NO MATTER what the Fairfax County supervisors might have done to local taxes and government services on Monday, the politically juiced reactions of election-bound incumbents and challengers were predictable. In approving a $2.5 billion budget, the majority voted to drop the real estate tax rate from $1.21 to $1.16 per $100 of assessed value, make $51.1 million in cuts, eliminate 152 positions (while adding 65 for police, firefighters and school aides), reduce proposed raises for the county's 11,000 employees, including police officers and firefighters, and trim the human services and library budgets. Members of the Democrat-led board promptly concluded that they had acted "responsively and responsibly," delicately balancing their constituents' expectations of government and homeowners' demands for some relief in their ever-heftier property tax bills. Wrong, said Republicans working to capitalize on anti-tax sentiment; they note that even with the lower rates, the tax bill on the average home -- valued at $317,240 -- will go up by $329 because of rising assessments.
The board's fiscal surgery may not have been totally deft, but what additional programs and services would the dissenters eliminate? Supervisor Michael R. Frey (R-Sully), who along with colleague Stuart Mendelsohn (R-Dranesville) voted against the budget, called the cuts "very shallow" and accused the majority of deferring the tough decisions. These deferrals included proposals made in February by County Executive Anthony H. Griffin to charge fees for ambulance rides and use of county athletic fields. Will voters be angered at not having to ante up fees such as these? The supervisors did increase fees for parking violations, animal shelters, overdue library books, recreation classes, building permits, sewer hookups, cell phone service and bus rides. Should they have gone the other way and reduced fees by cutting more county services?
As Post staff writer Lisa Rein has reported, a dozen candidates for county supervisor and the state legislature have signed a pledge to cap property tax revenue increases at 5 percent. With property taxes accounting for nearly 60 percent of the county's revenue, with sales tax revenue flat, with schools still bursting at the seams and accounting for $1.3 billion of the budget, exactly what would these tax-cappers do away with? And which residents of the county would suffer most? Voters deserve explicit answers as the campaigns intensify.