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Votes

Interest in Budget Slows as Economy Picks Up

Employee compensation, human service funding compete for attention.

Rising property values, a relatively low unemployment rate, and the lack of hot-button issues — such as full-day kindergarten — have reduced public involvement in Fairfax County’s proposed $6.7 billion budget compared to recent years, according to county leaders.

During last year’s budget cycle, Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova (D-at-large) said she heard from nearly 1,000 constituents advocating for their portion of the pie. This year, that number plummeted to 30.

“At budget time, I clear the decks to see as many people as possible,” Bulova said. “My dance card is full.”

Attendance at town hall meetings on the budget has also been low, according to several supervisors.

“The number of people who have signed up to speak is way down from last year,” said Supervisor John Cook, (R-Braddock). “There is no one issue that’s got people riled up. People are not scared. Things have stabilized. We’re in a flat spot after several years of cuts.”

Next week, the public will have the opportunity to weigh in on County Executive Anthony Griffin’s proposed $6.7 billion budget for the county’s 1.1 million residents.

And supervisors want residents to know that their voice matters.

“Often testimony has caused us to adopt changes to the advertised budget,” Bulova said. “It is critical that the community is engaged and at the table with us as we consider changes to what has been advertised.”

Budget Basics

Fairfax County Budget Meetings

Public Hearings on the FY 2013 advertised budget plan and the FY 2013-2017 Capital Improvement Program will be held in the board auditorium of the Fairfax County Government Center, 12000 Government Center Parkway in Fairfax, on the following dates and times:

*Tuesday, April 10 at 6 p.m.

*Wednesday, April 11 at 3 p.m.

*Thursday, April 12, at 3 p.m.

Other Important Budget Dates

*Friday, April 20 – Budget Committee Meeting Pre-Markup Session

*Tuesday, April 24 – Fiscal Year 2013 Board Budget Markup Session and approval of FY 2012 third quarter budget

*Tuesday, May 1 – Formal adoption of FY 2013 Budget

Sign Up to Speak

To sign up to speak at one of the public hearings, call the Clerk to the Board’s Office at 703-324-3152 or 703-324-2391 (TTY – 771). To access the sign-up form online, go to www.fairfaxcounty.gov/bosclerk/speaker_bos.htm. The public may also send written testimony by email at clerktothebos@fairfaxcounty.gov.

The 2013 advertised budget is available on the Fairfax County website at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/dmb/

Reference copies of all budget volumes are available at all Fairfax County public libraries. CD versions of all budget volumes are available from the Department of Management and Budget. For more information, call the department at 703-324-2391.

In his final year as county executive, Griffin has proposed a budget based on the current property tax rate of $1.07 for every $100 of assessed value, which means the average homeowner, will pay $4,801 in property taxes, $33.85 more than last year, and $45.36 less than in fiscal year 2007.

The proposed General Fund total is $3.5 billion, up $143 million over fiscal year 2012. More than half of the budget (52.5 percent or $1.85 billion) is earmarked for the school system.

To mitigate potential shortfalls, the board voted to advertise a 1-cent tax increase to $1.08 per $100 of assessed value. Supervisor Linda Smyth (D-Providence) called the one-penny increase an "insurance policy” against any funding shortfalls.

In addition to allowing the rise in property taxes, Griffin’s budget also imposes several new fees, including a storm water fee would increase from 1.5 cents for every $100 of assessed value to 2.5 cents for every $100 of assessed value.

The board can approve a rate lower than the advertised rate, but they cannot adjust the tax rate without first advertising a higher rate. The $1.08 rate will provide some wiggle room and — if adopted — add $19.95 million to the county executive’s proposed budget. Each 1 cent increase in the real estate tax rate impacts the average residential taxpayer’s annual bill by approximately $45.

Budget analysts expect revenue in the county to increase a moderate 3.4 percent in 2013, and continue at that level for the next several years.

Although that’s the fastest rate of growth since fiscal year 2007, it’s still less than half the average annual growth in revenue during the boom period from 2000 to 2007.

“I agree we're seeing a mild recovery — not strong or vigorous,” Bulova said. “I think that Tony Griffin has done a good job hitting the high notes. There are still cuts, but not as many and not as severe.”

That doesn’t mean, however, that this year’s budget is without its share of challenges and competing interests.

Two groups, the Fairfax County Alliance for Human Services and the Fairfax County Government Employee Union, have signaled their commitment to keeping their issues front and center as the board moves toward adopting a the final budget on May 1.

Both groups want to see the board adopt the advertised tax rate.

Employee Compensation

Employee Compensation in Fairfax County

How does Fairfax County’s 2.18 percent market rate adjustment compare to other local jurisdictions?

*Proposed Salary Increase for FY-2013

Fairfax – 2.18 percent (No step increases for public safety employees or pay for performance increases for general employees are proposed.)

Alexandria – 2.3-5 percent

(Alexandria’s FY 2013 proposed budget includes funding for merit-based pay increases ranging from 2.3 to 5 percent. No across-the-board pay increases are funded. Also, public safety employees at the top of their grade – those not eligible for a merit-based pay increase – will be eligible for a one-time 2.3 percent pay supplement if warranted by performance. )

Arlington – 2.5 percent

(Arlington’s FY 2013 budget proposal including funding for merit/step increases, which average 2.5 percent. No COLA/market pay adjustment has been proposed.)

Loudoun – 0.0 to 2 percent

(Loudoun County’s budget proposal includes a zero percent increase option up to an average increase of 2 percent for all county employees. No merit increases are assumed in the proposal.)

Prince George’s – 0.0 percent

(No merit or cost-of-living adjustments are proposed for G-scale employees. The county is currently in negotiations with the union.)

Prince William – 3 percent

(This is a proposed pay-for-performance increase provided to employees who receive a “fully achieves” performance rating. As part of Prince William’s “Performance Plus” system, employees who receive ratings above “fully achieves” will receive bonuses on top of the 3 percent increase. A one-time bonus of 1 percent will be provided to employees with an “exceeds” rating and a 2 percent bonus will be provided for those with a rating of “greatly exceeds.” The county proposes to increase the top of the pay scale to allow all employees to earn a merit this year.)

Fairfax County Public Schools – 4.3 percent

(Fairfax County Public Schools have proposed merit increments, averaging 2.3 percent, as well as a 2 percent market scale adjustment.)

Information provided by Fairfax County Department of Management and Budget.

The largest new spending measure on the table is Griffin’s proposed 2.18 percent market rate adjustment for the county’s 10,000 –plus employees. If approved by the board, the adjustment will cost more than $22 million.

Griffin said employees are “getting anxious,” about compensation, adding that this will be the fourth year public safety employees will not get a step increase and county employees will not get a pay-for-performance bonus.

“Many of these budget reductions, some of which were quite painful, directly impacted many of our residents,” Griffin said.

“It’s absolutely on my radar screen,” Bulova said. “We're hearing frustration from our county employees. ‘How much longer can we go without a pay increase?’”

In the advertised budget, Griffin said it was critical for the county not to “lose ground competitively” in its compensation and benefit packages.

Cook, a Republican endorsed by the Fairfax County Government Employees Union, agreed.

He said employee compensation is one issue all the supervisors are looking into, because many don’t see a market-rate adjustment as a true raise.

“We are beginning to have morale issues. This is where the board will struggle for this year, and the next three years,” Cook said, adding that he is concerned Fairfax County is not keeping up with other jurisdictions.

Supervisor Pat Herrity (R-Springfield), who called county employees “our most important asset,” said employee morale was wearing thin after three years without pay-for-performance or step increases.

Cook said he will encourage his colleagues to use their individual budget requests — which total about $8.5 million — to bump up employee salaries beyond the market-rate-adjustment in the proposed budget.

“I think we need to sharpen the pencil and find the money,” Cook said. “Look, if you want top services, you have to pay for top employees.”

Bulova said the board is keeping its eye on what other jurisdictions are proposing for employee compensation. “We don't want to lose our best employees. We want to do right by our workforce.”

Funding Human Services

Fairfax County’s Alliance for Human Services, a non-partisan partnership that advocates for public and private human service providers, is also lobbying the board to adopt the advertised tax rate, and use the additional $19.95 million to fund “unmet human service needs.”

“While Fairfax County’s poverty rate is better than most (5.8 percent in 2011), it still translates to nearly 63,000 people living below the poverty level,” the AHS said in a letter to the board.

“What I think is important to recognize is that it’s not just one year of cuts, it’s the accumulation of cuts since 2007, and the resulting increase in demand,” said Amanda Andere, executive director of FACETS, a nonprofit that provides emergency shelter, food, and medical needs, as well as educational, life skills and career counseling programs.

“We’re all concerned about our employee’s salaries, but the bigger issue is what services have been cut,” Andere said.

Linda Patterson, executive director of the Lorton Community Action Center (LCAC), which provides food and other services in the south county area, said any additional cuts in services have the potential to make those who are already struggling more vulnerable.

“I am especially concerned about the Community Services Board (CSB) cuts. Mental health services are vital for the well-being of our community. Any cuts not only stress the county system, but trickle down to non-profits like LCAC,” Patterson said.

Lisa Whetzel, executive director of Our Daily Bread, a nonprofit that helps residents avoid homelessness, said ODB continues to get more requests for assistance than it can handle. Whetzel said ODB is encouraging supporters to attend Wednesday’s budget hearing.

“The Board of Supervisors should vote to follow through with fully funding the 10-year plan to end homelessness,” Whetzel said.

Both the Dulles Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Reston Chamber of Commerce have pledged support for the county’s Housing Blueprint. Adopted by the board in 2011, the blueprint bolsters the county’s goal to prevent and end homelessness by 2018 by mapping out strategies to create 2,650 housing opportunities. It reflects the philosophy of the board that affordable housing is a continuum ranging from the needs of the homeless to first-time homebuyers.

In a joint letter to the board, Eileen Curtis, president and CEO of the Dulles chamber and Mark Ingrao, president and CEO of the Reston chamber urged the board to provide funding to support the proposed investment in the Housing Blueprint as follows:

*$4.1 million (continuing authorization) for the Bridging Affordability Program

*$5 million ($3 million from Fund 319/$2 million from the General Fund) to support acquisition of 200 units that address the Blueprint housing goals

*$2.61 million in rental subsidies, matched by nonprofit partners who provide the housing and services to address underfunded goals outlined in the Blueprint.

“As chambers of commerce representing the leading businesses in Fairfax County, we recognize that housing policy is an essential factor in economic development,” Ingrao and Curtis stated in the letter.

“A lot of folks are concerned about human services,” Andere said. “These are things that are worthy of some investment.”