Fairfax County "Morning has broken, like the first morning…"
Cat Stevens sang it in his 1971 hit, and Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova used it to sum up the board’s 8-2 vote, endorsing the advertised 2013 budget during the April 24 budget session.
All seven Democrats on the board, and Republican Michael Frey (Sully), endorsed County Executive Anthony Griffin’s $6.7 billion advertised budget, which means a $1.075 real estate tax rate, a $0.02 storm water tax rate and a $79 increase in the tax bill of the average county homeowner this year.
"Today, while not entirely out of the woods, we are beginning to see evidence of a recovery, a slow and sluggish recovery, but a recovery nonetheless," Bulova said. "Hopefully, we are beginning to see the dawn of a new day."
Bulova listed signs of a recovery, including:
*uptick in land-use applications,
*strengthening commercial leasing and building activity,
*projected increase in revenue growth at 3.56 percent,
*increasing home sales and declining foreclosures.
"This is quite a contrast from four years ago when we adopted a budget to the backdrop of what is now known as the ‘The Great Recession’," Bulova said.
BUT NOT EVERYONE was singing the same sunny tune.
Republican Supervisors John Cook (Braddock) and Pat Herrity (Springfield) voted against the budget. Herrity, who recently underwent successful heart surgery, said the budget doesn’t reflect the "new normal," and does "nothing to plan for the future."
"I cannot support this budget because it raises the tax rate at a time when our homeowners are still struggling," Herrity said in a statement. "It continues to fund things that should not be on our priority list such as $40 million for government subsidized affordable housing for people making up to $120,000 per year."
Herrity has been a strident critic of the county Housing Blueprint, which lays out strategies for a variety of affordable housing options - from workforce housing to housing the homeless.
"(His) comments were like a broken record," Bulova said. "Something Pat does is roll workforce into affordable housing, and he can make it sound like we’re spending money from the budget on people who are well-heeled, and that is just not correct."
Bulova said the county does not subsidize workforce housing, but encourages developers, through incentives such as increased density, to provide affordable housing for young professionals and others who want to live and work in Fairfax County.
Cook said there were many positives in the budget, but transportation was the sticking point for him.
"Our own County staff tells us we need $3 billion over the next decade to meet our transportation needs. State and Federal governments will not provide it," Cook said.
Cook said that despite increased county spending, "not a penny of those additional funds will support transportation infrastructure.
"We have to bring programmatic expenses down, so we have funding to complete critical infrastructure projects. You can’t just always keep adding on to the top, you’ve got to go back and reprioritize," Cook said.
He said he was disappointed the board did not adopt his proposal to transfer the county’s vehicle registration fee – which provides about $24 million per year – from the general fund to transportation projects.
"Board members have said that setting aside some money for transportation would mean there would be less funding available for other things. Yes, that’s called setting priorities," Cook said.
Supervisor John Foust (D-Dranesville) pointed out that Cook and Herrity "are always saying they are for things like human services and raises for our employees but they don’t agree to pay for them. It seems to me they are for everything and willing to pay for nothing."
BUDGET HIGHLIGHTS include:
For the first time since 2009, county employees are poised to receive a 2.5 percent merit increase on top of the proposed 2.18 percent market rate adjustment at a cost of about $16.5 million.
"They deserve a raise," said Foust. "Their cooperation over the past couple of really tough years has enabled us to avoid draconian service cuts without increasing the tax burden."
The board also voted to move forward to restore funding for an array of human services programs at an added cost of $1.36 million, including $275,000 for the Department of Family Services Rent Relief Program; $100,000 for the Adult Dental Program and $300,000 for the Home Based Care program.
In addition, the advertised budget funds the board’s Housing Blueprint for the acquisition of 200 new housing units and $1.3 million for the county’s portion of the Housing Blueprint Community Challenge.
The board set aside a $4.2 million reserve to address critical state and federal reduction to the Community Services Board, which oversees the Infant and Toddler Connection and programs for intellectually-disabled adults, the homeless, and other vulnerable residents
The County’s award-winning libraries also received funding support in the amount of $674,359.
Noting that the libraries have "taken an inordinate hit" in the past few years, Bulova said the budget will restore nine hours each week at the county’s regional libraries, and three hours each week at the county’s community libraries. In addition, the budget includes funding 14 part-time positions to meet staffing needs at community libraries.
Although Fairfax County Public Schools initially requested an 8 percent increase in funding from fiscal year 2012, the board maintained the advertised transfer of a 4.5 percent increase over fiscal year 2012. The general fund transfer for school operations and debt service totals $1.85 billion and represents 52.2 percent of the county’s total FY 2013 budget.
While Foust agreed that public education is the county’s "number one funding priority," he said he would have preferred a small reduction in the transfer to the schools.
"I believe a slight reduction would have been appropriate since the schools received $44 million more from the state than the Superintendent included in his proposed budget. I believe that any reduction should have been added to the reserve for the Community Services Board and human services," Foust said.
Foust said he believed the proposed budget reflects "a reasonable balance" of the concerns and priorities heard from many segments of the community.
"I think we have found some creative ways to restore some of the public safety and human services cuts that had been advertised," he said.