Local Commentary

A Penny for Your Thoughts: News of Greater Falls Church

If it’s springtime, it’s budget time in Fairfax County. County Executive Bryan Hill unveiled his proposed county budget for Fiscal Year 2021 last week and, at the same time, he presented a draft Countywide Strategic Plan that has been under development with the community for more than a year. Public education is the Board’s number one priority, and Mr. Hill’s proposed budget includes an additional $85.52 million for public school operations, bringing the total school transfer to $2.4 billion, factoring in debt service and capital needs. The schools’ share is 52.6 percent of total general fund disbursements.

Development of the county budget includes analyses of the federal, state, and regional economies. Federal government spending has stabilized in recent years, reducing the uncertainty around federal policy for the local economy. Fairfax County’s annual unemployment rate fell to 2.3 percent, the lowest in 12 years, and office vacancy rates continued to decline. The average price of homes sold in 2019 was up 3.9 percent; the number of homes sold increased, and the number of days a home remained on the market was slashed by more than half. Non-residential real estate values (office, retail, and industrial properties, as well as apartments) have improved for five consecutive years.

Mr. Hill’s proposed budget is based on a 3-cent increase in the real estate tax rate, from the current $1.15 to $1.18 per $100 of assessed value. One cent of the increase would be dedicated to housing affordability, another Board priority. There also is a proposal to implement a 4 percent admissions tax on the sale of movie, theater, and concert tickets. The Virginia General Assembly has authorized certain jurisdictions, including Fairfax County, to impose an admissions tax of up to 10 percent of the ticket price. If adopted by the Board, the proposed four percent admissions tax would become effective in October 2020. Mr. Hill’s budget maintains the personal property tax and the stormwater fee at current levels.

The proposed budget also includes modest compensation increases for county employees, salary supplements for state parole officers, funding for the police body-worn camera program, staff and operating support for environmental initiatives, and expanded library hours. The first phase would move 11 of 22 libraries to one set of standardized hours, with additional phases planned in the next two budget cycles. Reserves are projected to reach the 10-percent target that the Board established in 2015. The Revenue Stabilization Fund, the Managed Reserve, and the Economic Opportunity Reserve help maintain the county’s Triple A bond rating.

Budgets reflect community priorities, but budgets also are based on available revenue, and that burden, for Virginia counties, largely is based on the real property tax. We all pay our income taxes to the state and the federal governments, not the locality. The financial burden on the taxpayer is never far from mind as Board members address the challenges of meeting community needs versus available resources to pay for them. The Mason District Budget Town Meeting will be held on Thursday, March 12, 2020, at the Mason District Governmental Center, 6507 Columbia Pike in Annandale, from 7 – 9 p.m. County Executive Hill and Chief Financial Officer Joe Mondoro will discuss the proposed budget and take questions from the audience. The meeting is open to the public.