The Board of Supervisors’ markup of the FY 2024 budget was swift and uncomplicated, or so it may have seemed to the casual observer. The final adjustments came after months of community discussions, public hearings, and untold numbers of emails to every county Supervisor that pleaded “reduce my taxes, increase employee compensation, fund the schools, remove invasive vines in our parks, and more funding for affordable housing.” The list goes on, and demonstrates the challenge in balancing available revenues and resources to meet the needs and demands of the public. In 1995, KPMG, a contractor hired by Fairfax County to examine increasing demands on the county budget, said that the answer was “reduce the expectations of your constituents.”
The budget includes a cent-and-a-half reduction in the real estate tax, from $1.11 to $1.095 per $100 assessed valuation. When the County Executive’s budget was presented in February, it seemed that a three-cent reduction might be do-able but that same budget proposed only a two percent increase in employee compensation, far below the 5.44 percent Market Rate Adjustment for the region. Wages, post-pandemic, are lagging, especially for public safety. As a result of the Board’s adjustments, the minimum starting salary for police officers will increase by 15 percent, and pay increases for incumbent police officers will range from 10.44 to 15.44 percent. As chairman of the Board’s Personnel and Reorganization Committee, I appreciated the additional work to increase employee compensation. I supported a larger tax rate reduction originally, but I think that an appropriate balance has been struck to address both tax relief and compensation.
Other adjustments to the budget include $350,000 for the Home Repair Program for Low and Moderate Income elderly and/or disabled homeowners, which would allow these residents to stay safely in their homes, $200,000 for ArtsFairfax operating support, and funding for Park Authority forestry operations and bamboo removal. The FY 2023 Third Quarter Review is part of the mark-up process. The Third Quarter balance of $10,677,308 was adjusted by $8 million for Affordable Housing Initiatives, $1.7 million for Girls’ Softball Equity Action recommendations, $300,000 to supplement the Fairfax County Public Library collections, and a $60,000 contribution to the Northern Virginia Conservation Trust, which is based in Mason District. With adjustments, the Third Quarter Balance is zero, and the FY 2024 budget also is balanced.
A caution for future budgets is the potential demand for localities to make up for reduced or cancelled programs funded by state and federal governments. Nutrition and health care are basic needs that received additional federal funding during the pandemic. Those needs don’t go away, even if the funding does. In Virginia, the primary source of revenue for localities is the real estate tax; other revenue sources permitted by the Commonwealth are either limited or severely restricted. Local governments have neither the resources nor, in some states, the authority, to make up for the lack of federal and state support.
A few items for your Spring calendar: Culmore Community Day will be held this Saturday, May 6, from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. on the Woodrow Wilson Library parking lot, 6101 Knollwood Drive in Falls Church. Also on Saturday, the long-awaited ribbon-cutting for the Boyd and Charlotte Hogge Park will happen at 12:30 p.m. The new park is located at 3139 Glen Carlyn Road in Falls Church.
The Mason District Governmental Center Open House is scheduled for Saturday, May 13, from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. The police department will present bicycle safety, the K-9 unit, and an Explosive Ordnance Disposal Unit; the Fire Department will have equipment on display. Indoor activities will include police and county programs, and the Art in the Mason District Governmental Center Program. The art on display is “Images of Green Spring,” a photography exhibit by PJ Gross, who has a background in design and art history.