Fairfax County is considering lowering its real estate tax rate by one cent for the next fiscal year in an attempt to give relief to homeowners during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
County Executive Bryan Hill presented the proposal to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors yesterday (Tuesday) as part of an advertised Fiscal Year 2022 budget that illustrated how the pandemic has curtailed the county’s ability to fund top priorities, from education and employee pay to affordable housing and environmental initiatives.
According to Hill, the county’s residential real estate market has been “very strong” over the past year with 88% of residential properties seeing an increase in assessed value, but that also places a greater burden on homeowners at a time when unemployment is up and many people are struggling to pay their bills.
Noting that upticks have been highest for properties that typically house lower-income residents, like townhomes and condos, Hill says that, with no change to the rate, the average tax bill would increase by almost $285 for the coming year. Lowering the rate by a cent to $1.14 per $100 of assessed value would bring the average increase closer to $224.
“Homeowners have struggled due to a loss of income during the pandemic,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said. “I appreciate that the County Executive has created a budget that reflects these uncertain financial times. Next year’s proposed budget does not meet every community need, but shows our commitment to preserving County programs and working to protect our residents in these uncertain times.”
The proposed tax rate decrease was coupled with an overall conservative approach to the advertised budget, which freezes pay increases for county employees for the second consecutive year and funds only a fraction of Fairfax County Public Schools’ request.
The Fairfax County School Board sought an additional $104.4 million from the county, primarily to cover a proposed 3% pay raise for all FCPS employees, but Hill’s advertised budget increases the county’s transfer by only $14.1 million.
During a press conference following the budget presentation, education advocates in the Invest in Fairfax Coalition — a grassroots organization comprised of county employee groups, residents, and other community members — urged the Board of Supervisors to give the school system more funds to pay workers and provide mental health services for students, among other needs.
“We’re very disappointed with the county executive’s proposed budget and its failure to prioritize schools,” Fairfax County Federation of Teachers President Tina Williams said. “To help students and staff recover from this pandemic, we urge this county to adopt a budget that keeps our community whole and opens our schools safely.”
Hill’s advertised budget makes similarly modest investments in the county government, providing a net revenue increase of just $11.7 million.
According to Hill, funding the county’s employee compensation program would cost more than $55 million, including almost $30 million for a calculated 2% market rate adjustment.
“We simply do not have the resources available at this time,” Hill said.
Outside of FCPS, the most substantial investments in the advertised budget are related to public safety, including the rollout of the police body camera program, the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney, and staff for the new South County Police Station and Scotts Run Fire Station.
The proposal also includes funding for new health department staff, Coordinated Services Planning, collective bargaining work, and two new positions in the Office of Elections. In addition, Hill recommends that the board set aside $20 million to support economic recovery efforts.
“As I look ahead into fiscal [year] 2023, I have hope for a more positive budget year, but it will still be a challenge,” Hill said. “Employee compensation and other board priorities, such as affordable housing and school revenues, which have not been adequately addressed as part of this budget, will be at the forefront of our conversations.”
Invest in Fairfax Coalition Chair David Edelman says he was “a little surprised” to see the tax rate decrease in the proposed budget, since the group had anticipated the rate would remain the same. While the coalition consists of people with different backgrounds and focuses, their overall goal is to encourage Fairfax County to invest in public services and employees.
“Now more than ever, it’s critical that our budget reflects the values, priorities, and urgent need of our diverse community,” Edelman said.
The Board of Supervisors will officially approve an advertised tax rate on Mar. 9, and public hearings on the FY 2022 budget will take place on Apr. 13-15.
Each supervisor will host a budget town hall for their magisterial district. The schedule for districts in the Tysons area are as follows:
- Dranesville: Mar. 1 at 7:30 p.m. through the McLean Citizens Association
- Hunter Mill: Mar. 29 from 7-9 p.m. through WebEx and Supervisor Walter Alcorn’s YouTube Live channel
- Providence: Mar. 8 from 7-9:30 p.m. It will be streamed on TV, Fairfax County’s website, and Facebook Live.
The board will adopt a final FY 2022 budget on May 4.
Staff photo by Jay Westcott