Fairfax County residents would be asked to pay new hourly fees for ballfields, higher bus fares and increased fines for parking violations and overdue library books under proposals county officials are discussing to find revenue in a tight budget year.
"We have gone and looked at our fees, and if we think they're out of line as compared to other jurisdictions, or low, we're going to suggest changes," said County Executive Anthony H. Griffin, who will propose a spending plan later this month for the fiscal year that begins in July.
Admission to parks -- including recreation and equestrian centers and golf courses -- also would cost more under a plan the Park Authority board will vote on next month. A train ride at Burke Lake could cost $1.75, up from $1.25, and the price to rent the equestrian center at Frying Pan Park could jump to $450, an increase of $150. Some park fees could increase as early as April.
Griffin said he also is weighing a proposal from the county's firefighters to charge for ambulance trips, a fee paid by residents of Arlington and Alexandria.
Talk of new or higher fees comes as soaring property assessments have put pressure on the Board of Supervisors to reduce the county's real estate tax rate of $1.21 per $100 of assessed value. Facing plummeting revenue from sales taxes and investments and a $22 million cut in state aid, county leaders say they want to spread the burden and minimize service cuts by charging more for some services used by select groups of people.
"It doesn't add up to a whole lot of money, but it can offset cuts to services," Griffin said. Fees make up 1.2 percent of revenue.
Other Washington suburbs also are considering new or higher fees to offset declining revenue in the region's slow economy. Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) is seeking permission from the state legislature to raise money by piggybacking on Maryland's motor vehicle registration fee. The fees under consideration would nearly double what county car owners pay now.
In Fairfax, Griffin and his staff are still drafting plans for fee increases, and some proposals may fall off the table in the next few weeks. The list of options includes raising fees for building permits and inspections.
Any changes Griffin proposes would require approval by the supervisors when they pass the budget this spring.
The imposition of fees for youth and adult sports leagues to use ballfields for practice and games is likely to generate controversy in a county with 600 ballfields and 176,000 players. Fairfax officials estimate that hourly fees could raise $3 million annually. Arlington County charges adult leagues for the use of fields, and youth leagues must pay for off-season practices. Prince William County charges all leagues for the use of fields and school gyms, at a rate of $9 per participant per season. Montgomery also charges adult and youth fees.
"The concerns are: Will the money be put into maintenance or the general fund?" said Dave Lacey, a member of the Fairfax Athletic Council and head of volleyball for the Southwest Youth League, which represents dozens of football, volleyball, basketball and baseball teams in western Fairfax. Families already pay $10 per player per season to the league to cover uniforms, referees and, in some cases, field maintenance.
Supervisor Michael R. Frey (R-Sully) predicted that the fields proposal "will cause quite an uproar."
"Think of how many families it's going to touch," he said. "After four years of double-digit property tax increases, people are going to say, 'I'm already paying enough.' "
The county hopes to raise $1 million in new revenue by raising an array of parking fines, which could include: $20 for an overdue meter, up from $10; $40 for parking without a residential permit, up from $25; and $40 for a missing decal, up from $20.
Supervisors say the higher fines would be in line with those in neighboring jurisdictions.
Fares on the Fairfax Connector, the county-run bus service, could jump to 75 cents from the current 50 cents under one proposal, officials said. Metro and Virginia Railway Express also are considering fare increases.
"We've held the line on fees for a long, long time," said Supervisor Penelope A. Gross (D-Mason). "We don't want to support our county on fees and fines, but it's a way of diversifying."
Staff writer Matthew Mosk contributed to this report.