In a normal year, release of the proposed Fairfax County budget signals an end to winter and transition into spring. That doesn’t seem to be the case this year, as winter retains its icy grip on the region well into March. Preliminary budget discussions aren’t much warmer, as the county emerges slowly from the effects of the recession, sequestration, and last fall’s federal government shutdown.
County Executive Ed Long proposed a balanced FY15 budget based on the current real property tax rate of $1.085. The proposed budget includes a two-percent increase of $34 million to schools, for a total transfer of $1.93 billion to the school system, or 52.1 percent of the entire county budget. The School Board asked for an increase of $98.1 million in the school transfer, or a 5.7 percent increase. The larger request would necessitate a three-cent increase in the tax rate (each penny on the tax rate equates to $21.86 million, or about $50 more on an average residential tax bill). Mr. Long’s proposed budget also provides additional support for the schools in the amount of $72.6 million on the county side of the ledger, which includes Head Start, school health, school resource officers, school crossing guards, after-school programming, field maintenance, and recreational programs. At its meeting on Tuesday, the Board advertised a two-cent increase in the tax rate, which will provide some flexibility overall as budget discussions proceed.
Fairfax County’s budget funds schools, public safety, parks, libraries, human services, the courts, the county’s share of the Metro system, and many other services crucial to maintaining our enviable quality of life. All of these services are provided by dedicated county employees, whose compensation has been flat or frozen for several years. Mr. Long’s budget provides a 1.29 percent market-rate adjustment for employees; the Board must find an additional $7.7 million to make the total compensation increase a mere two percent.
The proposed budget also includes some new positions needed to meet current demands. Three positions are proposed to be added to the Commonwealth Attorney’s office, one of four “super jurisdictions,” where staffing shortages are apparent because of increased workload and case requirements. Rising workload requirements also affect the Fire Marshal’s office, where two additional positions are recommended; the Animal Shelter, also two positions; and the Department of Code Compliance, where one position would be added. Three positions are requested for Behavioral Health Services for Youth. Recent estimates indicated that 400 to 500 youth and their families are in need of interventions for emerging mental-health or substance-abuse issues. A number of tragic student deaths recently highlights the urgent need for expansion of this program.
A reference copy of the budget is available for review at each county public library facility. Mason District has three libraries: George Mason Regional, 7001 Little River Turnpike, Annandale; Thomas Jefferson, 7415 Arlington Blvd., Falls Church; and Woodrow Wilson in temporary quarters at 6066 Leesburg Pike, Bailey’s Crossroads. The entire proposed budget may be viewed online at fairfaxcounty.gov/budget.
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at [email protected]