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Discussion Title Proposed FY 2018 Budget Chat with the County Executive

County Executive Ed Long will discuss his proposed FY 2018 budget with residents on Friday, Feb. 24, at 3 p.m. Long presented his proposed budget to the Board of Supervisors on Feb. 14.


Edward Long : Thank you for joining us online on this gorgeous afternoon. I look forward to answering your questions about the proposed FY 2018 budget.


Melanie Meren #IamFCPS : It seems that the schools budget is essentially developed over five weeks - at least this is the public part of the process. This question asked about how the county is working on making this a more transparent, timely, and collaborative process to include community input and allow ample time for coordination between the two Boards. The FCPS proposed budget was announced on January 12. About five weeks later, on February 28, the County Board of Supervisors will set the personal property tax rate. During this time, two of 10 County Budget Town Hall meetings were held (the rest are after 2/28); there was one joint School and County Board meeting on 2/21; and the School Board held public hearings to gather input. There is no public meeting by the County Board to hear input on the tax rate. Supporters of increased school funding say that setting a higher rate gives Supervisors the *option* of going that high. It's a defining part of the budget development process - after the rate is set, the conversation shifts from, "How much revenue can the county generate?" to "How will the county pay for needed services with the amount of revenue it is expected to receive up to the max set tax rate?" - in other words, after the tax rate is set, the budget conversation is about cuts for the duration of the process through May. Many parents find it difficult to attend 2 hour-plus long meetings at night and during the day. Other than your session today, there haven't been opportunities to interact virtually with budget staff and elected officials. Many believe that more opportunities are needed to provide public input before the tax rate is set. It is also unclear just how much the two boards are working together each year starting July 1 through January on preparing a budget that really addresses the deep seeded budget problems we have. Can you please speak to how the County is working to improve this process to create a timely budget that actually meets community needs?

Edward Long :

While there is no public hearing, you can certainly provide your testimony to county and school board members reflecting your desires on the tax rate that should be advertised.

The budget process is a year-round process. The county board and the school board hold meetings throughout the year, to discuss a variety of budget topics. These joint meetings will now be televised, which started last Tuesday during the joint budget committee meeting. (You can watch live here: http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/cable/.) This meeting is archived on the county website, and you can review it at your leisure to see what was discussed, including a conversation about the advertised real estate tax rate.

And finally, through the use of email and social media, residents have the opportunity to provide their input to both boards on a 24/7 basis.

Additional information on providing input can be found here: http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/news2/5-things-to-know-county-executive-proposes-4-10-billion-fy-2018-budget/


Julia : From a regional view can you help explain how things are so different from one county to the next. Fairfax is basically the same status quo with revenue and tax levels. Loudoun looks like it will cut taxes amid significant new revenue. And Arlington appears to be raising taxes. Why are things so different across three neighbors?

Edward Long :

Although close in terms of geography, each jurisdiction in northern Virginia has their own unique budgetary experiences and challenges. The proximity to DC, as well as the level of development play a big role in real estate values. Arlington tends to be more insulated in terms of real estate because of their location, and, in fact, their residential real estate values increased more than ours did here in Fairfax this year.  It should be noted that over half of Arlington’s real estate tax base comes from commercial properties, while only about 19 percent come from commercial properties in Fairfax County. Although Loudoun is further out, they are experiencing significant development. This year, Loudoun’s existing home values increased at rates similar to those in Fairfax, but they had much higher levels of residential and commercial growth. 

Arlington’s County Manager is proposing a tax rate increase based specifically on needs for Metro and Schools. Loudoun’s County Administrator has proposed a lower tax rate which would keep average tax bills in FY 2018 consistent with those in FY 2017.  In developing the FY 2018 budget, I was careful to manage the impact to Fairfax County taxpayers, especially since we implemented a 4 cent increase in the real estate tax rate last year. There is no tax rate increase recommended in the FY 2018 budget. We are able to fund some of our priorities at the current tax rate, although it is worth noting that many other priorities remain unfunded. We are also fortunate that we are able to cover our increased Metro expenses in FY 2018 through existing balances.


Anonymous User : Can you tell us what will happen to the 2017 graduates from FCPS who have intellectual disabilities?

Edward Long : The June 2017 special education graduates will be eligible to receive employment and day services. The Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board (CSB) and FCPS began transition planning for those graduates in early FY 2017, and they will not be affected by the new priority access guidelines. I anticipate all those graduates currently receiving services or in the pipeline to receive services will be able to be served.

Policy changes being considered by the Board would affect June 2018 graduates with intellectual and developmental disabilities.


Keely Lauretti : Last year the Board of Supervisors voted to put a 4 cent meals tax referendum on the ballot saying $100 million was needed to fund schools and county services. There was even talk of a 5 cent increase both in your proposal and during the hearing it appeared the board really wanted to vote for 5 cents as well. Not only was the meals tax thought to be necessary but there was also a thought there might need to an additional real estate tax rate this year too. Your budget does include any of this $100 million increase and yet the increase in county school children and people seems to remain steady with what was projected in the summer and fall. Can you please explain why not even half of this amount was not added to the budget this year? It seems both irresponsible and misleading to say in the fall you need $100 million and then four months later say you don't need any of it. What other factors went into deciding the budget to cause such a change in course? The people who work and live in Fairfax deserve to understand why the county is saying it needs $100 million one month and none of this money four months later. Thank you.

Edward Long :

We must develop a balanced budget each year, and our challenge is meeting a myriad of priorities with our limited revenue options. The meals tax would have generated almost $100 million, with a majority of that funding dedicated to schools. Without that revenue source, and with the limited increased revenues that we have available based on weak growth in real estate values, we are unable to address some significant priorities in FY 2018. For example, my proposed budget does not fund the Market Rate Adjustment for our employees, does not fund the second year of the county’s Diversion First initiative, does not fund important investments for IT and capital, and does not continue implementation of our multi-year public safety staffing plan. In addition, the school system is currently facing a budgetary gap that they will need to address through reductions or by not funding some of their priorities – such as pay adjustments.


lepold : Thank you first off for taking questions from residents of Fairfax County. I have two questions... 1. When was the last time an internal audit was done of Fairfax County Public School's budget? 2. Why aren't the details of how our tax dollars are spent public information? I would like to see this information posted online. From the amount of money flowing into our schools, I would expect to see NO TRAILERS, teachers paid well and technology in the classrooms. I am in favor of an internal audit and TRANSPARENCY as to the details of the budget and how our tax dollars are being spent. Thank you.

Edward Long : Much like on the county side, the school system has an auditor that works with their School Board – the Office of the Auditor General. All of the audit reports and audit plans are available on the FCPS website at https://www.fcps.edu/school-board/office-auditor-general. In addition, in 2013, the county and schools worked together on a financial transparency initiative. You can visit http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/transparency/ to search school vendor payments and expenditures.


Ann : Computers are super slow, need replacement.

Edward Long : Our workforce has become increasingly more dependent on reliable technology in order to effectively complete our work. The county currently funds a replacement reserve for our computers and other devices, with scheduled replacements every 5 years. If you are a county employee and you are experiencing issues with your computer, I would encourage you to contact the IT analyst in your department as there may be some solutions (additional memory, for example) that may improve performance before your next scheduled replacement.


employees value : It is truly disheartening that the county proposed budget will once again forgo full compensation for employees. The plan adopted in 2014 was stingy, at best, and now you cannot even fully fund it. Sacrificing the MRA sends the message to employees that we are not important enough to the county to try to assure that our family budgets keep pace with inflation and also that we are not worth what the "Market" suggest we are paid. County employees' quality of life is reducing while we work harder with less resources to improve the quality of life of Fairfax residents. We have heard the message about the compensation "package' and that we should feel fortunate to have it, yet the value of that is under threat, as well, as the budget proposal speaks to evaluating benefits and pension for additional cost savings. Current employees are getting squeezed. New employees are being hired at "market rates" while current employees are far behind market rate. Will the Board consider realigning priorities to truly value those of us who are dedicating our careers to this county?

Edward Long :

In total, my proposed FY 2018 budget includes over $23 million for pay increases based on the County’s compensation plans. General County employees will be eligible for performance awards ranging from 1.25 percent to 3 percent, depending on their position on the pay scale, or 4 percent longevities for those reaching 20 or 25 years of service. The average increase is estimated at 2 percent.

In addition, eligible uniformed public safety employees will receive their 5 percent steps or longevities (15 and 20 years). Based on the number of employees eligible, the average increase is estimated at 2.25 percent. The proposed FY 2018 budget also includes funding for pay adjustments for specific job classes as a result of market studies. Unfortunately, based on available funding, I was not able to include the calculated 1.65 percent Market Rate Adjustment in my proposal.

I based my decision not to include funding for the MRA on the compensation priorities agreed to by the Board and the employee groups when the new General County pay plan was adopted. The joint board-employee working group agreed that in years when we could not fully fund compensation, the MRA would be adjusted accordingly. All employees are affected equally, and with no adjustments to the pay scales, no employee is negatively impacted in regards to their position on the pay scale. Employees that have reached the top of the pay scale are compensated fairly relative to the market.


Anonymous User : There is high vacancy rate for office bldgs. Why is EDA only focused on filling office space. I have noticed they report how many jobs came to the county but nothing about how many jobs were lost. The net change is what counts! Most EDA's do a lot more than filling office space. We are paying handsome salaries and benefits with worldwide offices. Not sure if we are getting our $$$ worth from them. They need to have a holistic approach to economic development. If citizens are paying their salaries then let's get some meaningful measures that show their worth.

Edward Long : The role of the Economic Development Authority (EDA) is to attract and retain businesses. This is one part of the larger economic development process in the county. Recent work by county agencies and the Board have focused on other initiatives such as reuse of vacant office buildings for creative purposes, such as residential or educational. The Board recently adopted its Economic Success Strategic Plan, which is available to read at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/success.


Becky : Will 2017 graduates with disabilities be able to receive employment/day services funding from Fairfax County this year? Once individuals are in the system and receiving employment/day services funding the County, are they safe to assume their funding will continue? In other words, should people who are already receiving services be scared that those services might go away? Finally, can you explain the reasoning/argument for proposing cutting the funding for these services in next year's budget and beyond? I would just like to gain a better understanding of why. Thank you.

Edward Long : As I said previously, I anticipate all 2017 graduates currently in the pipeline will be able to be served. The Board has been very clear that any changes in policy will not impact individuals who are already being served.

The significant increase in the projected numbers of individuals who will be eligible for service, based on the June 2016 changes in the state's definition for eligibility, have resulted in projected costs that are not sustainable within the county's budget.


Melanie Meren, #IamFCPS : I am aware from the Interim Superintendent's proposed budget that there is a projected increase of 1,932 children to be enrolled into FCPS next year. I am thinking that some are children whose families already live here and already pay taxes (children come of school age, or transfer from independent school, etc.), and some are new to the area and so their families would be contributing new revenue to our tax base via property taxes. Can you please explain to me how the County and/or FCPS identifies projected new property taxes that will be collected as the enrollment of FCPS rises? I.e., of the 1,932 projected, how many of their families are contributing more money to our revenue base through property taxes? Or are all of these 1,932 children already living here and are coming of age (i.e., starting Kindergarten), so there is no increase in revenue? Furthermore, while the revenue for any one house would stay the same because the housing value does not depend on who is inhabiting it, there are more and more instances where one house is torn down and two or more are put into its place, or acres of trees are torn down to put up developments. It seems these new dwellings will 1) add revenue to the tax base and 2) add more children to our population. How is a demographic analysis done to account for all of this in the budget planning? Thank you.

Edward Long :

The county estimates annual revenues from real estate taxes each year based on the annual assessed value of properties and the real estate tax rate that the Board of Supervisors approves. In estimating these revenues, both existing homes and new construction are evaluated to identify the entire tax base. 

Assessed values for existing homes are driven by the sales of homes over the prior year. The sales price is certainly driven by many factors, including the high quality of Fairfax schools, but there is no direct correlation between the increase in enrollment and real estate tax revenue. For example, revenues are received on all real property regardless of who owns it and how many children the owners have attending County schools. New enrollment that comes from existing homes does not translate into new revenues even if a new family moves in as those revenues were already being received, even if the previous owners had no children attending the county schools. For new construction there is additional revenue generated, but as an example the average annual real estate tax bill is just over $5,900 and the average annual cost of educating a student in Fairfax County Public Schools is slightly over $14,000.

So, new construction does add value, and therefore revenues to the county, and the projected impact of additional children is included in the schools' projections. But this new revenue often does not fully fund the cost of these additional students. In part, this explains the county Board's policy to try to maximize commercial properties within the county.


Anonymous User : While I understand the argument that the schools are not receiving the same portion other counties receive from the state, Fairfax County spends much much more per pupil than others. Why is there no oversight from the county government side on the school's spending? Is it truly just a blank check with no balance?

Edward Long : The local government that FCPS cites as most comparable to Fairfax is Montgomery County. Our per-pupil cost is lower.

Based on state law, the elected School Board is responsible for school spending. However, one of the primary conversations each year about the county budget is how much the Board of Supervisors will transfer to FCPS. This conversation includes funding teacher pay, new enrollment, classroom size, facility renovations and the like, so I would not characterize it as a blank check.

More on the school budget: www.fcps.edu/about-fcps/budget


Donna Goldbranson : Would the county consider formalized trainings on the administrative aspects of Self Directed Service contracts for families who have chosen this resource for their adult children?

Edward Long : Self Directed Services are part of the discussion of service plans for individuals each year. For more specific options/opportunities I would suggest that you contact the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board at 703-324-4433.

More information: http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/csb/services/self-directed-services.htm


Edward Long : I have enjoyed answering your questions this afternoon. I encourage you to follow the budget process. If you have specific comments, you are invited to speak at the public hearings in April (please sign up: https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/bosclerk/speaker_bos.htm). Have a wonderful weekend! 

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