Local Commentary

A Penny for Your Thoughts: The News of Greater Falls Church

Grim, grim, and grimmer. That was the message delivered to the Board of Supervisors by County Executive Anthony H. Griffin on Monday as he released his proposed Fiscal Year 2009 budget for Fairfax County. The $3.3 billion General Fund budget, as proposed, holds county and school spending flat. The new budget reflects an increase of just $14.72 million, or just a 0.45 percent difference from the FY 2008 Revised Budget Plan. The proposed budget also includes substantial actions that are needed to eliminate a deficit of $120 million: reductions in agency salary budgets and employee compensation increases; reductions in capital project funding; fee and user charge increases; and the use of one-time balances in certain funds. The budget assumes a real estate tax rate of 89 cents per $100 assessed valuation.

Mr. Griffin said that FY 2009 revenues are expected to be lower than those forecast as the budget was developed during the past several months. In January, as the budget was being printed, the Federal Reserve lowered interest rates by 125 basis points in a nine day period, which decreased the county’s anticipated interest revenue on investments by more than $25 million annually. Additionally, the worsening conditions in the housing market, which is creating a nationwide crisis leading to an anticipated recession, will have a severe impact on revenues for the FY 2010 cycle, Mr. Griffin warned. The superheated housing market and double-digit assessment increases in Fairfax County have ended. Most homeowners will receive notices this week reflecting reduced assessments.  

The greatest share of the county budget (more than 52 percent) is dedicated to the Fairfax County Public Schools, reflecting the Board’s commitment to investing in education. The proposed county General Fund transfer for school operations is held to the FY 2008 level of $1.586 billion, or $63.75 million less than the School Board requested. Fairfax County also provides support of about $63.5 million for school programs such as Head Start, school health, school resource officers and crossing guards, after-school programming, field maintenance, and recreational programs, which is included in the county side of the budget, not the school side.

Funding for public safety and gang prevention is maintained, as is the affordable housing fund (One Penny for Housing) and environmental protection (One Penny for Stormwater). Mr. Griffin proposes charging these funds with salary costs and related expenses of support for the programs, which will reduce the amount of funding available for projects, based on budget constraints. The only new funding for positions is in the transportation arena, using the first infusion of new transportation dollars in Northern Virginia in 20 years. Merging of county transportation staff and Department of Public Works staff who support planning and design related to roadway improvements will permit an integrated seamless system for addressing transportation projects, long considered the number one issue in Fairfax County and Northern Virginia.

The Board of Supervisors will hold an all-day budget workshop on Saturday, March 8. The Mason District Budget Town Meeting will be held on Tuesday, March 25, at 7 p.m. at the Lecture Hall of the new Glasgow Middle School, 4101 Fairfax Parkway in Alexandria. Budget public hearings will be held at the Fairfax County Govern-ment Center on the evenings of March 31, April 1, and April 2. Copies of the proposed budget are available for review at all county libraries and government centers. The entire budget is available on CD-ROM, or access the budget at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/dmb.