Budget: Part IV – Last week’s budget debate to advertise a tax rate, as required by law, was highly unusual for the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. As described in last week’s column, board members voted on three separate motions for tax rates, finally agreeing to advertise the four-cent tax rate increase recommended by County Executive Edward L. Long, Jr., in his February 16 budget presentation. That was in the morning.
Several hours later, in the late afternoon when public hearings for scheduled land use cases had been completed, a nearly unprecedented motion to reconsider the earlier vote was made by Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust. Not liking the result of a properly debated and adopted motion should not be grounds for reconsidering it. That could grind important decision-making to a halt in any governing body. To avoid that kind of impasse, Robert’s Rules of Order provides that only someone on the prevailing side of the motion may move to reconsider. In a tie vote, the motion fails, and someone voting on the “no” side is deemed to be on the prevailing side, which is why Supervisor Foust’s motion was held to be in order by the county attorney, who also serves as the board’s parliamentarian.
I opposed the motion to reconsider because a robust debate on three motions (Mount Vernon Supervisor Dan Storck’s motion for six cents garnered only three votes; Lee District Supervisor McKay’s motion for five cents failed in a 5-5 tie; my motion to advertise four cents was adopted, 7-3) had been held earlier in the day, with an eventual majority decision; no new information was brought forward that might affect the legal basis for the earlier vote; and no one indicated that they had erred in voting, or not voting, for any earlier motions. The motion to reconsider also failed on a 5-5 tie, so the morning vote to approve my motion for four cents as recommended originally by the county executive, is the advertised rate.
Mr. Long’s recommended increase of four cents, or $1.13 per hundred assessed valuation on real estate, will fund his proposed constrained budget, but will restrict severely any ability to provide additional program funding for schools or the county. I was disappointed that new Supervisors (and former school board members) Dan Storck (D-Mount Vernon) and Kathy Smith (D-Sully) declined to support advertising either a four-cent or a five-cent rate, opting instead to support only the motion for six cents. A positive vote by either one would have achieved a compromise for a five-cent rate, which could have provided an additional $23.3 million for the school funding discussion. The debate demonstrated, however, just how seriously board members view their fiduciary responsibility for establishing budgets and taxes. Supervisor Cathy Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill) likened the reconsideration attempt as “child’s play…not getting your way, you want to come back and change it.” She added that a vote result should mean certainty, and that’s what a majority of board members expected from their morning votes, including me.
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.