Fairfax County taxpayers would see a slightly lower tax rate and employees would not receive pay increases under a proposed fiscal year 2021 budget presented Feb. 23 by County Executive Bryan Hill.
The county’s conservative assumptions during the pandemic allowed officials not to make drastic choices when formulating the new budget, Hill said.
“We are succeeding despite difficult circumstances,” he said.
Hill’s budget would lower the county’s real-estate tax rate by 1 cent to $1.14 per $100 assessed valuation. But homeowners’ bills on average still would rise about $224 because of increased assessments.
Each penny on the tax rate is worth an estimated $27.14 million in revenues, officials said. Eighty-eight percent of the county’s 344,000 residential properties received higher assessments this year and just 4.4 percent saw a decrease in assessed value.
Single-family residential properties, which make up 71.1 percent of the county’s total, saw their average value increase an average of 4.17 percent this year. By contrast, townhouses and duplexes, which make up 20.2 percent of the total, saw average increases of 5.13 percent and condominiums (8.2 percent of the total) saw average hikes of 4.62 percent.
Owners of residential property continue to bear a high burden of the county’s real-estate tax collections. Commercial and industrial properties account for nearly 18.2 percent of the county’s real-estate-tax base, down from 19.7 percent the previous year.
Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay (D) said the proposed conservative budget will allow officials to remain spry and pivot when necessary.
“Hope is not really what you base a budget on,” he said. “It’s reality.”
Officials’ judicious use of $200.2 million in federal CARES Act funds has put the county in a good position to recover from the pandemic and economic downturn, McKay said. County staff are monitoring the possibility of more federal stimulus funds, but the proposed budget is not predicated on the receipt of such moneys, Hill said.
McKay did some pivoting himself when the county’s broadcast feed piped in piano music over his remarks.
“It was our Fairfax County arts community already lobbying in the budget process,” he quipped.
The proposed budget would increase the transfer to Fairfax County Public Schools by $14.13 million – a figure more than seven times less than the School Board’s $104.4 million request.
Much of that request would have been put toward a 3-percent salary hike for the school system’s employees, Hill said. County officials, as they have in the past, said that school-employee pay increases authorized by the state would entail a high local match from Fairfax County, given current funding formulas.
Much of the school system’s request was intended for a 3-percent salary increase for all employees. But under the state’s funding formula, Fairfax County would have had to provide the lion’s share of the money to finance that increase.
School funding would constitute 52.8 percent of the general-fund budget under the new proposal. The school system has received $137.9 million in federal stimulus funds, plus $19.6 million in county coronavirus-relief moneys, officials said.
The county would gain 109 employees to staff new facilities and continue previous initiatives. The budget recommends:
• $4.44 million for the police department’s body-worn-camera program.
• $3.15 million and 16 positions for staffing of the new South County Police Station.
• $2.23 million and 15 positions for the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney.
• $1.18 million and eight positions to staff the new Scotts Run Fire Station.
• $590,000 and five positions to increase emergency-911 call capacity.
• $6.03 million for Health Department positions that will be deployed to the school-health program after the pandemic.
• $1.43 million and seven positions for the Opioid Task Force.
• $720,000 and five positions for the Diversion First initiative, which offers some low-level offenders alternatives to incarceration. This increase will be offset by savings in the Sheriff’s Office, officials said.
• $380,000 in increased capital support for environmental projects.
• $370,000 in staffing support for the county’s Climate Adaptation and Resilience Plan.
• $1.35 million for Coordinated Services Planning positions.
• $680,000 for nine support-coordination positions with the Community Services Board.
• $890,000 for public-assistance-eligibility workers and sexual-abuse-specialist positions.
• $960,000 and six positions for upcoming collective-bargaining endeavors.
• $570,000 for maintenance of new facilities.
• $550,000 in lease adjustments.
• $220,000 and two positions for the Office of Elections.
• $210,00 and 13 positions for capital-projects workload.
• $160,000 for an audit manager in the Department of Taxation, which would be offset by revenue.
• $950,000 to support a new Lee District community center.
• $640,000 and 11 positions for the new Sully Community Center.
• $610,000 in support for maintenance of the school system’s athletic fields.
• $310,000 and two positions for support affordable-housing efforts.
• $220,000 and one position to support the Department of Economic Inititiatives.
Hill also suggested the county should create a $20 million reserve for economic-recovery initiatives. Supervisor Walter Alcorn (D-Hunter Mill) worried about a potential spike in evictions after the pandemic ends.
Supervisor Patrick Herrity (R-Springfield) said he was disappointed county homeowners would see a 3.4-percent increase in their tax bills under the new budget.
“I would have hoped to see a flat tax bill, given the pandemic,” he said.
Supervisors on March 9 will advertise a maximum potential tax rate, then hold public hearings on the budget April 13 through 15 and adopt the budget May 4. The new budget will take effect July 1.