Fairfax County Executive Anthony H. Griffin took his budget presentation to the Mason District this week and received a steady grilling from residents about climbing taxes and fees.
Some also asked why no money was proposed to hire more police officers; why the county was not doing more to promote bicycles and bike paths as a clean alternative for transportation; why the county was spending so much money to transform Tysons Corner into a mini city; why so many school buses appear to be empty; and why students must go to school so early.
But overall, many questions seemed more like complaints about the rising costs of county government.
Earl Sutter, a retired financial consultant, demanded to know why the county was funding after-school programs designed to counter gangs.
“When I went to school, I went to school, and then I went home,” Sutter, 70, said. “It doesn’t make sense to me.”
Tom Shockey, 58, a retired Ohio State University professor, suggested the cost of county government was out of control and wanted to know where he could find official documents showing county employees’ salaries and pay.
Thomas J. Pasko, 75, a retired highway engineer, wanted answers about the proposed one-cent increase in the stormwater service rate. He said the fee, when combined with the property tax and other fees imposed in recent years, contributed to a growing burden on taxpayers.
“You’re nickel and diming us into the poor house,” Pasko said.
Griffin, who announced last year that he plans to retire next month, appeared at the Mason District town hall Wednesday to explain his 14th and final proposed budget. Supervisor Penelope A. Gross (D) also fielded questions, as did Susan W. Datta, the county’s chief financial officer. About 30 people attended.
Griffin’s draft $6.7 billion budget for fiscal 2013 would increase spending by about 2 percent over the revised 2012 spending plan.
The property tax rate would stay the same at $1.07 per $100 of assessed value, although rising home values mean tax bills will still go up by about $34 for the typical household. The Board of Supervisors also has agreed to at least consider raising the property tax rate one cent to $1.08, possibly to contribute more money to schools or counter possible cuts in state or federal funding.
Griffin’s draft budget would also increase fees. The storm water service rate would go from 1.5 to 2.5 cents per $100 of assessed real estate value. All together, the increases in property tax bills and storm-water fees mean the typical household would pay about $79 more in fiscal 2013, which begins July 1.
Griffin said his draft budget reflected guidance from the 10-member Board of Supervisors to maintain or even expand some services while minimizing the impact on taxpayers. But the tenor Wednesday night of several questions, many focused on rising waste water treatment costs, suggested that the impact would still be too heavy.
But Griffin explained that stricter regulations from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and its state counterpart to protect the Chesapeake Bay have forced the county to upgrade its treatment plants, raising the cost of service. He said he has been arguing for some time that EPA regulations are imposing ever higher costs on municipal water treatment plant for marginal gains in water quality. But in the meantime, the county has no choice but to comply, he said.
“The bottom line is, if you don’t do it, we’ll get sued,” Griffin said.
When Gross suggested residents should press Congress for money to comply with federal environmental standards, an audience member cut her off, saying it was her job, not his.
As the discussion moved to other heated topics, Griffin kept his cool, speaking almost in a monotone while countering assertions by members of the audience that were inaccurate or ran counter to the actual facts.
Toward the end of the two-hour session, Albert Riveros, 68, raised his hand to speak.
“I just want to thank Tony for 22 years of service in the county,” Riveros said.
“Hear hear,” someone replied..
And the audience gave Griffin a round of applause.