Fairfax County Budget & Real Estate Assessments
Employee pay, school funding and real estate assessments all increasing once again
Fairfax County Executive, Bryan Hill announced that the proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2020 is based on a residential real estate tax rate of $1.15 per $100 of assessed value. Just five years ago that rate was $1.09 per 100 of assessed value.
Property assessments in Annandale have risen an average of 2.68% annually each year for the past three. County wide, 76% of all homeowners will see an increase, and quite certainly all of Annandale. The end result is that elderly home owners on fixed income and low income individuals are all but frozen out of this market. The county's solution to this fact is to allocate more money toward affordable housing. Are we traveling in circles?
The proposed General Fund budget has increased to $4.44 billion, up $161.74 million. This sum does not include substantial federal and state grants. Hill’s report states that the prime real estate markets in Fairfax are now spaces near the Silver Metro Line, which has helped position Tysons, Herndon, and Reston as the financial powerhouses within the county. The designated county revitalization districts (designated as of 1988), of which Annandale is one, have not redeveloped with any notable success or county supported plan. All county attention has been given to metro line areas rather than revitalization districts. No dedicated county personnel have been hired to hard market the revitalization districts, in fact, passing-the-buck from one office to another and back again is the only response ever given.
Each revitalization district has polled their communities to know exactly what retail would be popular but no effort has been made by the county to SELL the revitalization districts to the best developers. Zoning has also been liberalized throughout the county which may have the negative impact of allowing light industrial businesses to open on main streets forever damning the ability of the revitalization districts to develop vibrant downtown communities.
More than a year ago the state legislature passed a bill allowing incentives to be offered to developers who purchase and develop an assemblage of properties within revitalization districts. Each county was left to determine the details of the incentives as would best promote the needs of their county. The FC Board will vote this year on a county staff proposal to be enacted by January 2020 and expire in ten years. Preliminary recommendations include expedited processing of development applications (a stipulated advantage already promised to projects within a CBD but not practiced), a reduction of up to 10 percent in the site plan review fee, and a partial real estate tax abatement to private sector developers who assemble and develop properties consistent with the county’s Comprehensive Plan.
It has been difficult, almost impossible, to attract quality developers to many revitalization zones throughout the Commonwealth...not just Annandale. In our community the sky high cost of property and the task of assembling multiple small lots has stymied developers. These incentives may not be enough, but NO real revitalization of Annandale’s commercial district has taken place in the 30+ years of designation. Instead, cheaply remodeled buildings, and not many of those, have appeared without an ounce of architectural style. Perhaps it is time for the nay-sayers to understand that developers are not the enemy; they may be our salvation. Are you tired of ever escalating property taxes? Thoughtfully planned commercial development will add to the county coffers rescuing homeowners from out-of-control real estate taxes. Do you wish to enjoy new and varied quality retail? That will not happen unless developers are willing to take a risk on Annandale. Let there be no doubt, it is a risk.
FY 2020 budget includes a general fund transfer to Fairfax County Public Schools of $2.35 billion as requested by the School Board. This is 4.11% or $86.46 million, increase over the current FY 2019 school budget. Comparing year to year does not reveal the full picture. EVERY year funding is stretched and increased to the schools until this over-the-top level has been reached. School Debt Service transfer increased by $4.60 million which assumes $180 million in School Bond sales and School Capital Construction at $13.1 million. This represents more than 52.8% of the entire county's revenue. Add to this figure retirement pay and any number of other school related line items listed separately and it is obvious that school related expenses have gone way over-the-top. Unfortunately, increasing school funding to this record high level has not produced any measurable increase in student achievement.
“This is a good-news budget for Fairfax County Public Schools,” said Scott Brabrand, Superintendent of Fairfax County Schools. Under the proposal, this ever increasing multi billion dollar budget will finally allow for catch-up raises that would make teacher salaries more competitive with other districts in the region. “The average (raise) is a little over six percent, but the largest gains are centered around those midcareer teachers, who were falling behind compared to the rest of the market,” Brabrand remarked. Teacher salary increases are way overdue and hopefully will be given as advertised. Once the funds are transfered to the schools, the school board can allocate as they wish.
County staff will also be given another pay increase which averages 3% based on a 1% Market Rate Adjustment (Cost of Living), plus performance, merit, and/or longevity increases. (These increases are higher than was initially proposed by the county executive.) When taken together and an extensive benefit package, county employees are on equity with the private sector.
Additionally, 109 new county employee positions are proposed for staffing of the South County Police Station, Diversion First Initiative, Opioid Task Force, Gang Prevention Initiative, Increase in E-911 Call Capacity, Animal Services, Public Safety, Parks Environmental Operations, IT support for Elections, School Health, Public Works, the McLean Community Center, Wastewater and Stormwater Management, and any number of Social Service positions. This budget also includes a few select preference items to benefit Annandale in areas, once again, of education and social services.
A bit more than $222,000 is proposed for expanding the Opportunity Neighborhoods initiative to Annandale. An Opportunity Neighborhood, according to the county, is one where residents, schools, local government, community organizations, faith and business partners work collaboratively to ensure the well-being of children and youth. Administrated by the Department of Neighborhood and Community Services, this program is aimed at ensuring young children are prepared for entering school; that children succeed in school; that youths graduate from high school and continue to post secondary education and careers.
Many might believe these duties are those of parents & extended family. They might believe that Fairfax County agencies are getting overly involved in the lives of private citizens while their social service department grows into a massive industry. The counter to this quite reasonable complaint is that some small percentage of families do not or can not exhibit parental guidance and that their faith based partners are ineffectual, so the taxpayer is asked to foot the bill.
Routine and non-routine maintenance, as in the past many years, in five major commercial revitalization areas, including Annandale, Bailey’s Crossroads and 7 Corners will be funded at $950,000. These funds support the replacement of sidewalk pavers, landscape maintenance (by far the largest expense), and infrastructure repairs. Annandale’s sidewalk pavers are in pretty good shape while the crosswalk pavers will be replaced with asphalt along with disgraceful bus shelters at the pleasure and schedule of VDOT, meaning it could be many years.
Another $223,000 is being suggested for the Bailey’s Crossroads Homeless Shelter and $100,000 for a new full-time position to support the medical respite program there. The medical respite program, administered by both the Department of Family Services and the Health Department, provides four dedicated beds for homeless clients who are recuperating from acute medical conditions. This money will be well spent in support of a local humanitarian need. The shelter is scheduled to open in late 2020. The budget proposes $60,000 for the Bike to Parks pilot project, which would provide approximately 60 bike racks in 15 parks and RECenters that are near countywide trails. Some mention of one park in Annandale has been made, but very little information is currently available on this project.
$390,000 is suggested to replace the leaky roof at the Annandale Child Development Center on Columbia Pike. That must be some roof! Quality rubber roofs cost $8.57 a square foot. Just how large is that roof.
Tax assessments can now be viewed online. To see your own assessment and history go to: www.icare.fairfaxcounty.gov/ffxcare/search/commonsearch.aspx?mode=address. Some months after the budget is actually adopted, a pie chart is usually available on each individual assessment page showing exactly where your tax money has been spent.
Looking forward, County Executive Bryan Hill points out a moderate revenue growth is anticipated while expenditure needs will continue to outpace resources requiring significant fiscal constraint. With what has been published, no fiscal constraint has been noted. Hill also points out that County and School cooperation and collaboration is key since the county transfers more than half their entire revenue to the schools. Revenue is not limitless. As in the past, he cautioned restrained spending; just as the average wage earner has learned to do more with less, so must county staff if fiscal restraint is to be achieved. The county has instigated a modicum of department consolidation during the past year in order to eliminate duplicative services and programs. The budget actually relies upon savings generated from operational efficiencies, yet the noteworthy increase in county staffing allows the payroll to swell. The time has come to explore if certain county departments are no longer relevant to the needs of county residents or may not perform to their mission objective. If so, dissolve these offices. The largess of the taxpayer is not limitless.
The Board of Supervisors is expected to adopt the 2020 budget on May 7. The FCPS school board will adopt their approved budget on May 23. Visit www.fairfaxcounty.gov/budget/sites/budget/files/assets/documents/fy2020/advertised/overview.pdf for more details. If you are concerned that your tax dollars are not being utilized to their best advantage, contact all the Supervisors and County Executive Bryan Hill prior to May 7th.
ADDENDUM: April 30, 2019
Board of Supervisors Marks Up Advertised Budget
Official Budget Adoption Scheduled for May 7
April 30, 2019 - Today, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors marked up the FY2020 Advertised Budget. The $4.4 billion General Fund Budget fully funds the operating budget request from Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS), increases the employee market rate adjustment (MRA) to 2.1 percent, supports affordable housing and environmental initiatives, addresses the opioid crisis, and funds the fourth year of Diversion First. The Board of Supervisors will vote to formally adopt the budget on May 7, 2019.
“We have made a number of changes to the County Executive’s Advertised Budget,” Chairman Sharon Bulova said. “The real estate tax rate will stay the same at $1.15 per $100 of assessed value to ensure Fairfax County continues to be an affordable place to live for seniors and families. This budget is responsible and balanced and includes $3.5 million in savings (an extremely modest savings in a budget this size), mainly through operational efficiencies.”
Because of increases in the assessed (market) value of property, the average annual real estate tax bill for homeowners in Fairfax County is projected to rise by $149.16. (AGAIN)
For the past number of years, Fairfax County has continued to increase the transfers to Schools. Our chief priority has been to ensure competitive teacher salaries. This year, Fairfax County Public Schools will receive $2.35 billion through the School Transfer, which represents 52.8 percent of the County’s General Fund Budget and a 3.82 percent increase ($86.46 million) over FY2019. The Fairfax County School Board has the authority to allocate these funds toward line-item priorities and programs within Fairfax County Public Schools.
The marked up budget includes funding for two staff positions for the new Office of Environmental and Energy Coordination, as well as a Housing Coordinator position for the Department of Housing. As part of Third Quarter Review for FY2019, $5 million will be added to accelerate affordable housing initiatives in Fairfax County. This is in addition to the $10 million already allocated in the FY2020 Advertised Budget.
Looking ahead, the FY2021 budget will pose new challenges. Considering recommendations from the Affordable Housing Resources Panel, reviewing the results of the Police Body Worn Camera Pilot Program, and tackling energy and environment issues through the Joint Environmental Task Force (The JET) are on the horizon throughout the current fiscal year and for a new Board of Supervisors in 2020.
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