Local Commentary

A Penny For Your Thoughts

Fairfax County’s annual budget process is nearing completion, as the Board of Supervisors formally “marked-up” the FY 2023 budget last week in preparation for adoption at its May 10 Board meeting. The budget includes a three-cent reduction in the real estate tax rate, from $1.14 per $100 valuation to $1.11, fully funds the School Board’s request, and grants a 4.01 percent Market Rate Adjustment for county employee salaries. The mark-up package was approved by a 9 to 1 vote. The FY 2023 budget becomes effective on July 1, 2022.

Former Board Chairman Sharon Bulova always prefaced her budget remarks by saying that the “county budget reflects the values of the community.” Chairman Jeff McKay echoed that sentiment and added that the focus of the FY 2023 budget must be on recovery, assisting residents, students, and businesses who may have been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. Balancing resources and needs are the challenges faced by local governments in Virginia, whose budgets, by law, must be balanced every year. The “hot” real estate market pushed housing values far higher than anticipated, and the Board responded by lowering the tax rate. The final budget package includes an additional $751,954 for Park Authority natural resources sustainability efforts, as requested by many speakers at the public hearings, and a decrease of $804,258 and six positions for the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office. ArtsFairfax will be given an additional $250,000 for grants to local arts groups, with an emphasis on diversity.

One wrinkle in the budget process is Personal Property Tax revenue, which also is expected to increase substantially, due to rising vehicle assessments. In normal years, vehicles depreciate as they age, but supply chain and manufacturing issues (such as availability of computer chips during the pandemic) have had the peculiar effect of increasing values on many vehicles, even older ones. To help mitigate the impact of rising car values, staff has recommended that Personal Property Tax bills be assessed on 85 percent of a vehicle’s assessed value for this tax year. A resolution to officially adopt the 85 percent ratio will be considered as part of budget adoption actions.

Another wrinkle is that the Commonwealth of Virginia still does not have an approved budget for the biennium, leaving potential state funding to localities in limbo. The Virginia General Assembly and Governor Glenn Youngkin appear to be far apart on decisions to fund government. In fact, a second Special Session on April 27 failed to reach agreement, and it is anyone’s guess as to when the executive and legislative bodies will concur. About 11 percent of the county’s available revenue comes from the Commonwealth, mostly for schools; without an approved state budget, none of the authorized funds can be appropriated. Governor Youngkin has touted the huge budget surplus that the state enjoys right now but, as one of my colleagues from Rockingham County has pointed out, “you don’t have a surplus until all your bills are paid,” and the Commonwealth has long underfunded localities. Even worse, state employees, like those in the Office of the Public Defender, sometimes are told to seek stipends from their local governments to relieve the responsibility of adequate compensation from the Commonwealth.

Many fees in the FY 2023 budget remained unchanged: leaf collection remains at $0.012; stormwater fee at $0.0325, and the Dulles, Reston, and Tysons service district taxes (outside of Mason District). Fee increases include the Refuse Collection Fee, for those households in Sanitary Service Districts, which will increase to $475 annually, and sewer service changes, which are billed for convenience with Fairfax Water, will increase about $4.00 per quarter, reflecting the costs of tertiary treatment for wastewater. That’s a small price to pay to ensure clean water in our community.

Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at mason@fairfaxcounty.gov.