After more than two months of discussion, advocacy, debate, and angst, the Fairfax County budget for Fiscal Year 2010 was adopted formally, by a unanimous vote, at the Board of Supervisors meeting Monday.
At the Board’s mark-up session the previous Monday, Board and Budget Chairman Sharon Bulova said that the budget was a result of a collective process, “in order to arrive at a county spending plan that is fair; sensitive to the difficult economic landscape our constituents are struggling with, and reflective of the diversity within our county.”
The new budget is based on a tax rate of $1.04, plus one cent to fund the creation of a Stormwater Service District in Fairfax County. The largest part of the budget, the $1.6 billion transfer to the schools, or 53.8 percent of the total county budget, remains at the FY 2009 level. Funding for many school-related county programs, such as clinic aides, school resource officers, and Head Start, were restored. Salaries for both school and county employees remain at the FY 2009 level, a savings of about $92 million. County and schools both will undergo a Reduction in Force, or RIF, process; the number of county positions cut is about 300.
By law, Fairfax County’s budget must balance. We cannot operate with a deficit. That is why the budget exercise each year is a balancing act: finding the middle ground that funds programs and services valued by the community, while respecting the burden borne by homeowners whose property taxes support more than 60 percent of the county’s total revenue stream. An analysis by the Department of Tax Administration (DTA) reveals that a little more than half of residential parcels (170,621) will pay less tax in FY 2010; about two percent will pay the same amount as last year; and a little less than half (154,726) will pay more tax. Although most Mason District neighborhoods experienced assessment drops of between seven and 35 percent, Lake Barcroft homeowners saw their values stay steady, the only neighborhood of any size in the county to remain unchanged. The downside, of course, is that their tax bills are among those in the latter category above. A review by the director of DTA indicates that the presence of the lake itself is a significant factor in keeping real estate values steady.
By reallocating funding and finding savings in the amounts budgeted for fuel (which were based on last year’s $4 per gallon spike), the Board was able to restore police and fire positions, the Annandale Adult Day Health Center and other senior programs, the Master Gardener position at Green Spring Gardens Park, and the community concerts program. The budget maintains free access to the county’s lakeside parks, and the athletic service fee of $5.50 per person per team per season was not increased. In a surprise move, the Library Board recommended an alternative to the idea of closing community libraries on Fridays to save money. More information about hours at your local community library will be available shortly.
The Board also agreed to my recommendation that Board members’ office budgets be pared down to last year’s level. The additional budget reduction follows my motion last fall to reduce our office budgets by seven percent in the remaining FY 2009 budget. Although there was some skepticism last fall, Board members enthusiastically adopted my suggestion to keep our budgets flat for the coming year. The new budget takes effect on July 1.