This story was updated on Feb. 29, 2012.
In the final budget proposal of his career, Fairfax County Executive Anthony Griffin was able to give different constituencies some of what they wanted, but not make up for years of austerity.
His proposed $6.5 billion fiscal 2013 budget includes more money for schools, county employee salaries, transportation needs and social services while also cutting $10.6 million from county agencies. The reductions primarily come from eliminating vacant positions and other ways of “shaving around the edges,” Griffin said.
The $10.6 million “is about as much as we can do without having significant program impact,” he said.
While Griffin’s budget is based on maintaining the current real estate tax rate of $1.07 per $100 of assessed value, homeowners would see an increase in their tax bills under his plan.
The slight uptick in residential real estate values would mean that the “typical” county household would pay about $33.85 more on their real estate tax bill, as compared to last year. Residential real estate values have remained basically flat, increasing less than 1 percent on average, while commercial property values are on the upswing.
“While we are recovering, we still have not made up all the ground that we lost some years ago,” Griffin said.
In addition to the higher tax bills, there is a proposed 1-cent increase in the stormwater services fee, which is also calculated based on a property’s assessed value. The proposed stormwater increase would cost the average homeowner an additional $44.87 per year.
The stormwater funds are needed to start meeting new federal and state requirements related to reducing pollution in the Chesapeake Bay and would fund 22 new positions, as well as supporting new capital projects to improve water quality.
Griffin’s proposed budget includes nearly $144 million in new expenditures, more than half of which would go to schools. However, Griffin’s proposed $74 million increase in schools funding represents a little over half of what the School Board requested. The school system’s current draft budget is based on a $1.75 billion transfer from the county, $135.8 million more than the current fiscal year.
“On the one hand, we appreciate that the county executive acknowledged that the schools have needs,” said School Board Chairwoman Janie Strauss. However, two of the three large drivers of the schools’ budget are out of the board’s control, she said — student enrollment growth and a large, mandatory payment to the state retirement system.
The third factor, employee raises, is the one large item that the School Board has control over.
Griffin is also proposing raises for county staff, a 2.18 percent market rate adjustment that would make up only a portion of an employee’s potential pay hike in a typical year. More than $60 million of the $70 million in county spending increases in Griffin’s proposed budget is from personnel expenses.
In order to fund the School Board’s full request, the county would have to increase the real estate tax rate by 3 cents per $100 of assessed value, equating to an additional $135 in taxes for the average homeowner.
Griffin recommended that the Board of Supervisors advertise a 2-cent real estate tax increase to $1.09 per $100 of assessed value, to give supervisors some flexibility as they craft the budget. The board can adopt a lower rate, but the advertised rate acts as a ceiling on the tax rate each year.
The board will vote on the advertised tax rate March 6. Public hearings on the county budget will take place in April, and there will be additional community meetings throughout the county to discuss the budget.