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Discussion Title Proposed FY 2015 Budget Discussion with the County Executive

County Executive Ed Long will discuss his proposed FY 2015 budget and 2014 real estate assessments on Friday, Feb. 28, at 2 p.m.


Edward Long : Good afternoon.  Thank you for participating in this Ask Fairfax online chat. I look forward to your questions and appreciate you taking the time to send us your questions.


Arthur Purves : How many applicants are there for each Fairfax County job opening?

Edward Long : In 2013, the Department of Human Resources advertised 1,016 positions; in total 232,358 resumes were received for those 1,016 positions.


Arthur Purves : In the adopted budget document, will there be a summary of the changes between the County Executive’s proposed budget and the adopted budget? Why has this summary been missing from past adopted budget documents?

Edward Long :

Thanks for your question.  County staff is always looking for ways to improve the County budget documents. Currently the specific changes made by the Board of Supervisors to the Advertised Budget are included in a package called the Budget Markup.  You can see the package as part of the action the Board took in FY 2014 at: http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/dmb/fy2014/adopted/fy2014-adopted-budget-package.pdf

 In addition, there is a summary of what is included in the FY 2104 Adopted Budget at: http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/dmb/fy2014/adopted/overview/07_budget_summary.pdf

Staff will work on options to link these two steps in the process more clearly.


Hk : What can I do to help locally? How do we know what our school will be unable to fund so we can see how we can help. The obvious thing is to get out the checkbook but that is not an portion to the extent needed.

Edward Long : Thanks for your offer.  The School Budget has all the details about where potential cuts might occur so I encourage you to take a look so you can see where your skills and interests might fit in.  You can see the School budget at: http://www.fcps.edu/news/fy2015.shtml


Anonymous User : The schools have made an issue of paying their staff more. They have given raises that FCG has not. Why don't you push more for your staff? 1.29% after years of no raises is an insult.

Edward Long :

I agree that 1.29 percent is a low increase.  I am hopeful that County employees will receive a 2 percent increase as part of the final budget, still low but a little better. 

I would just like to clarify the context of pay increase over the last several years and the comparison with Schools.  First, County employees received no raises in FY 2010 and FY 2011 as we struggled to respond to the “Great Recession.”  In FY 2012, they received a 2% increase in September.  In FY 2013 we were able to fund a comprehensive pay increase package that included a 2.18% market adjustment for all employees, merit increases and longevities for public safety employees on their anniversary dates and a 2.5% performance increase for non-uniformed employees in January.  In FY 2014, merit employees received an $850 bonus and many temporary employees received a $500 bonus. 

So, while the increases have not occurred every year, and have not been what we have been able to fund in the past, it is incorrect to say there have been no raises for years.  While Schools gave different increases in different years, overall these increases during this period were very close. 

It is also important to remember that because of our size, pay increases are very expensive.  In order to fund them we need increasing revenues.  Based on the revenues we rely on (63% of the General Fund is supported by real estate taxes) and which revenues are growing (residential assessments are up 6.5% and non-residential are down slightly), the money for pay increases comes from our residential homeowner so we need to be careful about the burden we are placing on them.


Kelly W : I appreciate that you are making town hall meetings available, but am concerned that if a higher tax rate is not advertised on March 4th that the discussions will already have been limited. I am a homeowner, mother of four students attending FCPS schools, and PTA President of one of them. I have grave concerns about the quality of education FCPS can offer with limited resources while neighboring counties continue to pay their teachers more. With increased enrollment and retirement payments due for FCPS retirees, programs will suffer in our schools which will negatively impact our property values. Wouldn't advertising a higher rate that could allow for a 5.7% increase in the transfer to schools allow for a more open discussion and more options?

Edward Long : The Board of Supervisors will consider whether to advertise a higher rate at the March 4, 2014 Board meeting. Once the Board advertises the tax rate, it cannot be increased but it can be lowered if the Board chooses.


Concerned Citizen : When will a meals tax be put on the ballot for consideration by voters? It is long past time to diversify our tax base and to stop relying solely on the real estate tax. Arlington has one and that obviously does not stop anyone from eating at a restaurant there. My guess is it would pass easily.

Edward Long : A meals tax has gone to referenda twice before and has failed. Many in the community have discussed the possibility of putting the meals tax before the voters again. This would require Board approval and will continue to be discussed within the community. A 4 percent meals tax would generate approximately $88 million annually and requires approval through a voter referendum.


Anonymous User : I read about the downgrade by Moody's. What does this mean for the county's finances?

Edward Long : To clarify, in January as they reaffirmed our triple-A bond rating, Moody’s raised concerns and moved the outlook for our bond rating from stable to negative. In assigning the negative outlook, Moody’s notes areas of concern including the County’s reserve balances/structural imbalance and pension liability funding.
I would note that the triple-A was reaffirmed by all three rating agencies and only Moody’s expressed concern about the future outlook of our bonds.  With their negative outlook, Moody’s noted that the County’s available reserves have decreased due to three years of declining balances. In addition, Moody’s cited concern about the funding of the County pension liabilities. 

In the short-term we do not anticipate that this negative outlook will have a significant impact on how we are viewed in the market. In fact, the response to our bond sale in late January was extremely positive in terms of the number of bids received, how close the bids were, and how low the winning bid was. At the same time I think we should use this input from Moody’s constructively.

First, in order to be able to demonstrate that we do value the importance of the reserves we have, it is critical that we do not use any one-time funds to balance the FY 2015 budget.  Second, while I have not specifically recommended any increase in reserves at this time, I have advised that the Board consider, over a multi-year period, increasing the amount of funding we have in reserve. I have directed staff to identify some options and I will return to the Board with recommendations prior to the end of FY 2014. Third, we have made the case to Moody’s that the Board has already taken policy action to strengthen our pension funding and I have included a modest investment this year so that we continue to improve our retirement funding.

My goal is that by the end of the decade our target for amortizing our funding is at 100 percent. We have an opportunity in FY 2015 to make some progress on this front with a limited investment because of the strength of the returns and other factors that affect our pension funding formula. I have also anticipated a similar commitment in FY 2016.


Anonymous User : I am hearing that the county is working on a staffing plan for public safety - what does that mean?

Edward Long : When the Board adopted the FY 2014 budget they directed that, as another step in the expansion of our multi-year planning, staff return to them with a 5-year analysis of staffing requirements for all Public Safety departments. This review focuses on five overarching trends that Fairfax County public safety agencies identified as impacting their staffing and personnel resources now and in the future. 

The identified trends are urbanization, population/demographics, technology, mandates/standards, and natural and man-made threats. In most cases the staffing increases that are identified to begin in FY 2016, although in the case of the Commonwealth’s Attorney, the need was so compelling that we have begun earlier.  

For example, I have recommended an increase of $0.54 million and 3 new Senior Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney positions due to significant workload-related issues. Recent changes in the law, increased preparation time for cases and time spent in trial, requirements for written responses to all motions made by the Defendant in Circuit Court, and the increased number of traffic courtrooms have all impacted the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney.

In addition, there have been substantial increases in key Police enforcement priorities such as DWI arrests and these cases have become much more complex through legislation and case law. As an example of the shortage in staffing, the ratio of attorneys per citizen for the four largest court systems in the state are 1 per 5,534 in Richmond, 1 per 6,643 in Norfolk, 1 per 12,082 in Virginia Beach, and 1 per 44,744 in Fairfax.

The staffing plan is available at: http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/dmb/fy16-fy20-public-safety-staffing-plan.pdf .  The Board will receive a presentation on the plan at its Budget Committee meeting on April 1, 2014.


Anonymous User : I understand if the county can't afford to fully fund the requested FCPS transfer, but would consider at least putting the 5.7% increase in the advertised budget so the community would have a greater opportunity to respond and give input? Most of the town halls the Board of Supervisors are holding on the budget are happening after the March 4th date - which won't give the community a chance to give input.

Edward Long : To fully fund the School increase at 5.7 percent, the tax rate would have to be increased by three cents. Unfortunately based on state code, the County is required to advertise a real estate tax rate 30 days prior to the public hearing.


Arthur Purves : Please describe the health insurance plans for Fairfax County employees? What is the in-network deductible? What is the in-network co-pay? What is the maximum out-of-pocket cost?

Edward Long : Individual, two party, or family coverage is available.   The County pays 85 percent of the cost for individual coverage and 75 percent of cost for two-party or family coverage for employees scheduled to work more than 30 hours per week. There are currently four health insurance plans for County employees.  They each have different premiums and structures but in summary they are:

Open Access Plus Co-Pay Plan (OAP-Co-pay): The OAP-Co-pay plan is managed by CIGNA. The plan features a national network of providers and a co-pay structure for office visits and other services. This plan allows members to see any licensed provider they choose but benefits are higher when they receive care from a provider in the OAP network. In addition, while members are encouraged to choose a primary care physician to coordinate their care, no referrals are needed to access care from specialists.

Open Access Plus 90% Coinsurance Plan (OAP-90%): The OAP-90% plan is managed by CIGNA. The plan features a national network of providers and uses co-insurance and modest deductibles to help reduce the cost of the plan for participants. The annual out-of-pocket maximum protects you in the event of serious illness, injury or chronic conditions.  This plan allows members to see any licensed provider they choose but benefits are higher when they receive care from a provider in the OAP network. In addition, while members are encouraged to choose a primary care physician to coordinate their care, no referrals are needed to access care from specialists.

Open Access Plus 80% Coinsurance Plan (OAP-80%): The OAP-80% plan is managed by CIGNA. The plan features a national network of providers and uses co-insurance and deductibles to help reduce the cost of the plan for participants. This plan does not provide the full range of covered benefits provided by the other Cigna managed plans, but offers a lower payroll contribution option for employees. The annual out-of-pocket maximum protects the employee in the event of serious illness, injury or chronic conditions. This plan allows members to see any licensed provider they choose but benefits are higher when they receive care from a provider in the OAP network. In addition, while members are encouraged to choose a primary care physician to coordinate their care, no referrals are needed to access care from specialists.

Health Maintenance Organization (HMO): The HMO plan is managed by Kaiser Permanente.  In this plan, each member must select a Primary Care Physician at the Kaiser center where they will receive most of their care. Centers are located in communities throughout the area. Patient records are maintained at the Center and decisions about patient care are made by the physicians there.


30 year resident : Can the county and schools join all the facilities together and have one fund to support capital needs then have a combination of the Supervisors, School Board and community on a joint committee to plan for the needs, maintenance and restoration of all the county's buildings in a more unified way?

Edward Long : Recently, a joint County-FCPS committee has been reviewing capital improvement requirements for both County and School facilities. The report is anticipated to be available March 4, 2014.


Anonymous User : So, if the rate must be advertised 30 days prior to the hearing, why not advertise a higher rate to allow for the possibility?

Edward Long : It is up to the Board of Supervisors to determine what rate to advertise.


Anonymous User : Has Fairfax County ever looked at the support services employees provide on the County's side and the FCPS school system side to see if there are duplicate support roles which could be combined and streamlined? It seems this would be a better way to serve Fairfax County residents and save money with the difficult budget.

Edward Long : There are many joint support services performed such as purchasing and vehicle maintenance. County and School staff are always looking for additional efficiencies.


Shinol : we are 73 ...the tax decisions area forcing us out of the county. intentional?

Edward Long : I can appreciate your concern regarding your tax bill.  One of the Board's biggest challenges is striking the right balance between available revenues and preserving the services that are important to the community such as schools, parks, libraries, human services and public safety.


Beth Eachus : When was the meals tax last proposed in a referendum?

Edward Long : The last referendum on a meals tax was in 1992. At that time, the referendum was defeated 58 to 42 percent.


Anonymous User : Apparently one of the big costs for the FCPS schools budget is the increase in students coming to the schools. If there are more students, doesn't that mean there are more residents and more taxes? Can't corporations have a minor change in taxes from the county so families don't have to keep paying more in taxes to cover the increasing number of students?

Edward Long : Virginia Code prohibits charging different tax rates for different types of properties. It should be noted that the current office building vacancy rate of 14.9 percent is the highest since 1991.


Edward Long : The Board of Supervisors will conduct public hearings on the budget April 8, 9 and 10, 2014. All of the budget information is available at:
www.fairfaxcounty.gov/budget.

Thank you very much for your questions and suggestions!

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