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Virginia Politics
Posted at 01:37 PM ET, 02/29/2012

Fairfax County Exec to hold online chat on budget


Fairfax County executive Anthony Griffin (James M. Thresher - The Washington Post)
Fairfax County Executive Anthony H. Griffin will be online Wednesday afternoon to discuss a proposed $6.7 billion budget that would increase spending by about 2 percent and raise property taxes and fees by about $79 for the typical household.

The draft budget, which Griffin submitted Tuesday to the Board of Supervisors, maintains the status quo in an uncertain economy by restoring some previous cuts and offering only incremental spending increases for existing programs. It also raises more revenue from homeowners by increasing property taxes and fees.

In a news conference following his budget presentation, Griffin said he had tried to strike a balance between the public’s frequent requests for more police officers and library hours, and its reluctance to pay more in taxes and fees. He also said he needed to find money for a workforce whose pay had been frozen for several years.

Griffin, who announced last year that this year will be his last as county executive, said the Board will have to take an even more disciplined look at its programs in the future. But so will the public. Often at community meetings, Griffin said, a large proportion of the public clamors for more services while a tiny fraction ask for cuts, and supervisors pick up on that.

“My challenge to them is they’ve never suggested things to me we shouldn’t be doing,” Griffin said. But he also declined to specify what programs the Board might consider jettisoning.

“I’m reluctant to lay out a laundry list because that’s not what the board has asked me do,” he said. “What we do and is driven by the community.”

But Griffin said a good start toward rethinking priorities could be gleaned from budget documents submitted 10 or 20 years ago when the county government was more limited. Meanwhile, its challenges ahead include finding sufficient resources for schools, transportation, continuing the redevelopment of Tysons Corner and diversifying the tax base, he said.

The budget, for fiscal 2013 beginning July 1, would give 2 percent pay increases to all county employees, increase spending on schools, add 34 new employees — 22 of which would go to the stormwater services division — and contribute an additional $2 million to the police department.

The budget would also shore up county pension funds with an infusion of $7.48 million. In the previous two budget cycles, the county has had to boost pension funds by $35 million to make up for dramatic investment losses during the 2007 recession. Those investments have since risen dramatically, countering the need for larger contributions this year. It would also contribute an additional $8 million toward other post-employment retirement benefits, such as health care insurance.

Other features include additional $497,368 and three new employees for the School-Age Child Care program, whose fees would also increase about 5 percent; an additional $448,534, or 5 percent, for the consolidated community funding pool, which helps to fund human services programs carried out by nonprofits in partnership with the county; and an additional $2.6 million for the Lorton Arts Foundation.

The property rate would stay the same, at $1.07 per $100 of assessed value, although rising property values means that the typical household’s tax bill would rise about $34. The mean assessed value of residential property has increased to $448,696 in fiscal 2013, compared with $445,533 in the previous year.

But the draft budget would also increase the stormwater service rate by one cent to 2.5 cents per $100 of assessed real estate value in order to help meet the costs of growing federal and state regulations, including initiatives to clean the Chesapeake Bay. A typical household would pay about $45 more for stormwater service under the proposed budget.

The county’s biggest expenditure — school funding — would rise to $1.85 billion for operations and debt service, up 4.2 percent from the fiscal 2012 adopted budget. The transfer of funds to Fairfax County Public Schools amounts to about 53 percent of the county’s general fund spending. It is less than the amount requested by the Fairfax County School Board, however, and Griffin has suggested that the supervisors advertise for a possible increase of the property tax rate to $1.09 in the event they want to contribute more to schools.

The county executive’s chat begins at 2 p.m. Residents, who are also just finding out about the new assessed values of their homes, can submit questions for the online chat here.

By  |  01:37 PM ET, 02/29/2012

 
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