One of the more challenging aspects of budget discussions for local governments is advertising a tax rate for the coming year.
Under Virginia law, local budgets must be balanced. Unlike the federal government, we cannot run a deficit, so advertising for discussion a tax rate that provides enough revenue to meet requirements for local services is a delicate maneuver. In Fairfax County, the proposed budget is based on a tax rate of $1.04; some in the community would like the rate to be $1.07, and others are in between. The Board of Supervisors must advertise a rate to the public; at the end of the budget debate, the Board may adopt a reduced rate, but cannot adopt one higher than advertised.
On Monday, the Board, on a 6 – 2 vote, agreed to advertise a tax rate of $1.05, giving an opportunity for deliberation and discussion about possible restoration of some of the cuts proposed in the County Executive’s budget. Public safety reductions are especially of concern, but many human services also are affected. Two e-mails received shortly after the Board’s decision to advertise the $1.05 rate amplify the challenges faced by the community and the Board. The first e-mail, from a woman in Annandale, asked “How can the Board raise property taxes during a recession? Why is it our dear Fairfax County can’t possibly imagine reducing the money going out, and thus the money required to come in? I say no!” A second e-mail, from an Alexandria man who advocated a minimum rate of $1.07 and apparently hoped for more, said that the Board’s action “will effectively dash any hopes to preserve county services…You have failed all of us…failed the future of Fairfax County as we know it.”
The reality probably is somewhere in the middle. As home values decrease, so does the tax base from which county services – schools, police, fire, parks, libraries, and human services, for example – are derived. Given a severely reduced revenue forecast, the proposed county budget cuts more than $106 million in services, and eliminates 524 regular positions. Additionally, county employee raises are eliminated. The final budget adopted by the Board of Supervisors most likely will be a combination of program cuts and service restoration, addressing the plaints of both e-mails mentioned above. Final adoption of the Fiscal Year 2010 budget will take place on April 27.
The Mason District Budget Town Meeting will be held next Wednesday, March 18, at 7 p.m., at the Bailey’s Community Center, 5920 Summers Lane in Falls Church (from Columbia Pike, turn onto Lacy Blvd., then right onto Lewis Lane, left on Munson Road, right again onto Summers Lane The Center is on the right, with plenty of free parking adjacent). County Executive Anthony Griffin and Chief Financial Officer Edward L. Long will make presentations about the budget and answer questions. The meeting is open to the public. Complete budget documents are available on-line at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/budget.