Budget, Part VI: Almost done! Tuesday’s budget mark up session was one of the shortest in my 20-year experience. The meeting followed brisk community debates about school funding, and the need to diversify the county’s tax base. About 90 percent of potential revenue sources for Virginia counties are capped or controlled by the General Assembly. That means that most Virginia counties must rely on real property taxes, a tax structure that dates to colonial times, and still is the primary source of local revenue, three centuries later!
The spending package presented by Supervisor Jeff McKay (D-Lee), this year’s budget chairman, reflects a recommended tax rate increase of four cents, and increases county support for schools beyond the levels in County Executive Ed Long’s Advertised Budget, for a total school operating increase of $88.4 million. Mr. Long had recommended a three percent increase; the Board’s action moves that to a 4.84 percent increase. With additional funding for school debt service (school bonds) and capital needs, total school support increases by $104 million, or 5.18 percent. Adding the extra $85 million for school support from the county not included in the school transfer (school crossing guards, school resource officers, public health nurses, etc.), equates to almost 55 percent of General Fund Disbursements. School Superintendent Karen Garza and several school board members indicated appreciation for the additional amounts, while noting that some cuts still would have to be made on the school side.
The budget package was approved by a vote of seven yeas (Bulova, Foust, Gross, Hudgins, McKay, Kathy Smith, Storck) and three nays (Cook, Herrity, Linda Smyth). The marked up budget will be adopted formally at the Board’s regular meeting on April 26, but no changes are anticipated. The Board also adopted, unanimously, Budget Guidance for the FY 2017 and FY2018 county budgets. The Budget Guidance document has gotten longer over the years, as the Board seeks to capture issues that should be considered during the coming year. Included in the items this year are joint Board of Supervisors/School Board work, not just on budget, but in areas for collaboration and possible cost savings; pre-kindergarten; human trafficking; public safety compensation; and tax relief for the elderly, including my request to look at the effect on nearby new development on property values for older homes that are not redeveloping. The Board also requested additional information for discussion of a possible meals tax and other revenue diversification opportunities. A meals tax would have to be approved by the voters in a referendum.
Mason District lost one of its most interesting residents, and assuredly the oldest, with the passing of Luta Mae “Cornie” McGrath on April 14. Cornie was 108 ½ years old, and was thought to be the oldest living female veteran of World War II. Cornie served in the Women’s Army Corps and eventually attained the rank of Colonel. At a huge birthday celebration at Queen of Apostles Church a couple of years ago, Cornie showed up in her uniform, still very proud of her Army career, and still in charge. God bless you, Cornie McGrath.
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at [email protected]