Fairfax County Executive Ed Long presented his proposed FY2016 budget last week, kicking off the lengthy annual exercise that reviews and revises priorities and services for all Fairfax County residents and businesses. In his presentation to the Board on a day when, ironically, county offices were closed due to a blizzard, Mr. Long noted that residential assessments are growing at half the rate of last year, and commercial assessments are decreasing more rapidly than last year. The resulting reduced revenue means that we cannot fund all our priorities and investments, he said.
By law, Fairfax County’s budget must balance; the county cannot run a deficit. Mr. Long’s proposed budget maintains the current real property tax rate of $1.09 per $100 valuation, and makes reductions to programs and personnel, as well as deferring critical infrastructure investments. Many Mason District neighborhoods are seeing an increase in home values, reflecting a moderate sales market for housing in our area. Interestingly, some condominiums in Mason District rebounded by nearly 25 percent this year, after several years of significant declines. Countywide, residential equalization is 3.39 percent, down from last year’s high of 6.54 percent, which was the highest since the “boom” years of 2006 and 2007. Overall, fewer houses were sold in calendar year 2014, and homes stayed on the market for an average of 45 days, up from the 37-day average in 2013. Office vacancy rates continue to be high, due in many cases to the continuing effects of sequestration and federal cuts in defense spending.
Mr. Long’s proposed budget increases the transfer to schools by three percent, or a total of more than $2 Billion from the General Fund. Schools have asked for an additional $14 million, which is not funded in his budget. However, recent positive improvements in the state’s budget may provide more state funding to the school system’s pension system for teachers. Compensation increases for county employees are recommended at half of what was agreed to in a new compensation plan adopted last fall. More work needs to be done to implement the compensation plan for employees.
Another area of concern is a need to strengthen the county’s reserve funds. The Board has established two general reserves, the Managed Reserve and the Revenue Stabilization Fund, which together are equal to five percent of General Fund disbursements. However, the rating agencies and the Government Finance Officers Association recommend a minimum of two months, or 16.7 percent of operating revenues or expenditures. Henrico County maintains a 15 percent fund balance policy, Loudoun County is 10 percent, and Montgomery County, Maryland is also at 10 percent. One of the tasks for the Board is to develop a strategy for increasing reserves, and maintaining our AAA bond rating.
The Mason District Budget Town Meeting will be held on Thursday, March 19, at 7 p.m., at the Mason District Governmental Center, 6507 Columbia Pike, in Annandale. County Executive Ed Long will discuss his proposed budget, followed by a question and answer period. The proposed budget may be reviewed online at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/budget.
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at email@example.com.