At yesterday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, County Executive Bryan Hill presented his proposed fiscal year 2024 budget. The $5.1 billion budget is up $280 million from last year — an increase of about 6%, largely due to real estate taxes going up.
While the budget calls for the tax rate to stay the same as last year at $1.11 per $100 of assessed value, the average bill is set to increase by about $520 for homeowners, thanks to a nearly 7% rise in real estate assessments.
Hill warned in November that assessments were likely to go up, and Board Chairman Jeff McKay told FFXnow last month that he expected real estate taxes to be a big discussion point during the budget debate. But the extent of the increase nonetheless elicited strong reactions from supervisors.
McKay said that, given last year’s numbers, the tax rate is “far too high,” while Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity called the increase “unacceptable.” They signaled strong support for finding a way to provide residential tax relief to residents.
The proposed budget includes $90 million in unallocated funds that can be used at the “Board’s consideration.” A huge chunk of this, if not all, could be used to lower residents’ tax burden in some form, as was the case for the current fiscal year 2023.
The county’s budget continues to rely on real estate taxes, more than three-fourths of which come from residential property owners.
Nonresidential real estate values also increased this year, but by less than residential values. This means that real estate taxes make up more of the tax base than in FY 2023, increasing by about 0.75%.
While seemingly a small tick up, Franconia District Supervisor Rodney Lusk said the trend is going in the wrong direction and that commercial real estate taxes should make up at least 25% of the tax base. It currently only makes up just over 16%.
“Clearly, we are off. It’s not good and very disconcerting,” he said. “We need a plan or a strategy to address these issues.”
Hill’s budget plan proposes a $144 million increase in funds provided to Fairfax County Public Schools, which typically gets over 50% of the overall budget. That represents more than a 6% hike from FY 2023, which began on July 1, 2022.
The FY 2024 Advertised Budget proposal includes a 6.3% or $144.1 million increase for @fcpsnews in addition to support for programs like Head Start, school health, behavioral health services, crossing guards, field maintenance and other costs. pic.twitter.com/8cNyztgNbJ
— Fairfax County Government (@fairfaxcounty) February 21, 2023
But that number is about $15 million lower than what Superintendent Michelle Reid initially requested.
As expected, the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers doesn’t agree with this proposal, writing in a statement that it “strongly encourages the Board of Supervisors to fully fund the FCPS budget request.”
One of the bigger questions hanging over this year’s school budget is if the state will rectify a calculation error expected to lead to FCPS getting about $18 million less than anticipated. That includes about $13 million missing from the FY 2024 budget.
It remains unclear if the state will reimburse the missing money, or provide any extra, from its $2 billion surplus. When Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust asked when the state will make a decision on its budget, a few chuckles arose from staff about the uncertain situation.
Christina Jackson, Fairfax County’s chief financial officer, said the county is optimistic and is in a “better position” to see much-needed funds headed their way from the state.
As anticipated late last year, this year’s budget process may be one of the “one of the most challenging” in years. This is due to inflation, staff retention challenges, and surging real estate values.
“Balancing the impacts of inflation, the labor market and other economic pressures with the need to fund critical programs and services has made this a difficult budget year,” Hill said in a county press release. “But I am very proud of the work of our budget staff and all our employees in managing through these challenges and moving forward to meet the needs of our residents.”
Hill led off his presentation to the board by emphasizing that the aim of this year’s budget is maintaining and “stabilizing our core,” meaning county staff and existing programs.
“I know that the Board remains concerned about the retention and recruitment issues that our agencies have been facing over the past two years, and I have spent considerable time with my leadership team developing ways in which to tackle these issues,” Hill wrote in his budget message to supervisors.
In the budget is a $134.5 million increase in county disbursement, including a 2% market scale adjustment for most county employees. That’s lower than even what staff had recommended in order to stay competitive in hiring and retention. They had calculated a rate of 5.44%.
“The proposed Fairfax County budget misses the mark when it comes to giving workers the wages we deserve, ” Tammie Wondong, SEIU Virginia 512 Fairfax’s president and a 33-year county employee, said in a statement. “In fact, when the county funds the market rate adjustment (MRA) at only 2% when it should be 5.44%, let’s call it what it is — a pay cut.”
Inflation also adds $18 million to the budget this year, associated with cost increases to cover utility and information technology contracts and lease adjustments.
Supervisors will host a number of public meetings over the next few months to allow residents a chance to provide feedback on the proposed budget.
The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote and adopt the FY 2024 budget on May 9.
Photo via Machvee/Flickr