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Thursday, March 30, 2023
FairfaxFairfax leaders ponder significant pay raises for staff

Fairfax leaders ponder significant pay raises for staff

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Fairfax County supervisors and School Board members next year hope to give county and school employees large pay raises to make up for ones lost last year to the pandemic.

But supervisors added quickly they did not want homeowners to feel the full brunt of skyrocketing property assessments.

If projections of 5.7-percent higher revenues hold true, the county could see nearly $280 million more flowing into its coffers during fiscal year 2023.

That could happen if the county left its current real-estate-tax rate untouched at $1.14 per $100 assessed value and assessments for residential housing rose a projected 8.68 percent.


Under this scenario, the average household would have to pay a little above $600 more than this year – something supervisors deemed a non-starter.

“Only three times in 21 years have assessments gone up more than what we’re projecting will go up [next] year, and in all three of those years, the tax rate was reduced,” said Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay (D). A nearly 8.7-percent increase in taxes would be “not sustainable for our families,” he said.

Supervisors and School Board members held a joint budget meeting Nov. 23 to review revenue forecasts and outline potential spending priorities. Both bodies agreed that with recruiting-and-retention efforts struggling in the tight job market, offering better compensation to county and school employees was a central priority.

Rising inflation, supply-chain difficulties and other obstacles are clouding the U.S. economic picture, said Fairfax County Chief Financial Officer Christina Jackson.

“There continues to be a lot of uncertainty about the national economy,” she said, but added that the economic outlooks for Virginia and Fairfax County look solid.

The county’s real-estate market remains hot. Officials expect property assessments for single-family homes to rise by about 10 percent next year, with those for condominiums going up by an estimated 4 percent and townhouses somewhere in the middle of that range, Jackson said.

Homebuyers seem to be gravitating toward larger houses in the expectation of teleworking long-term, Jackson said. Residential properties are selling quickly and at higher prices, she said.

“These rising prices not only impact tax bills, but also may be driving some residents out of the market as they aren’t able to afford homes in Fairfax County,” she said.

“What seems to be happening in Fairfax County happened in California 20 years ago, in that our young families and young professionals are finding it increasingly difficult to live in and afford Fairfax County,” added School Board vice chairman Rachna Sizemore Heizer (At-Large).

Projected non-residential assessments are down slightly, with elevator-equipped office buildings and senior-care facilities taking the largest hits, possibly due to the public’s pandemic-related aversion of crowded places.

Assessments for retail spaces and hotels are relatively flat, while multi-family apartment buildings have risen in value, Jackson said.

After setting aside $12 million for senior tax relief, supervisors likely would split the remaining revenue windfall proportionately with the school system, which currently receives about 52 percent of the county’s general-fund budget.

County officials are considering a 4.01-percent market-rate pay adjustment for all employees, plus longevity-and-performance pay increases of 2.15 percent for eligible county workers and 3.25 percent for uniformed employees.

Fairfax County Public Schools leaders are eyeing a potential 3-percent market-rate adjustment for all employees’ salaries, which would cost $75.3 million, plus a 2.68-percent step increase for eligible workers that would cost $53.5 million.

School officials also may seek $3.3 million to boost pay for school-bus drivers, $4.4 million to increase wages for substitute teachers and $8 million more for health benefits.

County leaders said revenues might decrease somewhat if state officials eliminate the tax on groceries, which was a campaign pledge of Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin, a Republican.

There is still much potential for additional state support for education, McKay said. State per-pupil funding was $2,704 in fiscal year 2020, while the county supplied $12,005 per student, he said.

“We get $2,700 from the state and the state is sitting on a massive surplus and does not even fund their Standards of Quality, their own rules,” McKay said. “I would say there is no surplus until the raiding of local governments that’s occurred by the commonwealth of Virginia for many, many years is corrected.”

Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance president Arthur Purves had other ideas on the budget forecast, saying supervisors should cut the real-estate tax by 10 cents to offset higher property assessments.

“School spending should decrease $100 million to reflect the decline in enrollment by 10,000 students,” he said. “Instead of 6-percent raises to improve recruitment and retention, they should stop undermining police and not force experimental vaccines on employees with natural immunity.”

County Executive Bryan Hill will present his proposed fiscal year 2023 budget to the Board of Supervisors on Feb. 22.

“The pandemic has made our thinking more precise and out-of-the-box,” Hill said at the joint budget meeting. “The opportunity now is to do things differently and within our means.”

The School Board on Feb. 22 will adopt its fiscal 2023 advertised budget. The School Board and Board of Supervisors will have another joint budget meeting March 1.

After holding public hearings on the budget in mid-April and marking up the proposal April 26, supervisors will adopt the fiscal 2023 budget May 10. The new fiscal year will start July 1.

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