Tax hike floated in Fairfax Co. budget proposal

FAIRFAX, Va. — An average Fairfax County homeowner would have to pay $300 more in real estate taxes under a spending plan unveiled Tuesday that provides half of the new funding requested to support the county school system.

The budget proposal from County Executive Ed Long would increase school funding 3 percent over the current year. That’s still less than half of the 6.7 percent increase the Fairfax County School Board had requested, and it prompted sharp criticism from School Board members.

“We are dismayed,” a statement from School Board Chairman Pat Hynes began. “This is a crushing blow to the more than 185,000 students who depend on the schools to help shape their future and to the teachers.”

Long says that both fully funding the schools’ request and meeting general county administrative needs funded in his budget proposal would require a tax rate increase of 6 cents to 7 cents for every $100 of assessed value.

Long recommends at least a 3-cent increase in the tax rate. But he said that a 4-cent increase would provide the Board of Supervisors with an extra $22 million above the revenue outlined in the spending proposal.

“I think everybody in the state is hurting for additional school funding,” Long says.

The proposal would have the average residential property owner pay $5,962.42 in real estate taxes, an increase of roughly 5 percent.

“It’s a pretty dark and dreary and ugly day,” Supervisor John Cook said of the county’s financial situation.

While details of a promised increase in state education funding are set to emerge from the General Assembly’s budget committees this weekend, Long says the county’s latest estimates show Fairfax County Public Schools only receiving about $3.2 million in additional funding based on the proposals that have been put forward in Richmond so far.

Board of Supervisors Chair Sharon Bulova said that the tax rate and spending proposals are not set in stone as Tuesday was the first time they had seen the proposal in detail.

Each member of the board is planning a public meeting on the proposals, and the full board will also hold public discussions and later take public comment on the budget.

“There’s not a cut to the school budget, there’s an increase. What we need to discuss over the next couple weeks and months is: What is the amount of that, and can we close the gap even closer, which I hope we can do. And that’s typically what we do,” said Supervisor Jeff McKay.

The county budget proposal includes raises for county workers as well as funding for new police officers and firefighters and the initial hires needed for the new South County Police Station.

Overall, the county says 52 percent of the $3.99 billion fiscal year 2017 proposed budget would go to Fairfax County Public Schools, with the next largest proportion, 11.9 percent, going to public safety.

Supervisor Dan Storck, a former school board member, says even though county schools are getting more money than in the past, the proportion of the county budget that goes to the school system used to be higher, and could be again.

School Board member Dalia Palchik said following the budget presentation that if a tax increase closer to 5 cents was needed, “I think it’s a very small price to pay for our kids.”

But Supervisor Pat Herrity says that homeowners could face tax bills that are 25 percent higher than they were five years ago if Long’s plan were approved.

“Nobody’s incomes are going up by that level,” Herrity says.

The budget also includes about $7.5 million to begin implementing some of the $35 million worth of recommendations from the police reform commission formed after a county police officer shot and killed a Springfield man.

The board is considering the long list of recommended changes that have arose in the wake of John Geer’s death and how to best implement them.

Bulova says making more changes for public safety and continuing those changes already made in training and approach are crucial.

The $9.5 billion, six-year Capital Improvement Program proposal includes potential bond referendums this fall that would fund $120 million for Metro, $107 million for parks, and $85 million for human services and community development.

Overall, the budget proposal would add $3.64 million more for Metro in the coming year, for a total of $13.6 million from the county’s general fund. It would provide the first general fund increase for the Fairfax Connector since 2013. The bus service would receive $1.38 million more for a total of $34.9 million in funding.

There also is some money proposed for pothole and trail repairs on the limited number of roads for which Fairfax County is responsible.

The budget includes a proposal to raise fees for sports organizations and teams to pay for turf field replacement. The “Athletic Service Fees” would increase from $5.50 per player per season to $9.50, with fees for teams in tournaments rising from $15 to $25. The fees are aimed at sports like football, soccer and lacrosse that use rectangular fields.

Plus $4.37 million would continue the county’s work to resolve violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act by the summer of 2018.

Budget approval schedule and how to weigh in:

On Feb. 26, a board committee will discuss the highest possible tax rate the Board of Supervisors will consider, with final approval of the advertised tax rate on March 1.

Fairfax County residents can weigh in on the record at public hearings April 5, April 6, and April 7 ahead of the April 19 budget markup where the board will likely finalize any changes to the budget.

The official final vote to adopt the budget is set for April 26.

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