To the Editor:
By now, you’ve no doubt heard about the meals tax referendum Fairfax County voters will face this November.
Should it pass, the Board of Supervisors will have the authority to implement a 4-percent tax on prepared foods to generate money for our school system, capital improvements, and to help with real estate tax relief. Should it fail, the county will continue to rely predominantly on property taxes to generate revenue.
But what I’d like to discuss today is how we arrived at this point.
As the chairman of our board’s Budget and Legislative Committees, I’m constantly looking for ways to fully fund our world-class school system and great county services while also ensuring we’re not taxing our most vulnerable and aging residents out of Fairfax County.
Virginia law severely limits the ways the Board of Supervisors can raise revenues. In fact, real estate and personal property taxes accounted for approximately 79.7 percent of General Fund revenues in our recently-adopted Fiscal Year 2017 budget. The state does give the board the authority to place a meals tax referendum on the ballot, however.
I supported this action because I believe our residents should weigh in on how best for us to diversify our tax base. Such a tax is estimated to generate $100 million in new revenue, one-third of which is expected to come from non-residents visiting Fairfax County. It’s certainly not the silver bullet for our budget challenges, but constantly increasing property taxes is not the answer.
The needs of Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) are growing; our residents expect our county programming to remain fully funded and operate at best-in-the-nation standards; yet our ability to look elsewhere to fund our budget is basically nonexistent. This is why you hear about significant potential cuts to school and county programming and budget shortfalls.
What’s more, the Commonwealth chronically underfunds FCPS, only adding to our dilemma here in Fairfax County. It costs roughly $13,000 to educate a student in our school system. Of that, Fairfax County pays about $10,000. The state pays about $3,000. In neighboring Prince William County, however, the county-state funding split is 50/50. It costs $10,000 to educate a Prince William student, of which the state pays $5,000 and the County pays $5,000. This inadequacy is because of an outdated funding formula that primarily only measures wealth with no cost of living consideration in deciding how much money each school system in the state should receive. As you can imagine, this puts us in a real bind when compared to the rest of the state. The Board of Supervisors and School Board are working hard with most of our Northern Virginia delegation to help solve this, but it’s no quick fix.
So when you send in your absentee ballots, vote in-person at one of our satellite locations, or hit the polls on Nov. 8, I’d hope you consider the predicament the county is in.
Lee District Supervisor