The 17th Annual Mason District Budget Town Meeting last week drew a variety of residents and advocates to hear County Executive Tony Griffin’s budget presentation and ask questions about the proposed FY 2013 county budget. Sewer fees, school buses, Rail to Dulles, bike trails, and police salaries were among the issues raised by attendees.
In response to a complaint about sewer fees and mandates by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Mr. Griffin pointed out that Fairfax County has sewer capacity in several municipal wastewater treatment plants. Nearly all those plants have upgraded or are under construction to upgrade to the limits of scientific treatment currently available, and the funding for those upgrades comes mostly from users of the systems, aided by some grants or loans from state governments. The gradual increases in sewer fees are structured to avoid the huge spike in rates that some other communities have experienced to upgrade their plants. Clean water is the goal, and Fairfax County is meeting the mandates, and winning awards for excellence in wastewater treatment.
One avid cyclist outlined his concerns about bike trails, and the need for more trails as well as repairs to existing ones, saying that some of them are “boneshakers.” Susan Datta, the county’s Chief Financial Officer, noted that the proposed budget contains $200,000 for an assessment of trails, sidewalks, service drives, and a few roadways maintained by the county. Once the assessment is completed, we can prioritize for extensions, repairs, and potential new construction, she said.
School buses also got some attention. Fairfax County Public Schools operates the largest bus fleet in the nation, so buses are a significant part of the school budget. Several residents noted that buses often are not full, and wondered if that was a waste of money. When it was pointed out that buses often are empty at the beginning and end of their routes, several attendees made suggestions to change school start times, buy smaller buses, and upgrade sidewalks to save money.
A Washington Post reporter characterized the meeting as a “grilling” of the County Executive, and listed a string of complaints about the rising cost of government. However, there was none of the smoke or fire that accompanies a grilling. Rather, there was a robust discussion about service demands and how to meet them at the local level. By and large, the audience left with a better understanding of the budget process, and several people thanked Mr. Griffin for his service, as well as his calm and thoughtful approach to their questions. One young woman told me she would be willing to pay another 20 cents on the tax rate for her children’s education. Other post-meeting comments focused on police salaries and child care needs, as well as revitalization of our older areas.
Public hearings about the proposed budget are scheduled for April 10, 11, and 12, in the Board Auditorium of the Fairfax County Government Center, 12000 Government Center Parkway in Fairfax. Please call 703/324-3151 or 703/324-2391 (TTY) to register to speak.
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be e-mailed at [email protected]