Vienna Town Manager Mercury Payton on March 7 proposed a $48.7 million budget for fiscal year 2023 that would give sizable pay raises to town employees and provide a slight tax-rate reduction for homeowners groaning under higher property assessments.
Payton’s budget – which is 12.7 percent higher than last year’s, owing to a return to pre-pandemic activity levels – calls for the real-estate-tax rate to go down by a penny from 22.25 cents per $100 assessed valuation to 21.25 cents.
While the budget does not add any new programs, it addresses inflationary costs by using extra revenues from the assessed value of new construction, officials said.
“The result is a legally balanced proposed budget that reflects general consensus from a variety of operational perspectives,” Payton said in a statement issued with the budget.
Vienna’s budget would cost the average homeowner about $69 more this year. But that’s not all that town property owners can look forward to. Because they’re also Fairfax County residents, they have to pay the county’s real-estate tax as well.
County executive Bryan Hill in February proposed a fiscal 2023 budget that would leave the county’s tax rate steady at $1.14 per $100 of assessed value. If approved – and several supervisors have said they will press for a lower rate – it would cost the average homeowner $666 more.
Vienna’s overall real-estate values were up 9.1 percent to $6.1 billion.
Mirroring the county’s figures, residential real estate led the pack with a 10.6-percent increase, while commercial real-estate values rose a more modest 2.2 percent.
Some good news on the commercial front: At the end of December 2021, the Vienna area’s average commercial-vacancy rate was 6.3 percent, compare with 16 percent for Fairfax County.
One penny on Vienna’s real-estate tax rate brings in an estimated $614,000 in revenue.
Payton’s budget would spend $775,000, including $280,000 from last year’s surplus, to finance a 7-percent salary increase for eligible employees. This includes a 3-percent hike to make up for the only 1-percent increase last year and a 4-percent raise this year.
All employees would receive the pay increases except those who haven’t completed their yearlong probationary periods or whose job performance is unsatisfactory, said Finance Director Marion Serfass.
A separate pay plan for sworn public-safety workers would cost an additional $145,000, which would result in 8- to 10-percent raises, Serfass said.
The plan would add standard overtime into police officers’ base rate. Police typically work seven 12-hour shifts for a total of 84 hours every two weeks and receive four hours’ worth of overtime pay. Under the proposed plan, those four hours would be included in the officers’ base pay and hence count toward their retirement, which overtime pay now does not, Serfass said.
Higher pay for town employees also will help cover an expected 11.7-percent hike in health-insurance premiums, officials said.
While those pay hikes are on the high side historically, they mirror ones currently being considered by surrounding localities, Serfass said.
“We are not an outlier,” she said. “Other jurisdictions are giving comparable compensation increases. There’s a lot of competition, especially for public-safety [employees].”
Payton’s proposed budget would hold the town’s payroll steady at 195 full-time employees, but transfer some salary costs to a contractor assigned to address deferred-maintenance issues. The budget also reclassifies the town’s public-information officer and economic-development manager as directors instead of manager, with minimal compensation adjustments.
The budget also proposes:
• Borrowing $1.2 million to replace 15 vehicles and computer equipment.
• Increasing the debt-service fund’s budget by nearly $1.05 million, or 19.5 percent, because of the recent issuance of nearly $12.5 million in bonds this year.
• Boosting the town’s water-and-sewer fund’s budget by about $685,000, or 6.3 percent, to cover increased sewer-treatment costs, general-fund transfers and increases in employees’ pay and health-insurance costs. Lower wholesale-water charges from Fairfax Water somewhat will offset the above increases, officials said.
• Increasing the town’s stormwater fund by 13.9 percent to $531,420.
• Raising the water rate by 2.6 percent and sewer rate by 6.3 percent. Related service charges would rise from $31.30 per quarter to $32.80. The average customer’s yearly bill would increase by $40 to $873.
Vienna’s meals-tax collections have recovered to pre-pandemic levels this fiscal year and officials expect them to jump by 23 percent to $3.2 million in fiscal 2023. Meals-tax revenues finance the town’s capital projects.
The Vienna Town Council will hold budget work sessions at Town Hall March 12 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and March 14 starting at 7:30 p.m. The public may attend these sessions, but not testify during them.
After advertising the proposed budget and maximum rates for the real-estate-tax rate and water-and-sewer charges on March 24, the Council will hold public hearings April 11 on the budget and water-and-sewer rates and one concerning the tax rate on April 25.
The Council will, if necessary, hold another budget work session April 18 and adopt the budget, tax rate and water-and-sewer rates on May 16. The new budget will take effect July 1.
Vienna over the past two years has been slated to receive a total of $17.1 million in federal America Rescue Plan Act funds, with the second half due to arrive in June.
Town officials may not use the funds for ongoing expenses, so they have allotted $13 million for park, street, sidewalk and water-and-sewer infrastructure and will use the rest to upgrade Vienna’s public safety and cybersecurity and address pandemic-related economic impacts on businesses and residents.
To view the proposed budget, visit www.viennava.gov/your-government/town-budget.