FCPS Central Office in Merrifield (staff photo by James Jarvis)

Fairfax County Public Schools is seeking a solution to its ballooning student meal debt, which soared over the past year.

On Tuesday (Feb. 20), Fairfax County School Board members directed Superintendent Michelle Reid to get them more information on what options are available to prevent FCPS students from accumulating more debt due to their inability to pay for meals.

“So, in my view, we need to do some work to…put policies or procedures in place that, A) prevent the ballooning of this debt going forward, and B) expand access to lunches for kids, so we can feed more children and deter the potential practice — that may or may not be occurring — of holding children liable for the debt,” At-large member Kyle McDaniel said during the work session.

As of 2022, over one-third of FCPS students (34%) qualify for free and reduced-price meals through the National School Lunch Program, but FCPS Chief Financial Officer Leigh Burden said parents might not have realized that they needed to reapply after the end of a universal free school lunch program introduced during the pandemic.

The federal relief funds that paid for that program, which enabled all students to eat for free, ran out on July 1, 2022. FCPS reported an increase in students eating school food while the program was in effect.

Although schools are supposed to send out newsletters to parents with information about meal debt and free or reduced lunches, Burden recognized that families may be unaware of their accumulating balance.

She also emphasized that in some cases, families barely exceed the eligibility threshold for free lunches, making it difficult for them to clear their debt.

“So, we think those two things combined have contributed to the student debt rising so dramatically over the last two or three years,” she told the board during the work session.

About one-fourth of FCPS schools qualify for the Community Eligibility Provision program, which provides free lunch and breakfast to all students attending low-income area schools.

But elsewhere, students only qualify for free meals if their family earns less than 130% of the poverty level. Those with incomes between 130% and 185% of the poverty level qualify for reduced-price meals.

For grades K-12, breakfast costs $1.75. Lunch is $3.25 for elementary schools, and $3.50 for middle and high school students.

Burden notes that meal debt has been steadily rising since she was hired six years ago. However, in the last few years, the debt has “skyrocketed” across the entire school system, she said.

“During the years that all meals were free, we were serving 160,000 meals a day, whereas now, we’re back to about 110,000 [meals],” Burden said. “I mean, think about that: 50,000 students more were eating each day who now aren’t.”

As of this week, Burden said student meal debt at FCPS hovered around $1.1 million. In mid-January 2023, FCPS reported $708,140 in meal debt, and previous year-end balances were around $101,000 for the 2021-2022 academic year, $153,000 in 2020-2021, $212,000 in 2019-2020 and $214,000 in 2018-2019.

Board members recommended that the superintendent’s office thoroughly examine state and federal policies and consider organizing fundraising and awareness campaigns to help manage the debt.

They also suggested setting a limit on how many meals students can purchase each day to prevent families from accumulating too much debt.

“I believe that given the technology and the world we live in today, we should be able to address that,” Springfield District representative Sandy Anderson said during the work session. “If parents want to opt their children out of the ability to get a lunch or getting breakfast because they get fed at home. I mean, I think that’s some of our burden.”

Mason District representative Ricardy Anderson agreed with the concern about letting students buy too many snacks, adding that her own child has, on several occasions, bought food they didn’t need.

However, she cautioned that for some students, the one or two meals they get at school may be the only meals they receive all day.

“So, if there was a way to control the snacks, that, I’ll be in support of,” Anderson said. “I just don’t want us to lose track of the fact that we have some kids who they are coming to our schools and those are the only consistent and reliable meals that they get, and sometimes they want two. But it’s not because of being wasteful or being gluttonous. It’s because they’re hungry.”

State law prohibits schools from making students throw away food if they can’t pay for a meal or have meal debt. Students also can’t be stopped from joining in extracurricular activities because of meal debt. Schools can receive donations to help clear or reduce meal debt.

FCPS can’t use its operating fund to immediately “write off” the debt, Burden explained.

Instead, school board members requested that the superintendent’s office provide other options for paying off the debt and stopping its growth before the 2024-2025 school year, which starts in August.

Read more on FFXnow…

Morning Notes

A turkey vulture in flight in the West Ox Road area (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Cell Phone Service Restored After Outage — Phone service has been restored after a nationwide service outage reported yesterday (Thursday) morning “that affected several major service carriers and impacted phone calls,” including to 911. “Residents may need to reboot their cell phone (possibly multiple times) to establish a connection.” [Ready Fairfax/Facebook]

Springfield Man Pleads Guilty in Connection to Capitol Breach — “A Fairfax County, Virginia, man pleaded guilty Wednesday to two felonies connected to the breach of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Joseph Brody, 24, of Springfield, pleaded guilty to assaulting law enforcement and civil disorder.” [WTOP]

Man Arrested After Firing Gun in Annandale Home — “A man was safely taken into custody [Wednesday] evening after recklessly discharging a firearm from inside his home in Annandale.” Police responded to the 7800 block of Butterfield Lane around 10 p.m. “for the report of gunshots being fired into a neighboring, occupied townhouse.  There were no reported injuries.” [FCPD]

Longtime County Economic Development Leader Dies — Fairfax County Economic Development Authority (FCEDA) President and CEO Victor Hoskins announced yesterday that the authority’s senior vice president, Catherine Riley, died on Feb. 7. Serving in leadership roles at the FCEDA for the past 35 years, Riley helped Fairfax County “become a global hub where businesses and people thrive,” he said. [FCEDA]

Woodlawn Wendy’s Reopens After Facelift — “The Wendy’s restaurant located at Woodlawn Shopping Center reopened for business Feb. 21 following a four-month long renovation…To celebrate the store’s reopening, Wendy’s will hold a ‘grand opening’ event Saturday, March 16” with a ribbon-cutting and a year of free sandwiches, salads or breakfast biscuits for the first 200 dine-in guests. [On the MoVe]

Bill Designating State Cat Is No More — “Legislation proposed by Del. Paul Krizek (D-Alexandria) to designate the domestic shorthair as the ‘official cat of Virginia’ did not make it out alive when the House Committee on Rules wrapped up its work before the legislature’s crossover.” A bill “to designate the honeybee as Virginia’s official state pollinator,” however, sailed through both chambers, which set it to Gov. Glenn Youngkin. [Gazette Leader]

Springfield Lunar New Year Celebration Arrives — “Springfield Town Center, in partnership with the Asian American Chamber of Commerce, will host a Lunar New Year Celebration in Grand Court with traditional music, and cultural performances and activities to ring in the year of the Dragon.” The festivities will be held tomorrow (Saturday) from noon to 3 p.m. [Springfield Town Center]

Rock Band Kansas to Mark 50th Anniversary in Tysons — “His were the hands that played iconic classic rock hits like ‘Carry on Wayward Son’ and ‘Dust in the Wind.’ WTOP caught up with founding Kansas guitarist Richard Williams to preview the band’s 50th anniversary tour ‘Another Fork in the Road’ next week at Capital One Hall in Tysons, Virginia, on Saturday, March 2.” [WTOP]

It’s Friday — Showers are likely mainly before 1pm, followed by mostly cloudy skies and a high near 58. The southwest wind of 7 to 10 mph will shift to the northwest, with a 50% chance of precipitation. Friday night will be partly cloudy with a low around 37. [Weather.gov]

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A table near the fountain at Lake Anne Plaza in Reston (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

A thorny set of issues continues to complicate Deli Italiano’s arrival in Reston’s Lake Anne Plaza.

The Reston Association Design Review Board (DRB) voted Tuesday (Feb. 20) to defer a decision on the application after attorney John Cowherd, who was representing an appealing Lake Anne condominium owner, flagged some concerns about the proposal.

Alec Berry, a member of the Lake Anne of Reston Condominiums Unit Owners Association (LARCA), has appealed conditional approvals by the DRB and LARCA — entities that considered the project separately — of the architectural plans for the restaurant.

Berry, who lives behind the restaurant’s planned unit at 1631 Washington Plaza, said he was concerned metal equipment, an exhaust shaft, an exhaust pipe, gas line and louvres would be installed on LARCA common space, not in the commercial unit, which is owned by Baslios Family Real Estate.

Berry asserts that he has an exclusive easement to an area where the restaurant plans to install a shaft, equipment and gas lines. The front facade of his house faces the back of the property, and the front of the restaurant faces Washington Plaza.

According to Cowherd, he was also concerned about a contractor that cut a large hole through LARCA’s common elements that separates the floor of Berry’s unit and the restaurant. The slab provides strucural support and is essential to protecting the home from a grease fire in the restaurant.

“I just don’t think this shaft project is really moving Reston or LARCA forward. I think it’s going to kind of hold things back with respect to this particular building,” Cowherd said.

Cowherd said Berry is awaiting a books and record request to LARCA in order to get more information about the drawings, architectural approvals, and documents referenced in Deli Italiano’s application and decision-making process.

The board deferred the appeal to allow staff to look into those issues following a discussion held in executive session.

Deli Italiano has been working on plans for the Reston location for several years. A spokesperson said the company was not ready to comment by press time.

Deli Italiano opened a restaurant at 700 Lynn Street in Herndon in December 2022. It serves pizza, pasta, subs and more.

Read more on FFXnow…

Dulles International Airport at night (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Washington Dulles International Airport and Reagan National hit a new travel record last year.

The Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority hosted 50.6 million total passengers last year, setting a new passenger record at Reagan and an international passenger record at Dulles.

“Setting a new record is a remarkable accomplishment that can be credited to continuing recovery from the COVID pandemic and the hard work of our airport team and their partners,” MWAA President and CEO Jack Potter said. “We are not slowing down as upgrades continue for our customers at Reagan National, as well as a new concourse at Dulles International. Our team thrives on recruiting new airline service and finding new ways to provide an outstanding travel experience while planning to meet the region’s long-term transportation needs.”

Between 2022 and 2023, Dulles saw a nearly 27% jump in international activity. Overall, the airport logged 25 million passengers for the year.

“The upward trend can be credited to a strong resurgence in travel demand that led to eight new airlines launching nonstop flights to destinations around the globe over the past two years. With new flights announced for 2024, this brings the airport’s total to 42 airlines and 139 destinations,” MWAA said in a press release.

New service is planned from on the following route options:

American to Bermuda
American to Hyannis, Massachusetts
AeroMexico to Mexico City
Allegiant to Punta Gorda, Florida
Southern Airways Express to Williamsport, Pennsylvania
Southwest to Phoenix
Sun Country to Minneapolis
Swiss International to Zurich
United to Anchorage
United to Vancouver
United Express to Philadelphia, Harrisburg, State College and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Pennsylvania

The passenger count suggests Dulles has rebounded from the plunge in travel during the first years of the COVID-19 pandemic, when the international passenger count stood at a meager 2 million in 2020 and 3.4 million in 2021.

Read more on FFXnow…

Morning Notes

Part of the “Sun Boat” sculpture at Lake Anne Plaza in Reston (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

IRS to Roll Out Free Tax Filing Website — “The IRS’s new Direct File website, a free site for filing a tax return, will open to the public in the coming days, the IRS announced Wednesday. But anyone who hopes to be among the first to use it will have to get lucky and check the website during limited and unannounced windows at the outset.” [Washington Post]

Tysons-Based Hilton Named in Hotel Price-Fixing Lawsuit — “A lawsuit alleging a group of hotel operators artificially increased the price of luxury hotel rooms with the help of a shared database has named industry titans Hilton Worldwide Holdings and Hyatt Hotels Corp. among a list of defendants.” [Bisnow]

Piglets Born at Frying Pan Farm — While still in mourning for its longtime draft horse Charlie, Frying Pan Farm Park in Herndon recently welcomed some new animals. “Baby Pigs! Looks like the Groundhog was right because it feels like spring here at Frying Pan Farm Park. The barn has new #piglets! Bring the family for a stroll around the farm and say hi to the cuties!” [Fairfax County Park Authority/Twitter]

Virginia Governor Joins Anti-Abortion Rally — “Gov. Glenn Youngkin and Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears, both Republicans, joined thousands of Virginia activists Wednesday for an annual anti-abortion demonstration, where attendees denounced Democratic lawmakers who have blocked proposed restrictions since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.” [Associated Press/WTOP]

Longtime McLean Resident Turns 104 — “Friends, family, Kenyan drummers, neighborhood Fairfax County firefighters and staff at Lewinsville Adult Day Health Care in McLean gathered there recently to wish Serah Wankijiku Mbugua a very special happy 104th birthday. Born in rural Kenya on Jan. 1, 1920, Mbugua — whom everyone at Lewinsville calls ‘Mama Serah’ — has been a Lewinsville participant for 10 years.” [Neighborhood and Community Services]

Reston Hospital Announces New CEO — “Nathan Vooys, who served for the last three years as the chief executive officer of StoneSprings Hospital Center in Dulles, was named the new CEO at Reston Hospital Center. He will begin serving in that role on March 4.” [Patch]

McLean Polo Players Compete for National Trophy — Two athletes from McLean were among 10 players from Capital Water Polo, a team based at The St. James in Springfield, “selected by the USA Water Polo Olympic Development Program (ODP) to play…at the national-championship tournament in Chicago in mid-March. This is the highest number of players Capital Water Polo has ever sent to nationals.” [Gazette Leader]

Flying Squirrel Spotted Near Fairfax City — “A flying squirrel was recorded early Wednesday morning by the Ring camera, as it visited the home of a Patch reporter who lives just north of Fairfax City…This was the first time in 2024 that the family’s Ring camera captured an image of a flying squirrel, which is a nocturnal animal. The squirrel was spotted twice in previous years, including a short stop on the family’s windowsill.” [Patch]

It’s Thursday — Expect a mostly cloudy day with a high near 54, accompanied by a south wind blowing at 6-11 mph and gusts reaching up to 18 mph. Rain is likely at night, mostly after 1 am, as temperatures drop to a low around 47. The chance of precipitation is 60%, with potential for less than a tenth of an inch of new rainfall. [Weather.gov]

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Fairfax Connector bus on Spring Hill Road (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

(Updated at 11:35 a.m.) Fairfax Connector workers have launched a strike after months of negotiations for a new labor contract with Transdev, the company that operates Fairfax County’s bus service.

Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 689, which represents about 638 bus operators and mechanics for Fairfax Connector, announced the strike just after midnight today (Thursday). Workers began hitting picket lines at garages in Herndon, Lorton and on West Ox Road in the Fairfax area at 2 a.m.

Due to the walk-off, Fairfax Connector has suspended service on 93 of its routes, starting at 9 a.m. The bus system serves approximately 26,000 passengers daily, according to its website.

“We encourage our users to please use alternative methods of travel. We apologize for any inconvenience,” the transit agency said.

The bus system can’t resume operations until the drivers and mechanics return to work, a Fairfax County Department of Transportation spokesperson confirmed.

Members gave the union the authority to call a strike on Dec. 29, nearly a month after their existing contract with Transdev expired on Nov. 30.

In a news release, the union said there remains “a vast divide” between its demands and Transdev’s, and a strike became “unavoidable” after 12 bargaining sessions due to “Transdev’s unfair labor practices and regressive bargaining.” It also criticizes Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay for an alleged “refusal to weigh in.”

“The Union remains committed to bargaining in good faith to reach a tentative agreement on a new contract and intends to continue to meet with Transdev even while on strike,” Local 689 said in a statement. “Several key priorities in a new contract for Local 689 include true retirement security, more sick days, competitive wages for bus operators and mechanics with regional transit companies, and balanced labor-management rights.”

Transdev said in a statement that it’s “disappointed” the union initiated a strike despite what it describes as a “generous offer” that included $126,000 in annual pay and benefits for a majority of drivers and $128,000 annually in pay and benefits for 78% of mechanics represented by ATU.

“This unexpected action has had a severe impact on the community, particularly those who depend on the Fairfax Connector for their daily transportation needs,” the contractor said. “Transdev put forth a comprehensive proposal that includes significant wage increases, healthcare benefits, retirement savings, bonuses, guaranteed minimum hours, and additional perks tailored to employees of all experience levels.”

In a statement to FFXnow, McKay said it would’ve been “inappropriate” for him to interfere with the contract negotiations, since Fairfax County isn’t a directly involved party.

I have been in communication with the County Executive and his team throughout this process and was aware of the impasse. I was not, however, aware that a strike would occur which has left the almost 26,000 daily users of the Connector without the service they rely on. I fully support the ability of Connector drivers and mechanics to be treated, and compensated, fairly. The service they provide to our residents is high quality. I also support the ATU Local 689’s right to advocate on behalf of their members. My hope is that the union and Transdev can reach agreement on a contract that is in line with similar transit services in our neighboring jurisdictions and that respects the exemplary work of drivers and mechanics. Additionally, while transit service is essential, the cost is ultimately borne by our residents and must also be considered in these negotiations. Connector service needs to be sustainable not just now but in the future.

Connector workers last negotiated a contract in 2019. Then represented by ATU Local 1764, they went on strike for four days that December before signing an agreement to resume work on Dec. 8. A new, four-year contract was ratified on Feb. 29, 2020, averting a potential second strike.

Read more on FFXnow…

Better A Life has officially launched a food distribution site in Reston (courtesy Better A Life)

A Loudoun County nonprofit organization is expanding into Reston with a new food distribution site at Cathy Hudgins Community Center.

Better A Life plans to give out food every Wednesday at noon at the community center, followed by the launch of cooking classes in March. The organization also plans to start a homework club, which includes a free hot dinner for children each week and the mentors that assist them.

For Better A Life president and founder Elizabeth Ford, the expansion into Reston is personal. She grew up in Reston as a “child of hunger,” Ford said.

Her mother, who was a single mom, lost the townhouse where they lived in Southgate Square. After moving several times, Ford says she was permanently kicked out of her home when her mother moved overseas with her new husband. She then lived in a Red Rood Inn in Manassas and eventually became homeless.

“I used to sit at the 7-11 outside of Shadow Wood apartments and bum quarters for my food each day,” Ford said. “There were no resources for kids like me to get free food that any of us kids knew of. They finally opened The Pit over behind the police station…and I lived with my friend in Bowman Towne for most of my days as a young teen. This would give us a place to hang out safely.”

Ford went on to get a bachelor’s degree in information technology. Now in a position to help others, she says she wanted to bring more resources to the community.

Based in Purcellville, Better a Life provides food and educational assistance for kids and families with the goal of breaking the cycle of poverty.

“My programs are selected from experience,” Ford said. “I needed all the above, so my nonprofit BetterALife runs off the three programs (Growth4ALife, Cook4ALife, InspireALife) to help the children learn they can make it; there is hope, and they are loved and never forgotten.”

In addition to supporting 12 schools in Loudoun and Fairfax counties with weekend lunches, shoes, socks, blankets and other necessities, the nonprofit made its Reston introduction with a meals and toy distribution event on Dec. 16. The Reston expansion will officially launch on March 1.

The organization is seeking volunteers, particularly high school juniors and seniors. Applicants can email [email protected] for more information.

Read more on FFXnow…

Written by Mina Lucks, Synergy Design & Construction

The soul of a home is found in the spaces where we cook, gather, and recharge, such as the kitchen and the bathroom. In this article, we delve into the art and science of maximizing functionality and style in kitchen renovations, and we’ll look at the latest innovations in bathroom design and remodeling.   

Maximizing Functionality and Style in Kitchen Renovations     

While the functionality of a kitchen is key, the style is equally important, as visually appealing kitchens contribute to the overall ambiance and your experience of the home. But how can you successfully achieve both?  

Take, for instance, a recent kitchen remodel, where space was maximized without compromising on a polished aesthetic. Innovative storage solutions are woven into the design, enhancing everyday usability and transforming the kitchen into a space that effortlessly caters to the demands of modern living.  

Check out the full kitchen remodel here.

Here’s another project where design boundaries were pushed. This space was maximized by adding cabinets to the right-hand side of the kitchen and taking them all the way to the ceiling. An added island separates the kitchen from the family room and provides additional seating without cramping the space.

See the full kitchen remodel here.

In balancing practicality with style, it’s all about thoughtfully using every inch of the space you have.  

Innovations in Bathroom Design and Remodeling  

We are witnessing an evolution in bathroom design with trends that go beyond the basics to create spaces that are luxurious and rejuvenating.  

Picture a spa-like sanctuary within your home. This bathroom was transformed into a haven of relaxation — from a natural marble countertop, a collection of floor tile with radiant heating, and a relocated window for natural light, this space is truly a spa-like retreat.   

Check out this bathroom (plus a whole home remodel) here!

An additional bathroom trend is the incorporation of patterns as a distinctive touch, adding personality and flair.   

This bathroom remodel showcases how the integration of these elements can elevate the bathroom experience.

Get the full glimpse of this bathroom renovation here.

Feeling Inspired?  

If your kitchen or bathroom just isn’t cutting it anymore, it may be time to transform these spaces for you, too!   

Contact Synergy Design & Construction today at 706-766-6333 or fill out the form www.renovatehappy.com/contact/ and let us be your partner in crafting a home that energizes your everyday experience.

The preceding sponsored post was also published on FFXnow.com

Ferndale Avenue at the Herndon Parkway intersection (via Google Maps)

Upgrades to Ferndale Avenue and improvements to police infrastructure are among the new projects proposed in Herndon’s Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) for fiscal year 2025-2030.

The CIP is a part of the annual operating budget and includes funding for transportation, sewer and other public facility projects.

At a work session on Feb. 12, the Town of Herndon Planning Commission recommended the proposed draft to the town manager. It includes 36 projects, the bulk of which cover multimodal transportation and enhancements.

In a report, staff noted that the focus of the plan is to “address current facilities and infrastructure from a health, safety, sustainability, and maintenance perspective.”

The town plans to improve vehicular and pedestrian safety along Ferndale Avenue between Herndon Parkway and Park Avenue, adding sidewalks, curb ramps, and crosswalks that meet current ADA standards.

“Preliminary studies indicate vehicular sight distances are inadequate due to vehicular parking and the curvature of the road,” the proposed CIP says. “Studies also indicated the potential need for additional pedestrian crosswalks across Ferndale Avenue. Initial concept plans include the use of curb bump outs as a feature to shorten crosswalks, define parking areas, and narrow the vehicular travel lanes to current standards.”

The total cost of $545,000 is currently budgeted for fiscal year 2030, which would start on July 1, 2029.

Other added projects include a replacement of an aging, rear motorized security gate and overall improvements for the Herndon Police Department’s station to address building accessibility, physical safety and security, and renovations.

The final new project would bring the town in compliance with new Environmental Protection Agency regulations for lead and copper in drinking water by identifying service lines that don’t meet requirements. Expected to start at the beginning of the new fiscal year on July 1, the project would implement new testing requirements, including the first-ever ones for schools and childcare facilities, and replace service lines as needed.

The planning commission will hold a public hearing on the CIP on Monday, Feb. 26, and the town manager will release the proposed operating budget and CIP by May 1.

This year, town staff categorized capital projects by their readiness: imminent for ones with an established scope and funding, priority for ones that have a scope but aren’t fully funded, and future priorities for unfunded projects that haven’t been defined in detail.

The plan calls for $205.3 million in total capital costs.

Staff noted that minor adjustments may be necessary when the town manager finalizes the proposed operating budget.

Image via Google Maps

Read more on FFXnow…

Fairfax County Government Center (staff photo by James Jarvis)

As anticipated, Fairfax County is looking at a tight budget for the coming year that will once again lean primarily on residential property owners to offset a declining commercial tax base.

County Executive Bryan Hill has proposed a 4-cent increase in the real estate tax rate, even as he presented an advertised fiscal year 2025 budget to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors yesterday (Tuesday) that largely limits spending to obligations like public schools and employee compensation.

If adopted, this would be the county’s first real estate tax rate increase in six years, Hill said in a message to the board. Last year, Hill proposed a flat tax rate that the board ultimately reduced by 1.5 cents to $1.095 per $100 of assessed value, though property owners still saw their bills go up by $412, on average, due to rising home values.

The proposed tax rate of $1.135 per $100 for FY 2025, which starts on July 1, would raise the average tax bill by just over $524 and generate $129.28 million in revenue, according to the county.

“We are seeing some residential growth, but our commercial values have declined, resulting in an overall real estate growth of just over 2.7%,” Hill said. “Paired with significant expenditure pressures — particularly for employee pay and benefits, transportation requirements, and continued inflationary impacts — balancing this proposed budget has required difficult decisions.”

Home values up, commercial values down

Real estate tax revenue provides about 66% of the county’s general funds, which supports most county operations, from public safety agencies to libraries and parks. For FY 2025, more than three-quarters of that revenue (76.7%) will come from residential owners, who are facing an average assessment increase of 2.86% for 2024.

Though the number of home sales in the county last year declined, prices have continued to climb “due to low inventory,” Hill said. The average value of the county’s over 357,000 taxable residential properties for 2024 is $744,526, up from $723,825 in 2023.

By contrast, non-residential property values have dropped for the first time in three years by 1.24%, a dip mostly driven by a struggling office market. About 21.6 million square feet, or 17.2%, of the county’s 119.5 million square feet of office space is vacant — an uptick from last year’s rate of 16.7%, which was already a 10-year high.

With another 1 million square feet of office space under construction, mostly in Metro’s Silver Line corridor, the pressure to revitalize or replace under-utilized office buildings will likely only intensify going forward.

“That space is going to be snapped up quickly, which is going to create situations around our county that will be then vacant,” Hill said when asked by Franconia District Supervisor Rodney Lusk about possible remedies. “We have to figure out ways to fill those spaces, whether it is converting or doing something different on that plot of land. We have done a pretty good job in certain areas of revitalizing…but we need to do more.”

Schools and compensation dominate spending

With some growth projected from other sources, including an 8.8% increase in personal property taxes and a proposed 10-cent-per-pack increase in taxes on cigarettes, the county anticipates getting $363.22 million more in revenue than it did this budget year.

However, Hill says he proposed spending only on “adjustments which I feel are essential to maintain the quality workforce and dependable services upon which our residents rely.”

As is typical, nearly half of that funding — $165 million — would go to Fairfax County Public Schools. Though that’s more than the $144 million increase that FCPS got last year, it falls short of the $254 million sought by Superintendent Dr. Michelle Reid, who proposed a 6% salary increase for all employees in a budget plan adopted by the school board earlier this month.

The 10.5% funding increase is the largest that FCPS has requested since fiscal year 2007, and the dollar amount is the highest in the county’s history, according to Hill.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay called the FCPS request “entirely unrealistic,” and Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck questioned the affordability of even the amount recommended by Hill. At the same time, McKay and other board members made clear that they fault the state more than FCPS for the gap in funding.

A study released last year found that Virginia spends about $1,900 less per student than the national average. Just meeting the average would give FCPS another $345 million, whereas Fairfax County would need to raise its real estate tax rate by another 3 cents to fulfill Reid’s request, according to Hill.

“When you start in the hole as we do, that revenue has to come from somewhere, and it puts a strain on every other thing that we need to do in the county, from public safety to human services to affordable housing,” McKay said. “…In a difficult budget year, it’s very clear what the challenges are and where they begin.”

About 42% of the county’s remaining available funds — $148 million — is targeted for employee compensation, including a 2% market rate adjustment (MRA) for general county workers and the government’s commitments to unionized police and fire employees under collective bargaining agreements approved in December.

Those negotiations led county officials to consider moving away from using market rate adjustments to determine worker pay raises, since calculations can vary from one year to the next, Hill said. Instead, a standard cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) could be used “in future years to provide some predictability for our employees and for budget planning.”

Worker representatives were unimpressed by the proposed compensation, which accounts for 42% of the advertised budget. Tammie Wondong, president of SEIU Virginia 512’s Fairfax County Government Employees Union chapter, said the union is “disappointed” to not see full funding for a 4% MRA.

“Unfortunately, whether it’s an MRA or COLA, the County Executive’s budget proposals fail to keep their promise to employees,” Wondong said. “That’s why we’re organizing and look forward to our union election later this year so we can bargain and lock in fair pay in a collective bargaining agreement.”

Dave Lyons, executive director of the Fairfax Workers Coalition, expressed doubt that the draft budget will be sufficient to address staff shortages and keep the county competitive with other jurisdictions.

“The County needs to do better — and not just in terms of compensation,” Lyons said. “We must make sure our most vulnerable citizens are supported. We need to back our folks in Juvenile Courts, our workers in School Age Childcare (SACC) and those doing the difficult work of Child and Adult Protective Services. Our trades workers — those driving trucks, cranes and picking up our refuse — are increasingly contracted out because not enough county workers can be hired or retained. We’ve got to do better.”

County agencies identify savings

In anticipation of a lean budget, Hill had asked all county agencies to provide options for reducing their budgets by up to 7%, a process that identified $36 million in net savings and 84 positions that could be eliminated without negatively affecting operations or existing employees.

Many of the savings come from getting rid of long-vacant positions and job or program consolidations, but there will be some community impacts. The Department of Neighborhood and Community Services, for example, has proposed closing its Hayfield Secondary School School-Aged Child Care site “due to low utilization,” and Fairfax County Public Library says it can save about $55,000 by adjusting the number of computers at each branch based on their usage and another $10,000 by providing black-and-white printers instead of color ones.

The budget also increases various fees, including for zoning and land development services, senior center memberships and athletic fields and gyms.

Other proposed allocations include:

  • $10 million in additional Metro support
  • $7.7 million to maintain 72 early childhood education slots that were funded by federal money and staff to support affordable housing efforts
  • $3 million for the Fairfax County Park Authority initiatives like mobile nature centers and bamboo removals
  • $5.9 million for information technology upgrades
  • $1.27 million for General District Court probation counselors and to add support staff for the new Lorton District Police Station

Hill noted that the Metro funding could change depending on the transit agency’s final numbers, which have already been revised from initially dire projections, and any contributions from Virginia. The state Senate gave Metro no new funding in a budget proposal released Sunday (Feb. 18), while the House of Delegates included about $150 million over two years in its draft.

Though no new positions are being added yet, the coming fiscal year will kick off the county’s plan to merge its animal shelter and police protection services, despite objections from the local police union. The advertised budget shifts a position from the Fairfax County Police Department to the Department of Animal Sheltering to create a new chief animal control officer, according to Christina Jackson, the county’s chief financial officer.

“We expect to see more major movement in the FY 2026 budget,” she told the Board of Supervisors.

The board will advertise a ceiling for the FY 2025 tax rate on March 5 and hold public hearings on April 16-18. The budget will be marked up on April 30 and adopted on May 7.

In addition to attending the public hearings, community members can comment online — an option available for the first time in Spanish and Korean — and by phone (703-890-5898, code 1379) and email ([email protected]). Comments can also now be texted with the phrase “FY25Budget” to 73224.

Read more on FFXnow…

Morning Notes

A mural in Fairfax Circle depicts the Old Town Square splash pad (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

TSA Gives First-Ever Tour of Springfield Warehouse — “In a non-descript building right off I-95 in Springfield, Virginia, there are thousands of artifacts from the Transportation Security Administration. Old X-ray machines, explosive detectors, TSA call kiosks, counterterrorism pamphlets and guides are all stored, in a warehouse containing the wall-to-wall physical history of the agency.” [NBC4]

Tysons Developer’s Real Estate Plans Unclear — “Lerner Enterprises hasn’t announced any acquisitions, sales, renovations or new office leases since 2022. The 72-year-old firm also hasn’t provided updates on the millions of square feet of planned development it has in its pipeline, including the fate of two demolished shopping malls where communities have been waiting years to see activity.” [Bisnow]

Reston Resident Details CIA Career in New Book — “Over the course of her 27-year CIA career, Jonna Mendez, pulled off dazzling capers…Now 78 and living in Reston, Mendez’s career as a master of disguise is revealed with jarring transparency in her new memoir, In True Face: A Woman’s Life in the CIA, Unmasked, available March 5.” [Northern Virginia Magazine]

Navy Veteran Celebrates 100th B-Day at Local Hooters — “For the 10th year in a row, U.S. Navy veteran Glenn Ward celebrated his birthday at the Hooters in Fairfax City. But this year was a little different, because on Friday, the Arlington resident turned 100. Friends and family members from California, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Nevada showed up…for a party that included balloons, cake and chicken wings.” [Patch]

Bailey’s Crossroads Office Set for Demolition Has History — “A soon-to-be-demolished office building in Bailey’s Crossroads once housed a company that played an important played a role in the Cold War. The two-story cinderblock building at 5623 Leesburg Pike…is being torn down to facilitate a second drive-through lane and an expanded parking lot for the McDonald’s next door.” [Annandale Today]

New Amenities Coming to Woodlawn Ballpark — “Following several years of grassroots fundraising and advocating with Fairfax County, the Woodlawn Little League will soon witness the groundbreaking of a comfort station and concessions building at McNaughton Fields Park.” The 784-square-foot facility will feature “a concession stand, restrooms and storage.” [On the MoVe]

Tysons-Based Capital One to Buy Credit-Card Rival — “Capital One’s $35.3 billion deal to buy Discover is a long way from being completed. But consumer advocates and some lawmakers are already raising questions about how the proposed merger could affect credit-card users — many of whom are already under pressure from high interest rates and record debts.” [NBC News]

Tysons Show Featured in Netflix Comedy Special — “That’s how Taylor Tomlinson opens her new Netflix standup special ‘Have It All,’ which premiered this past week on Feb. 13 and currently ranks in the Top 10 TV Shows on Netflix. It was filmed at Capital One Hall…on Nov. 18, 2023, just weeks after announcing her new late-night talk show ‘After Midnight.'” [WTOP]

It’s Wednesday — Expect sunny skies and a high of 49 degrees, accompanied by a light, variable wind that will increase to around 6 mph from the southeast in the morning. The night will remain mostly clear with temperatures dropping to about 32 degrees, and a gentle southeast breeze blowing at 3 to 5 mph. [Weather.gov]

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