FY 2015 Budget and Meals Tax Task Force

Supervisor Cook’s Budget Statement

On April 22 the Board of Supervisors approved a budget for FY2015, which begins July 1, 2014. The budget increases the tax rate by half a penny – this is on top of tax assessment increases that averaged 6.5 percent countywide (7 percent in Braddock). Although I support many parts of this budget, I believe that, overall, it is misaligned with both our stated priorities and with current economic realities. I joined Supervisors Linda Smyth (D-Providence) and Pat Herrity (R-Springfield) in voting no. The budget will be formally adopted on April 29. 

The tax rate increases from 1.085 to 1.09 per $100 of assessed home value. The County will transfer about $1.9 billion to Fairfax County schools, a 3 percent increase ($51.5 million) over last year. In comparison, non-school County spending grows by 5 percent, a disparity that is inconsistent with stated Board priorities. Increases in school enrollment are outpacing population growth in Fairfax County, yet the Board is increasing County funding at almost twice the rate of school funding.

When I voted for last year’s budget I relied on the Board’s multi-year budget projection, which anticipated that the tax rate would remain flat this year. In the intervening year, however, commercial real estate growth remained stagnant.

It is clear that commercial properties are no longer providing a reliable source of revenue to the County and residential taxpayers now shoulder a disproportionate share of the tax burden. Despite this difficult economic picture, the Board voted to close a $10 million gap between expenses and revenues with an unnecessary tax increase.

I have voted for tax increases in the past when I believed they were critical, but in this budget I believe we could have achieved our goals through further reductions in County spending rather than by increasing the strain felt by taxpayers. I agree with the increased funding for schools and employee compensation in the Board’s budget.  However, there were many proposals on the table from Supervisors of both parties that—primarily through targeted reductions in other County spending—would have balanced the budget and allowed for these increases without raising the tax rate.

My vote yesterday also took into account more than just this latest tax increase. As always, I considered the total tax burden facing residents. In addition to assessment increases countywide, sewer and storm water fees have gone up over the last few years and will rise again next year. Since FY2013, real estate tax payments have increased by 12 percent, though our houses are still worth less today than they were in 2008.

I want to thank the many citizens I’ve spoken with and heard from regarding the County budget this year. Your insights have been invaluable and I’ve used your guidance in making my decision. Thank you for continuing to be engaged in our communities and please keep in contact. I value your input.

Meals Tax Referendum to be Studied

Chairman Bulova recently announced her intention to establish a Task Force to assess whether to present a referendum for voters to establish a meals tax in Fairfax County and to determine how revenue from such a tax would be used.  The Task Force will also consider the timing for placing a meals tax on the ballot. Former Board Chair Kate Hanley and former Congressman Tom Davis will co-chair the group which will contain members of various groups including the chambers of commerce, political parties, civic associations, schools, and others. The full text of the Chairman’s Board Matter on the meals tax can be found on her website.

In the Commonwealth of Virginia, towns and cities are permitted to have a meals tax subject to an affirmative vote by the governing body. Counties, however, may establish a meals tax only if a referendum is approved by the voters. The last time this proposal was put on the ballot in Fairfax County was in April, 1992. The referendum was not successful. During this last difficult budget cycle, the question of a meals tax was raised again.  The purpose would be to diversify revenue available to fund schools, public safety, parks, libraries and human services. Tax revenue is now raised disproportionately through taxes on homeowners. If adopted at the same approximate rate as cities and towns in Northern Virginia, the rate would be 4 percent of the cost of a restaurant meal and would result in annual revenue of approximately $88 million. The Task Force report is due to the Board on June 17.

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