two and a half cent with [an increase] in the storm water tax, a five percent potential tax increase, 26 percent over five years.

“I voted for last year’s budget because I thought it was reasonable. We made some difficult decisions last year.

“I think we need to go back to doing what our residents have had to do in a time of stagnant wages, and make difficult decisions. And we just frankly have not done that. I’ve put a bunch of them on the table and it hasn’t happened and it needs to happen. ...

“If you look at wages, they’ve been stagnant, we’re literally taxing people out of Fairfax County.

“I appreciated the county executive’s introductory remarks when he said we’ve got to be more nimble and more efficient. We need to get to that, and I can’t put a potential five percent additional burden on our residents. I won’t be supporting it.”

Linda Smyth, Providence

“Given the unknowns still from the General Assembly in terms of budget or WMATA funding, I think we need to be sure that we have some flexibility in the tax rate and in the discussion about our budget.

“But I will also say ... that I’m seeing increased assessments in some of our more affordable neighborhoods and it's not the first year for some of these neighborhoods. This has been a multi-year cycle and that’s a concern because, again, taxes are part of the affordability of owning a home in Fairfax County. And I want to be sure that we keep that as part of the consideration going forward.

“I hope, again, when we look closely at the budget that county executive has put before us that we will be able to see if there are savings that we can go back and find and apply that to help some of our residents out.

“Residents are … seeing increases in their health insurance, in fact considerable increases in that, and everything they do on a daily basis.

“So it’s a balancing act, and I hope we find that balance. But we need to have a little flexibility here because we just don’t have all the answers at this point.”

Penny Gross, Mason

“I will be supporting the motion.

“I am hoping that we are able to back down a little bit from the two and a half cents just in looking at how we find some savings.

“But I will say we have excellent services. We will put our services up against any other jurisdiction. Fairfax County is known for its quality of life. It’s known for its schools, we’re the safest community of our size in the country, we have parks and libraries and lots and lots of services, and we invest in the community.

“And that’s what we do when we establish a tax rate. Really, we’re investing in the community on behalf of all of our tax payers. ...

“We made a promise to our employees when we adopted a compensation plan a few years ago. We have not been been able to always keep that promise. This year, we must. We absolutely must.”

Dan Storck, Mount Vernon

“Flexibility is clearly the operative word. There are a lot of things we still don't know yet including the state budget ...

“I think it is about competition. We clearly have competition for the best, the best minds, the best folks, the best leaders, and we need to pay a competitive wage to do that. … It’s clearly about commitments.

“Finally, I think it is about investment. Investments in our kids, investments in our teachers, investments in the folks who clearly are the keys to our future in this county and in the area. So I will be supporting the tax rate.”

John Cook, Braddock

“I’m going to approach this issue much as I did a couple of years ago. The board will recall that two years ago, the county executive proposed a large tax increase and the board eventually adopted it and described it as a booster shot ...

“Here we are as Yogi Berra would say, ‘It’s deja vu all over again,’ with another large increase described as a need to jump up and then next year we will stay flat. ...

“I can not and I will not support a budget that increases the tax rate by two and a half cents.

“So I'll support the advertisement because I think the process dictates that there be something on the table. But if the board is inclined to pass it as is, it will have to do so without me. If the board is inclined to do what a couple of other people have suggested this morning, which is look for reductions and perhaps go back to that concept of balancing, then I’m looking forward to being part of that discussion and will keep an open mind to where we should end up. But two and a half cents is not where it's going to be.”

Cathy Hudgins, Hunter Mill

“This advertising gives us that opportunity to look at what we really need.

“And I think it is difficult having a conversation with the citizens sometimes when we approach it as to what is the cost versus what is the return value. And I really have to say that we have done a lot of work to make certain that we try to be more efficient and more creative in the services that we provide.

“So I think there needs to be a balancing that we need to have here. We provided a meaningful option [in the meals tax]. And guess what? Our citizens didn’t support it. ...

“So I think it’s important that if we want to talk about how great Fairfax County is, we need to be prepared to figure out how to have the services that that draw people here and create a more balanced community in supporting what it takes to live in this county.

“So we’ll have a chance to have that discussion and maybe the opportunity to move forward, so my vote is yes.”

Kathy Smith, Sully

“I think that we are at the beginning of the discussion with the public …

“I’m not at the point of saying what I will vote for in this budget. This budget supports our employees, it supports the school system. We heard from a community group that suggested that we advertise at this rate...

“It is a fine balance between looking at the needs we have in this community and the services we want to provide and how we do that. So I’m supportive of advertising this tax rate.”

John Foust, Dranesville

“I too will be supporting advertisement of the tax rate. I think it is important to provide the flexibility that two and a half cents increase provides. Equally important that we spend a lot of time over the next two months looking at how we can bring that down. I know that I am absolutely committed to doing that. ...

“We need to address the fact that our teachers are below the market and we are losing them.

“We need to address the fact that over the last several years we have not been consistent and have not fulfilled the obligations and commitments that we have made to our own county employees.

“Those two things are driving this budget. Those two priorities, and I think that regardless of what we do the next two months, we have to commit ourselves to funding those two things. Other than those two things, everything else is on the table. I will be very surprised if we're not able bring that tax rate increase down.”

Jeff McKay, Lee, Budget Chair

“I appreciate everyone's comments. Clearly, we are going to work to generate savings but as many have spoken, you would be cutting off conversation if we didn’t advertise this tax rate.

“The lion’s share of all new revenue goes to … employee pay and teacher pay. And there is no way you could come up with enough cuts in this budget and do the type of pay increases that our employees and teachers deserve. The numbers just don’t work.

“Every member of the board has the opportunity to bring forward a package of cuts that balances the budget to the tax rate that they so desire. I look forward to having that conversation as we move forward. ...

“To me it would be irresponsible to decide how we are going to vote on the budget without hearing from members of our community and how they feel about it.

Sharon Bulova, Chairman

“This is a budget that does address the board's highest priorities, Diversion First, addressing the opioid crisis, gang prevention, early childhood education, funding compensation for our teachers as well as our county employees ...

“I did also want to just say something for people who believe that people are fleeing Fairfax County to other parts of the region. Since 2015, Fairfax County’s population has actually increased by 26,700, which is actually the size or a little bit more than the size or the population of the City of Fairfax. So we’ve been growing.”

Stay Involved: County Budget Meetings

  • Wednesday, March 14, 7 p.m., Providence Community Budget Meeting, Providence Community Center, First Floor Multipurpose Room, 3001 Vaden Drive, Fairfax
  • Wednesday, March 14, 7:30pm, Braddock District Council Annual Budget Meeting, Braddock Hall, 9002 Burke Lake Road, Burke
  • Thursday, March 15, 7 p.m., Mason District Budget Town Meeting, Mason District Governmental Center, Main Community Room, 6507 Columbia Pike, Annandale
  • Monday, March 19, 7 p.m., Mount Vernon District Budget Town Hall, Whitman Middle School, Lecture Hall, 2500 Parkers Lane, Alexandria
  • Wednesday, March 21, 7 p.m., Lee District Budget Town Hall Meeting, Franconia Governmental Center Community Room, 6121 Franconia Road, Alexandria
  • Thursday, March 22, 7 p.m., Springfield District Budget Town Hall Meeting, Springfield Governmental Center, Community Room, 6140 Rolling Road, Springfield
  • April 10-12, Board of Supervisors Public Hearings on FY 2019 Budget and FY 2019-2023 Capital Improvement Plan. See www.fairfaxcounty.gov/bosclerk/speakers-form to sign up.

More at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/budget