The Budget and Taxation committee of the McLean Citizens Association met with state Dels. Vince Callahan (R-34th) and Jim Scott ( D-53rd) Tuesday night to discuss concerns about what they feel is an unfair distribution of state funding for schools in Fairfax County.
The committee members were also concerned about adequate public facilities produced and funded by the state from tax dollars, which would help take some of the burden off overcrowded schools.
“The quality of life in Fairfax County is deteriorating rapidly,” said Rob Jackson, chairman of the Budget and Taxation Committee.
“What we need is a uniform system throughout the state” to determine what fair funding would be for schools, said Callahan. “We’re in the Dranesville District, which contributes in excess of what Lee County contributes (in state taxes), but we don’t get back a fair amount of our contribution.”
“For us to pay for Lee County schools is not so much a problem as paying for schools in Virginia Beach, “ said Scott. The economic situation in Virginia Beach is similar enough to that in Fairfax County to be comparable, but the Virginia Beach area receives more in federal funding than the county, he said.
“We need to do something. My daughter eats lunch at 9:45 a.m. because her school’s too full,” Jackson said. “Hanover County gets twice the amount of state aid, and they offer their students intramurals and middle-school sports. We don’t have any of that here,” he said.
“This year, we finally stepped up to the plate and said we need to do a better job funding the state’s part of education,” Scott said. “The school systems will actually get more than they asked for this year,” he said.
Many at the meeting blamed the complicated formula that determines how much a county receives in state funding based on three factors: true property value, adjusted gross income and taxable retail sales, Callahan said.
“The probability of court action has kept the legislation from doing anything to change the formula,” Scott said. Because of the delicate nature of funding education, it would be almost impossible for the legislation to gather enough support to restructure or otherwise revise the formula to try to equalize the funding based on tax input, he said.
“There was a suit threatened about 10 or 12 years ago on this exact thing. A few localities got together, and we fought off the suit by giving them more funding,” Callahan said. “That threat is always there.”
“There’s no rational basis for this formula,” Jackson said.
“It needs to be changed, and I believe we can make changes, but we’d have to be careful,” Scott said.
PROPERTY TAX RATES have been rising, but residents aren’t getting enough back to justify their contributions, which have been increasing by 8 percent for the past few years, said Jim Turner of the Budget and Taxation Committee.
“It reveals a common denominator, that our standard of living is going down,” he said. “The population is not increasing at anywhere near the level that property taxes are increasing. What’s going to happen is employers will choose not to move to Northern Virginia because they cannot afford to pay their people enough to live here, and when the employers stop coming in, people will leave and go where the jobs are.”
When those employers and their workers leave, the tax base will shrink, he said, further complicating the issue.
“The real problem is property taxes,” said Mark Zetts of the MCA’s Planning and Zoning Committee. “State taxes are all within reason, but the property taxes are going through the roof,” he said.
“The shortage of housing is pushing up the value of a property,” Callahan said. “I think that’s our real crisis. Fewer units of housing in the market drive the prices higher and make the problem worse.”
The board and delegates discussed the use of proffers (initiatives used by developers to get the most use out of land as possible while also providing some benefit to the community) and impact fees to raise some money to help offset the growing costs of education.
“Impact fees are going to help your capital income,” Scott said.
Jackson asked if the state could apply impact fees on the Department of Transportation to raise money. “That way, every driver could contribute to VDOT fees,” he said, which would not only bring in money for education but could also bring in funding for road projects.
“The state could do that now if it chose to,” Scott said. “The state could choose to add impact fees, but I don’t know if I’d advocate that action.”