Thursday, May 11, 2023
In February, Fairfax City Manager Rob Stalzer presented his proposed FY 24 budget to Fairfax City Council. In it, he recommended raising the residential real-estate tax rate by 3 cents, from its current $1.01 per $100 assessed valuation to $1.04.
And while the Councilmembers agreed with the majority of his budget proposals, on this one, they sided with the residents – who will already be receiving higher tax bills because of recent increases in their property assessments.
So after various public hearings, work sessions and discussions, the budget Council adopted last Tuesday, May 2, did raise the real-estate tax, but by half the amount Stalzer had recommended. Instead, the new tax rate will go up just 1.5 cents to $1.025 per $100 assessed valuation.
At the outset of the special budget meeting, Councilmembers Tom Ross and Billy Bates teamed up to propose reducing the advertised FY 24 tax rate of $1.04 by a half-cent and then by 1 cent. But both motions failed, 4-2, with Councilmembers Jeff Greenfield, Jon Stehle, So Lim and Kate Doyle Feingold all voting no.
One penny of the tax rate equals $767,906 in City revenue, so Stehle then made a motion to decrease the City’s FY 24 tax revenues by $383,953 more – for a total of $1,151,859 – by cutting the proposed rate by 1.5 cents and therefore adopting a real-estate tax rate of $1.025. Lim seconded the motion.
“This keeps us above a 15-percent unassigned fund balance [to maintain Fairfax City’s AAA bond rating,” said Stehle. “And it keeps the establishment of a budget-stabilization fund.”
Agreeing with the further reduction, Greenfield said, “If we do nothing, real-estate taxes will still go up because of increased property-value assessments.” Then, directly addressing the residents, he said, “We get it; we hear you about the impact across the City. This budget fully funds the staff’s and Council’s priorities, while still enabling us to be good stewards [of the City’s finances].”
Lim said she appreciated her colleagues’ collaborations so they could come to an agreement. And, added Doyle Feingold, “This allows our residents to keep their own money for a rainy day.”
Saying he’d support it, Ross said, “The use of our tax dollars is evident in the City services the residents receive [in exchange].” Then, in several roll-call votes, the Councilmembers unanimously approved the new real-estate tax rate, as well as a personal-property and machinery-and-tools tax rate remaining at $4.13 per $100 assessed valuation.
The personal-property tax rate for qualified members of the City’s volunteer fire departments and volunteer rescue squads was set at 1 cent per $100 assessed valuation. All these tax rates take effect Jan. 1, 2024. In addition, the FY 24 budget fully funds the City School Board’s tuition request of $55,554,400.
Furthermore, this budget funds City employee salary hikes as follows: Also effective Jan. 1, 2024, a 3.5-percent merit pay increase for eligible employees and a 2-percent market-rate adjustment, effective July 1, 2023, to general pay scales, to retain parity within the region.
In October 2022, public-safety employees were moved to a step system, and the FY24 budget proposes a 1-percent cost-of-living increase, effective July 1, 2023, in addition to annual step increases.
The overall budget also recommends major CIP investments, especially in recreation, transportation, wastewater and general-government projects. And the budget adoption included approval of the FY2024-2028 CIP.
Approved, too, was a 6-percent wastewater utility rate increase to cover the City’s share of operations at the county’s wastewater-treatment plant, plus a 6-percent stormwater facility fee hike to support this City facility’s operations.
At the end of last week’s meeting, Stehle thanked and congratulated the City staff members who created the budget for Council’s consideration. “Putting together a budget is a huge effort,” he said. “Job well done.”