Fairfax budget doesn’t budge, thanks to coronavirus

By Bob Leggett:

In light of the pandemic, Fairfax County staff propose holding the budget for the upcoming fiscal year essentially flat, and keeping the real estate tax rate unchanged.

The latest budget proposal from County Executive Bryan Hill calls for $4.47 billion in expenditures for the year beginning July 1 — only $22 million, or 0.5%, over the current year’s $4.45 billion level.

This is a decrease of 4% from the original budget proposal released in February, prior to the massive outbreak of coronavirus.

The earlier draft budget foresaw an increase in the real estate tax rate of 3 cents, to $1.18 per $100 of assessed value. The current proposal keeps the rate unchanged at $1.15, although the average homeowner can expect to pay about $170 more in real estate taxes because of the increase in the value of homes this year.

The increase in real estate tax revenues is expected to be offset by decreases in other revenues such as sale tax and license tax.

Public hearings on the proposal have been scheduled for April 28-30, with adoption by the Board of Supervisors of the final plan on May 5.

One cent of the property tax rate increase was to go for affordable housing, and with that gone the county’s goal of completing over 1,300 affordable housing units will be made harder.  Jeff McKay, chair of the Board of Supervisors, has asked the Housing Department to find creative ways to stretch current resources for affordable housing by investing more efficiently and by implementing changes to the county’s land use policy.

Still planned is the consolidation of the Department of Housing and Community Development, a reorganization that hopefully will allow the county to continue to make progress towards ending homelessness.

Fairfax County Public Schools would also see expenditures essentially flat, with an increase of only 0.3% or $7 million over the current year. Originally, staff proposed to increase the school budget by 3.65%. With the increase lost, there would not be sufficient funds for increases in teachers and school administrators’ salaries.

The modified budget proposal does not eliminate any current county employee positions, but it does away with increases in employee compensation. Originally, staff planned for county employees to receive, on average, a 4.06% and 4.31% increase in pay for non-uniformed and uniformed employees, respectively.

The current proposal also eliminates a proposed new 4% admission tax on movie, theater, and concert tickets to support arts, cultural activities, and tourism.

The proposal would allow current environmental projects to continue, but would not increase funding. McKay has stated that the “Community-wide Energy and Climate Action Plan is continuing … and creating goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions …to mitigate climate change at the local level.”

Projecting revenues is going to be difficult in the months ahead as the pandemic continues to impact businesses and other activities throughout the county.  Executive Hill’s covering letter to supervisors states that “The scale of the reductions [in revenue] will be impacted by the length of the pandemic, how long it takes for the economy to restart, and whether we will be faced with additional cycles of the spreading virus.”

“Our future may be leaner,” he writes, “and will certainly be more efficient, as we use different tools to provide the services that are needed for our community.”


Bob Leggett is a former intelligence analyst and military veteran with a doctorate in economics from Lehigh University. He is a member of Hunter Mill District Democratic Committee.


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