Fairfax Co. moves forward with budget altered by the pandemic; Alexandria OKs smaller budget

In Virginia, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is now one step away from approving a budget that has been drastically altered by the coronavirus pandemic. But, it is a budget that maintains the current property tax rate.

During a meeting Tuesday, the board signed off on changes made to the spending plan by County Executive Bryan Hill, which take into account the pandemic’s financial impact on the state’s largest county.

Among the changes was a big cut in the amount of additional money allocated for schools. That increase in spending went from $85 million down to $7.3 million.

“I think everybody has a little anger in them right now over how we got to this point,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay told WTOP in a previous interview. “We’re going through a lot of pain here and this is certainly not a normal situation by any stretch.”

The $4.47 billion budget is for the 2021 fiscal year, which starts in July. It is set to be approved Tuesday, May 12.

“The FY 2021 plan provides for equal growth for school and county budgets, which will both increase by just 0.32% over the previous year,” a news release said.

“We have to think about what our starting place was,” said McKay. “Compared to a lot of places in the country, we had a much stronger economy and a very high quality of living. These things are helping us get through this.”

Before the pandemic hit, the county’s residential property tax rate was set to go up by 3 cents, but that was scrapped, keeping the rate at $1.15 per $100 of assessed value.

Still, Supervisor Pat Herrity said more should have been done to reduce that. Herrity was the lone dissenting vote.

“It will still represent a 2.25% increase in real estate taxes on the average homeowner due to rising assessments — around 10% on some of the hardest hit neighborhoods,” Herrity said in a statement. “This is on top of the 25% increase in taxes on our homeowners over the last five years.”

The budget cuts raises for county employees, expanded library hours, new positions to staff various county programs and facilities and millions of dollars for affordable housing initiatives.

New spending, although limited, will cover additional positions for the county’s health department and $9.84 million for additional needs related to the pandemic.

Last week, neighboring Alexandria adopted a $753.3 million budget that was 5.8% lower than the $799.9 million originally proposed.

Alexandria’s budget reflects “the nearly $100 million budget gap created by the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic,” a news release said.

“The budget approved by City Council does not include an originally proposed 2-cent increase in the 2020 real estate tax rate to fund City and Schools capital projects. The real estate tax rate approved by City Council remains at $1.13 per $100 of assessed value, and there are no other tax rate increases,” the release said.

Alexandria’s budget provides for $1 million to the Alexandria Health Department “from potential federal funding under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, to be used along with potential state funding for substantially increased epidemiological staffing.”

More than 50% of the city’s health department budget is funded by Alexandria, even though the Alexandria Health Department is a division of the Virginia Department of Health.

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WTOP’s Colleen Kelleher contributed to this story.

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