No Hold Comments by Chairman and Supervisors

No Hold Comments by Chairman and Supervisors

Budget, lack of state funding; Animal Protection Police or Animal Control Officers?

Chairman Jeff McKay

Chairman Jeff McKay

On Tuesday morning, April 30, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted nine to one to approve the FY 2025 markup package, with Supervisor Pat Herrity, Springfield District, voting no.

Jeffrey C. McKay, board chairman, said revenue options are limited as the board operates under “the state's outdated tax system.”

“Changes to the real estate tax rates are the only significant lever that the county has to generate the resources necessary to meet our needs,” McKay said.

The advertised budget plan included a proposed four-cent increase in the real estate tax rate. The markup package reduced the increase by one cent, “which will result in a real estate tax rate of $1.12 and a half per $100 of assessed value. … In total, our agencies identified over $34 million in reductions, more than one penny on the real estate tax rate, which was utilized to free up resources for other purposes,” McKay added. The increase in average real estate tax bill will be approximately $450, down from the $524 that it would have been, McKay said.

Tax reform at the state level is essential, McKay said. The state must also recognize its role in directly supporting public schools and Metro infrastructure to draw people to Fairfax, bringing development, jobs, and further economic growth, which benefit the entire Commonwealth of Virginia.

“So far, the state has failed to coalesce around providing additional transportation funding. Relying upon existing state aid balances, which have all been allocated and are rapidly depleting, is not the answer.”  The final state budget package is not expected to be approved until mid-May, said McKay.

This marked-up budget maintains the originally proposed school operating transfer increase at $165 million, which fell short of FCPS's requested increase of over $250 million. “Approving this unprecedented request would have placed too heavy a burden on our taxpayers,” McKay said.

The contracts negotiated with the county's two public safety unions will begin with this year's budget. McKay called it “a big event.”

Supervisor Pat Herrity said he was not going to support the markup package and drew attention to the plan to consolidate the duties of Fairfax County's Department of Animal Sheltering and Animal Protection Police. Herrity said it was “a completely botched process from the beginning.” He described a lack of transparency and input from a large number of stakeholders. 

“We still haven't addressed what's going to happen with Wildlife Services; we'll figure it out later. But that is not good enough when you're looking at a major restructuring like this,” said Herrity. 

Herrity made a motion to remove the consolidation of animal control services from the 2025 budget, but there was no second on the motion, and the amendment did move forward.

Supervisor Dalia A. Palchik, Providence District, said this was clearly one of the toughest budgets the board has had in many years and the first for this board. “But I'm really more worried about the next few years and how the board is going to continue to look at how they address needs, especially as they go into collective bargaining for all full employees,” she said. For Palchik, the only “glimmer of hope in the budget” was the guidance section for next year. It discussed how to ensure that the county diversifies its tax base and continues to invest in housing and the county’s employees.

Supervisor James N. Bierman Jr., Dranesville, shared that he, too, held similar concerns as Palchik, but focused on why he supported the proposal regarding animal police protection officers, turning to animal control officers instead. He admitted to struggling with the decision, meeting numerous stakeholders and hearing many voices, but, ultimately, realized what they would be voting on was a single question.

“Can the general day-to-day services and work currently performed by sworn police officers be instead performed by civilians without a negative effect on animal services?” Bierman believes it is better to decouple policing from community service whenever possible. That is because police officers are so often burdened with acting both as law enforcement and social service providers “to the detriment of both.”

The majority of calls were requests for assistance for sick, injured, orphaned, or stray animals or involved minor code violations, Bierman said. According to statistics provided by the FCPD, there were 18,000 calls for animal service last year, with 223 citations issued, "which pales in comparison to the total number of calls." Furthermore, there has been a recent shift in policing toward non-police personnel responding to calls for service when there are no threats of violence and requesting support as needed.

Bierman noted that animal control officers will have the means to euthanize animals in the field, including chemical euthanasia and, when necessary, firearm use. He added that those currently employed could join the county police department or stay on as animal control officers without loss of pay or benefits.

Supervisor James R. Walkinshaw, Braddock District, said, “The tax rate increase in the proposed budget was more than I could stomach, and I think for a lot of my constituents, they felt they felt the same.” Still, he does not feel great about this budget, and like Palchik, he is worried about the challenges ahead.

 “We're moving into an era where we're going to have to find out, figure out, how to do more with less because that commercial office market is not going to recover in a year or in two years." He, too, expressed concern about funding union contracts. Moving forward would allow the board to plan their budget and allow those employees to plan their budgets, giving them some certainty about the increases they will see in their salaries. 

 Walkinshaw said that the Board of Supervisors and local taxpayers fully fund the local share of education. He said, "The Commonwealth of Virginia does not."

The governor and the General Assembly, Walkinshaw, said  “have a long way to go to filling the $3.5 billion gap that exists in state funding for K–12 education.” 

"All of us, Virginians, should be ashamed of that fact."

Rodney L. Lusk, Franconia District, said, “I think we can see that the real elephant in the room is around the generation of revenue.” He warned of sustained problems over time, particularly in the commercial tax base. He mentioned that 1976, the board was in a similar position, with declining revenues and a non-growing commercial tax base. They assembled a panel of business leaders who recommended expanding the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority's service offerings. More marketing was required nationally to attract more business as a way for the county to address shoring up the commercial tax. Companies came in. Second, in 1998, Fairfax County hosted the World Congress on Information Technology, drawing thousands of people worldwide.

“The Board of Supervisors then made a commitment to have additional hiring, expansion of our international program, and then also to look at ways to support attraction,” said Lusk.

According to Walter L. Alcorn, Hunter Mill District, the board needs a better process for consolidating and reforming county government. “Let's set up a process so that we can do this in a way with better communication,” he said after the experience with Animal Protection Police Officers.

Mason District's Andres F. Jimenez joked that this year's budget was a "trial by fire" for him and Supervisor Bierman. Jimenez drew attention to the needs of the Sheriff’s Office, Emergency Medical Services, Fire, Police, and even Park Management. He was very concerned about park maintenance on weekends. “One of the craziest things to me since I've been here in the last couple of months is learning that there is no park cleanup on the weekend,” Jimenez said.

“I think we all need to look at that, as well as the structure overall of the Parking Authority when it comes to our board.”

Daniel G. Storck, Mount Vernon District, said that the board has put money where it matters — in the things that make a difference in people's lives and make a difference in the community. He referenced pickleball courts, the South County Police Station, and starting to fix the Old Mount Vernon High School. Storck also referenced collective bargaining and budget increases. He said they must become more competitive in their compensation packages by educating people that it is not just the wage they are taking home but the overall package. 

Lusk said it would not be easy for the school board, but that is part of their job. They have to make the same tough decisions the supervisors are making.

Kathy L. Smith, vice chairwoman, Sully District, described how staff looked for budget reductions and found over $34 million — more than a penny on the tax rate — by reducing staff by what she believed were "84 positions." She reiterated what others said — this was only the start. They must do more than just talk to the Virginia General Assembly; they must educate constituents about how funding works through real estate and the county's need to receive state education funding.

McKay ended by saying that if the state were to fund its standards of quality and implement the recommendations of the JLARC study, they would be sending Fairfax County, by FCPS’s calculation, a check for $568.7 million annually that they owe Fairfax County Public Schools based on their own adopted standards. “That's the equivalent of 18 cents on the tax rate.” 

He said if that happened, Fairfax County could dramatically reduce its tax rate if the 18 cents that the state owes the county, according to their formula, arrived at the government center in the form of a check. 

“That's why our residents are suffering with real estate assessments because they pay a lot in income taxes to Richmond, and then we have to charge them a lot for real estate tax assessments to pay to maintain a high-quality public school system and our own staff.