Another step in the annual county budget process was completed last week, as the Board of Supervisors held three sessions of public hearings about the proposed FY 2023 budget. At the end of the third night of testimony, slightly more than 200 residents and groups had made their thoughts known, via in-person, phone call-in, and video submissions. The last two formats were attributable to the pandemic emergency of the past two years, but worked so well that the Board extended them to all public hearings.
As in many past years, budget testimony could be separated into a couple of “buckets” – those who advocated for spending more on county programs – affordable housing, parks, the arts, libraries, human services – and those who decried spending, wanted fewer programs, and a tax rate cut. Some of the testimony came from residents who speak about the budget every year; others were first-time participants, like the young woman who said that she always had lived in the shadows – as a woman, a mother, and a first-generation immigrant. County programs, she said, helped her move out of the shadows and find new purpose, and now she is assisting others to do the same. By the time she finished her three-minute statement, the entire audience had joined in applause. Other memorable presentations included a family with several children who scripted a video about affordable housing, a young musician who performed a Bach cello composition, and Fairfax County’s first poet laureate. T-shirts were the attire for some speakers, as park advocates were clad in pale green, union members in purple; housing advocates wore nametags in the shape of little houses. Two dozen speakers, nearly all wearing a small lapel microphone in front of a plain beige backdrop, submitted brief videos asking for reduced spending and tax cuts.
This was my 27th year for budget hearings, but the very first time I chaired them. Board chairman Jeff McKay, who also chairs the Budget Committee, was recuperating from Covid-19 (he’s doing well now), so it fell to me, as Board vice chairman, to conduct all three nights of hearings. The primary difference may be that, as chairman, 100 percent of your time must be focused on the agenda, the speaker, and the time clock. No side conversations or extraneous matters. Just focus, focus, focus.
The Board will finalize amendments to the proposed budget at budget “mark-up” on Tuesday, April 26. Mark-up likely will include a three-cent reduction in the tax rate, from the advertised rate of $1.14 to $1.11, for which I have advocated since County Executive Bryan Hill presented his budget in February. Increased funding for affordable housing, non-profit contracts, and natural resources management also are likely to be addressed. The FY 2023 budget will be adopted on May 10; the new budget becomes effective on July 1, 2022.
On Monday, Paxton Van Lines collected the final 14 crates of coats, blankets, socks, and gloves donated for Ukrainian relief at the Mason District Governmental Center. During the six weeks or so of the donation drive, a total of 40 crates (each approximately three feet square) were collected at the site. Donations were generous and overwhelming, necessitating multiple pickups by Paxton, something not anticipated at the beginning of the drive. It is estimated that the donations from all local government offices will fill three semi trailers from top to bottom. The donations will be shipped to Ukrainian relief agencies via Maersk vessels. The relief drive was organized by the Northern Virginia Regional Commission, and involved all local Northern Virginia governments.
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at [email protected]