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Thursday, March 17, 2016

School funds, meals tax among issues raised at Budget Town Hall

The Mason District Budget Town Hall March 26 offered a clash of opinions over spending on schools.

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. 

Click here for more information on what’s in the budget. The BoS will hold public hearings on the budget April 5-7 and will adopt a final budget on April 26.

The 6.7 percent increase in the amount of funds that would be transferred to FCPS doesn’t meet the school system’s needs, said Sandy Evans, who represents Mason District on the school board.

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.


  1. You got what you voted for...

  2. Who is she kidding that the East County Office Building is not a government building. Does she think we are stupid?

    I say cut the fat in other places not a Meal Tax. $2 to the ACCA CDC is good start along with charging for transportation to Thomas Jefferson. When buses only have a handful of kids that is ridiculous to pay for.

  3. I do not work in the food services industry, so I have no dog in this fight, but the Meals Tax idea is cruel and arbitrary. Why would we single out an already struggling sector and say, "Hey, we need more money, and we've decided you'll be the ones to give it to us." It's as arbitrary as selecting the area's carpenters or librarians and telling them they're the lucky ones who get to fork over big bucks because, well, we want it. Reminds me of the short story, "The Lottery."

    1. What needs to happen is for the restaurant industry to explode the myth that a meals tax adds "only a few pennies" to the price of each purchase. That may apply to the purchase of a one dollar hot dog. However, most consumers typically spend much more than that, so a 4% meals tax added to a 6% sales tax would quickly add up. The really insidious feature of meals taxes is that, once enacted, they never decrease or go away. They're an incessant drain on consumers' disposable income regardless of economic conditions. So, no thanks.

  4. If you want to see how bad a meals tax can get in VA, look at Roanoke meals tax document. Their tax was high as 7% a few years ago, it is 5.5% now.

  5. How about a hotel tax? That would take the burden off the residents and help the bottomline.

    Bailey's SEQ will never see the revitalization that resident's crave. Most of the SEQ will be occupied by the county with an East County Government Center human services building and a maybe someday road to Seminary Rd (The county will have to kick out tax paying businesses to accomplish this.) AvalonBay, a master at mixed use developments, wasn't given an opportunity to work their magic on more than 1.44 acres. Give AvalonBay another acre and they could give us the mixed use village we desire.

    And, Sup. Gross insists that the ECGC must be brand new and cost $125M. The money isn't in the 2017 budget, yet the project is listed in the 2017-2021 CIP. What is in the 2017 budget is $4+M for ECGC planning and design. Gross already spent $3.85M for an ECGC design at Willston. That wasn't Monopoly money.

    Bailey's has a 47% vacancy rate that includes huge buildings available now, but Gross wants only a brand new one that will occupy prime commercial real estate. No way to earn some commercial tax dollars with this "revitalization" plan. Why not sell the land to AvalonBay or another developer and add to the commercial tax base? Why not retrofit a vacant building for human services. This was her idea for an elementary school. If she believes retrofitting an office building was good enough for students then why not for human services?

    What wasn't reported in this article is that there is no location (temporary or permanent) for the homeless shelter that must be moved to complete the land swap with AvalonBay.

    In fact, there is no money for a permanent shelter. There will be a referendum asking voters to approve $14.1M.

    1. Fairfax already has a hotel tax.

      Hotel and motel tax: 6% (2% for general transient occupancy tax, 2% for tourism, and 2% for regional transportation). Towns: 4%; this 4% comes to the county (2% for tourism and 2% for regional transportation). This is in addition to the taxes already levied by the towns: 6% in Herndon and 3% in Vienna).

    2. Then it looks like FFX Co. can still up the hotel tax to help give taxpayers relief. This looks like a state imposed tax, not county. Is this observation correct?

    3. You are correct, the hotel tax is a state tax. Fairfax can go after both the restaurants and hotels as the new cash cow for taxes. While we are at it, lets raise cigarette taxes. Va cig taxes are $4 less per pack than NY, huge crime incentive there.

  6. How about taxing the boarding houses and businesses in the residential neighborhoods? That would provide Fairfax with a huge surplus.

  7. how about reduce the Supervisors pay?