Local budgets usually reflect the basic priorities of the community, centered on public education, human services, public safety, and other public services that most people in Northern Virginia consider as basic to our quality of life. The Covid-19 pandemic is causing renewed scrutiny and concern about provision of local services, and the picture is not a pretty one. In fact, it may be quite stark as the pandemic increases its intensity in this country right now.
Presentations at the Board of Supervisors’ Budget Committee meeting on Tuesday reiterated the sound budget and finance principles that have formed the basis for budget formation and decisions for decades, and maintain Fairfax County’s AAA bond ratings from Fitch, Standard and Poor, and Moody’s rating services. That was the good news.
The not-so-good news about the effect of the pandemic on the proposed FY 2021 county budget was not unexpected. A quick, back of the envelope estimate of anticipated lost revenue is in the upper tens of millions of dollars — reduced retail sales taxes, transient occupancy taxes (hotels in the county have experienced drastic fall-offs, as much as 90 percent of volume since the beginning of the pandemic), personal property taxes, and investment income. Still unknown, of course, are the long-term effects of the emergency as residents and businesses alike struggle to adapt to what apparently is the “new normal.”
Calls to the county’s Coordinated Services Planning (CSP) hotline (703-222-0880) increased by 37 percent through March 25, and most requests were for help with rent, utilities, and emergency food assistance. Non-profit partners have stepped up to help, even as some of their employees are facing potential lay-offs. Spring is the fund-raising season for many non-profit organizations, which have had to cancel galas and other events because of Covid-19. A good way to help during the pandemic is to contribute what cash you can, or maybe new or unused gift cards, to a favorite local charity.
County Executive Bryan Hill will present a recalculated proposed FY 2021 budget at a special budget committee meeting next Tuesday, April 7. Chairman Jeff McKay reminded the Board that any budget pain will be shared across agencies, including schools. The Board will hold previously announced public hearings about the budget on April 14, 15 and 16, but the normal process of appearing in person will be changed to permit video testimony and social distancing. Residents who already have signed up to speak will be contacted by the Clerk to the Board regarding the new procedures. Despite the pandemic emergency, according to state law, the Board must adopt a balanced budget this spring, and the budget vote is scheduled for May 5.
Wednesday was Census Day. Did you respond to the Census invitation you received at home about three weeks ago? It’s not too late to get online and send in your responses. Your invitation had a password unique to your home, so that you can access the right file. It’s quick, it’s easy, and you already know all the answers!