Budget – Part III: Last week’s joint budget meeting between the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and the Fairfax County School Board was civil, but hardly cordial, as school board members lectured Supervisors about school needs, and Supervisors parried with all the other community needs that also are funded by the county budget – police, fire and rescue, human services, libraries, parks, public works infrastructure, both visible and underground, and many more. A quality public education system is Fairfax County’s highest priority, which is why the Board of Supervisors invests more than half the annual county budget in our school system.
We also must ensure that taxes are affordable, another county priority. We must live within our means. Fairfax County is wealthy, but that wealth is based on household income, which is taxed at the state and federal level, not by the county. Nearly all other sources of revenue – cigarette tax, personal property tax, hotel room tax, for example – are controlled or capped by state law, which provides little or no relief for homeowners and taxpayers, or their governing bodies.
At the joint budget meeting, school board members pleaded for more than the four-cent tax rate increase recommended by the County Executive, to support the school transfer and provide additional flexibility to address other critical needs. Some said that a dime increase would be preferable. At-Large School Board member Ryan McElveen took Superintendent Karen Garza to task, noting that she had not included all of the school system’s needs in her budget. If all the more than $300 million in needs were to be met, including providing each student with a computer, he said it would require not one dime, but two dimes! There were no takers for his suggestion. Each additional cent on the tax rate generates about $23 million. For the individual homeowner, that same one-cent increase adds about $53 to their tax bill.
On Tuesday, following a vigorous debate, the Board of Supervisors approved my motion to advertise the County Executive’s recommendation of four cents, or $1.13 per $100 valuation. Two other motions had failed: new Supervisor Dan Storck (D-Mt. Vernon), a former school board member, moved a six-cent increase, but his motion garnered only three yes votes. Budget chairman Jeff McKay (D-Lee) had offered the original motion for a five-cent advertisement, which failed on a 5-5 vote. Recognizing the significant split on the Board, as well as our imperative to advertise a tax rate as required by state law, I made a substitute motion to advertise the County Executive’s original recommendation of four cents. That motion passed seven yeas, three nays. The four-cent advertisement permits some flexibility in discussion and decision-making by the community and the board, but will restrict severely the ability to provide additional school funding. A late day maneuver to reconsider the Board’s action failed on a 5-5 vote.
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.