‘None of Us Really Know How this Will Play Out’ in Fairfax City

‘None of Us Really Know How this Will Play Out’ in Fairfax City

City continues to grapple with FY 21 budget.

With Fairfax City poised to adopt its FY 21 budget next Wednesday, May 13, City Council held its final public hearing on it, last Tuesday, April 28. City Manager Rob Stalzer also made another presentation to explain the thinking behind his proposals.

“Because of the many unknowns we have – in terms of the health crisis, the economy, the City’s revenues and other variables we’re dealing with – the process we’ve laid out to look at our expenditures and revenues, over the next year or so, will be really important,” he said. “None of us really know how this will play out.”

Stalzer said how fast the economy returns to normal “will depend on how safe people feel returning to public life. And a lot of things are in play – the amount of testing, contact tracing, the immunity in the general society and the availability of a vaccine. These factors were all taken into consideration when recommending a zero real-estate tax increase in FY 2021.”

“We built the revised budget on a 12-month downturn duration, with recovery beginning in July 2021,” he continued. “But it could take three months or so to gain traction. So we figure the downturn will include three months in FY 20, 12 months in FY 21 and three months in FY 22. So we anticipate 18 months to get back to normal. I hope this isn’t overly optimistic, but time will tell – we just don’t know.”

STALZER said he believes the City can generate savings in its procurement process and that FCPS’ estimated tuition recommendation for FY 21 is about $500,000 more than the City will actually need. And, he added, “Whenever Parks and Recreation opens up and can charge fees again, we’ll bring back the staff and materials to operate those programs.”

He said the City is already monitoring its revenues and expenditures weekly, and additional quarterly budget reviews “will help inform our decisions when the economy improves. Then we’ll have to prioritize what to [return to the budget for funding]. These dollars will be driven by what our revenues look like.”

Regarding Fairfax’s General Fund contributions to various entities including The Lamb Center, Volunteer Fairfax, Commission on the Arts and the City Band, Stalzer suggested keeping these amounts at their FY 20 level. And although a hiring freeze is recommended for now, “As vacancies open, each will be reviewed and considered,” he said. That’s why he stressed that the quarterly reviews will “let us keep tabs on what we need to do and how we need to adjust.”

NO RESIDENTS called in to comment, but Councilman Jon Stehle encouraged anyone with any budget concerns to send them to the City. And Mayor David Meyer expressed appreciation “for all the continued hard work” Stalzer and his staff are doing.

“When I see things held in reserve, I’m not sure I’m comfortable holding a penny’s worth of the [real estate] tax rate to eventually fund a 3.5-percent merit-pay raise,” said Councilman Sang Yi. “Some residents may be living in a home assessed at $500,000 – but may also be living on unemployment. Even [reducing] a half penny of the tax rate would make a big difference to people.”

However, said Meyer, “Finding that sweet spot is making the best judgments we can, based on the data we have, plus each [Council] member’s priorities and values.”

Noting that Fairfax’s Economic Development Authority recently sent out COVID-19 business-impact surveys, Yi encouraged all City business owners to fill them out and submit them. Having that information, he said, “will help guide the Council’s decisions.”