The release, last week, of Fairfax County’s proposed FY 2019 budget, provided a high level view of important priorities for the county – funding the School Board’s transfer request and fully funding employee compensation at the 2.25 percent Market Rate Adjustment (MRA), only the third time in 10 years that the compensation program has been fully funded. Looking beyond schools and employee pay, however, there is much more in the budget to consider. My columns during the next couple of months will drill down on where the revenue comes from, where it goes, and some of the lesser-known intricacies of the budget.
Most will agree that Fairfax County is a great place to live, work, learn, play, and worship, but there are persistent disparities observed in many areas — employment, income, wealth, and education. High-paying defense contractor jobs, lost to federal cutbacks during the past few years, are being replaced by lower-paying hospitality sector jobs. While the county’s unemployment rate remains low, that loss of buying power is felt in reduced sales tax revenue, fewer automobile purchases, and home prices. In nearly all comparisons, Fairfax County is identified as one of the wealthiest counties in the nation, but that standing is based on household income, and Fairfax County does not access income. Fairfax County receives back in services and revenue less than a quarter (25 cents) for every dollar sent to Washington or Richmond. In fact, Fairfax County must fund a much larger portion of its school budget with local funds, because of the state’s methodology for allocating state funds to school divisions.
In Virginia, local revenues are based on the value of real property, a tax structure essentially unchanged since Thomas Jefferson was Governor of Virginia. Without diversification of revenue streams, most county services are supported solely by real estate taxes. Federal and state revenues to the county amount to only 3.1 percent of the total budget, whereas real estate taxes are 65.3 percent of the total. Personal property taxes (car tax) contribute 14.5 percent of total revenues, and the remaining revenues (17 percent) come from sales and business taxes, fees, and court fines.
Despite the County Executive’s recommendation for a 2.5-cent increase in the real property tax rate, several important items are not funded, and capital paydown (infrastructure replacements and upgrades) and county information technology projects are not recommended for an increase in this year’s budget. Reorganization of some county departments also will save money. The Board of Supervisors identify additional savings as we review the proposed budget and make adjustments before adopting a balanced budget on May 1.
The Board’s budget committee meetings may be viewed live on cable Channel 16; check the county’s website (www.fairfaxcounty.gov) for the schedule of meetings. Public hearings about the proposed budget will be held on April 10, 11, and 12, at the Board Auditorium, 12000 Government Center Parkway in Fairfax. Hearings also are televised on Channel 16. The Mason District Budget Town Meeting will be held on Thursday, March 15, at 7 p.m. at the Mason District Governmental Center, 6507 Columbia Pike in Annandale.
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at [email protected]