FTCA's Thomas Cranmer in attendance on 03/20/2014
I attended the Dranesville District presentation on the budget at the McLean Community Center, along with only 35 adults. The primary presenters were from the office of management and budget, and Supervisor John Foust was there to obfuscate.
I asked where is the annual budget information on the annual costs of expansion of roads in Fairfax. They replied it is not available yet with the amount from increased taxes (primarily the 1% increase on sales) under HB2313. As usual Foust refused to discuss how much money was going into the road expansions each year or how much was budgeted for expansion of Route 7 from Reston Ave. to Tysons. He would not say where the budget item is located for Route 7 expansion is located.
The county web site lists $1.288 billion of funding recommendations for six years, repeat six years, Roadway expansion would be 30% of the total, compared to bike, walkways and "transit" at 40% of the list. The web site says without detail: "Of the total amount approved, about $1.2 billion will come from state and regional transportation dollars generated by HB2313, the new transportation bill, during the next six years, and the remaining amount will be funded through the county's commercial and industrial property taxes, general obligation bonds, and other sources"
Foust claimed orally that Fairfax is paying for all the Tysons road improvements in spite of the web site statement. I challenged him that the main roads are VDOT's responsibility, but he falsely claimed Fairfax would pay for everything on the Tysons Table 7 list. I can't find anything significant on the list of projects relating to Table 7. Remember the Tysons planners were going to spend one billion dollars, repeat billion, on a free "circulator" bus system in Tysons through 2040? I can't find a reference to the circulator system.
Route 7 expansion from Reston Ave. to Tysons is not in the list of road expansion projects numbered 45-69. Foust tells people it is in the list of approved projects, but his statements are false. It is not even in VDOT's six-year plan or in Northern Virginia Transportation Authority's published list out to 2040! Foust wants to be a congressman?
Foust could not identify any budget cuts that he would recommend. He said he'd like to see the number of administrators in the school system cut, but he is powerless to influence the school board. He said the Riverbend Park staff and boats are cut in the budget, but this is done every year to get support for an increased budget, and the cuts would be restored. One person in the crowd said the bureaucrats who put in phony cuts each year should be fired.
A basic problem with the budget is it does not explain alternatives and trade-offs. The only alternative presented is to raise taxes by three cents per $100 of assessed value to increase school revenue. What is not included in the school budget is $30 million from the State, that is expected. That is about half of the "shortfall" for the schools being publicized.
There is no analysis of the cost per bicycle user or walker in the budget for bike improvements. There's no detail provided on the cost / benefit analysis for each project. The US Department of Transportation and the Commonwealth require cost / benefit analyses. By providing a list of benefits then it would be possible to analyze priorities. For example Fairfax has never publicized that it would take 100 years of parking fees to pay for the Metro garage at Wiehle and Sunset Aves that still has not opened. The level of future congestion on roads is not analyzed. Congestion and high taxes drive people out of Fairfax.
A basic problem in the analysis of salaries is that they are compared with other locations, without discussing how many people apply for positions. This is like the mob running into the sea and eventually drowning (in taxes).
The private sector pays just enough to attract the talent needed. I asked if a study had been done comparing private sector salaries to those in Fairfax. No comparison has been done. We should recommend a study be done.
The presenters said a good retirement package study was done in the last couple years, but did not say how we could get it.
The budget is on a cash basis, rather than on an obligation basis. This means if a contract is signed for $100 million, but the only expenditure in 2015-16 is $1.0 million then just the $1.0 million is in the budget. It is hard to tell what the budget would look like in future years with the contractual obligations being taken on, especially regarding roads and transit.
I haven't been able to find the operating and capital subsidies that would be paid to the Metro (WMATA), now that the Silver Line is supposed to be operating this year. The Fairfax obligation will go up significantly. Fares cover only one-third of the Metro operating costs and none of the capital costs. Most of the burden is borne by taxpayers who don't take the Metro.
Fairfax has not provided information to identify the losses on the bus system. Fares don't cover the operating and capital costs, and the buses seem to have low occupancy. Loudoun planners asked bus riders if they would be willing to pay full costs, about eight dollars per trip. They said they would. FFX should do a survey and ask if people would be willing to pay full cost vs drop the service.
The increasing poverty in Fairfax is not highlighted. The presenters said one-third of the kids entering the school system are poor. There's no discussion or analysis of how to decrease poverty. No mention is made of the increasing single mother problem, where kids are ten times more likely to be poor, commit crimes and take drugs.
A big problem not widely recognized is the FY2015 increase in assessments for Townhouses is 8.39% and Condos is 10.52%, compared to the burdensome 5.82% increase for single family homes. Lots of people are going to be very unhappy when they realize it. Apartment assessments rise 3.59%, but the cost will not be seen by the low information voters in the rent increases.
Office building assessments are down, but the vacancy rates are likely to grow to 20% when ExxonMobil vacates its offices soon. Commercial and industrial assessments as a percentage of the total real estate base has declined from 27% in 1990 to 19% in FY2015. Thus residents are bearing more of the tax burden.
I gave them a copy of Fred's analysis of potential budget reductions and said I'd like to come in and discuss it. I haven't heard back yet when they would be available.
Foust claimed FFX gets back only 19 cents on the dollar. This is false. When one includes road expenditures like 495 and 95 and maintenance FFX get more than it puts in. I previously asked the Chamber of Commerce and FFX planners to back up the claim in a written analysis and they never did.
I handed out to every individual at the meeting the FCTA analysis and a separate sheet to send in to become a member (it has my initials, TLC, on the bottom right). A fellow with a first name of Jared, who has a PhD, told me he is interested in joining and will contact Arthur about attending the next board meeting.
I'm scheduled to testify on the third day of the BOS budget hearings, like I did last year. Hope many from our group have also reserved a slot. It seems close to 200 will testify over the three days, most with their hands out.
-- Tom Cranmer, FCTA Board Member