When the Board of Supervisors approved the budget on Tuesday, April 26, they increased taxes by about $300 for the average homeowner and increased funding for schools by 5 percent.
The property tax rate will increase four cents from $1.09 to $1.13, per $100 of the assessed value of a home.
Board members had a chance to explain their reactions to the budget and in some cases, their vision for the future at the budget markup on April 19.
For most the budget was a successful and important step, but others found much to worry about, now and in the future.
“This budget provides a needed booster shot to support our excellent school system and to ensure the quality services our residents expect and rely upon. Our board heard from thousands of residents advocating for an increase in taxes to address our community’s needs.” said Chairman Sharon Bulova.
She appointed Lee District Supervisor Jeff McKay to spearhead the board’s budget process.
“This was not an easy budget,” said McKay, chairman of the budget committee. “It funds schools and puts an investment in the county-side, and parks and libraries and human services and public safety that was vitally needed.”
“I will repeat what I always remind folks,” he said. “The Commonwealth of Virginia is in the top 10 states in income and the bottom 10 in education funding. ...
“The one disappointing thing for me in the discussion of the school budget that we didn’t hear about was our special needs, ESOL, and Title I schools and our challenged academic schools and students who are living in poverty,” said McKay.
“It is my hope that we will continue to see academic improvements for kids who are struggling in our system and schools that are at risk of losing accreditation and that we are making proper investments in our Title I schools and that we are making a proper investment in all kids’ education.”
NOT ALL SUPERVISORS supported the budget. Supervisors Pat Herrity and John Cook, the board’s two Republican members, voted against the budget, which passed 7-2.
“I was dismayed at the pre-budget markup meeting,” said Herrity, “to hear some of my colleagues congratulating themselves on tackling a difficult budget with a six percent tax increase on our residents.
“I’m certain most Fairfax County residents won’t be jumping up for joy or congratulating you when they receive their tax bill next year. As most of you know, their salaries aren’t going up by six percent,” he said.
“My biggest disappointment is this year’s budget does absolutely nothing to address long-term budget issues,” said Herrity, Springfield District Supervisor.
Herrity has advocated for the board and the school board to meet on the budget throughout the year, something a few supervisors voiced agreement with on April 19.
“A year ago, we were sitting in the same place we were today. I moved budget guidance that we begin to address the budget shortfall in the summer. Well, those meetings never happened,” Herrity said.
Braddock Supervisor John Cook said he couldn’t reconcile the burden the budget places on homeowners with the obligations the county has to pay for needed and important services.
“It’s not just education, it’s human services. We are in the bottom 10 in state funding for education, but we are in the bottom five in state funding for human services,” he said.
“I can’t close that gap between an unsustainable burden on residential taxpayers and a lot of legitimate government functions that we are trying to fund,” he said.
“So I reached the conclusion, reluctantly, but properly so, that we need another source of revenue in this county to fund our services,” said Cook.
He said his preference is for increases in an alcohol and cigarette tax.
“Remember we have to either convince the General Assembly or the taxpayer,” he said. “We have to convince someone that we cannot continue to increase the property tax any longer.”
DRANESVILLE SUPERVISOR John Foust supported the budget.
“I believe it advances many of this board’s priorities and more importantly, I believe it advances the priorities we heard from our constituents,” said Foust. “I think it represents the board’s commitment to our county employees who have made tremendous sacrifices over the past eight years. It reflects our commitment to preserving essential services and the things that make Fairfax county great, from parks and libraries to mental health and transit and housing.”
He said the budget shows the board’s commitment to good fiscal responsibility that will preserve its Triple-A Bond rating.
But Foust also called the residential tax increase unsustainable in the long-term.
“We must find ways to fund the programs and services that residents both need and expect without being so dependent on residential property taxes. It’s especially important to find ways to mitigate the impact of property taxes on seniors, many of whom were on fixed incomes,” he said.
“We’re also too dependent on property taxes to fund county and school operations. I’m pleased the board will be looking at ways to allow county residents to vote on whether they want to diversify our revenue stream and provide some relief to homeowners,” said Foust.
“Truly, there are people that are finding taxes that are becoming less and less affordable in our county and they are not just people who are seniors, they are younger folks, they are people with kids in the schools,” said Providence Supervisor Linda Smyth. “It’s getting to be more of a widespread problem than we have seen in past years.”
“I certainly understand the penny going to the schools, but I truly would have liked to have seen our taxpayers acknowledged as well in terms of their concerns and their problems,” she said.
PRE-K EDUCATION and funding was stressed by Supervisor Cathy Hudgins and McKay.
“We have to make that investment and get serious about providing that. If we want to talk about equity in our school system it starts with making sure that every kid has an opportunity,” said McKay.
Hudgins said, “I bet we can’t find anything else” that provides as good a return on the investment as pre-K.
Hudgins remembers the board looking at the meals tax in 1992, and it is time again. “We need to look at other revenue sources,” she said.
“We are at a crossroads where we have to make tough decisions,” said Mount Vernon Supervisor Dan Storck. “Are going to remain on the best school systems in the county, and yes, we are, but we are fraying around the edges,” he said.
“As a business person, sometimes you have to make critical investments and although those investments have some short-term pain, if you will, for what I believe will be long-term gain,” he said.
“This budget is an essential investment in our future, schools are our future,” said Storck.
Tax Dollar Breakdown
Here’s how the newly approved budget allocates each dollar:
- 53 cents for Fairfax County Public Schools
- 17 cents for Public Safety and Courts
- 13 cents for Health and Welfare
- 7 cents for Debt Service, Capital and Transfers
- 4 cents for General Government, which includes operations, elections, IT
- 2 cents for Community Development
- 2 cents for Libraries, Parks and Recreation