Board Leaves Flat Tax Rate on the Table – At Tuesday’s meeting, the Board voted 9 to 1 to advertise the tax rate at the current rate of $1.14 per $100 of assessed value, which leaves the full cost of your estimated real estate taxes on the table until the final tax rate is adopted on May 10th. I voted against advertising the current rate because it should not even be an option with how high assessments are across the county. Gas prices are soaring, inflation is at a historic level, and our economy is still recovering from the pandemic.
My colleagues have said that they are committed to lowering the tax rate but still supported advertising the current tax rate in order to have maximum “flexibility,” some referencing the potential impact of the war in Ukraine. Whether this means they want flexibility to tax you at the full rate if things get worse or tax you at the full rate if things improve, I am not sure, but the mixed sentiments did not compute. Interestingly, flexibility is already built into the proposed budget which has $80 million in unappropriated funds, readily available to cover at least a 2-cent reduction in the tax rate. I voted against advertising the current rate because it should not even be an option with the significant assessment increases across the county. We need to fund critical areas, like police compensation as I proposed at the last meeting, reduce spending in non-critical areas, and stop adding new programs out of the budget cycle. It’s likely the Board will use the unappropriated $80 million to reduce the tax rate, but I do not expect the Board will support much more of a reduction beyond that. Here’s why:
The Board continues say it needs more taxing authority from the state. At Tuesday’s meeting, the lack of state funding was the main topic, not how we are going to reduce spending. With over $9 billion in total revenue coming to the County, our problem is not revenue, it’s spending.
The Board has not been supportive of even considering spending reductions. Over the past couple years, I have repeatedly requested the Board consider specific spending reductions and/or ways to do work more efficiently but so far they have been rejected by the Board. I also offered a simple suggestion to track spending commitments the Board is making out of budget cycle, which was also rejected.
The Board continues to lack prioritization and is funding wants and political agendas over needs. This is really the biggest issue for the Board. There are too many programs (some very good) that the Board wants to fund at the expense of taxpayers and instead of addressing critical needs. Police compensation is one critical need I brought up at our last meeting that has to be funded in this budget because it directly impacts what should be our number one priority: the safety of our residents. We cannot fund critical needs, substantially reduce the tax rate, and fund all non-critical initiatives. We must prioritize.
My hope is that I’m wrong and that this Board takes to heart the outrage that I’ve seen in your feedback about the potential rise in your taxes and works to reduce spending by more than just two cents. I’m continuing to look at ways that we can fund critical needs, like our critical employee compensation needs that have been neglected by the Board, while still reducing the tax rate. I have formed a Fairfax County Bipartisan Citizen Budget Review Committee that is already hard at work identifying short and long-term options for reducing the cost of government and the tax rate.
I encourage you to provid
e feedback on how that might be done as well. I look forward to sharing more with you as the budget process continues in the coming weeks. I will have my Budget Town Hall on March 30th at 7pm in the Community Room at the West Springfield Government Center with County Executive Bryan Hill and Phil Hagen from the Department of Management and Budget. I invite you to come share your concerns and questions with me then. You can also sign up here to testify at the Budget Public Hearings April 12-14th. You can provide testimony via phone, pre-recorded video, or in person. Finally, you can also send written testimony to the entire Board through the Clerk’s office by emailing ClerktotheBOS@fairfaxcounty.gov.
Teen Job Fair this Saturday at West Springfield High School – I am very excited to bring back my annual Teen Job Fair Series in-person this Saturday, March 12th from 1-3pm at West Springfield High School. This year I am sponsoring the fair with Connection Newspapers, Fairfax County Public Schools, School Board Member Laura Jane Cohen, the South Fairfax Chamber of Commerce, Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce, and the Mount Vernon-Lee Chamber of Commerce. We have over 50 businesses participating in the fair. Those businesses range from County agencies, to athletic clubs, to tech-centered nonprofits, to some of your favorite food chains. Opportunities at the fair include volunteer work, internships, and paid part-time or full-time work. During the fair, Casey Whitmarsh with the South Fairfax Chamber of Commerce will be hosting two workshops on “How to Prepare for an Interview” at 1:20pm and 2:20pm. This workshop has been a crowd favorite over the years, and I highly encourage all students to attend.
Students can register for free here or in person at the fair.
If you’re not able to attend, I hope you might make it to my next fair at Chantilly High School on Saturday, March 19th from 11am to 1pm. I look forward to seeing you there!