In Difficult Year, Fairfax Budget Makes 'No One Happy'

Supervisors approve amendment to reduce average tax bill hike Tuesday but leave employee pay and schools funding unchanged.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved a series of amendments to the Fiscal Year 2014 budget Tuesday including one that lowers the proposed real estate tax rate increase by a penny, a move that will cost the county $20 million in revenue.

Supervisors voted 9-1 to adopt the amendments, noting that in a particularly tough budget year, the package was the best they were going to get.

“I wince now when I read through my remarks from last year’s mark-up that we were ‘hopefully beginning to see the dawn of a new day,’” Chairman Sharon Bulova said in a statement. “The Fiscal Year 2014 budget is one that makes no one happy. It is, however, a responsible fiscal plan that reflects our current difficult situation.”

The budget plan will increase the county real estate tax rate by one cent, from $1.075 per $100 of assessed value to $1.085, as opposed to the $1.095 rate originally proposed.

The shift lowers anticipated revenues by $20.6 million, but it also lowers the hike in the average homeowner’s tax bill from $262 to $216.

To make up for the loss in real estate tax dollars, the board found other sources of revenue — including an additional $3.3 million in projected revenue from business professional and occupational license (BPOL) — used reserve money and lowered some insurance costs.

As discussed during a budget committee meeting last week, the Board did not grant a higher increase in transfer from the General Fund to the school system.

Approximately 53 percent of the General Fund – $1.89 billion – will go to Fairfax County Public Schools, an increase of 2 percent from last year. Schools officials asked supervisors for more in order to accommodate increases in student population and a slight increase in pay for teachers and other employees. 

But supervisors aren’t giving the majority of county employees pay increases, and they’re hoping the school board does the same.

“To maintain equity among our employees and to prevent a structural imbalance for next year, the schools are asked to follow suit,” Bulova said in her remarks.

The only compensation increases on the county side will be longevity increases for public safety employees to maintain pay scales.

Though employees won’t be getting market rate adjustments, the projected increase in health insurance premiums has been reduced from 8 percent to 7 percent. This will save the county about $1.5 million and employees about $60.

“Not tremendous savings, but a savings nonetheless,” Bulova said.

Supervisor Pat Herrity (R-Springfield) was the sole vote against the budget, arguing that the combination of tax rate and real estate assessment increases would put immense strain on residents who could least afford it.

Assessments on townhomes and condominiums have gone up very high in some cases, he said, and that can make all the difference to some people.

“We as a Board spend a lot of time talking about helping people in need, I can only say that when it came time to tax them, they were sadly forgotten,” Herrity said. “In a time where Fairfax County citizens are having to tighten their belts, their governments refuse to do the same.”

Supervisor John Cook (R-Braddock) voted for the budget, which he said showed bipartisan compromise in the face of Capitol Hill’s inability to generate the same.

“This budget was a true compromise. Not one person on the Board got everything he or she wanted,” Cook said. “In tough economic times it’s important for us all to come together and craft a budget together.”

The budget establishes a reserve of $8 million to address any effects that may arise from sequestration. Of that, $1 million has been identified for potential human services needs.

Some components of Long’s controversial STRIVE plan are present in the budget, including succession planning and performance measurement tools, but the compensation plan will be hammered out with the personnel committee and employee groups.

“Our employees have continued to provide quality services to our residents with professionalism and dedication, even in the face of pay freezes and tough economic times,” Bulova said. “Their efforts have not gone unnoticed by this body. The creation of a fair and sustainable compensation package for implementation in FY 2015 is a critical element in the long-term stability of the County workforce.”

The budget will be formally adopted April 30.


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