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Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Supervisors, school board clash over budget

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on March 1 agreed to advertise a tax rate of $1.13, an increase of 4 cents from the current rate of $1.09 per $100 of assessed value.

That rate will be the ceiling for the fiscal year 2017 budget. When the board marks up the advertised budget on April 19, it could adopt a lower tax rate, but not a higher one.

Fairfax County school board chair Pat Hynes called the 4-cent increase “disappointing.”

“It guarantees that the county and school budgets cannot both be fully funded, denying the community its rightful role in that conversation,” Hynes said. “Today’s decision is discouraging for the thousands of community members who have reached out to the school board and Board of Supervisors this year to advocate for a voice in this very important conversation about values.”

The advertised budget adopted by the school board in February for FY 2017 calls for a 4.8 percent increase in funding from the budget approved for 2016. FCPS Superintendent Karen Garza said that increase is needed to meet pressing needs for salary increases and class size reductions after nine consecutive years of cuts.

During the March 1 BoS meeting, the supervisors rejected, by a 5-5 tie, a motion by Jeff McKay (Lee), the board’s Budget Committee chair, to advertise a rate of $1.14, an increase of 5 cents. Mason Supervisor Penny Gross voted for the 5-cent increase, along with John Foust (Dranesville), Cathy Hudgins (Hunter Mill), McKay, and board Chair Sharon Bulova. 

After that motion failed, the board approved a motion by Gross to advertise the county executive’s recommendation of 4 cents. It passed 7-3. Nay votes were cast by Pat Herrity (Springfield), Kathy Smith (Sully), and Dan Storck (Mount Vernon). At the end of the day, a motion to reconsider the earlier vote on the 5-cent rate failed on a 5-5 tie, so the 4-cent increase stands.

“I’m disappointed that the same people who advocated for flexibility voted against flexibility,” McKay said. “They’ve boxed in the Board of Supervisors and tied our hands. It’s now nearly impossible to meet the superintendent’s request. I strongly believe that would have been possible at 5 cents, and that is why I put forward this responsible rate.”

The BoS also asked for more information about the possibility of putting a meals tax on the ballot as a means of diversifying the tax base. Under state law, a meals tax would have to be approved by voters in a ballot referendum.

Local residents can learn more about the budget at a series of town hall meetings scheduled throughout the county over the next few weeks. The Mason District Budget Town Hall is March 16, 7 p.m., at the Mason Government Center, 6507 Columbia Pike, Annandale. The BoS will hold public hearings on the budget April 5-7.

20 comments:

  1. When is the last time any Fairfax taxpayer received a 4.8% pay hike? Despite Pat Hynes' protestations, the Fairfax schools are richly funded. The problem is that the school board predictably submitted yet another bloated budget full of frills that reflect the desire of various special interest groups to turn the system into one gigantic prep school. Fortunately, Fairfax doesn't have an ISD that's capable of looting taxpayers' wallets in that manner. Apparently it's lost on Mr. Hynes that the BOS is proposing yet another in a continuing string of UNEQUALIZED tax increases. So, I can hardly feel any sympathy for his alleged plight. And, btw, anyone familiar with this annual tap dance won't be taken in by threats that frills like elementary foreign language immersion will be eliminated.

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    1. I am pretty sure the BOS gave themselves a nice pay raise. Must be nice to just vote your job a pay raise, while all your employees are either frozen or a get a penny or two on the dollar after a few years.

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    2. Supervisors' salaries is a minor distraction. You might instead want to do a mental calculation of what a meals tax would cost you annually. The BOS has already begun to mislead residents by describing this as "diversifying the tax base". That's doublespeak for saying that "instead of running up already high property taxes even more, we're instead going to impose a less conspicuous tax". Sort of like the "auto decal" tax that everyone sees on their personal property tax bills. A meals tax is a pervasive, expensive and completely regressive tax that will be paid primarily by Fairfax residents. Proponents of the tax try to hide its impact by claiming that it only adds a few cents to every meal. Beware of that ploy because the correct way to measure the impact of a tax is by seeing how it affects the current burden of taxation. Meals are already subject to a six percent sales tax, including a recent increase in the regional sales tax. Adding a four percent meals surcharge increases the total tax to ten percent. There's no way that won't negatively impact residents, especially the low income and elderly for whom such meals are more of a necessity. So, I believe it would be prudent to keep an eye on those BOS spendthrifts who will inevitably claim that someone else will bear the brunt of a meals tax. It might also be useful to require the advocates of such a tax to truthfully disclose the amount of tax revenue a meals tax would generate. To date, the figures I've seen seems wildly unrealistic.

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    3. Thank you. There are many false flags in Fairfax County in terms of taxes or revenue generation. We currently pay an extra .7% in sales taxes, there is a county tax on my cable bill, cell phone, gas, and electric. Trash service bill is based on tipping rates set by the county. My favorite (sarcasm) is the annual one time registration fee for the county decal, $33 for the car and $38 for the mini van. Fee is based on vehicle weight for the extra money grab.
      In regards to the meals tax, I avoid eating out in the neighboring counties. A twenty five dollar meal for two is an extra dollar if ordered in Falls Church. The pro tax people will say it is a dollar, well that dollar is worth a dollar to me. Being on a fixed income there are no extra dollars.

      I am pretty sure there are others like me who would love to buy a nicer car, but if you run the numbers the annual tax burden makes me keep the old car going.
      As the median income of Fairfax County declines it should get more money from the state, but I have a feeling that other counties are not taking less from the state money pool. (Dillon Rule - not sure if I got it completely correct)

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    4. Dont forget about the dog tax!

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    5. If you can afford to eat out, you can afford a meals tax.

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  2. "FCPS Superintendent Karen Garza said that increase is needed to meet pressing needs for salary increases and class size reductions after nine consecutive years of cuts."

    Have we forgotten 2014? http://wtop.com/news/2014/04/fairfax-county-board-approves-tax-increase/

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  3. This issue - Penny Gross' willingness to stick her constituents with a massive residential property tax increase to meet the demands of those who have their hearts set on overfunding the bloated, inefficient Fairfax County Public School system - is where the true backwardness of the typical commenters on this site that attack Penny Gross shines brightest.

    These people go berserk and grab their pitchforks in opposition anytime a new development (whether its a new shopping center, a new apartment building, new million dollar homes, etc.) that would expand the tax base and reduce the need to increase residential property taxes are proposed - always making the stupid ridiculous claim that "Two Cents" Gross is in the pocket of the developers.

    But when Penny Gross happily votes in favor of a massive 4.8 percent property tax increase on her constituents who have been struggling through a stagnant economy for almost 10 years, there is little pushback from those same backward critics.

    Those people in Mason District who want to pay sky-high property taxes to fund platinum-plated public schools where their children will be kept safe from the riff-raff need to move to the "little" City of Falls Church with their fellow elite snobs.

    The already too high proposed 4 cent increase in the property tax rate needs to be aggressively opposed to keep Fairfax County affordable for average Americans struggling through this "new normal" of close to no economic growth.

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    1. I oppose Penny’s particular desires for Mason District (Penny’s Handout Palace, more apartment buildings, no retail, no real changes to transportation, i.e. more of the same, no real improvements), and I also oppose this tax increase. We simply cannot afford to keep ratcheting up the millage rate every year. That is not a sustainable solution to anything. Neither are meals taxes, which I agree, are yet another way of looting more out of taxpayers to pay for an ever-burgeoning school system.

      Fairfax County is built out. They need to start making some tough decisions on school programs to cut, code enforcement, residency requirement enforcement, and other means of collecting and saving money, rather than relying on small new pockets of development to add to the tax rolls. Only extremely drastic measures like expanding the metro will change the county’s landscape, which is underway, but very limited.

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    2. Keep Fairfax County affordable, for average Americans struggling through no economic growth? You realize we're the second richest county in the country, right? I don't think we're by and large average Americans struggling to survive.

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    3. Then why is nearly 30% of the school population on free and/or reduced lunch, and in some schools, up to 80 percent of students on FRM, If we are all so rich?

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    4. The distribution of wealth in Fairfax is hardly uniform. Moreover, living here is pricey and becoming more so every year. The BOS has exacerbated this situation by imposing an impressive string of unequalized property tax hikes. However, this year, reality caught with the BOS when property assessments finally leveled out. That will make it difficult for the BOS to continue its policy of extravagantly funding every conceivable project.

      I'm aware that there are residents who are cavalier about paying thousands more in taxes. I call them the Fairfax Marie Antoinettes. They think nothing of committing other residents' money to advancing their agendas and it's about time for the BOS to stop pandering to them. Otherwise, this jurisdiction will quickly find itself entering an era of confiscatory taxation reminiscent of the New York City suburbs. Last year, the school board complained of not being fully funded even after the BOS funded well over 90% of the school budget. I suspect the same thing will happen again this year. So, it's time for the school board to stop its tiresome annual ritual of crying wolf and be grateful for the generous funding it receives.

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    5. Never said we're all rich, just think we need a tad bit of perspective on what a real struggling American community is...it's not fairfax.

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    6. There are many ways that FXCO can save money.

      1) Cut head start program and move them out of the Elementary Schools so those classrooms can be used and elimate some trailers. 2) Code Enforcement needs to enforce the law regarding how many people can live in a house and the BOS needs to make the law similar to PW County http://www.pwcgov.org/government/dept/publicworks/ns/Pages/Occupancy-and-Overcrowding.aspx 3) Do not fund millions of dollars to ACCA child care. 4) Have police start ticketing for Maryland plates. 5) Charge for transportation for Thomas Jefferson HS and require students to be US Citizens or Legal Permanant Resident including parents. 6) Have Special Needs students transportated in small vans versus large buses. I see sometimes 2 or 3 kids on a large bus. The gas for those buses is expensive along with up keep. 7) No more special schools for Immersion programs keep them local (ie. Bailey's). Each base school can have one Immersion class per grade. The bus transportation is very expensive. 8) Enforce residency requirements at the schools and verify guardianship.

      There are many places that the fat can be cut.

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  4. 100% in favor of the meals tax.

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    1. Is there any tax you would oppose? Pet tax? Water tax? Hybrid vehicle tax? Trying to think of something that is not taxed yet in unFairtax County, hard to do.
      What if the meals tax reduced the income for the restaurants?

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    2. My research suggests that the impact of meals taxes on restaurant income cannot be definitively established. That's because local taxes are but one of numerous factors that affect restaurant sales. The only sure thing is that meals taxes have never been shown to have any meaningful effect on stabilizing rising property taxes. They're merely another source of easy revenue for local jurisdictions to blow. They also have the unfortunate effect of disproportionately impacting low income earners and elderly residents on fixed incomes.

      The bureaucrats at the BOS are perfectly aware that dining out is such an ingrained part of our lifestyles that a meals tax would be unlikely to cause most people to change their dining habits. It's also no coincidence that this matter has come up immediately after a recent election. However, a meals tax isn't, as the BOS claims, directed at "diversifying the tax base". It's just another way for the County to force already hard pressed property tax payers to dig even deeper. Moreover, the so-called meals tax is actually a consumption tax that covers much more than restaurant meals. There's no practical way to escape it. Furthermore, in contrast to property taxes, meals taxes are not easily subject to adjustment. Like sales taxes, they're regressive assessments that will continue to burden residents in perpetuity.

      As others have already pointed out, the BOS has gotten into the unfortunate habit of funding parts of the County’s budget by hitting residents with a plethora of supplemental taxes. However, I have no interest in making it easy for the County to continue eroding my standard of living one tax at a time. So, blocking the implementation of a meals tax would represent a good first step in preventing the County from indefinitely continuing to ramp up the local cost of living.

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  5. I would really like to see a parking enforcement division created, and taxes/fees around that. Arlington and Alexandria just across the county borders from us have thriving parking enforcement divisions.

    There has got to be a better way to get some money out of all of the boarding homes and multi-family housing in our district who take up far more street parking than their fair share; and more space in our schools than their fair share.

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    1. I thought the same things for years.

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  6. I'd like to be sympathetic to FCPS's "full funding" requests, I really would. But then I see that FCPS continues to keep IB in place at 8 high schools, even though it's more expensive than AP and some of the IB programs are greatly under-enrolled. Or I look at FCPS deciding to open a new AAP program at Cooper MS, but give parents in the Langley pyramid an option for several more years (busing provided) to send their kids to Kilmer or Longfellow AAP instead. And it's a losing formula - the parents who just want a more standard curriculum with fewer bells and whistles, but smaller class sizes are fleeing FCPS for Arlington and Loudoun. Someone better give FCPS a wake-up call soon, because they are totally screwing the pooch.

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