2017 Budget Approved as County Looks at $75M Shortfall for ’18

Sharon Bulova/File photoNow that the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors has approved a $4.01 billion budget for 2017 — a plan that nearly fully funds Fairfax County Public Schools — it is time to look ahead to Fiscal Year 2018.

The supervisors and the school board will engage in a joint retreat on June 14 to get a jump on what surely is to be another testy budget battle.

Even with a new tax rate, approved on Tuesday, of $1.13 (a 4-cent jump) of assessed home value, the county and the schools will likely feel the pinch again next year.

FCPS superintendent Karen Garza, who had requested a 6-percent increase from the Supervisors for 2017, has already predicted similar needs for 2018 as the nation’s 10th-largest school system faces rising cost drivers such as retirements, health care and the need for special programs.

The budget shortfall initially was about $67 million, but in the end, the schools received about $2 billion from the county, or about a 4.8 percent more than in 2017.

Now, on to 2018.

“There continues to be a projected shortfall of over $75 million as we project ahead to FY 2018,” Supervisor Chair Sharon Bulova said at the 2017 budget markup session last week. “This projection includes revenue increases of approximately 2.4 percent based on limited projected growth in the county’s real estate market.”

“The projected shortfall makes it clear that difficult budget decisions lie ahead,” said Bulova. She directed the county executive to outline a FY 2018 budget that “allocates current projected available resources between the County and Schools.”

“It should be noted that the board recognizes that Real Estate rate increases, such as the 4-cent increase included in the FY 2017 budget, are not sustainable,” said Bulova. “The boards will need to balance affordability with the long list of priorities, therefore making these joint conversations extremely important.”

In other words, the supervisors can’t raise taxes every year. There is going to have to be cuts and/or additional sources of revenue.

Some items up for discussion (or not up for discussion) for 2018:

School Capital Improvement – The county’s level of funding ($13.1 million in last two budget years) is permanent, but the county and FCPS should work together on future improvement plans. County staff is also directed to include an analysis in the FY 2018 Capital Improvement Program (CIP) of a possible increase in the annual School bond capacity from the current level of $155 million.

Employee Compensation – The County Executive is directed to fully fund the County’s pay plan in his FY 2018 Advertised Budget.

Public Safety Compensation and Organization – County staff will continue studying pay scales for the 2018 budget presentation.

Tax Relief for the Elderly –  For the FY 2018 budget, staff should present the state of the current tax relief program at a future Budget Committee meeting.

Meals Tax/Other Revenue Opportunities – The potential meals tax will be discussed at a May 3 Budget Committee meeting. Said Bulova: “This discussion should focus on an update of the information that has been gathered on the Meals Tax, a review of other opportunities for revenue diversification such as those mentioned by Board members (such as the alcohol, cigarette, BPOL, and personal property taxes).

Sharon Bulova/file photo

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