Fairfax Co. lowers property tax rate, ups school funding to get past pandemic funk

Fairfax County’s newly adopted budget aims to help residents in the Virginia county weather the yearlong economic dark clouds that arrived with the coronavirus pandemic.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday passed a $4.5 billion spending plan for fiscal year 2022 that lowers the residential property tax rate, while increasing spending on public schools and affordable housing. At the same time, it gives more support to the county’s Office of the Public Defender.

Board Chairman Jeff McKay said he’s “tremendously proud” of the budget.

“In order to lift up every resident in Fairfax County, especially as we recover from the pandemic, we need to make investments in the community and the programs that make everyone healthier, safer, and more successful,” McKay said, in a statement.

Fairfax County’s challenges, as the state’s most populous jurisdiction, are not unique, especially in the northern part of the state, where unemployment related to the pandemic has caused local lawmakers to look for ways to bolster anxious residents.

The budget shaves a penny off the residential property tax rate to $1.14 per 100 of assessed value.

However, McKay is realistic about the modest effect the reduction will have on what homeowners pay.

“With real estate assessments on the rise, however, this means a tax increase in some cases and decreases in others, depending on your property value,” McKay said.

Fairfax County has more than 334,000 residential properties. Of those, 88% saw an increase in their assessed values, while 4.4% saw a decrease, according to a February budget presentation.

Neighboring Prince William and Loudoun counties both dropped their tax rates — Prince William by a penny, Loudoun by a whopping 5 1/2 cents, while nearby Arlington County kept its property tax rate steady.

With regional housing costs so high, the new budget recommends dedicating half a penny to affordable housing, which would amount to more than $13 million to create and preserve housing opportunities.

“Since the start of last fiscal year, Fairfax County has approved or closed the financing on over 1,000 new unites of affordable housing across Fairfax County and adjusted our zoning ordinance to be more flexible to provide new housing options,” said McKay.

Under the budget, county employees will get a 1% pay increase, and a one-time bonus — $1,000 for merit employees, and $500 for others.

Fairfax County Public Schools, which receives over 50% of the county’s budget, will get an extra $29.34 million, said McKay, which will fund a 2% pay raise for FCPS employees.

The budget provides more money to support the county’s Office of the Public Defender, as well as the county’s Trust Policy, to “improve county policy and community trust, privacy, health, welfare and safety,” for the immigrant community.

“My goal was to look for balance in lowering the tax rate, with the understanding of skyrocketing property assessments, while also supporting our County employees and teachers and furthering our priorities in education, affordable housing, environmental protection, and community resources. I am pleased we were able to achieve that,” said McKay.

Supervisor Pat Herrity, the sole Republican on the board, had sought to drop the tax rate by three cents, and was the dissenting vote in the 9-1 tally.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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