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FairfaxBusinessFoust focuses on pandemic, tax issues at 'State of McLean'

Foust focuses on pandemic, tax issues at ‘State of McLean’

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Supervisor John Foust (D-Dranesville) in his annual “State of McLean” speech Feb. 24 praised the county’s handling of the pandemic, but said supervisors likely will need to make budgetary adjustments this spring to lessen impacts on taxpayers.

The yearly address, which he delivered virtually to the Greater McLean Chamber of Commerce is a fine opportunity to review the district’s recent developments and ponder how to move forward, said Foust, who first was elected to the office in 2007.

Federal Aid, Small-Business Grants Lessened Pandemic’s Sting: Foust led off with a recap of the biggest crisis that has faced the county recently, the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’m extraordinarily proud of how the county staff responded and the programs we’ve been able to put in place on the run,” Foust said. “It’s gone very well, but not perfect. Everything we’ve done over the past two years has been unprecedented, so of course there have been some fumbles, but mostly good stuff.”


The Fairfax Health District, which includes the county plus the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church, is home to about 1.2 million people. Since the COVID outbreak in March 2020, the district has recorded more than 175,000 suspected or confirmed COVID cases, more than 4,300 hospitalizations and more than 1,400 deaths, Foust said.

The county has pursued an aggressive vaccination program and as of Feb. 23 about 82 percent of health-district residents 18 and older were fully vaccinated, said the supervisor, adding that 100 percent was the goal.

“Amazing support” from the federal government has boosted the county’s pandemic response, Foust said. The county has received more than $200 million in federal CARES funds, will get about $222 million in ARPA funds and a similar amount in other funds, including roughly $70 million in rental assistance, he said.

“It spared us from a really disastrous situation in the tenant-landlord arena,” Foust said.

Thanks to county staff’s efforts, the Federal Emergency Management Agency will reimburse more than $54 million worth of expenses, he added. Fairfax County Public Schools also will benefit from $326 million in federal aid.

County officials used more than $5 million in grants to prop up the local network of non-profit human-services groups and used $28 million for “basic-needs support,” including food and financial, rental, mortgage, utility and prescription assistance, he said.

Foust, who chairs the Board of Supervisors’ Economic Advisory Commission, said he especially was proud of helping create the Fairfax RISE (Relief Initiative to Support Employers) program, which has awarded nearly $52.6 million in grants to 4,809 small businesses.

The program drew more than 6,300 applications and all of the businesses that qualified received grants, Foust said. About 72 percent of the grant recipients were businesses owned by women, veterans and minorities, he added.

County officials now are trying to help those most hurt by the pandemic, including immigrant, the Hispanic community and service industries such as hotels, restaurants, retail and tourism.

“The working poor were the hardest hit,” Foust said. “Ninety percent of all the jobs we lost in the county in the COVID crisis involved industries where the average wage is 80 percent or less of the area median income.”

Lower Real-Estate-Tax Rate Likely as Supervisors Negotiate Budget: Fairfax County’s proposed fiscal year 2023 budget, presented Feb. 22 by County Executive Bryan Hill, leaves the real-estate-tax rate at $1.14 per $100 assessed valuation, which combined with drastically higher residential-property assessments could spell far higher tax bills for homeowners.
“In my opinion, we can’t let that happen,” Foust said.

The unchanged tax rate would result in a nearly 6.8-percent increase (about $400 million) in county revenues, Foust said. The budget contains $80 million in unallocated funds, which supervisors could use to knock a couple of cents off the tax rate, he said.

The county’s commercial-real-estate market is not doing as well, Foust said. Overall commercial assessments are up nearly 2.3 percent, but most of that is due to apartments, not offices, he said.

More than 20.3 million of the county’s 119.3 million square feet of office space remains vacant. The county’s woes comport with national trends, with more workers telecommuting during the pandemic, Foust said.

Supervisors have not adjusted the personal-property-tax rate on vehicles since he has been on the board, but doing so may become a topic of discussion during this year’s budget negotiations because of drastically higher vehicle valuations, Foust said. Used-car values have shot up by at least 33 percent, he said.

“Without adjusting the rate, everyone’s personal-property-tax bill is going to go up significantly,” Foust said.

Foust was upbeat about proposals to increase county employees salaries by at least 6 percent (more for uniformed workers), which he said would lessen ongoing difficulties in recruiting and retaining staff.

Supervisors on March 8 will advertise a maximum potential real-estate-tax rate for fiscal 2023. After public hearings April 12 through 14 and then making adjustments, supervisors will adopt the new budget May 10 and it will take effect July 1.

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