Fairfax County supervisors were still vigorously debating some key elements of the fiscal 2015 budget Friday as they prepared for Tuesday’s budget amendment session.
The main budget package that Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Sharon Bulova (D-At large) will put forward tomorrow includes a slight increase in the real estate tax rate and $14.6 million in budget cuts. That money would be used to fund larger pay increases for county employees and more schools funding than was included in County Executive Ed Long’s proposed budget.
Based on straw votes taken at Friday’s work session, Bulova’s proposal seems likely to pass. However, Supervisors John Foust (D-Dranesville) and Pat Herrity (R-Springfield) also offered their own budget proposals that don’t increase the real estate tax rate.
Foust’s proposal includes additional budget reductions and would make use of reserve funds set aside to deal with federal budget cuts that might happen in the middle of the budget year. He also proposed a slightly higher increase in schools funding.
Several board members had their eye on two reserve funds as a way to fund additional expenditures.
One was set aside to deal with the effects of federal budget sequestration, essentially buying the county time and flexibility to adjust federally funded programs if they lose federal support. The other is set aside to deal with potential legal liabilities in pending tax cases.
County staff strongly discouraged the board from tapping the reserves. Long also said that any money taken out of the reserves must go to one-time expenditures, not recurring expenses like employee salaries, to satisfy concerns of the bond rating agencies.
Herrity is proposing a 1-cent decrease in the real estate tax rate, to offset the larger tax bills most homeowners in the county are seeing due to increasing home values. He said that neighboring jurisdictions – Arlington, Loudoun and Prince William counties – are all considering lower tax rates this year.
He would fund the tax rate reduction through more significant budget cuts, including eliminating the county’s Consumer Affairs agency and delaying the opening of the Providence Community Center by one year.
Bulova’s proposal also would delay the opening of the community center and of a new mental health center in Merrifield, but for a shorter period of time. Both facilities would still open by the end of this year, a couple months later than originally planned.
Board members were also at odds over whether to provide support for the Inova Translational Medicine Institute, a research facility working on developments in the area of personalized medicine. County leaders are hoping that the project will help develop a health care information technology sector in the county.
Bulova’s budget reduces the planned $1 million investment in the institute, but some board members said they don’t think the county should be funding the center at all.
While she views Inova as “a very vital employer,” Supervisor Cathy Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill) said she does not think the county should help finance the institute.
“I just don’t believe that is where our tax dollars should be going,” she said.
Other supervisors said they think it is an important economic development initiative and that the county should uphold the commitment it made to Inova last year. The county pledged to contribute $1 million per year for the next 10 years.
The board will vote on amendments to Long’s budget on Tuesday and formally adopt the budget April 29.