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Proposed county budget maintains property tax rate, but bills could go up anyway

Fairfax County residents could see their property taxes increase by $666 on average, based on a proposed budget presented by County Executive Bryan Hill today (Tuesday).

Covering fiscal year 2023, which starts July 1, the nearly $4.8 billion spending plan maintains the current tax rate of $1.14 per $100 of assessed value, but it comes amid what Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay called “sky high” residential property assessments.

According to the county, 92% of households saw an increased assessment in 2021, so if the flat tax rate is approved, most households will still be paying more in real estate taxes, which are the county’s primary source of revenue.

“These numbers are staggering. They’re historic,” McKay said, noting that not everyone will be able to afford them.

However, potential relief could come from nearly $80 million in unallocated funds that the proposed budget leaves to the board’s discretion.

The board agreed to expand a tax relief program for older adults and people with disabilities in December, but multiple supervisors suggested that more assistance will be needed.

“It’s going to cause a lot of pain,” Lee District Supervisor Rodney Lusk said of the increased assessments.

Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust said property taxes are not the long-term answer for funding the county government, suggesting that the board might want to assess whether it proceeds with the amount proposed for public schools.

While the school board adopts its own budget, the county is looking to give Fairfax County Public Schools its requested $112.65 million increase for a full budget of nearly $3.3 billion — a 5% uptick from the previous year, according to the county.

At the same time, Hill said the economic uncertainty caused by the pandemic has begun to dissipate, putting the county in a much better position than previous years. As a result, the budget could address ongoing concerns, such as providing competitive compensation to staff.

The county is facing challenges in terms of retaining and recruiting workers, with a current vacancy rate of 10%, Hill estimated. The proposed budget adds 109 positions, primarily to support new facilities, workload requirements, and continuing county initiatives.

“Fairfax County deserves a budget which invests in good, safe jobs for all workers, and quality public services for all working families,” Tammie Wondong, president of the Service Employees International Union’s Fairfax County government chapter, said in a statement. “Frontline workers throughout our community need affordable health care, need to keep up with the cost of living, and need safe working conditions.”

The Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance in October to let unions collectively bargain, but it’s still going through a lengthy process to determine representatives for police, fire, and other government units.

As it currently stands, the proposed budget includes a 4% raise for all employees, though Hill suggested some groups, such as uniformed responders, could see as much as a 7.8% increase.

“Today, we’re sitting in a much better position, a place of stability, that we have not really had the benefit of in the past couple years,” McKay said. “This is the first step of a very lengthy process.”

Hill’s proposal also increases refuse rates for households from $400 to $475, quarterly sewer base charges from $36.54 to $40.14, and service charges per 1,000 gallons from $7.72 to $8.09.

The county is slated to advertise proposed tax rates on March 8, with public hearings coming April 12-14. The board will mark up the budget on April 26 and adopt it on May 10.

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