The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is bracing for another budget cycle in which county homeowners will most likely see noticeable increases in their tax bills but very little change in the services they are receiving from the county.
Coming in at just under $7 billion, County Executive Ed Long’s proposed budget includes increased funding for schools and a cost of living increase for county employees while adding a handful of new positions and restoring some funding to services like libraries. However, the proposed funding increases don’t seem to be enough to satisfy stakeholder groups.
Long’s budget does not include an increase in the real estate tax rate, but an improving real estate market means that the average county homeowner would see a $330 increase in their tax bill, about a 6.5 percent increase over the current fiscal year.
Some supervisors expressed concern about the potential impact on homeowners.
“It is really no increase at all in our county revenues and the impact to homeowners is quite substantial,” said Supervisor John Cook (R-Braddock). The budget includes a 3.4 percent increase in overall county revenue, which Cook said is roughly equivalent to inflation plus population growth.
The proposed budget also advances previously scheduled increases in sewer fees, the stormwater tax and the Tysons service district. Ambulance fees, athletic field use fees, School Aged Child Care program fees and adoption fees at the animal shelter would also go up under Long’s proposal.
While there is some good news for the county’s economy and bottom line in the real estate market, the uncertainty about federal spending has hurt the county’s commercial tax base, which will actually saw a slight decline in assessed property values.
Sales taxes and personal property taxes have recently been coming in at levels lower than projected, Long said.
“We must persist in being cautious in our approach to budgeting,” he said.
Supervisor Pat Herrity (R-Springfield) said the budget demonstrates the importance of shoring up the county’s commercial tax base to relieve the pressure on residential homeowners.
“The impact is going to be on those who can least afford it,” he said.
At the same time, the board is facing more pressure from parents and teachers than in past years to raise the real estate tax rate to fund the school system’s proposed budget. Fairfax County Public Schools has requested about $64 million more from the county than what Long included in his budget.
Even with that higher funding amount, the schools budget would cut more than 700 positions and increase class sizes.
Funding the requested amount would require almost a 3-cent increase in the real estate tax rate, about $150 based on the average home value in the county.
Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Sharon Bulova (D-At Large) said she will likely propose advertising an increase in the real estate tax rate. When the Board of Supervisors sets the advertised real estate tax rate March 4, it will determine the maximum tax rate they can set for the year, but the board can decide to adopt a lower rate.
“Otherwise you cut off discussion and there is no opportunity to raise it,” she said.
However, Bulova said, she thinks it is unlikely that the schools will get everything they asked for.
The $150 increase, on top of the $330 average increase people would see under the current tax rate, “is a lot to ask of your residential homeowner,” Bulova said. “I sure will be looking for ways to close that delta without going that high.”
Karen Conchar, secretary-treasurer of SEIU Virginia 512, one of the unions representing county employees, said she believes the board should look at other sources of revenue such as business taxes to help shore up the county’s finances.
“We are disappointed in the county executive’s proposed budget, which fails to meet the needs of the community,” Conchar said.
The budget doesn’t do enough for employees, whose salaries are falling behind their peers in the region, she said, and does not invest enough in areas like libraries and mental health care that have been priorities of the Board of Supervisors and the community.
Long’s budget includes a 1.29 percent cost of living increase for county employees. The Board of Supervisors had previously expressed interest in achieving a 2 percent increase, which would cost another $7.8 million.
Loudoun, Prince William and Arlington counties are all proposing a 3 percent pay increases for their employees in fiscal 2015, according to Randy Creller, chairman of the Fairfax County Employee Advisory Council.