14 Hours, Three Days, 200 Speakers

14 Hours, Three Days, 200 Speakers

Schools, libraries, economic development authority and others seek more funding while tax-hawks call for reductions.

Board of Supervisor Chairman Sharon Bulova watches as School Board Chairman Tamara Kaufax makes her plea for full funding of the schools at the April 7 budget hearing.

Board of Supervisor Chairman Sharon Bulova watches as School Board Chairman Tamara Kaufax makes her plea for full funding of the schools at the April 7 budget hearing. Photo Contributed

The Board of Supervisors listened to more than 14 and a half hours of testimony from approximately 200 speakers Tuesday through Thursday, April 7-9.

"I very much respect and admire the stamina and the force of will all of you have demonstrated the last three days," said Dennis Hays, chairman of the Fairfax Library Advocates, and the second to last of 214 scheduled speakers.

"I am overwhelmed by the sheer breadth of the services this County provides and I am proud to be a member of this community," said Hays.

Ralph Apton, of the Great Falls Citizens Association, advocated for approximately $550,000 funding for the Grange during a three year period starting with next year's budget FY 17-19. "With that, we will be in great shape for a long time," said Apton, who also requested part time staffing to fulfill youth and senior activities at the Grange and asked that nonprofits be permitted to use the Grange without being charged fees by the Park Authority.

He also asked for the Board to include funds for Riverbend Park, the widening of Route 7 and libraries.

Stella Koch, of Great Falls, testified Thursday, on behalf of the Environmental Quality Advisory Council.

"The shortness of this testimony does not reflect the lack of concern we have with the issues," she said. "In fact, we are honored to have an ongoing dialogue with you throughout the year."

Koch voiced satisfaction that the Board is taking environmental issues and concerns seriously, including storm water management.

"I think EQAC is one of the most effective organizations in tracking our environmental initiatives and making sure we stay on track," said Chairman Sharon Bullova.

THE HEARINGS BEGAN Tuesday with a presentation by School Board Chairman Tamara Derenak Kaufax as 200 people packed the Fairfax County Government auditorium.

Members of the Fairfax County School Board sat in the front row, gave a standing ovation, and remained standing as Kaufax finished her testimony to begin the budget hearings.

"Budget reductions come with a price — the price should not be our children's future. This budget does not meet all of the school systems needs and it certainly does not adequately fund our shared vision of excellence for our schools and students," said Kaufax.

The Fairfax County Public Schools requested $14 million more than is in the proposed budget.

Fairfax County Public Schools is the 10th largest school system in the country with more than 188,000 students.

Kaufax cited statistics and trends that challenge the school system. "We would be the sixth largest school division in Virginia, if you counted just our free-or-reduced-price meal population; or the ninth largest if you only counted our English for Speakers of Other Languages population," she said.

Nearly 53 percent of the proposed $3.8 billion county budget is slated to be transferred to the schools.

Sharon Bulova, chairman of the Board of Supervisors, said that while the schools didn't ask for everything they needed or get everything they wanted, that the amount of the proposed transfer from the county to the schools was closer to the amount requested than anytime in memory.

"We appreciate that you rolled up your sleeves, and we rolled up our sleeves," said Bulova.

Supervisor Jeff McKay called it "unconscionable" that the state doesn’t adequately fund the schools. "We will have the same conversations year after year after year," he said, if the Board of Supervisors and School Board don't advocate together in unity. "We need to march together," he said.

FAMILIAR FACES advocated for a reduction in spending and taxes, such as James Parmalee of Centreville, and Arthur Purvis, of Vienna.

There were also advocates who encouraged an increase in taxes to ensure that funding will address the needs of all of Fairfax residents.

Steven Davis, chairman of the Economic Development Authority, said the county is experiencing record office vacancy rates, which pushes down commercial property values and, with it, the proportion of taxes paid by the commercial tax base, shifting more of the burden onto residential taxes.

Maintaining Fairfax County's AAA bond rating is critical, Davis said. "You send a signal to businesses around the world that Fairfax County is one of the best managed jurisdictions in the world," he said. "We all know it has taken decades to build a product that gets businesses here and keeps people here."

Brian Engler, of the Fairfax Library Foundation, and Charles Fegan, of the Fairfax County Public Library Board of Trustees, addressed the cuts to the library system. Libraries are part of educating the county’s young people, and provide a myriad of other services to residents of all ages despite significant cuts in recent years, they said.

Hays was the last to speak on the libraries, and the second to last speaker of all.

Hays cited studies from Minnesota, Florida, Colorado, Great Britain and Korea. "All came to one conclusion," he said. "The library is an economic engine,” providing high rate of return on investment.

On April 28, the Board of Supervisors is scheduled to adopt its FY 2016 Budget and tax rate, including budget transfer to the school system. The School Board is scheduled to adopt its budget on May 21.

The FY 2016 Budget becomes effective July 1.