The proposed 4-cent property tax increase in the advertised budget for FY 2017 approved by the Board of Supervisors last month would go a long way toward helping the county meet the needs of Fairfax County Public Schools, said Deputy County Executive Ed Long. Efforts to set a higher rate, at 5 or 6 percent increase, failed to pass.
A sluggish real estate market has led to lower tax revenues, resulting in the need to raise the tax rate, Long said.
Teacher salaries aren’t keeping pace with surrounding jurisdictions, Evans said, noting a mid-career teacher can earn $10,000 more a year in Arlington. “We really must close that gap,” she said.
Mason District is particularly hard hit, as it has more households below the poverty line and more high-needs students. Mason has more than 200 teacher vacancies this year; “that is unheard of in Fairfax County,” she said.
FCPS is expecting a little more money from the state, $16.8 million, but that can be a double-edged sword. The general assembly approved a 2 percent increase in teacher pay, she said, but the state is only covering $4.3 million for those raises, while FCPS will have to contribute $40 million.
The Board of Supervisors approved a motion to look at the possibility of asking the public to vote on a meals tax, but Mason Supervisor Penny Gross said there probably isn’t time to get it on the 2016 ballot.
The last time a meals tax was on the ballot, in 1992, it failed miserably, but that was a special election and it might do better in 2017 when voters will elect a new governor. A couple of years ago, the BoS appointed a task force to study a meals tax, but it couldn’t agree on whether to recommend it or not.
“Opinions have changed,” Gross said, and “the time is right for that discussion.” She is getting lots of emails from people against a meals tax, though, and “restaurateurs still strongly oppose it.”
If a meals tax has any chance of passage, she said, supporters will need to build a broad coalition and launch a strong campaign to convince the public to vote for it.
Several residents questioned the county’s decision to spend $125.5 million on a new East County office building, which would be part of the redevelopment plan for the Southeast Quadrant in Bailey’s Crossroads. The building isn’t needed, especially when the county has a high vacancy rate in existing office buildings, said Clyde Miller. He suggested the money would be better spent on new school facilities to relieve overcrowding at Glen Forest Elementary.
“We disagree on this,” Gross said. The proposed building “is a human services center, not a government office building” and will house county services currently located in leased spaced, she said.
The project is listed in the county’s five-year Capital Improvement Program (CIP), but Gross said there are no funds in the 2017 budget for it and there are a lot of steps before it could be built.