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Friday, March 20, 2015

Painful funding cuts outlined at Mason Budget Town Hall

 From the left: Mason Supervisor Penny Gross, school board member Sandy Evans, and County Executive Ed Long.
Of all the funding cuts in the Fairfax County advertised budget for 2016, one will hit some Annandale families especially hard: The budget would terminate the Annandale Adult Day Care Center located in the former Annandale Elementary School building on Columbia Pike.

“Keep the center open,” urged one resident who spoke about how she’s caring for her elderly father and is able to drop him off at the center while she goes to work.

That was one of the issues brought up by residents at the Budget Town Hall March 19 hosted by Mason Supervisor Penny Gross.

Gross agreed that the Annandale Adult Day Care is a “wonderful program” that serves an important community need. Faced with shrinking revenue streams, the county simply cannot fund all its priorities, she said, so difficult decisions have to be made. 

At the same time, the county needs to increase its reserves, which at 5 percent of the budget, are too low, and also needs to main its triple-A bond rating, said County Executive Ed Long.

The advertised budget rejects the school board’s request to increase the amount of funds transferred to the schools by 3.9 percent, instead calling for a 3.4 percent increase. Long said accommodating the increase sought by the school board would cost $14 million.

Mason School Board member Sandy Evans said the increase is needed to accommodate continuing enrollment growth and increase teacher compensation.  

The budget calls for spending cuts totaling $26.9 million. “So much has been cut already. That’s what makes it so difficult going forward,” Long said. Since 2008, 653 positions have been eliminated. 

The advertised budget would cut about $4.3 million from the Family Services Department, $720,000 from the Park Authority, $855,000 from libraries, $2.34 million from the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board, $2.4 million from the Police Department, $2.4 million from the Fire and Rescue Department, $785,000 from Neighborhood and Community Services, and $300,000 from Planning and Zoning.

Long laid out the fiscal realities driving the need to cut expenses:
  • The county’s economy is still sluggish and is underperforming compared to the national economy.
  • Residential assessments are growing at half the rate as last year.
  • Commercial assessments are decreasing at a rate greater than last year.
  • Only 5,000 new jobs were created last year, which is way down from 11,900 in 2013. Most of the new jobs are in the service and retail industry, rather than high-paying professional jobs.
The $7.13 billion advertised budget calls for a net decrease of 45 positions. Long said he would have liked to fully fund the market rate adjustment for employees, 1.68 percent, but is only able to cover half that amount, which would be a 0.84 percent raise.

The budget would retain last year’s real estate tax rate of $1.09 per $100 of valuation. The average taxpayer, however, would pay $184 more in taxes than last year, due to the increase in property values.

The fee schedule for the School Age Child Care program would be increased by 8 percent, and families who pay the full amount will be charged a $45 registration fee, Long said. The county added $4.12 million for 28 staff positions to expedite permit processing for land development, which is offset by fee increases. In one bright spot, the county has underutilized space in the Juvenile Detention Center, which will be leased to the District of Columbia.

Future funding pressures over the next few years include the need to implement the next generation of 911 emergency services and upgrade technology.

The county has developed a plan outlining capital needs and a schedule for revenue bonds, Long said. A $151 million public safety bond will be on the ballot in November.

For 2017, Long projects a shortfall of $93 million. To address it, he’s proposing a “lines of business review,” in which the metrics of every program will be evaluated to determine if it’s effective and efficient.

One resident who spoke at the Budget Town Hall said it’s critical to maintain the triple-A bond rating and the county needs to cut spending and taxes.

“The schools wish student growth would be flat,” Long responded. “We have no choice; we have to educate everyone.” Gross said, “we’re looking at how we can maintain sensible services.” She hears from people who say they never call the police, don’t go to libraries or parks, and don’t have children – and don’t want to pay for those services.

Someone else asked about the Willston site. Evans said she would like to see a community school there. Gross said the East County Office Building will be built, but it won’t be at the Willston Center.

Among the other issues raised by residents:
  • The county should try to get federal funding to help refugees.
  • Mason District needs development to attract younger people.
  • There’s an influx of people with behavior problems, so don’t cut funding for mental health services or jails.
  • There should be better management of growth.
  • Too many lower-income people are concentrated in Mason District; they should be spread out throughout the county.
Another resident called it disturbing to be talking about keeping certain people out of the community.

The Board of Supervisors will hold public hearings on the budget April 7, 8, and 9. The board is scheduled to mark up the budget on April 21 and adopt a final budget on April 28.


  1. Excellent Post3/20/15, 10:59 AM

    Thank you for your excellent reporting Ellie. This report is the first time I have heard the news that Supervisor Penny Gross has stated in public Williston Center will not be the site of a new East County Government Center building.

    To me this indicates Supervisor Gross is willing and able to adjust her positions to take into account the views of her constitutents.

    1. Good article, very informative.......thank you Annandale Blog.

  2. Mason District Resident3/20/15, 11:34 AM

    Disturbing? Why should only the ilk of McLean, Great Falls, and other western county residents get the privilege of to talking about keeping certain people out of their communities? Oh wait - they don't need to talk about it, they just get it done.

  3. This is what happens when you build too many apartments that you can't collect property taxes on and then giving everyone raises that you can't afford in the first place.

    1. Why do I keep seeing this. Can someone explain? Even though the tenants of the properties don't pay property taxes, don't the owners of the tenements pay them?

    2. Yes, they do. They pay the commercial rate, which is higher than the residential rate, and pass off the cost to tenants.

    3. Thanks, Ellie.

      Although, if the properties were nicer and valued higher, and attracted higher rents, the rental companies would pay even more in taxes. And, there is no way that a rental property owner pays nearly enough in real property taxes to cover the overcrowding situations that we see.

    4. And that's exactly why I don't understand every bit of opposition to developing higher-end properties, that would have higher rents and pay higher taxes. (And be less likely to have multiple families sharing a unit than apparently is the case now.)

    5. Exactly, because of this ongoing resistance, Mason is being left to rot and blow away in the wind.

      Lake Barcroft will turn into a new resort community for Section 8 housing, they will call it "Paradise Eight by the Lake."

    6. Agree, MD needs to be proactive and move forward. All these blowhards who want to stop this project and that project because it just isn't right with them or their group interest need to step aside and get their head out of the sand and look around. As Anon stated The Mason will continue to rot... change is desperately needed. Paradise Eight by the lake, Yeah, I can see that as a real possibility in the near future.

  4. I wonder where Penny plans to get funding for the ECOB. Social programs are typically subject to cuts when budgets are tight and property taxes have already risen about twenty percent over the past two years. So, unless Penny plans to try and ratchet up taxes even more, I'd say the ECOB is dead.

  5. Thanks to Supervisor Gross for hosting this meeting. Given the tough budget, I am happy that she voted AGAINST the pay increase for the Board of Supervisors.

    1. Do I hear sarcasm here?

    2. No, not sarcasm. I think it was a travesty that the Board voted themselves a pay raise when we are in the middle of a budget crisis. I am proud that Penny voted against it, and am angry at the 6 supervisors who voted for it.

  6. To: Excellent Post3/20/15, 10:59 AM,
    Anonymous3/20/15, 1:45 PM - that's called "election speak" and is as inauthentic as she is.

  7. Seeking federal funds for the hundreds of refugee status students in FCPS is vital and long overdue

    1. ...So is enforcement of ordinance laws.

  8. thank you for this very informative article. I was unable to attend the meeting. the Annandale Center has probably serve the residents of Annandale for over 35 years. Please stop by to see our center and see what we do there.

  9. You really had to be there to appreciate the high emotion and tension in the room. The residents in attendance were knowledgeable about the issues and strongly engaged. And, yes, thank you Supervisor Gross for holding this meeting; it was very telling.

    Last night’s budget meeting was just another One Size Fits All shell game. There were generalities about overall County budget cuts in social services, and raising real estate taxes. No illusions here: the county did not take into consideration the huge explosion in low income population in Mason District and what the across the board cuts would do its residents. There was no presentation about how Mason District would be directly affected by budget cuts. There was no indication that Supervisor Gross even tried to champion our needs.

    Residents in attendance were begging to save the social services. They were adamantly opposed to 6000 more residences in 7 Corners and 9000 more in Bailey’s Crossroads. They requested: support for their schools and senior centers; mental health services for the influx of immigrants who otherwise end up in jail; occupancy code enforcement; an end to the creation of communities of poor people; and, creation of affordable housing along bus and metro routes to allow low income residents to use their money for food and housing instead of cars and expensive transportation. One person spoke of Federal funds to help refugees and wanted to know if Supervisor Gross was aware this help was available.

    Supervisor Gross stated that there would not be an East County Government Center at the Willston site. When asked if the millions budgeted for an ECGC could be used to save some of the services on the cutting board, she replied that there is still a need for an ECGC! Poor planning and poor money management were very evident last night.

    One resident spoke to the need for professional planning in Fairfax County. It is pretty obvious that the silo system of planning is the M.O. in Fairfax County. Maybe we should hire professional planners to make sense of the mess in Mason District. It was also highly evident that Fairfax County’s governing system is broken. Who can we hire to fix this?

    In her inimitable style, Supervisor Gross provided longwinded answers. At one point someone asked, “Are you listening to us?”

    It was obvious from this meeting that Mason District does not have a supervisor who is engaged in championing our issues. Rather Supervisor Gross started the evening talking about the Metro Regional Council of Governments prediction that there will be 1.5 million more people coming to the area. We heard about wonderful projects accomplished in other Districts.

    Supervisor Gross has done a terrific job of elevating her stature with regional government officials and officials in Fairfax County, but she has let her Mason District constituents down, over and over again. Her disdain for Mason District residents is appalling.

    A dramatic non-sequitur occurred at the very end of the meeting. After two hours of impassioned residents (an ethnically diverse group) calling for action to support services for low income people in Mason District and a reduction in density to lessen the obvious burdens, Supervisor Gross took her last question of the evening from someone she knew standing in the back of the room. He walked to the side front of the room near her and attempted to carefully word the point he was making, however, he was obviously implying that the people in the audience were NIMBY! People shouted him down, “Are you calling us racist? Who are you calling racist? Are you a plant?” He was so out of sync with what said throughout the evening that one must surmise that indeed he was a plant.

    1. It is clear to me based on your observations, the County's system of government may be no longer effective in dealing with the urban problems we face today.

      Perhaps FFX should re-visit their systematic lag in being able to forecast and address these problems and change the way the County does business. Like the FFX Govt Center its big and an outdated. It's time FFX look at becoming a city and address its issues like one of the big boys instead of trying to fix these problems with 1950/60s suburban county solutions that simply DONT WORK in 2015.

    2. Shamefully, there is no initiative for opposition. If Penny wins her primary, there are no challengers and it is March - Mason District needs new ideas and all I has is the same party fighting of the same supervisor position - other districts are announcing various candidates, new persons and Penny will rule MD again. Hold on for another four years of frustration and if this is her last don't be surprised if the "confusion" escalates to a new level. No one is out there willing to try and stop her.

    3. Buzz Hawley ran an intelligent well funded campaign against Penny three elections ago and only received 41.9% of the vote. The situation hasn't improved for the GOP, so you can forget about them offering more than nominal opposition. Jessica Swanson is a political neophyte and I don't take her seriously. Neither I suspect will those hard core affluent Democrats who will show up to vote in the upcoming primary. Fairfax is currently a one party state and Sharon Bulova is incredibly popular. Penny is her loyal lieutenant which means she'll never have to run on her own record. All she has to do to win is continue to toe the party line. So, don't be surprised that she continues to take her reelection for granted.

    4. So residents want more spending,but they oppose the new development that would pay for it?

  10. To Anon, 9:45 p.m.
    Interesting and very thoughtful.

    I don’t know that a city-style government is the answer. Certainly cities have similar problems to ours in Mason District and most do not seem to be handling them particularly well.

    I think the biggest problem in Fairfax County is ethics, or rather the lack thereof, and abuse of power. Government is only as good as the people in charge. Overall our electorate is uninformed about county issues. Some do not know they live in Mason District and have never heard of Penny Gross. I had that conversation with a resident Thursday. It will take masses of informed people to make a change in government for the better. Citizens must take this responsibility seriously. That is why I am writing you.

    In Mason District written county policy is ignored and constituents who try to hold our Supervisor accountable are dismissed. Hence, the question at the budget meeting, “Are you listening?” County policy guidelines do not allow schools to be built in commercial areas, yet we have Upper Bailey’s and now another school is being forced on us at Columbia Pike and Moncure.

    Somehow the Board of Supervisors did away with the community advisory groups in the name of “revitalization”. Residents are left out while hand-picked task force members are placed in positions of authority and the concerns of our neighbors fall on deaf ears. Somehow District Supervisors have given themselves unilateral power. What has happened to integrity in government? Where is the transparency? The “planted” resident politely trying to accuse everyone of bigotry was espousing Supervisor Gross’s transparency. Does he know that the 7 Corners Revitalization Plan she is pushing through will do away with 598 of the lowest income apartments? Where will these people go? Believe me, this number isn’t transparent. Sharp people figured it out.

    Some emails obtained through FOIA reveal comments from officials and task force members colluding to circumvent policy and process. FOIA documents are enlightening and at the same time very discouraging. You can order some and find out for yourself.

  11. What is the commercial tax rate paid by the apartment owners as opposed to the residential rate paid by homeowners?

  12. Maybe if we all had a chance to provide professional, ethical planners with everyone's input, then gave them permission to go ahead with very little interference we could get something done. It's too hard to please everyone and folks will be displaced no matter what. Everyone wants something for nothing, and when you are constantly changing plans you wind up with the hodgepodge we have now, and delays are expensive.

    Arlington succeeded because they went with a master plan for dense development around major traffic corridors and Metro stations, developed an entertainment district in Clarendon & a high rise business district in Rosslyn. Upscale offices brought good jobs which begat upscale housing for the workers which increased the tax base for school improvements.

    We should target high rise offices and high density housing, and (sigh) chain restaurants, convenience and drug stores & coffee shops on the office & apartment ground floors for Route 7, Columbia Pike and Little River Tpk. with bike lanes & public transportation geared here.

    Then have medical offices (unless they can go in an office high rise) and entertainment/ shopping districts clustered next, with multi-level parking to save green space. This could be a combination of free or reduced rate store parking and carpool/transit connection parking (w City Bike, bus, & cab/Uber connections).

    As for shopping/entertainment centers, one could be geared as a young/hipster-oriented shopping "town" and one high-end area geared to older, wealthier residents.

    Maybe yet another shopping destination, further from the na in corridors and thus less expensive, could be geared to smaller boutique shops, non-chain restaurants--maybe an international restaurant destination strip, but with some unifying esthetic--and a farmer's market. This would be the mom and pop mall/streetscape of places unable to pay higher rents (maybe like the Eden Center). This could include an open space with a fountain &/or garden for international & other festivals, celebrations, carnivals & available for groups to rent for their office, team or family functions that would benefit the community and draw patrons to the shops & restaurants.

    Next tier out from this would be townhouse and less dense multifamily homes, interspersed with schools, parks, libraries, playing fields (if separate from parks) and pools, possibly with community garden space for rent. More people us a given. Make schools multi story for a smaller footprint to preserve more green space. Finally, furthest from mass transit would be single family homes, preferably high-end. This is how Arlington has worked things & why it has thrived.

    All neighborhoods would have sidewalks and bike lanes, possibly charging stations for electric cars. Give priority parking in lots to motorcycles and mini cars (and more handicapped spots for aging and disabled residents & visitors).

    But the master plan would allow only for minor tweaks over the years and strict adherence to a timetable. Residents and businesses would have firm dates by which they would have to move or sell for each phase of redevelopment. Once the initial comment period is over (time limit strictly enforced) comments may be submitted but the planners would be under no obligation to honor them.

    Maybe an "untouchable" enforcement team could be tasked with following the project closely to keep things on time, on budget, and according to plan with little if any politics or corruption.

  13. Give it a rest people. It was a great informative meeting and I thank sandy Evans and penny Gross for their hard work. I for one like living in the Mason District and have seen study improvements in the last 20 years in our schools and in our community. We are lucky to have such good public officials