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County's Revenue Stream is 'Lopsided,' Bulova Says

This year homeowners will shoulder most of Fairfax County’s tax burden by comparison with other sources of revenue; the largest percentage in the county’s revenue stream will come from residential real estate taxes, 57 percent.

And the largest percentage the county spends is its transfer to public schools — 51.6 percent.

More and more, some homeowners say, Fairfax County’s highly-vaunted quality of life depends on their ability to shoulder a hefty tax burden. That theme is likely to resound next week, when public hearings on Fairfax County’s FY 2003 budget begin with a tax rate hearing at 3:30 p.m. on Monday, April 8.

“People are understandably upset,” said Supervisor Sharon Bulova (D-Braddock), chair of the Board of Supervisors budget subcommittee. “This is a pretty good [real estate tax] hike two years in a row. ‘Pretty soon you are going to tax me out of the county’ is a familiar refrain from some people,” she said.

“Usually if you look at our pie chart, about 50 percent [of county revenue] comes from the real estate tax. This time it is 57.4 percent from the real estate tax. It’s just not fair to expect people to pay that much of the freight,” she said.

At the same time, Bulova said, taxpayers worry that county services will be cut below the comfort level.

“Others are saying ‘I am concerned about the level of services that maintain the quality of life that we appreciate in Fairfax County,’” Bulova said.

BUDGET HEARINGS will continue for three consecutive evenings next week as the Board of Supervisors grapples with competing needs for diminishing funds in a year that revenue sources have declined dramatically. Hundreds of people have signed up in advance to tell the board what they think.

“This is the tensest time of the whole year, and the most important time of the year,” she said. “Last year was a paler version of this year’s budget situation.

“Assessments are up even higher, more than 16 percent, and our other sources of revenue are down from last year by 1.6 percent. So there is a lopsided revenue stream in Fairfax County with an inordinate portion of our collected revenues coming from the real estate tax.”

WHILE SOME SURROUNDING jurisdictions contemplate cuts in their tax rates, it’s not likely to happen in Fairfax County.

In Loudoun County, a reduction from $1.08 to $1.05 was approved April 1.

Prince William County is considering a reduction in its tax rate from $1.30 to $1.23 per $100 of value when its budget is approved later this month.

“What I would love to be able to do is to cut the real estate tax rate substantially, and provide additional funding for the schools,” Bulova said.

“But because the other sources of revenue are down, and [public safety] needs are up, we are in a weird situation where we would have to cut back the level of services that people expect,” Bulova said.

“Even if we were to reduce the real estate tax rate by four or six pennies, with the increased assessments and lopsided revenue stream, people would still see higher real estate tax bills.”

“You would have to cut it so low people could not tolerate the kinds of reductions you would to make,” Bulova said.

PUBLIC SCHOOLS face a shortfall of $46 million from the State of Virginia, and between $60 and $70 million overall.

“Their budget [already] assumed some cuts, but they found an additional $20 million was going to be cut [from the state],” Bulova said. “On the county side, we have a gap of a $64 million difference in what [schools] asked for and the $70 million that Tony Griffin put in.

“I am concerned and sympathetic for the schools, but we are having difficulties on the county side of the budget,” Bulova said.

“It’s not that we have this huge surplus because of the real estate assessments. Our total sum of revenues is actually a more modest increase because of declines. It is really going to be a difficult year.”

After public hearings Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and possibly on Thursday, Bulova will meet with individual supervisors on Thursday April 11, through Tuesday, April 16. A pre-mark-up workshop will be held at 3 p.m. on Friday, April 19.

On Monday April 22, the board will actually “mark up,” or make changes, to the recommended budget that County Executive Tony Griffin first presented on Feb. 25. The new budget will be formally adopted on Monday, April 29.