Local Commentary

A Penny for Your Thoughts

Fairfax County’s FY 2009 budget was marked up on Monday, with formal adoption scheduled for the regular Board of Supervisors meeting on April 28. In her remarks that set the context for this year’s deliberations, Budget Chairman Sharon Bulova (D-Braddock) reminded the Board that the current fiscal issues are similar to those in Fiscal Year 1993.

“Then, as now,” she said, “after a decade of soaring property values, the bubble burst.” In 1992, the overall value of residential property dropped 15 percentage points; in 2008, the county experienced a 21 percentage point drop. In 1992, under the chairmanship of Tom Davis, the Board closed the shortfall by freezing salaries of both school and general county employees, and increased the real estate tax rate by five cents, to $1.16 per $100 valuation.

The current budget package provides a $40 million increase to Fairfax County Public Schools, maintains pay equity for county employees, and increases the tax rate by three cents. Because of declining property values in most parts of the county, most home-owners actually will see a modest decrease in their tax bill. The budget reaffirms the Board’s commitment to funding affordable housing and stormwater management programs in the county, despite an attempt by Republican members of the Board to zero out those programs, an attempt that failed by a vote of 2 yeas to 8 nays. The county’s Revenue Stabilization Fund, nicknamed the “Rainy Day Fund” by some, remains in reserve for unanticipated emergency revenue needs.

The School Board requested a funding increase of $63.8 million, which is 4 percent from the previous year’s level. The Board of Supervisors’ adjustments provides an increase of $40 million (nearly two cents of the three cent tax increase), to the total schools transfer of $1.626 billion. Including debt service, the transfer to the schools is $1.78 billion, or 53.13 percent of the county’s total budget. About $18 million, or 1.1 percent, of the schools’ request was not funded.

The Board of Supervisors made a number of cuts to the County Executive’s proposed budget, including $3 million in technology project deferrals and $2 million in construction contingencies for the new Public Safety and Transportation Operations Center. By making judicious cuts and reallocating other funding, the Board was able to fund a third Code Enforcement Strike Team to curb multiple occupancy in residential areas, as well as provide funding for a streamlined police investigatory program called P’CASO (Protecting Children Against Sex Offenders).

Budget Guidelines scheduled for adoption at Monday’s Board include a Lines of Business (LOBs) review regarding county program and service priorities, possible areas for elimination, reduction, reorganization, consolidation, and/or alternative service delivery for both county and schools. A significant public input process for the LOBs review will be developed, beginning with a public hearing/forum this fall. The guidelines also call for a compensation and job class study for county employees, as well as an examination of fire and rescue personnel pay issues.

Supervisor Bulova noted that a budget is the art of compromise, requiring some give and take, but in the end, strikes a fair balance for county spending in FY 2009. Maintaining our balance in the chaotic financial winds blowing our way will be our next challenge.