As they work their way through a challenging budget situation, Fairfax County supervisors are weighing potential budget cuts as well as a possible tax increase.
County Executive Ed Long’s nearly $7 billion proposed budget for fiscal 2015 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 in areas affected by the budget cuts of prior years.
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. The Board of Supervisors advertised a 2-cent increase in the real estate tax rate to give them more flexibility to weigh requests for additional funding from schools supporters and other groups. The board can set the rate lower than the advertised rate, but not higher.
“This is not an easy budget,” said Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Sharon Bulova (D-At large). “People are impatient to see the end of the recession and its aftermath, and we are not really there yet.”
At the same time, many supervisors are willing to consider budget cuts in some areas as well because they are concerned about the possible impact of taxes on homeowners.
“We need to sit down and talk about them,” said Supervisor Linda Smyth (D-Providence).
Several neighborhoods in her district have seen big increases in their assessed home values this year, which translates to tax increases well in excess of the $330 average.
Last week, Long provided a list of about $20 million in possible budget cuts at the request of the Board of Supervisors.
About $15 million of that represents items in Long’s proposed fiscal 2015 budget that are not in the current year’s budget, such as fire and rescue vehicle replacement, building maintenance, IT projects and new positions in the Office of Elections that were identified as a need after problems during the 2012 presidential election.
Supervisor John Cook (R-Braddock), who initiated the request for proposed budget cuts, said he wants to ensure that the board “turns over every stone” before he would consider increasing the tax rate.
“Revenues are basically flat. If we want to do new things … we have got to figure out where that money comes from,” he said, adding that, “It’s not easy.”
Long also resurfaced cuts to current programs that the board has rejected in the past, such as reducing library hours and cutting staff positions at parks.
“Chances are, they will be rejected again,” Bulova said. “There are some things I know I am not going to support.”
For example, she said she would not support eliminating funding to support this year’s crop of high school graduates with intellectual disabilities, which would affect an estimated 74 individuals and their families that would likely end up on a waiting list for services.
Bulova also cited the libraries as “another area where I think we have gone as far as we can go” in budget reductions.
Supervisors are also sharing ideas of their own to cut costs. Supervisor Pat Herrity (R-Springfield) proposed $34 million in possible reductions to the board on Tuesday, including reductions in administrative support and communications positions, eliminating the Consumer Affairs Branch, and reducing mailings of recreation class catalogs.
“I’m looking at things where we can be more efficient in what we do,” Herrity said.
For example, he proposes eliminating the Consumer Affairs Branch because the state performs that function for other localities in the state. Long also included it as an option, noting that it would eliminate seven positions and save more than $600,000.
The agency mediated 1,195 complaints and responded to more than 6,000 advice inquires last year, according to Long’s memo.
His colleagues were more immediately interested in his proposal to realign the School-Aged Child Care program to make it cost neutral to the county. Currently, the program recoups about 80 percent of its costs from the fees parents pay, which are on a sliding scale to ensure the service is accessible to all parents.
The county expects to spend about $9 million more on SACC in fiscal 2015 than the program brings in.
“It is a superior service at less than market price,” said Cook, who has raised the imbalance in the past.
Cook said he has also asked the county executive to look into the effects of a 1 percent cut in all non-personnel spending and a reduction in public safety overtime pay.
The public will have a chance to weigh in on the budget during public hearings next month, and supervisors say they aren’t set on any path to balancing the budget until they hear from their constituents.
Following the hearings, Bulova will meet with each supervisor individually and then put together a draft package of changes to Long’s proposal. The board will discuss Bulova’s proposed changes at a work session and then vote on them during the budget mark-up session April 22. Formal budget adoption is scheduled for April 29.