By an 8-2 vote, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted on Tuesday, April 25, to approve the FY 2018 Budget Mark-up. Although the formal adoption of next year’s budget won’t take place until May 2, historically the board does not make changes to the package after the mark-up is held.
“I’m pleased that the majority of my colleagues were able to support a budget package that preserves vital county and school programming,” said Supervisor Jeff McKay (D-Lee), who chaired the Budget Committee. For the record, McKay read the county’s Third Quarter FY 2017 Review, the Mark-Up recommendations, the board’s Budget Guidance for FY 2018 and FY 2019, and the FY 2018 – FY 2022 Capital Improvement Program (CIP) before the supervisors discussed each portion of the budget process and cast their votes.
The final draft is a balanced budget. Supervisor Pat Herrity (R-Springfield) said that while it does not provide for “real tax relief,” the budget still represents a “victory for taxpayers” since it holds the property tax rate at the current level of $1.13 per $100 of assessed value, although some homeowners will see a slight increase (0.7 percent for the average taxpayer) due to increases in property values.
THE AMENDMENTS to the FY 2018 Advertised Budget that was originally presented by County Executive Ed Long on Feb. 14, restored funding to several human services programs that had been shifted to the “unfunded for 2018” column, including the Insight Memory Care program that provides day care services for county residents suffering from mid-late stage dementia. The Community Readiness and Support Program, under the umbrella of the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board, was also given a reprieve, and its four staff positions re-instated to continue offering an intensive, low ratio-to-client service to those with a variety of mental health and developmental disability issues.
There was general consensus that finding at least partial funding to launch Phase II of the Diversion First Program, which seeks to provide treatment instead of incarceration for people with mental health or developmental disability issues who come into contact with law enforcement for low-level offenses, was a real achievement in the approved Budget Mark-up. The program succeeded in diverting 375 individuals from potential arrest in its first year.
WHEN THE MOTION to approve the Mark-up was called for, the dissenting votes were cast by supervisors Dan Storck (D-Mount Vernon) and Kathy Smith (D-Sully).
“This budget will not meet our needs,” said Smith, who also questioned whether the budget process was “working the way it should.”
Among her concerns is the gap between the Fairfax County Public Schools’ (FCPS) financial ask for FY 2018 and what the county transferred. Smith, who served on the School Board before her election to the Board of Supervisors, says the gap will mean even more teacher vacancies and larger classes. The FCPS did receive an additional $1.7 million during the mark-up process, resulting in an operating transfer increase of 2.79 percent over last year.
Storck thinks “we’re making a mistake” with this budget, calling for a plan that focuses more on investments that will grow revenues. Storck said Fairfax County “keeps funding the success of the rest of the state at the expense of our own.”
Several of the supervisors commented on the county’s limited options for raising revenue, and in a statement released after the meeting, McKay wrote: “We will again have a dialogue with Richmond … state law limits our revenue sources, we are left with property taxes as our main resource. This is not sustainable.”
Further discussion surrounded the proposed Budget Guidance, which serves as a template for the county executive and staff in the development of the next budget and the financial plans for years to come. Included for consideration and for sourcing “fiscally-constrained funding options” are: addressing the growing opioid abuse crisis, tax relief for spouses of first responders killed in the line of duty, the procurement and implementation of a pre-notification 9-1-1 data repository system, further Public Safety staffing, county employee pay and pension review, and how to deal with the looming increases expected for funding the county’s commitment to the Metro system.
The motion to adopt the Budget Guidance as written passed unanimously. With one budget not yet officially adopted, the supervisors seemed eager to begin their work on the issues set forth in the Budget Guidance, with Supervisor Penny Gross (D-Mason) asking staff to begin looking for additional meeting time slots in order to tackle the working agenda.
“Looking ahead,” said Bulova, “the FY 2019 budget will pose new challenges, including potential federal cut backs and sequestration … As always, Fairfax County will remain vigilant to any future changes that may impact the local budget in the upcoming fiscal year.”
SUMMARIES of the documents discussed and approved at the Budget Mark-up session are available on the county’s website, www.fairfaxcounty.gov. The meeting, which was streamed live, is archived and can be watched via the website.