While we are fortunate to live in one of the most economically advantaged counties in the United States, we are not immune to the economic storms that are shaking the country. Foreclosures, rising fuel and electricity costs, frozen credit markets, stock market decline, increases in the costs of goods and services, state budget cuts, and consumer wallet tightening are hitting us hard.
Back in July—a lifetime ago in economic years—the Board of Supervisors and the School Board were briefed on the County’s current and future fiscal outlook. The news was sobering. For the fiscal year beginning on July 1, 2009, we were looking at a projected county and school combined deficit of $430 million. As our national economy continued to be buffeted by a seemingly never ending deluge of bad economic news, our deficit figures worsened. In January, as I write this, we are looking at a combined county/schools deficit of at least $648 million. Additionally, we are looking at an additional $60 million deficit for the current fiscal year. That number could grow if the state makes another series of cuts to its budget.
Unlike the federal government, Fairfax County is legally required to have a balanced budget and that leaves us with very few options. First of all, the County Executive has taken a series of measures to close the $60 million gap. There is a county hiring freeze, travel and training have been frozen, and for the first time in memory, County employees were had an unpaid furlough day on January 2.
How Did We Get Here?
As a County, under state law we have only a few ways to raise revenue. The bulk of our revenue sources are real estate and personal property taxes and sales taxes—all of which have dropped with the overall economy.
Our challenge will be to close the budget gap without doing serious and lasting harm to the quality of life and the excellent school system that Fairfax County residents expect and deserve. Toward that end, both County and School boards have undertaken a detailed review of County lines of business and school programs. We’re looking for multi-year opportunities for cost reductions and savings, how we deliver programs and services, and where we can consolidate or eliminate duplication of services. Our challenge is to manage the economic realities that we’ve been warned are coming over the next several years.
Both the County and the School Board have actively solicited input from residents and 20 public meetings were held between September 20 and November 13. You can find more detailed information about these meetings, as well as a list of the comments that citizens have made at the county's Fiscal Year 2010 Budget page. (You’ll also find a lot of other useful budget information there.)
County budget are affecting our residents and huge tax increases are not the solution.
In the last fiscal year, we overcame a $175 million deficit by nibbling around the edges of our budget. We won’t have that luxury this time and the same financial pressures that are hitting our County budget are also affecting our residents—huge tax increases will not be the solution.
I’ve convened a budget advisory group to sift through the County lines of business (LOBs) and programs, looking for the must-saves, duplications, and the live-withouts. The goal is to save as much of the County services and quality of life as possible within our fiscal constraints.
Recently, Chairman Bulova appointed me to the Smart Savings School Board/Board of Supervisors task force and I will be working hard to find savings and areas for consolidation. I will also be working to grow our commercial tax base so that we can move away from our heavy reliance on residential property taxes.
This said, the next few years are going to be very difficult and realistically, we are going to be looking at a County very different from what our citizens expect.
I would welcome your thoughts and recommendations as we navigate this economic storm. What’s important to you and your family? What’s nice-to-have and what’s have- to-have? How do you think Fairfax County should balance the services it provides and the property taxes that fund those services? You can reach me at 703-971-6262 or at LeeDist@fairfaxcounty.gov.
Also in the January 2009 Issue of Supervisor McKay’s Electronic Newsletter