When Fairfax City Manager Bob Sisson unveiled his proposed Fiscal Year 2019 budget on Feb. 27, it recommended a 2.25-cent hike in the real-estate tax rate to fund all the City’s needs. But the budget adopted last week by City Council will still be able to accomplish the City’s goals while keeping the tax rate the same at $1.06 per $100 assessed valuation.
However, due to a slight increase in assessed property values, the average homeowner’s tax bill will still rise .45 percent. This equates to an additional $24/year real-estate tax, figured on the average home assessment of $504,197.
“The reduction was able to be done because of a revised estimate for how much the City would have to pay Fairfax County for school tuition,” explained Sisson. “That left us with another $645,000 we had to delete. But we found alternative funding for some road projects and made some reductions in the information technology budget. And I’ll find other places to cut the remaining $100,000 we need to delete.”
There are some tax increases, but these ones were planned in advance, so they come as no surprise. A 1-cent increase in the Commercial and Industrial (C&I) real-estate tax will take it from 10.5 cents to 11.5 cents per $100 assessed valuation. And a wastewater utility rate hike of 10 percent will support the City’s share of capital project costs required for the Noman Cole Wastewater Treatment Plant.
THE BUDGET also dedicates 25 cents more from the real-estate tax rate for the Stormwater Fund. The money will be used to improve the City’s aging infrastructure, as well as meet federal and state regulations dealing with stormwater management.
Furthermore, the transportation tax fund will see a rate increase from 10.5 cents to 11.5 cents for commercial and industrial properties. This rate will now be $1.1975 per $100 assessed valuation. All residential properties are excluded from this tax.
The money is used solely for transportation and transit purposes and enables the City to qualify for matching funds for various transportation projects.
Personnel is another important part of the FY ’19 budget. Eligible, full-time employees will receive 3.5-percent merit raises, effective July 1. The City’s environmental sustainability coordinator will go from part time to full time; and one more full-time employee will be added to Economic Development to help that department’s director, Chris Bruno, with business recruitment and retention.
In addition, the Human Services director will be made a full-time position, instead of half time, to strengthen the administration of Fairfax’s complex, health-and-human-services contracts and enable the City to better meet the needs of the people using those services.
This budget also establishes a reorganized, citywide communications and marketing function. And, important to Fairfax’s bottom line, budget funding also supports the redevelopment of several, large-scale, residential and mixed-use projects expected to yield enhanced commercial and retail growth, as well as a greater diversity in housing options.
THE GENERAL FUND operating budget of $142 million is an increase of $1.9 million, or 1.4 percent, over the prior year. The total approved budget for all funds is $171.9 million, a 0.6 percent decrease from the previous fiscal year’s budget.
At the Wednesday, May 2, special City Council meeting, Councilwoman Ellie Schmidt said budgets are about priorities, such as infrastructure maintenance and economic development, and the City’s budget recognizes this fact. Saying how pleased she was with this budget, Schmidt encouraged the City to “continue to find efficiencies and save money. We don’t have to just find ways to save money at budget time.”
Thanks to this budget, said Councilwoman Janice Miller, “We’re going to provide excellent schools and public safety for all. We’ll add additional resources to Economic Development and, hopefully, we will see fewer retail vacancies in the coming year.”
And, she stressed, while continuing to offer some wonderful recreation opportunities, the budget will enable Fairfax to keep City Hall running and continue offering, in general, “excellent service to all of our community members. It’s been a pleasure to work with staff in developing our priorities, and I thank everyone for their service to our community.”
Councilman Jeff Greenfield then made a motion to approve the budget and was seconded by Councilman Michael DeMarco. The Council then gave it a unanimous thumbs-up. Greenfield also thanked City staff for all their hard work, saying, “We set and adopt the budget, but it’s all of you who make the City run, every day, and make us look good.”