Fairfax City Manager Rob Stalzer unveiled his proposed City budget for FY 22 at last Tuesday’s City Council meeting. But first, Mayor David Meyer addressed the residents watching the Feb. 23 presentation.
He stressed all the services the City provides across 6 square miles to Fairfax’s 24,000 people to keep them safe and well-educated and also give them health services and public-works services. Knowing that, said Meyer, “It is remarkable – the high quality of services provided – for the reasonable amounts of tax resources we require.”
He said it’s possible because of “our people.” He then commended all the City staff members, officials and department heads involved in preparing the budget. And he encouraged all Fairfax residents to be part of this document’s public-hearing process, over the next couple months, before it’s adopted on May 5.
“We’ve been working on the budget for six months,” said Stalzer. “The FY 21 and FY 22 proposed amounts are very similar. We’re looking at this budget as a way for us to get back on track and do the things we deemed important when we adopted our last budget, pre-COVID – and before we had to reduce it by $18 million because of it.”
He proposes a modest, residential real-estate tax hike of $0.005 – from the current $1.075 per $100 assessed valuation to $1.08 – of which $0.035 would support the City’s Stormwater Fund. Still, because it would come on top of raised home assessments for calendar year 2021, the owner of an average home in Fairfax valued at $541,554 would pay $20/month more in real-estate taxes for an annual increase of $235.
However, said Stalzer, “Our tax rate is the lowest, by far, of any of the cities and towns in Northern Virginia, when you look at the tax dollars per square mile. And the 3.5-cent stormwater fund tax rate is equivalent to approximately $2.3 million dedicated to fund stormwater projects. The money is needed for improvements to our stormwater infrastructure.”
He also recommends a 6-percent jump in the Wastewater Fund rate, And his budget would fully fund the City School Board’s adopted FY 22 contract with Fairfax County Public Schools for $53,480,000 – about $2 million more than in FY 21.
THE PROPOSED CITY BUDGET includes pay raises for City employees – 3.5-percent merit increases, effective Jan. 1, 2022, plus market-rate salary adjustments of 2.3 percent. “We need to take care of the people who got us through COVID-19 and will be here to take us forward,” explained Stalzer.
He said the budget focuses on the Council’s goals of economic development and redevelopment – as well as quality transportation, neighborhoods and governance – while complying with fiscal policies, maintaining the City’s AAA bond rating and delivering the services Fairfax residents have come to expect. However, although the City’s tax base has increased, it lags behind the region’s average, and nearly half of the $154,514,318 General Fund budget is for non-discretionary expenses, such as schools, human services and debt repayment.
“Education is our biggest expense, just under 40 percent of the General Fund expenditures,” said Stalzer. “Police and Fire are about 20 percent, and Public Works is just under 10 percent.”
Real-estate taxes – 35 percent commercial and 65 percent residential – comprise 50 percent of General Fund revenues, but Stalzer said all the City’s revenue sources are important to offset its expenses. “We have a good mix of retail – especially grocery and hardware stores, and pharmacies – that have done well during the pandemic,” he said. “But we want to do even better.
“The tax base grew 3.17 percent – about $204 million,” he continued. “But to do what we want to do for the City, we need it to grow by 6.6 to 7.9 percent a year – which will be a challenge.”
STALZER said Fairfax did “a good and purposeful job with the CARES Act funds we received, and we got 100-percent reimbursement from FEMA for our COVID [response] activities.” He also noted the ongoing interest in the City by developers wishing to build here, plus Fairfax’s success in leveraging outside sources to help fund its transportation and other projects.
Among his proposed FY 22 General Fund expenditures is a $1.5 million increase in salaries for existing and some new personnel. And Stalzer called the total $8.7 million transfer to the CIP (Capital Improvement Projects) budget from this fund “a significant bump because the design of Sherwood/Willard begins in FY 22.”
The Sherwood Community Center expansion is a joint project with Fairfax County to rebuild the Willard Health Center and connect it to Sherwood. The City portion will include an additional 40,000 square feet or so for the community center, and $3.9 million in CIP funds are budgeted in FY 22 for design and engineering work. Other CIP projects include Parks and Rec improvements, as well as transportation, school and Public Works projects.
The budget also contains a list of unfunded priorities, which City Council members may give more or less emphasis to, after future discussions, and may even decide to fund some of them. Next will come several budget work sessions, plus public hearings set for March 23 and April 20 and 27, before the budget is officially adopted on May 5.