After listening to County Executive Ed Long present an overview of his proposed budget for fiscal 2014 and 2015, several county supervisors quipped that there isn’t much to like about it.
Although the lines were delivered somewhat in jest, there were some serious emotions behind the remarks as the Board of Supervisors pondered a budget plan built on a significant tax increase that offers no pay increases to county employees and little in the way of new programs or services.
“I sure hope somewhere in the next six weeks somebody is happy,” said Supervisor Michael Frey (R-Sully).
Long is proposing a 1.5 percent increase in general fund spending, about $51 million, over the current budget year. The bulk of that, $41 million, represents an increase in funding for Fairfax County Public Schools.
The remaining $10 million net increase in spending on county programs includes increases in health care and other personnel costs, additional support for Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board programs, and funding for public safety needs, offset by $20.5 million in budget reductions and $13 million in additional state funding for a child care program.
The cuts to county agencies include the elimination of 91 staff positions, most of which are already vacant, Long said. Twelve of the positions are currently filled.
Long said he did not include many of the proposed cuts that county agencies provided him in a budget planning exercise because he believes that county residents and the Board of Supervisors are not prepared to accept that level of service cuts.
“Nobody jumped forward and said, ‘This is a program we could cut or reduce,’” he said. “I think the heavy lifting on cuts is done.”
The budget also absorbs more tax revenue than the fiscal 2013 budget, as the current budget plan relies on more than $60 million in one-time revenues, primarily from year-end budget surpluses. Long is proposing funding these recurring expenditures with recurring revenues, i.e. taxes.
Taxes for the average homeowner would increase by $262 under Long’s proposed 2-cent increase in the real estate tax rate. In addition to the rate increase, more than 70 percent of homeowners in the county will see an increase in their assessed home values this year, Long said.
This proposed tax increase would carry the county through the next two budget cycles, Long said.
Supervisor Pat Herrity (R-Springfield) said the board “haven’t really done our job” over the last few budget cycles to reduce expenses.
“To me, it’s going to be refocusing on our priorities … and not balancing the budget on the backs of our taxpayers or our employees,” he said.
Other supervisors noted that the proposed real estate tax increase would hit around the same time as other new taxes, such as the service district to fund transportation projects in Tysons Corner and the increased taxes to fund local transportation projects that were included in the recent state transportation funding package.
“What we are seeing here is, in some parts of the county, more than your $262 average,” said Supervisor Linda Smyth.
Supervisor Gerry Hyland (D-Mount Vernon), made his perennial suggestion that the county consider a meals tax to offset its reliance on real estate taxes. A meals tax would have to be approved by voters in a ballot referendum.
The board will review the budget in-depth over the next two months and solicit public input at budget meetings in each supervisory district, as well as public hearings in April. The board is expected to adopt the budget April 30.
Long’s proposed budget is available online at fairfaxcounty.gov/budget and one reference copy of the document will be available at each county library.