After several years of contentious budget wrangling, an increase in the tax rate, and negotiations forced to “kick-the-can” on many funding requests due to fiscal obstacles in a sluggish local economy, the proposed Fairfax County FY 2020 Budget still presents its challenges, but the county supervisors see progress and reason for optimism.
“There’s more good news than bad,” was Supervisor Jeff McKay’s (Lee District) reaction to County Executive Bryan Hill’s presentation to the Board on Tuesday, Feb. 19.
McKay is the chair of the Board of Supervisors’ budget committee, and while he and other supervisors still expressed some concerns, particularly over the additional monies required of the county to fund Metro, and the lack of funds to support much needed transportation and infrastructure improvements, the initial draft was generally met with a sense of “having something we can work with.”
McKay, board chair Sharon Bulova and others thanked Hill and county CFO Joe Mondoro for a proposed budget of $4.4 billion that fully funds Fairfax County Public Schools, allows for raises that help align teachers’ salaries with neighboring jurisdictions and modest Market Rate Adjustments and longevity increases for county employees. The proposal also supports board priorities such as the Diversion First Program, Gang and Opioid Prevention efforts, Early Childhood and Environmental initiatives, and staffing and training for the South County Police Center and Animal Shelter that the county hopes to see operational by 2022.
Thanks to an increase in property values last year, more commercial properties added to the tax rolls, and economies and efficiencies instituted by Hill and the county, the proposed budget achieves these funding objectives without suggesting an increase to the residential real estate rate — the main source of the county’s revenue.
“This Advertised Budget assumes no change in the tax rate of $1.15 per $100 of assessed property value,” said Hill.
Helping things along financially was Virginia’s economic recovery from the recession and from sequestration.
“Our growth has finally picked up,” said Hill, noting a decline in office space vacancy rates, an increase in government contract spending, and employment gains in the Washington Metro region that rose above historical averages in 2018. The county is also expecting a positive impact from the selection of Northern Virginia as a second headquarters for Amazon.
On the other side of the scale, Hill reminded that “no one yet really knows the true effect of the recent partial government shutdown.” In addition, the failure of the current General Assembly session to restore transportation funds to the region has pushed a number of projects further from their anticipated start or completion dates.
Without those funds, work to improve safety and traffic flow on roads like the Fairfax County and Franconia-Springfield Parkways will no doubt be negatively affected, according to Braddock District Supervisor John Cook, who added that “citizens need to know the facts, that even with 3 percent growth in the county, it’s still a struggle to meet our needs. We need their help.”
Several of the supervisors posed budget questions for Hill and Mondoro. The answers to their questions will be forthcoming at one of the Budget Committee meetings, and Hill also noted that the responses would be made available to the public on the county’s Management and Budget website.
While there is no assumption of a tax rate increase, other “non-general fund tax rate” service fees will see slight increases. Sewer Base Charges will rise from “$30.38 per quarter, to $32.91, the Sewer Availability Charge (residential) will increase from $8,100 to $8,340 and the Sewer Service Charge will rise from $7.00 to $7.28 per 1,000 gallons.
After the Budget presentation, Hill, CFO Mondoro, and Superintendent of Fairfax County Public Schools Scott Brabrand held a joint Q&A with media representatives.
“This is a superintendent’s dream,” said Brabrand in his remarks, “to be able to work with a county executive and to have the kind of relationship we are creating between the School Board and the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors …. this is the right way to do business.”
To Brabrand, this budget “puts the needs of students first, the needs of the school system first.” He expressed “delight” that the budget is “finishing the work to make our teachers market competitive … we want the best and brightest teachers and support staff” so that the system can continue to provide an outstanding educational experience for the benefit of the entire community.
Brabrand vowed to continue the FCPS’s focus on One Fairfax to strive for equity in all aspects of its operation, and to continue collaborating with the Fairfax County government.
Hill ended on a positive note, saying that while he was disappointed that not all funding requests could be met as “we manage within our means to meet our 5 percent needs on 3 percent growth,” many unfunded priorities from past years were finally being addressed. He also urged citizens to “get involved. All of the information is readily available … your voice matters.”
Each district will host at least one budget town hall — with either Hill or Mondoro or both in attendance — before the Board of Supervisors holds public hearings and before the budget goes to “mark-up” on April 30, with adoption slated for the board meeting on May 7.
Public hearings before the board will be held on April 9 at 4 p.m. and on April 10 and 11 at 1 p.m. All meetings will take place at the Fairfax County Government Center in the Board Auditorium. Persons who wish to speak at a public hearing need to sign up with the Clerk by calling 703-324-3151, or by form at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/bosclerk/speakers-form. Written testimony for the record can also be emailed to the Clerk’s Office at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A 37-page Summary of the Budget, a reader-friendly two-page highlights document, as well as complete information on the budget process, timeline, meetings and more are all available on the county’s website, search “budget.” Information on the town hall meetings can be found at