The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is committing to invest more money in upgrading schools and county office buildings in the coming years.
However, the move to accept the recommendations of an ad-hoc committee was fraught with concern from some supervisors that the board would be locked into spending that will keep the county from meeting other needs.
The Infrastructure Financing Committee, which included three supervisors and three School Board members, released a report last month that sets the foundation for a long-term effort to put aside money for major maintenance, renovation and construction of county facilities.
“We have a big problem in this county,” said Supervisor John Cook (R-Braddock), co-chairman of the committee. “We have county office buildings that are rated F and we ask our employees to work in those buildings. We have children going to school in buildings that I find unacceptable.”
The combined major maintenance needs of the county, park system and public schools are over $150 million per year. There is $110 million per year in bond funding for county buildings and $155 million per year available for school bonds.
The report recommends a $13.1 million increase in county funding for the public school system starting in fiscal 2016 that could be used exclusively for “infrastructure replacement and upgrades,” which includes things like roofs, heating and cooling systems, elevators and sprinkler systems.
FCPS has been using a portion of its bond money for these types of projects. The increase in county funds is intended to supplant the bond funds, thereby freeing up more bond dollars for school renovations, additions and new schools.
The report also sets a longer-term goal of putting $20 million per year of cash toward meeting county and school facility requirements, in addition to the projects that currently receive support from bonds.
Further, the committee recommended that both boards establish “capital sinking funds” for major maintenance and put a portion of year-end surplus dollars each year into those funds.
In adopting the report on Tuesday, some board members expressed great concern about promising the school system an additional $13.1 million in fiscal 2016 outside of the normal budget process.
“I am not ready to make that commitment,” said Supervisor Michael Frey (R-Sully). “We have not had a public hearing, we have not weighed it against other priorities.”
Supervisor Cathy Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill) said she is very concerned that the proposed investment in infrastructure could hurt other county priorities.
The county’s infrastructure “is a priority, but we have got to be able to say we can also fund the other priorities,” Hudgins said.
Cook and other committee members responded that they believe the problem has reached a critical point and that the county must take steps now to begin addressing the infrastructure deficit.
“We found no way to fix buildings without money,” Cook said. “We came up with an approach that we felt was reasonable.”
Last week, Fairfax County School Board members indicated that their board would have a hard time accepting the other recommendations if the Board of Supervisors did not guarantee the $13.1 million increase in funding.
The School Board will take its vote on the report April 10.