-- Charles McAndrew, February 20, 2016
Four FCTA board members attended a Fx Co budget town hall meeting at the Vienna Fire Station on Saturday February 20, 2016. Supervisor Cathy Hudgins (Hunter Mill district) chaired the meeting. Chairman Sharon Bulova, County Executive Ed Long, County CFO Joe Mondero, FCPS School Board Chairman Pat Hynes, Asst Superintendent of Financial Services and FCPS CFO Kristen Michael, along with about 50 attendees were present. Here is a summary:
Advertised Budget Plan -- Ed Long presented the Advertised Budget for FY 2017. He stated that the proposed budget was based on a 3% tax increase, the minimum tax rate to meet the county's funding requirements. The advertised budget will be approximately $4.1 billion in general fund spending. He mentioned that he dedicated $7.5 million toward implementing recommendations made last year by an ad hoc police commission established by the County Board of Supervisors. The bottom line to this, according to Ed Long, is that it will require $35 million and 150 new staff positions to fulfill the commission's mandated requirements. This will include an independent review board, body cameras, an auditor, and something called "Divergent First", which I understand is a program designed to move people with mental illnesses away from jails. There was a handout on the Advertised Budget Plan.
Real Estate Taxes will increase -- Ed Long stated that he is proposing a 4% budget increase that would give the Board some flexibility in determining what the final budget will be. He said that the proposed advertised budget plan was based on a 3 cent tax increase. If the real estate taxes are increased by 4 cents, it would result in an additional $23 million. This could cover some of the gap in the proposed FCPS funding which is short by $68 million. Sharon Bulova said she would support the 3 cents tax increase but she and the board will be looking for other revenue sources. Cathy Hudgins says she plans to push the MEALS TAX of 4% for the referendum in November that could bring in around $90 million. (I recently received my Notice of Real Estate Assessment Change which shows that the 2014 assessed value of my property was $671,360 and will be increased for 2015 to $698,120 or an increase of $26,760. They show a 4.22% increase in my tax reassessment!)
FCPS requests -- Ed Long stated that the real estate tax would need to increase to 6 or 7 cents to meet all of the school requirements. He also said that since FY2009, Fairfax County spending was reduced by more than $1 billion!?? Kristen Michael gave the FCPS budget presentation. The FCPS budget request for FY 2017 is approximately $2.7 billion. This represents a $121.4 million, or 4.8% increase over the FY 2016 Approved Budget. Part of this increase would be to fund about $11 million to keep the elementary school class size to less than 30 students where classroom space is available. She stated that, since FY2008, FCPS has made budget reductions totaling nearly $500 million!?? She said that revenues have not kept up with expenditures, thus resulting in annual cost to balance the budgets. And due to limited available resources, annual compensation increases have been restricted resulting in lagging salaries.
If you look at the salary charts that she presented: FCPS teacher's salaries are below the market average and about $20,000 below Arlington County teacher's salary. (Isn't it amazing that the FCPS budget was reduced by almost $500 million from FY 2008 and yet the FCPS budget goes UP EVERY YEAR by an average of $100 million during the same period?) Kristen Michael gave out a handout on the FCPS budget.
Attendee Voting -- After a 15 minute break, small computers were handed out and some questions were posed to the audience to use their key pad to answer some questions. One of the main questions was: Do you support the necessary budget increases? 67% said YES! Next question was: Do you support the necessary FCPS budget increase? 66% said YES! And Do you support looking for other revenue sources such as a Meal Tax? 95% said YES! (My fingers gave out, so I did not capture the other questions, but none were as important as these were! Keep in mind that the audience was from the Peoples Republic of Reston, Vienna, and some from Herndon!)
Questions and answers -- I asked Kristen Michael why, in her FY 2017 Expenditures by Program, she did not break down ESOL and Free and Reduced Meals costs? After all, they do show the Special Education estimated cost of $488.7 million out of $2.7 billion. She said that she would furnish these numbers to me.
FCTA's Rob Whitfield asked where are the funds for highways by Fairfax County compared to other jurisdictions? Rob stated that his understanding of the present six-year Transportation Priorities (TPP) funding plan adopted by the Board on January 28, 2014 is that, out of a total of $1.4 billion approved, only $200 million ($33.33 million per year) will come from county funding sources, most of it from the Dulles Metro Tax Districts and C&I District taxes? I cannot recall the answer he got.
Two other points Rob mentioned: Last November, a $100 million Fairfax County Transportation bond was approved, of which 85% went to bike and pedestrian trails. Also, as regards the the 2010 transportation $120 million bond, it has not been explained where these funds went. Again, I cannot remember the answer he received.
-- Charles McAndrew, Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance