Citizens Opine over City Budget

Citizens Opine over City Budget

Fairfax City Council conducts subdued budget outreach meeting.

With several major initiatives pending in the year ahead — the November school bond referendum to renovate Fairfax High School and Lanier Middle School, downtown redevelopment and pending construction of the police station and of the City Hall expansion and renovation — the focus of this year's budget appears to be trimming city's budget so as to provide some real estate tax relief, vs. pursuing additional revenue, such as a meals tax increase, to fund city services or upcoming major projects.

"When you start adding these things ... in the end, there is very little discretion to fund new stuff," said Councilmember Gary Rasmussen.

Councilmember Patrice Winter agreed. "The costs have skyrocketed. It's almost moot," she said. Winter had received e-mails questioning whether the city is sitting on untouched revenue. "That huge money coming in is to take care of those responsibilities that have gone up so high."

COMPARED WITH last year's budget outreach meeting, when dozens of citizens approached the Fairfax City Council to move the construction of the proposed police station to John C. Wood instead of City Hall, this year's outreach barely rose above a hum. City staff outnumbered the 10 or 11 citizens who came to Daniels Run Elementary Tuesday evening to chat with Council members about next year's fiscal budget.

Indeed, the greatest concern among Council members and the citizens present was the effect a delayed state budget could have on the city. Obligated by law to submit a final budget by April 15, the city intends to guess conservatively when it comes to state funding. Of the projected $85.9 million in revenue for the upcoming fiscal year, roughly 10 percent comes from state funds.

"The dilemma we're facing in Richmond is a complicated factor for us," said Councilmember Joan Cross. "What is happening in Richmond really has a direct effect to what's happening in the city."

Next to the uncertainty of the state budget were rising tax assessments. Although the average tax assessment went up an average of 13.1 percent this year, a few citizens through the city saw increases of up to 30, 40 or 50 percent.

While Council members desired to lower the final real estate tax rate below the advertised 92 cents, prolonged delays to the state's budget might hamper how low the rate could go, according to Fairfax mayor Rob Lederer.

"Where are some of the more difficult spots in this year's budget?" asked Fairfax resident Zinta Rodgers.

"The biggest challenge we have right now is rising assessments the fourth year in a row," Lederer said.

Despite concerns about tax assessments, none of the citizens present at the meeting asked about the taxes. Instead, they asked the city to continue to maintain funding for certain projects, like Blenheim, or inquired of Council members about the status of certain initiatives like the traffic calming or the relationship with George Mason University. One citizen spoke about providing more affordable senior housing, while another from the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority asked for continued support.

Paul Sullivan, president of the Country Club Hills Civic Association, thanked the Council for the open-space acquisition of Rebel Run and asked members to continue to support the Old Lee Highway traffic study, as well as Blenheim. He also thanked the Council for the grant money that homeowners associations can apply to fix up their neighborhoods.

"If there were any problems, I'm sure you'd hear it en masse," Sullivan said.