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Fairfax moves toward more affordable housing, pay raises with new budget

Sharon Bulova, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, in 2017.
Sharon Bulova, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, in 2017. (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)

Fairfax County’s Board of Supervisors indicated Tuesday that it will adopt a $4.4 billion budget that keeps the real estate tax rate the same, while raising pay for county employees and pouring more resources into affordable housing and protecting the environment.

The “markup” vote to amend the spending plan proposed by County Executive Bryan J. Hill in February came after county officials realized they have an extra $10.6 million to spend next year, thanks to higher-than-expected business tax revenue and some administrative changes that resulted in savings.

The board agreed 9 to 0 to use the additional money to fund a variety of initiatives, with Supervisor Pat Herrity (R-Springfield) abstaining because of lingering questions he has about the county schools budget.

Among other things, the board moved to increase cost-of-living raises for its roughly 13,000 employees from the 1 percent increase proposed by Hill to 2.1 percent and to increase the base hourly wage for employees by 31 cents, to $15.14 per hour

The board also approved steering an extra $5 million toward affordable-housing initiatives in Virginia’s most populous jurisdiction, increasing to $15 million the amount dedicated toward that effort next year.

Supervisors agreed to fund an extra staff position geared toward affordable housing and to create two staff positions for a new Office of Environmental and Energy Coordination.

Sharon Bulova, the board’s outgoing chairman, said the fact that the county is able to make those additional investments while still giving county schools $2.3 billion and keeping the tax rate at $1.15 per $100 of assessed value shows that Fairfax is finally emerging from years of disappointing tax revenue that began with the 2008 recession.

“It’s a pretty good-news budget,” Bulova (D) said in an interview before Tuesday’s vote, adding that “there’s a lot of pent-up demand” for new programs after years of austerity.

Bulova’s board colleagues shared her enthusiasm about the county’s future Tuesday. But they passionately debated one of the smaller spending decisions: a $200,000 legal-aid pilot program to help immigrants facing deportation proceedings.

The program replicates efforts in 30 cities and counties across the country — including Prince George’s and Montgomery counties.

Under federal law, low-income people are not entitled to a public defender for immigration proceedings because they are civil rather than criminal cases.

Herrity joined Supervisors John C. Cook (R-Braddock) and Linda Q. Smyth (D-Providence) in opposing the program.

They argued that the creation of a legal-defense fund in Fairfax would be unfair to other indigent residents who do not receive such help and would wrongly pull the county into the country’s raging debate over immigration.

“I don’t disagree with the issue, but it’s not the only important issue out there,” Cook said. “We need to stay in our lane.”

Supervisor Jeff C. McKay (D-Lee), who co-sponsored the measure with Supervisor John W. Foust (D-Dranesville), said Fairfax County has a moral imperative to help immigrant residents who face the prospect of being forced out of the country at a time when the Trump administration is escalating its immigration enforcement.

“Families are being divided almost daily in Fairfax County,” said McKay, referring to data compiled by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University showing that about 12,000 Fairfax County residents were in deportation proceedings late last year.

How the local government responds to the immigration crackdown “has moral implications for the kind of county we want to be,” McKay said.

The board voted 7 to 3 to keep the program in the budget, which it will formally adopt on May 7.

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