Budget plan boosts taxes in Fairfax County

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Fairfax homeowners will see an average $79 increase on their tax bills under the county’s $6.73 billion budget in fiscal 2013, which also provides the first full raises for government employees since 2009 and $74 million more for public schools in Virginia’s most populous county.

All seven Democrats on the 10-member Board of Supervisors supported the budget during Tuesday’s mark-up process — despite some hand-wringing over services the county’s revenues will not be able to fund.

Outgoing County Executive Anthony H. “Tony” Griffin recommended a $6.73 billion budget to the board in February. He wanted the property tax rate to remain steady at $1.07 per $100 of assessed value, but the board voted to increase that rate half a cent and decrease the advertised $0.025 stormwater fee by half a cent, adding nearly $10 million to county coffers for employee raises, human service programs, and other priorities.

While marking up Mr. Griffin’s budget Tuesday, the board also reallocated nearly $25 million in available resources from various savings and unspent funds, including $1 million saved by lower-than-anticipated health insurance premiums. Members applied most of that money — $16.5 million — to employee compensation.

County salaries have been frozen for the last three years, though the board approved a 2 percent raise to cover inflation last fall.

The budget initially approved on Tuesday includes a 2.18 percent raise for all employees in July to make up for inflation. It also includes funding for performance-based salary increases and raises public safety workers receive after 15 and 20 years of service.

Michael R. Frey, Sully Republican, the lone Republican to indicate he would support the plan, said the one item the board “absolutely” needed to address was employee compensation. He called the budget “an appropriate balance.”

The board also voted to place $4.2 million in a reserve fund for human service programs and the Community Services Board.

Catherine M. Hudgins, Hunter Mill Democrat, said she was concerned the county is not providing enough money for its social safety net programs.

“This budget is leaving many services on a very fragile, unclear direction,” she said.

The remaining funds out of the nearly $25 million reallocated by the board will go to items like affordable housing and the Fairfax Symphony.

More than half of the general fund budget — $1.85 billion — goes to public school operations and debt service. Schools will receive about $74 million more than last year, most of which will be used for positions to accommodate the projected 180,000 students in the state’s largest school system next year.

Two Republicans opposed the budget proposal, decrying the tax hike on county residents.

John C. Cook, Braddock Republican, said there is not enough money dedicated to transportation. He unsuccessfully proposed to gradually transfer the $24 million the county generates each year from its vehicle license fee from the general fund toward transportation projects.

“Budgets are about setting priorities,” Mr. Cook said. “We must be mindful of the tax burden on our residents.”

Ms. Hudgins, however, said the county’s needs dictate its spending levels.

“I don’t think taxes are a burden,” she said. “They’re a price we pay for a civilized community.”

The budget is scheduled to be formally adopted on May 1.

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

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