Virginia’s largest jurisdiction is preparing to adopt yet another budget that will stretch existing resources to fund schools, public safety and other priorities — the new normal amid a weak local economy that has hampered tax revenue for nearly a decade.
On Tuesday, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors moved forward with a 2018 budget that would keep the residential property tax rate at $1.13 per $100 of assessed value — tacit recognition that residents, who overwhelmingly rejected a meals tax proposal in November, do not want their tax bills to increase.
Supervisors made tiny tweaks in the $4.1 billion spending plan, transferring $1.7 million more to the county’s financially struggling school system and $2 million to the Diversion First mental-health services program.
Two members of the 10-person board, Supervisors Kathy Smith (D-Sully) and Dan Storck (D-Mount Vernon), voted against those changes, saying the budget does not do enough to support schools, social-service programs and raises for county employees.
“We cannot cut our way to prosperity,” Smith said. “I believe it is time for the board to step back and consider if our budget process is working the way it should.”
The county plans to give $2.17 billion to its growing school system of nearly 187,000 students, about $47 million short of what officials sought. It is pursuing $35 million in police reforms recommended by an appointed commission after the 2013 fatal shooting of an unarmed man outside his home.
The board adopted an array of long-term guidelines to contain expenses amid forecasts from county officials that funding commitments for Metrorail will rise in coming years and a steady increase in elderly and low-income residents will mean greater demands for services.
They include a review of county pension plans in hopes of reducing the growing burden they’ve placed on budget resources. The board also directed the county’s staff to examine locally funded services for the disabled, prioritize police reforms that could be funded in the short term and find ways to prioritize funding for human services.
“We’re sort of treading water for a year, and I think we need to do that so we can recalibrate where we are in terms of addressing what I think is a pretty clear, though disheartening, financial picture,” said Supervisor John Cook (R-Braddock).
Board Chairman Sharon Bulova (D) said balancing the budget, which will be formally adopted in May, has been difficult, particularly as the state and federal governments also deal with spending cuts, adding that “we’re trying as hard as we can to stimulate the economy.”