The board can adopt a tax rate that is lower, but not higher, than is advertised when it marks-up (makes amendments to) the Advertised Budget on April 19.
The additional tax, which is in keeping with the recommendation of County Executive Ed Long, will provide about $23 million more per one-cent rise for Fairfax County’s coffers for Fiscal Year 2017.
But with a 4-cent increase, the county is still likely to give Fairfax County Public Schools only 3 percent more than it did last year. The schools have been seeking a 6.7-percent raise in order to give employee raises and keep elementary class sizes small.
The schools annually receive about 52 percent of the county’s $3.99 billion budget.
The 4-cent rise will be enough to transfer a total of $2.08 billion to the schools. Included in that number is a school operating transfer of $1.88 billion (a 3- percent, or $54.75 million, increase from 2016).
The county is also offering $13.1 million in construction support and a school debt service transfer of $189.87 million.
Last month, the Fairfax County Schools Superintendent Karen Garza requested an FY 2017 operating transfer of $1.95 billion — a $122.7 million increase (6.7 percent) over the FY 2016 General Fund transfer.
At Tuesday’s budget hearing, Supervisor Dan Storck (Mount Vernon) made a motion to consider a 6-cent increase. It did not pass. Then Supervisor Jeff McKay (Lee), the board’s Budget Committee Chairman, made a motion to advertise a rate of $1.14, an increase of 5 cents. That motion was tied. Following that, a motion to advertise a 4-cent increase was made and passed 7-3.
“I’m disappointed that the same people who advocated for flexibility voted against flexibility,” McKay said. “They’ve boxed in the Board of Supervisors and tied our hands. It’s now nearly impossible to meet the Superintendent’s request. I strongly believe that would have been possible at 5 cents, and that is why I put forward this responsible rate.”
Several board members said they had to keep the needs of all constituents in mind when considering taxes.
“Mr. Long’s budget left us with the challenge of filling other community needs,” said Hunter Mill Supervisor Cathy Hudgins.
“I have a constituent who is a senior with 40-plus years in this county,” said Hudgins “I think about where she is going to live next; she may be unable to find housing that will be affordable to her longterm.”
Hudgins said 5 or 6 cents makes sense — until you look at the whole community.
“I can pay an additional $300,” she said. “We ned to think about those who cannot pay.”
School Board Chair Pat Hynes (Hunter Mill) said she is disappointed in the advertised tax rate.
“The Board of Supervisors’ decision today to set the advertised tax rate at 4 cents is disappointing because it guarantees that the county and schools budgets cannot both be fully funded, denying the community its rightful role in that conversation,” Hynes said in a statement.
“Today’s decision is discouraging for the thousands of community members who have reached out to the School Board and the Board of Supervisors this year to advocate for a voice in this very important conversation about values and priorities.”
The supervisors also asked for more information regarding putting a meals tax on the ballot. The Board’s legislative package has long supported diversifying the tax base and taking some of the tax burden off homeowners, which a meals tax could do if enacted.
Under Virginia law, if the Board wishes to adopt a meals tax, the voters must decide in the form of a referendum before the Board could even consider implementing.
There will be many opportunities for residents to share comments and concerns regarding the county budget between now and April 26, when the budget will be formally adopted.
There will be budget town meetings and forums throughout the county, as well as three days of budget public hearings at the Fairfax County Government Center April 5-7.