The $4.29 billion general fund budget for fiscal 2019 is the first presented by Hill, who replaced retired county executive Edward L. Long Jr. in January. It would raise the residential property tax rate from $1.13 to $1.155 per $100 of assessed value, the second tax-rate hike in three years.
Hill warned the Board of Supervisors that the county of 1.1 million residents must learn how to do more with less until and unless more businesses move into Fairfax and federal spending in the county rises back toward a peak of $26.4 billion in 2012.
Revenue remains tepid even as the county has seen growth in the number of low-income families, a larger population of elderly residents on fixed incomes and increased wear-and-tear on local roads, parks and other infrastructure after years of delayed improvements.
“Restrained growth is anticipated for the foreseeable future,” Hill said during his presentation, pointing out that property taxes make up 65 percent of the county’s annual revenue. “We have to tighten our belts a bit and get a little bit more creative and a little bit more nimble in how we do this.”
Although in past years such predictions were followed by complaints from teachers and county employees that not enough was being done to help them keep up with the region’s rising cost of living, those groups were all smiles after Hill and the Board of Supervisors appeared to agree that salary increases should be a priority.
The budget would give county schools all of the $2.26 billion the school board had asked for, increasing the system’s annual spending plan by another $95.1 million to help increase teacher salaries by an average of 2.25 percent, plus market rate adjustments. Most of the 12,000 general county employees will see their salaries grow, with non-uniformed workers getting an average raise of 4.25 percent and police and fire department workers getting an average increase of 4.50 percent.
Tina Williams, president of the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, said the salary adjustments will help keep many teachers, who earn on average less than $50,000 a year, from leaving the system for higher-paying jurisdictions.
“Most of us work two jobs,” Williams said. “And, you have to, just to be able to survive. So, I’m happy to see that this budget is prioritizing the value of educators, our schools and our children.”
Hill also proposed a slight increase in public safety spending to $510 million; boosting health and welfare spending to $465 million; and allocating $56 million to parks and libraries.
Several county supervisors said they agreed with those increases.
“This budget is outstanding,” said Sharon Bulova (D), chair of the board. “It essentially hits all of the notes that our board is concerned about.”
Others warned that a 2.5 cent tax increase will affect some residents hard — particularly in lower-income areas where rising property values will boost their tax bills while wages remain stagnant.
“My back-of-the-napkin calculation is some of my neighbors will pay $470 to $700 more under this budget,” said Supervisor John C. Cook (R-Braddock.) “And, they’re going to ask me why. That’s a harder conversation to have.”