This week marks the annual series of public hearings about Fairfax County’s proposed FY2019 budget. County residents and others interested in, or affected by, the budget proposals sign up to urge the Board of Supervisors to support, or sometimes not support, the budget recommendations. Prior to the public hearings, there are town hall meetings in all magisterial districts, budget committee meetings with the School Board, and countless individual communications with constituents. Fewer than 140 persons or groups have signed up, a far cry from my first budget, in 1996, when more than 800 people signed up to speak, and the Board added an extra day — all day on a Saturday — to accommodate the number of speakers.
Both the budget schedule and technology have changed since then. At the request of the Board of Supervisors, the budget is presented in mid-February, rather than the end of February, to allow more time for public review before the Board must advertise a proposed tax rate. Back in 1996, most communications were via telephone or regular mail; today’s budget comments are almost exclusively via email. Truth be told, though, I have fielded budget comments in the grocery check-out line and even in the dentist’s office!
The first evening of speakers usually includes formal testimony on behalf of county stalwarts like the Economic Development Authority, the Fairfax Education Association, the Park Authority, firefighters and paramedics, sheriff, police, and the Employee Advisory Council. Other speakers include library supporters and environmental advocates. Perhaps the issue area with the largest number of speakers is human services. Providing support for vulnerable populations – children, the elderly, and those with disabilities – helps define Fairfax County as a caring and inclusive jurisdiction. As the cost of providing some services continues to increase, sometimes because of state and federal unfunded mandates, it can be a struggle to maintain levels of service as local budgets become more constrained. The county partners with non-profit organizations to make the dollars stretch, via Community Funding Pool competitive grants. The proposed FY2019 budget includes an additional $8.78 million for human services priorities, including early childhood care slots, the opioid task force, and expansion of Opportunity Neighborhoods into the Culmore community.
Overall, the proposed FY2019 budget includes $465,581,474 for Health and Welfare, nearly 11 percent of the total county budget. For comparison, the transfer to the school system is 52.8 percent of the budget, or $2,264,250,633. The other 36 percent of the budget funds all other county operations, including public safety (police, fire and rescue, sheriff, and emergency operations) at $510,383,677. Budget mark-up is scheduled for April 24, with adoption on Tuesday, May 1. The FY2019 budget takes effect on July 1.
With a very diverse population of more than 1.1 million people, Fairfax County is larger than seven states – Montana, Rhode Island, Delaware, South Dakota, North Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming – and the District of Columbia. Although state budgets may be larger, Fairfax County’s $4.29 billion in General Fund disbursements is the largest of all local jurisdictions in the Commonwealth of Virginia, and continues to ensure that Fairfax County remains a great place to live, work, learn, play, and worship.
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at [email protected]