Local Commentary

A Penny for Your Thoughts: News of Greater Falls Church

Fairfax County Executive Bryan Hill presented his proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2020 last week, and noted that his proposed budget fully funds the School Board’s requested operating transfer. The proposed budget is based on maintaining the existing real estate tax rate of $1.15 per $100 of assessed valuation, but includes only a one percent Market Rate Adjustment (MRA) for county employee compensation. The county’s compensation policy indicates that, if compensation cannot be fully funded, the MRA should be adjusted first, and full funding provided for other compensation programs (merits and longevities), if funding permits. I’ve asked budget staff to estimate additional half-percent increments that might be considered to get closer to the calculated 2.51 percent MRA. County revenue is based on real estate taxes, both residential and non-residential (office, retail, industrial, and apartments), which had small, but steady increases as the county continues its slow recovery from the Great Recession and sequestration. The long-term effects of the recent 35-day government shutdown still are unclear; the lag time for state and federal reporting can be several months.

The proposed Fairfax County General Fund would transfer $2.53 billion to schools, which is an increase of $86.46 million, or 3.82 percent, more than last year. School Boards in Virginia do not have taxing authority, so they must make a budget request each year to the local governing body. It’s a little like the childhood game of “Mother, May I?” as the Board of Supervisors must balance the request against available resources. County Executive Hill and Fairfax County Public School (FCPS) Superintendent Scott Brabrand have been working together to figure out that balance, and this is the second consecutive year that the schools’ full request has been recommended for funding. The Commonwealth’s budget changes, approved by the General Assembly last weekend, include $18.7 million for compensation adjustments for instructional and support personnel in FY 2019 and FY 2020, totaling five percent over the two years. For FCPS, a five percent increase totals approximately $l16.5 million, leaving the remaining $97.8 million to be picked up by the locality. The County Executive’s budget proposal for FY 2020 fully funds the School Board’s transfer request, which includes the impact of employee compensation.

The County Executive’s proposed budget includes some reorganizations and efficiencies, which are ongoing efforts by Mr. Hill to streamline some county services and programs. Moving some programs from leased space into county-owned facilities will save money on leases, and Mr. Hill also has proposed consolidation of the offices of the Clerk to the Board and the Clerk to the Planning Commission into one agency. Almost $2 million is saved in employee health care costs when employees move, voluntarily, to more effective co-insurance and consumer-directed health plans. Future columns will address other items in the proposed budget.

The Mason District Budget Town Meeting will be next Thursday, March 7, at the Mason District Governmental Center, 6507 Columbia Pike in Annandale, beginning at 7 p.m. County Executive Hill and Chief Financial Officer Joe Mondoro will present the budget overview, followed by a question and answer period. I look forward to seeing you there.