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Votes

Sounding Off About the Budget

MCA encourages modest spending increases.

Two weeks after Dranesville District Supervisor Joan DuBois held a town hall meeting to discuss the 2006 budget for Fairfax County, members of the McLean Citizens Association still weren’t happy with how the county runs its fiscal matters.

“We’re building on the work we’ve done in the past,” said Rob Jackson, chairman of the MCA’s budget and taxation committee, at the meeting Wednesday night. “The bottom line is that real estate assessments rose between 23 and 25 percent in McLean last year. The county board has proposed a 10-cent cut in the tax rate, but spending has gotten out of control.”

Residents who attended the town meeting called for limiting spending, decreasing the amount of taxpayer dollars the county pays out by at least six percent, Jackson said, “which would still be worth about 7.8 cents per dollar.”

Fairfax County is trailing behind Prince William and Loudoun Counties in the amount of money it receives back from the state government for every dollar it pays out, he said.

Not all of the comments toward the budget and the county included in the

proposed resolution were negative, however.

“We are complimenting the board for their contribution to storm water management,” Jackson said. The resolution also praises the board for holding public meetings to discuss the budget, reducing the number of vehicles given to county employees and responding to MCA’s questions on various budget items in a timely manner.

ONE OF THE larger items of contention in the county budget is the demand for local businesses to contribute to the Economic Development Authority.

“I think it’s appropriate to call for businesses to pay their share for the EDA. All other parts of the nation are throwing incentives at companies to have them bring their business in. You should value new jobs because every day people are getting laid off,” said board member Steve Del Bianco.

Currently, taxpayers are subsidizing the EDA, contributing to the fund through real estate taxes. The resolution written by MCA states concern that because those real estate investors do not contribute equally into the local economy in terms of impact fees and smaller cash proffers, “the costs for added development, both in terms of overtaxed facilities, especially public schools and transportation facilities, and higher taxes to pay for more public infrastructure are passed along to residential and small business taxpayers.”

“The commercial real estate market isn’t doing anyone any favors … we should renew our call for businesses to pay their fair share,” he said.

Whether the EDA helps local businesses equally, however, is an item of contention.

There’s never been an audit of the EDA to “prove its worth,” Jackson said. “Development on its own does not pay for itself in Virginia. We send all this money to Richmond and we get squat back.”

Increased employment helps drive up the demand for, and price of, homes in the area, said Frank Crandall.

“Business is not paying close to its fair share for the infrastructure demands that need to be made,” he said. “The county has not failed as a county in 300 years in terms of making jobs or making a good life, but we’re getting into deeper and deeper mire with extreme overheating of certain elements.”

Additionally, there was question over the county’s practice of taking money ‘found’ during the third quarter of the fiscal year into consideration when setting the tax rate for the next year, while not factoring that money into the county’s income for the current year, which, board members said, could help reduce the tax rate overall.

“I’d feel more comfortable if we told [the Board of Supervisors] to put any extra money that comes in into the ‘Rainy Day’ fund if they find extra money in the third quarter,” said member Ed Saperstein.

“We don’t trust them to forecast it correctly every year,” Jackson said. “We’re sort of playing poker with them, because they do find this money every year.”

JIM TURNER said he didn’t want to “infer that the county intentionally underestimates the revenue every year. What happens is they adopt a budget and when the third quarter comes around, they find $30 million to $40 million they didn’t expect. When the time comes to write a new budget, they compare the new spending level with the adjusted income,” he said, not to the income before the extra revenue was found.

The board voted, after more than an hour and a half of discussing and altering, to adopt the resolution and send their suggestions to the Board of Supervisors, encouraging them to limit spending to no more than an increase of 6.19 percent for fiscal year 2006 and to take the extra $30 to $40 million into consideration when setting the tax rate, among other items on the five-page document.