Fairfax County homeowners will see larger tax bills and county employees will see larger paychecks next fiscal year under the budget plan agreed to by the Board of Supervisors Tuesday.
During the budget amendment process for the fiscal 2015 budget, the majority of board members agreed to a half-cent increase in the real estate tax rate that, along with the growth in home values, will increase the average tax bill by more than $350.
Board members also agreed to more than $16 million in reductions to County Executive Ed Long’s original proposed budget. The board directed the money freed up by cuts, along with the increased tax revenue, to provide additional funding for Fairfax County Public Schools and to provide a larger pay increase for county employees than was provided for in Long’s budget.
“It is not a ‘great news’ package, but I think that it is responsible and responsive to the needs of our community and to the uncertain fiscal climate we are operating in,” Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Sharon Bulova (D-At Large) said of the budget package she put forward.
The public schools will get $51.5 million more than the current budget year, a 3 percent increase. County employees will receive a 1.29 percent cost of living increase and receive a 1 percent raise.
“It’s a start, but nowhere near the finish,” said Randy Creller, president of the Fairfax County Employee Advisory Council.
County employee organizations, senior staff and board members are continuing to negotiate on a comprehensive overhaul of the pay plan for non-public safety county employees.
Three board members did not support Bulova’s package of amendments because they did not support the real estate tax rate increase, which will generate an additional $11 million.
Supervisors John Cook (R-Braddock), Pat Herrity (R-Springfield) and Linda Smyth (D-Providence) said they thought the same goals could be achieved without an additional tax rate increase. Herrity had made proposals to lower the tax rate, which did not garner enough support from his colleagues.
“I think we are going to make the budget harder next year because we’re not making the reductions we need to make,” Cook said.
The board will formally adopt the amended budget next Tuesday, although traditionally all amendments to the budget are made the week before formal adoption.
While Bulova’s amendments were approved, many of the board members, including those who supported the plan, continued to express frustration with the limited number of options they had in addressing the county’s budget needs since Long introduced his proposal in late February.
“I believe that the advertised budget should have done a better job of addressing the schools’ and the employees’ needs before increasing the size of government,” Supervisor John Foust (D-Dranesville) said, contending that Long’s proposed budget limited the board’s options.
Foust proposed a different spending plan on Friday that provided slightly more funding for schools without increasing the real estate tax rate but ended up voting in favor of Bulova’s package when his did not have enough support.
In an effort to improve the process for the fiscal 2016 budget, board members agreed to have additional Budget Committee meetings outside of the annual budget process.
Bulova also announced the formation of a task force that will determine whether the Board of Supervisors should take a meals tax to a voter referendum in the fall, or in a future year. The task force, led by former board chairmen Tom Davis and Kate Hanley, will include representatives from the business community, citizen groups and advocacy organizations for county employees and agencies.
A meals tax could add an estimated $88 million per year to county coffers, potentially relieving some pressure on county homeowners to foot the bill for county schools and other services. When a similar measure was on the ballot in 1992, the measure failed.
The Board of Supervisors and the School Board also plan to work harder at getting more state funding for schools.
Supervisor Jeff McKay (D-Lee) suggested that one of the reasons some neighboring jurisdictions were able to lower their real estate tax rates this year is that they receive a higher percentage of school funding from the state.
Fairfax County receives about 23 percent of its schools funding from Virginia, compared to 31 percent in Loudoun County and 49 percent in Prince William County, according to the Washington Area Boards of Education guide. However, Loudoun and Prince William also have a lower per-pupil spending rate.
Fairfax’s per-pupil spending is $13,472, compared to $10,158 in Prince William and $11,638 in Loudoun.