Del. Ken Plum: Budget Equity

This is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

Increases in budget revenues as a result of federal tax changes and the ability to tax sales on goods purchased on the internet put Virginia in a unique position to increase its budgeted funds mid-year of a biennial budget while at the same time providing many taxpayers with refunds.

As the fall elections approach, the actions on the state budget will receive many different “spins.” Certainly, taxpayers like getting money refunded. At the same time they recognize when programs to meet needs are underfunded, they may over a period of time become even more underfunded. It is more than mathematics and accounting to approve a budget when revenues have increased — it is also very much an expression of values on the part of decision makers.

An example of values affecting budgetary decisions came during the Great Recession of 2008. State revenues dipped at the greatest rate in modern times just as many businesses faltered and failed. A great bail-out went to businesses from the federal government as did major funding to state government. The feds did not match the private losses, but they did provide relief for some greater cuts for programs like education.

Only now has the Virginia economy recovered such that the funding of education today is exceeding that of pre-2008 levels.

Beyond simply funding programs and services with more money next year than last year are the equity issues involved in distributing money across programs. My trip to Prince Edward County as I described in my column last week reminded me just how inequitable funding can be. There was no pretense of equity among black and white schools. The whites went to a brick school that was modern for its time; the black children went to school in a tar-paper shanty. With many federal court decisions we have gotten beyond the inequities of segregated services and programs, but inequities still exist.

The budget presented to the General Assembly by Gov. Ralph Northam represented the greatest attempt at resolving equity issues that I have seen. Funding for schools was increased but with those who had the greatest needs receiving the most money. Programs for students with special needs were enhanced as was funding for historically black institutions of higher education. The governor found himself with a major problem pushing his agenda as he got himself in political hot water for his behavior many years ago. Whatever way that situation is resolved, it need not take attention from the basic problem of increasing equity among school divisions, mental health programs and criminal justice programs.

There is ample evidence gleaned from numerous studies that document inequities that exist in the state’s budget. These facts will be manipulated among candidates this election season to gain the advantage, but candidates need to acknowledge that inequities exist and must be dealt with fairly. I understand that most regions feel that they do not get a fair shake. There are metrics that can be used to find the inequities; once resolved the state will be stronger because of it.

File photo

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Reston Association Set to Oppose PRC Zoning Amendment Tomorrow

Reston Association is set this week to take up contentious proposed zoning changes that would increase the population density in Reston.

This upcoming meeting will focus a motion to oppose the zoning proposal and also consider approving $22,500 from its cash reserves to increase next year’s staff training budget at the public meeting tomorrow (Thursday) at 6:30 p.m. at RA’s headquarters (12001 Sunrise Valley Drive).

The proposal would increase the maximum allowed population per acre in the Planned Residential Community (PRC) district — Reston’s primary zoning district — from 13 persons up to 15. The current density is roughly 12.46 people per acre.

County planning officials have argued that the change is needed to put into action Reston’s Master Plan, which allows for future growth over the next 40 years.

Several community groups, including the Coalition for a Planned Reston and Reston 2020, are fighting the move. They argue that the proposed amendment is rushed through and under-explained.

Fairfax County’s Board of Supervisors clashed over community input on the proposed zoning changes at their Dec. 4 meeting, before authorizing public hearings on the proposal for 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 23 and 4:30 p.m. on March 5.

On the heels of adopting the 2019 operating and capital budgets for next year, RA’s Board of Directors will also consider whether or not to use $22,500 from the operating reserve funds for 2018 to expand the 2019 fiscal year budget for staff training and development.

The RA also will consider revisions to the third draft of the election schedule and receive the treasurer’s report. RA is also set to approve Sharon Canner as the chair of the 55+ Advisory Committee and Nancy Malesic as a member of the Environmental Advisory Committee.

The draft agenda for the meeting is available online.

Photo via Reston Association/Reston Today

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New Reston Association Budget Includes $11 Assessment Increase

Reston Association’s Board of Directors approved next year’s budget, which increases the assessment fee by $11, at last night’s meeting. The Thursday meeting focused on finalizing the $17.9 million budget for next year and setting the assessment fee to the new rate of $693 — a bump from last year’s $682 fee.

Larry Butler, RA’s Acting CEO, presented his recommendations for the budget before the board took a deep dive into the budget.

The long-vacant CEO spot — one of several unfilled positions, including CFO and Planner — loomed over the board’s budget deliberations.

RA At-Large Director Ven Iyer, who unsuccessfully attempted to keep next year’s assessment fee the same as last year’s, argued that keeping costs low sets a good example for whoever fills the CEO spot. “What happens if the CEO comes in and says, ‘Actually, the costs need to go up’? What would you do if that happens?” Iyer said. “I think we need to set the tone.”

RA President Andy Sigle said that RA needs a CEO’s “fresh eyes to keep pushing for more efficiencies.”

Quite a bit of confusion around the operating reserves dominated the discussion as well. Ultimately, the association trimmed roughly $280,000 from initial expense estimates from the first draft of the budget, which allowed the association to limit the assessment increase to 1.6 percent.

“Our job is not, not to spend money,” said John Mooney, secretary of the RA, said at the meeting. “We can’t do everything everyone wants… The question is not expense, it’s value.”

In an effort to pass expenses shouldered by RA, the board also green-lighted a measure to start passing on credit card fees for purchases made through WebTrac to members beginning Jan. 1. Members who purchase pool and tennis passes or activity registrations through the website will be charged the credit card service fees.

Assessment-related credit card transaction fees will also be passed on to members starting in 2020. RA also directed the association’s staff to increase employee health insurance contributions.

The RA will mail assessment packets by the end of the first week of December to residents with information about the fees and funding. The payment will be due Jan.1, and a six-month installment plan will be available. Late fees for assessment payments kick in after March 1.

Photo via Reston Association/YouTube

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Reston Association Set to Consider Assessment Fee, Budget Tomorrow

Reston Association is set this week to hold a vote and the second public hearing on next year’s budget.

This upcoming meeting will focus on approving the second year of the 2018-2019 budget at the public meeting tomorrow (Thursday) at 6:30 p.m. at RA’s headquarters (12001 Sunrise Valley Drive) after the first year of the budget was approved last year.

Larry Butler, RA’s acting CEO, presented his recommendations for the budget at a public hearing last Thursday (Nov. 8). RA board and staff created three drafts of the budget, using 2018 as a baseline.

During the budget process, the RA board directed the association’s staff to increase employee health insurance contributions and to reduce expenses by passing credit card convenience fees along to the cardholder. The association trimmed roughly $300,000 from the initial budget estimates from an earlier draft, according to a Nov. 1 press release.

“This year’s budget was shaped primarily through a wide range of cuts in operating expenses,” the press release said.

If approved, the proposed budget would increase members’ assessment fee by $11, setting the rate at $693. The first draft would have set the annual fee, which helps the association maintain pathways, facilities and recreational areas, at just over $700. Last year’s totaled $682.

The board is also requesting $40,000 from cash reserves to reinstate staff training and $17,545 for staff recruitment and “market rate adjustments for difficult to fill positions,” according to meeting materials to be presented to the board.

After the new assessment is set by the board, RA will mail assessment packets to residents with information about the fees and funding. The payment will be due Jan. 1.

The draft agenda for the meeting is available online.

Photo via Reston Association/Reston Today

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Fairfax County Supervisors Adopt 2019 Budget

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors officially adopted the proposed FY 2019 budget at their meeting last week on May 1.

Among the highlights of the new budget include an increase in the real estate tax, and increased funding for schools, including teacher salaries.

Homeowners can expect a two-cent increase in the annual real estate tax, from the current $1.13 per $100 of assessed home value to $1.15.

Supervisors said this will result in an average increase of $241 per year for homeowners, and a revenue increase of $49.3 million for the county.

“I believe the additional revenue is an important investment needed to shore up the foundation on which our quality of life in Fairfax County rests,” Chairman Sharon Bulova said in recorded comments on the county website.

The new budget also includes increased funding for Fairfax County schools by $91.49 million, or 4.22 percent over the previous year.

“The package fully funds the school board’s request, bringing teacher salaries into competitive alignment with our sister jurisdictions in the region,” Bulova said. “Again, 52.8 percent of our general fund budget [will be] going to the schools.”

Of the additional $91.49 million, $53 million of that will be dedicated to teacher salary scale increases, according to the county website.

“It is anticipated that the FCPS FY 2019 Advertised Budget will remain fully funded, with increased state revenues,” county documents explain. “This includes projected cost increases related to updated enrollment information.”

Bulova said the increased funding will also allow for a 2.25-percent market rate adjustment for county employees, as well as allow for performance, merit and longevity increases.

The approved budget also provides funding for many early childhood education programs, gang prevention and opioid addiction intervention, as well as an increase in funding for Metro “pending a long-term solution,” she said.

The county’s “Diversion First” program will also receive funding. Diversion First offers alternatives to incarceration for people with mental illness or developmental disabilities, who come into contact with the criminal justice system for low level offenses.

Other small tax and fee increases for basic services include:

  • Trash/Refuse Collection and Disposal – Annual collection fees will increase by $5, from the current $345 to $350. Annual disposal fees will increase by $2 from the current $64 to $66.
  • Sewer Fees – Annual sewer service fees will increase from $6.75 per 1,000 gallons to $7. Annual base service charges will increase from $27.62 per quarter to $30.38.
  • Stormwater Services – The district tax rate will increase from $0.0300 to $0.0325 per $100 of assessed value.

One area in which fees will decrease is the Phase I Dulles Rail Transportation Improvement district tax rate, which will go down from 15 cents to 13 cents per $100 of assessed value, thanks to a recommendation by the Phase I District Commission.

The county produced a video on its annual budget is formed and adopted for interested residents.

File Photo: Sharon Bulova

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