When he wrote “April is the cruelest month” in The Waste Land, I doubt that T. S. Eliot was thinking about Fairfax County’s annual budget approval process. Public hearings about the proposed budget begin next week, on Tuesday, April 9, at 4 p.m., and on Wednesday and Thursday, April 10 and 11, beginning at 1 p.m. To sign up to speak at one of the public hearings, you may contact the Clerk to the Board at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/bosclerk/speakers-form. The hearings may be viewed live on Channel 16.
The County Executive’s proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2020 maintains the real estate tax rate at $1.15 per $100 assessed valuation, fully funds the School Board’s request for the second consecutive year, and recommends a one percent Market Rate Adjustment (MRA) for all county employees. Nearly 80 percent of the county’s 12,800 employees qualify for the one percent across-the-board increase. Some employees also will receive merit and longevity increases. A fully funded 2.51 percent MRA would require increasing the tax rate by another cent (each cent of the tax rate is equivalent to $25.5 million).
School funding, employee pay, and housing availability and affordability are among the top issues in this budget. While the proposed budget fully funds the schools’ operational request, school board members have asked for additional bonding capacity to renovate older schools and build new ones. General Obligation school bonds approved by the voters generally have been in the $155 million range every other year with an additional $25 million added by the county in FY 2019 to accelerate some longstanding school renovation needs. The Virginia General Assembly adopted an increase for teacher pay, but localities are responsible for funding the bulk of the state’s recommended pay increase. In a recent forum, State Senator Dick Saslaw, noted that this year’s state support for education still is at 2008 levels, and vowed to get that changed in the next session.
It’s no secret that it’s expensive to live in Northern Virginia and the metro region. We need a menu of housing choices — rental apartments, condos, townhouses, single family detached, and perhaps smaller micro-units — to meet the demand for housing that is affordable for all income levels, and meets the needs of a broad demographic of residents. The FY 2020 county budget includes $135 million in General Fund support, bonds, federal grants, and private capital for housing. The county’s Affordable Housing Resources Panel (AHRP) recommended that at least 5000 new affordable units be constructed during the next 15 years, using public financial resources. The AHRP pointed out that 15,000 new affordable units actually are needed in that time frame, and also recommended increasing the real estate tax rate, a countywide commercial proffer policy, and innovative land use policies to meet the need. That’s a tall order, but provides some thoughts for the FY 2021 Budget Guidance document that will be adopted with the FY 2020 budget.
By law, the county’s budget must be balanced; unlike the federal government, Virginia’s local jurisdictions cannot run a deficit. Decisions made by the Board of Supervisors must be prudent, balanced, and justifiable. That also is why, sometimes, that April is the cruelest month.