Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Appearing before members of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors for the last time, outgoing county executive Anthony Griffin had the luxury of taking the long view. When considering the challenges that currently confront the county, Griffin reminded the elected officials that it wasn’t all that long ago that Fairfax County has essentially a rural backwater of the capital.
"If you take a look at where we were at the end of World War II, when we were the second largest dairy producing county in the state of Virginia and we had 50,000 people and then you look at where we are today with 1.1 million people," said Griffin, "we had huge challenges."
Since that time, Fairfax County has emerged as the powerhouse of Northern Virginia with a $6.7 billion budget — larger than many countries across the globe. Griffin’s budget for fiscal year 2013 keeps the current tax rate at $1.07 for every $100 of assessed value. Because of rising property values, that means the average homeowner will pay $4,801, which is $34 more than last year. County leaders say the rising property values have eased some of the tension created by the recession, although they were quick to point out that the county has yet to return to the boom times of the last decade.
"This proposed budget reflects the difficult economic situation as we recover from the Great Recession," said Fairfax County Board Chairwoman Sharon Bulova. "We are not yet out of the woods, but we are seeing some modest growth."
THAT GROWTH has funded several new spending initiatives at the Fairfax County Government Center. The largest new spending measures in Griffin’s proposed budget is a 2.18 percent market-rate adjustment for county employees. That will cost more than $22 million and will become effective this summer if supervisors approve the proposal. Griffin added that this is the fourth year that public safety employees will not get a step increase and county employees will not get a pay-for-performance bonus.
"I have to tell you that employees are getting anxious," said Griffin. "They’re concerned about their ability as individuals to continue to maintain their lifestyle and their requirements in the absence of any change in pay."
In addition to raising property taxes, Griffin’s budget also imposes a host of new fees. The stormwater fee would increase from 1.5 cents for every $100 of assessed value to 2.5 cents for every $100 of assessed value. The solid waste fee would increase from $15.50 for each ton to $17.50 for each ton. The sewer service charge would increase from $6.01 for every 1,000 gallons to $6.55 for every 1,000 gallons.
"There really is a crisis in this country right now because the infrastructure that is below ground, which people do not see is in serious shape," said Griffin. "We are better off because our community developed since World War II primarily."
GRIFFIN’S PROPOSED BUDGET maintains the current funding for the school system at 52.5 percent. That’s $1.68 billion, a 4.5 percent increase over last year. Yet it’s also $70 million less than the request from the school system, which was $1.75 billion. As a result, Griffin suggested supervisors advertise a tax rate of $1.09 to give supervisors some flexibility. The county executive also presented a PowerPoint slide to supervisors that showed the average residential property taxpayer’s bill had declined $45 since fiscal year 2007. But Supervisor Pat Herrity (R-Springfield) pointed out that didn’t include the stormwater fee, which is part of the annual property tax bill. Although Griffin said the average tax bill is $4,801, Herrity pointed out that when the stormwater fee is added the average bill is $4,913.
"So instead of decreasing by $45, the check the average homeowner writes actually went up $80," said Herrity.
"I’m not intending to try to confuse people," said Griffin. "But the stormwater is a separate account and a separate f