Fairfax County Executive Edward L. Long, Jr. presented his proposed county budget for Fiscal Year 2017 on Tuesday, and there were few surprises. The proposed budget reflects a continuing tight economic situation in Fairfax County, mirroring the continuing effects of the Great Recession. Fairfax County continues to recover slowly from the massive downturn that affected the entire nation. Commercial property values have increased by a few percentage points, but residential values remain fairly flat. None of this is news to the Board, which meets regularly as a budget committee to study the forecasts and ways to continue to provide needed services to more than 1.1 million residents.
In his budget presentation, Mr. Long pointed out that home sales in 2015 rose 9.6 percent, to nearly 15,000 residences, but homes were on the market for slightly longer than in 2014. Residential property is approximately 75 percent of the county’s total tax base. However, commercial real estate values are improving after declining for the past two consecutive years. Mr. Long also said that revenue growth at the current $1.09 real estate tax rate does not support the needs and requirements of the county, and recommended a 4 cent increase in the rate. The Board will discuss the County Executive’s tax rate recommendation at its budget meeting on February 26, before advertising a rate on March 1. The Board may adopt a rate lower than advertised, but cannot adopt a rate higher than advertised.
The recommended increase would fund small compensation increases for county employees, 14 new police patrol officers, fire and rescue staffing and equipment, and needed maintenance for county facilities. Mr. Long’s recommended transfer to schools is $1.88 billion, reflecting an increase of 3 percent, or $54.75 million. School debt service is funded at $189.87 million. Fairfax County also provides additional support of nearly $85 million for Head Start, school health, crossing guards, and other services for schools that are not included in the transfer. The School Board has asked for $68 million more than the recommended transfer, so there is more work to do between the two boards.
Fairfax County’s budget process is an open and robust community exercise. Budget documents are posted on-line at www.fairfaxcounty,gov/budget/dmb. You can examine any department in the county and review revenues, staffing, mission, and many other aspects. At the same time, this year’s Lines of Business (LOBs) review documents also are posted on-line (www.fairfaxcounty.gov/dmb/2016-lines-of-business.htm), providing metrics and more information about specific duties of each department and division. The comprehensive LOBs review is conducted about every five years, and helps the Board of Supervisors make informed decisions about programs and services in the face of changing state and federal requirements, as well as shifting community demands.
In addition to the Board’s budget public hearings on April 5, 6, and 7, each district Supervisor holds a budget town meeting – Mason District’s Budget Town Meeting will be held on Wednesday, March 16, at 7 p.m., at the Mason District Governmental Center, 6507 Columbia Pike in Annandale. The budget town meeting is open to the public.
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at [email protected]