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Town of Vienna sign on Maple Avenue (file photo)

Vienna residents’ next property tax bills won’t be quite as high as anticipated, even as the town commits to raising employee salaries and other additional costs.

The Vienna Town Council voted unanimously last night (Monday) to adopt a $48.7 million budget for fiscal year 2022-2023 with a real estate tax rate of 20.5 cents per $100 of assessed value — a 1.75-cent cut from the current rate. The new budget will be in effect from July 1 through June 30, 2023.

This will be the 10th consecutive year that the town has reduced or maintained its real estate tax rate, according to a news release.

With the average residential tax bill expected to increase 3.7% from last year due to rising assessment values, the council had urged staff to lower the tax rate beyond the 1-cent reduction initially proposed by Town Manager Mercury Payton.

“I think we did a good thing to help all residents in Vienna, but also, we were fiscally responsible,” Mayor Linda Colbert said after the vote. “We still have the rainy day fund and so on.”

Even with the increased tax cut, the adopted budget is 12.7% larger than the current spending plan, thanks to an “unusually large” surplus from fiscal year 2020-2021 and revenues bouncing back after two years of declines during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to town staff.

Parks and recreation fees have returned to pre-pandemic levels, jumping from $991,000 in fiscal year 2021-2022 to $1.1 million in the newly adopted budget, Director of Finance Marion Serfass told the town council.

The town also has also seen strong sales and meals tax revenues. The latter rose 23% to $3.2 million, according to budget documents, which attribute the increase to “easing pandemic conditions, creative solutions to restaurant dining including outdoor dining opportunities, and several new restaurants opening.”

The adopted budget includes a 4% salary increase for all eligible employees, on top of a 3% increase that was approved with last year’s surplus funds but deferred to the coming fiscal year. It also establishes a new, separate pay plan for the Vienna Police Department to “address challenges with officer recruitment and retention,” the town says.

In his overview for the budget, Payton noted that most town employees will see a 11.7% increase in health insurance premiums.

“The salary increase will assist employees in recovering those increases and also address inflation, wage pressure and employee retention concerns,” he wrote.

On top of the budget and real estate tax rate, the town council approved increases to the water and sewer rates of 2.6% and 3.8%, respectively. Fixed service charges will also go up by 4.8%, from $31.30 to $32.80 per quarter for most residential customers.

The average residential customer will see an overall increase of $10 per quarter, or $40 annually, in their bill.

According to the town, the service charges increase is necessary to bring them “in line with industry standards.” Serfass said the town’s utilization of federal coronavirus relief funds for $5 million in infrastructure costs prevented rates from growing even faster.

Vienna was allocated a total of $17.1 million by the American Rescue Plan Act, about $13 million of which the town intends to spend on water, sewer, park, street, and sidewalk infrastructure projects. The second half of the funds are expected to come in June.

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Fairfax County Public Schools is considering additional funding for electric school buses, among other priorities (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Fairfax County Public Schools didn’t get all the money it wanted, but its next budget still has room to address some key priorities, including staff compensation and efforts to reduce the system’s carbon footprint.

Adopted by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday (May 10), the county’s new budget for fiscal year 2023, which starts on July 1, trimmed $10 million from the $112.6 million increase in transfer funds sought by FCPS, officials reported to the school board earlier this week.

According to Superintendent Scott Brabrand, the reduction was part of an agreement with the county government to cut their respective budgets “just a bit…in a collective effort to support affordable housing in the county.”

“[That] is a major priority for the county and for the school system too, as many of our employees face rising housing costs to be able to live and work here,” Brabrand told the school board at the work session on Tuesday. “We are still in very, very good shape.”

FCPS officials said they will address the $10 million deficit by eliminating one of 17 planned professional development days.

The roughly $3.3 billion budget contains $12.7 million in placeholder funds to address any state-required expenditures and a market study requested by the school board last year that examined salaries for family liaisons and transportation workers.

With the study completed and no new requirements expected from the state, which is still negotiating its budget, those funds have been freed up to boost recruitment and retention, environmental initiatives, and other needs, as recommended by Brabrand.

Staff development and compensation

Brabrand’s recommendations devote about half of the available funds — $7 million — to employee recruitment and retention, including $4.3 million to extend all salary scales by a step.

The budget already covers a 4% market rate adjustment and step increases for eligible staff, but many veteran employees have reached the top of their scales. According to staff, FCPS offers fewer salary steps than other divisions, putting it at a disadvantage at a time when schools are struggling to find teachers, bus drivers, and more.

“Employees at the top of their respective scales may have enough to retire, but they’re still relatively young, productive, and provide value to FCPS and its students,” Assistant Superintendent of Financial Services Leigh Burden said. “We want to keep those staff members, and extending the salary scale one additional step is a way to do that.” Read More

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Morning Notes

Under the virtual shark tank at Reston Station (photo by Marjorie Copson)

Austin Transit Leader Named New Metro General Manager — “Metro on Tuesday tapped the chief executive of a Texas transit agency to lead the system through safety and pandemic-related challenges that have frustrated riders and strained public transportation…Randy Clarke, 45, will replace Paul J. Wiedefeld, who announced in January that he would retire on June 30″ [The Washington Post]

Fairfax County Firefighter Gets Funeral Procession — “Tuesday marked the final farewell for Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Captain Kimberly Schoppa, who died last month from occupational cancer. Her line-of-duty funeral included a procession and escort to the church, with her flag-draped casket onboard a fire truck and then carried inside by the Honor Guard.” [ABC7]

Jury Awards Tysons Company $2B in Damages — A Fairfax County Circuit Court jury awarded Appian over $2 billion in damages after finding rival software company Pegasystems Inc. stole its trade secrets. Announced yesterday (Tuesday) after a seven-week trial, the damages are the largest ever awarded in Virginia court history, Appian says. [Appian]

County Board Approves New Budget — “On Tuesday morning, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors gave final approval to the fiscal year 2023 budget, which reduces the real estate tax rate by 3 cents. The approved budget did not change from the budget markup the board approved on April 26.” [Patch]

Teachers’ Union Calls for Continued Virtual Learning — The Fairfax Education Association sent a letter to Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand and school board members last week urging them to “continue offering a limited virtual school program for vulnerable students and staff.” FCPS announced in March that it will discontinue the option in the next school year. [WTOP]

Former Reston Association Board President Dies at 84 — “In the words of one reporter, Mike [Freeman Jr.] had a case of chronic community activism for a myriad of Reston organizations, including St. Anne’s Episcopal Church, FISH, and soccer and swim teams. He was a volunteer driver for the first local RIBS bus, and an elected board member of the Reston Association, serving as Board President 1988-89.” [Patch]

County Opens West Falls Church Transportation Survey — “The Fairfax County Department of Transportation (FCDOT) will hold a second round of virtual community meetings to present updates on the West Falls Church (WFC) Active Transportation Study…The public will have the opportunity to ask questions and provide input as well as completing an online survey to provide feedback.” [FCDOT]

Fairfax County Honors Hockey Team and Teachers — The Board of Supervisors recognized the Langley High School ice hockey team yesterday for winning the Northern Virginia School Hockey League championship in February while also completing the season with the least amount of penalties among teams. The board also designated May as Teacher Appreciation Month. [Fairfax County]

Veteran and Military Spouse Career Fair Starts Today — “The free-to-attend event features two days of opportunities for candidates to connect with companies, with in-person sessions between 10:00 am-12:00 pm and 1:00-3:00 p.m. ET on May 11 at the National Museum of the United States Army at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, and a virtual fair taking place from 1:00-4:00 p.m. ET on May 12″ [Fairfax County Economic Development Authority]

It’s Wednesday — Partly cloudy throughout the day. High of 69 and low of 50. Sunrise at 6:01 am and sunset at 8:12 pm. [Weather.gov]

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Morning Notes

Wall art by Starr Hill Biergarten at The Perch in Tysons (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

County Board to Adopt New Budget Today — “Board of Supervisors set to adopt FY23 budget tomorrow, May 10. It fully funds @fcpsnews employee compensation and invests in priorities. $96 million balance to reduce real estate tax rate, increase affordable housing, parks, among others.” [Fairfax County Government/Twitter]

Lee District Gets New Community Center — Elected officials and community members gathered on Saturday (May 7) to cut the ribbon for Fairfax County’s new Lee District Community Center, which will provide recreation, educational workshops, and other programs to residents in the Buckman Road area on the west side of Richmond Highway. The center also hosts a workforce training and development center. [Neighborhood and Community Services]

Metro Reports Higher-than-Expected Ridership — “Ridership has already surprised their conservatively-estimated projection of 28 million rides by nearly 40% through the first three quarters of the fiscal year…The numbers bode well for the region’s economic recovery as tourism rebounds and more workers return to the office, but it is less welcome news for train and bus riders who are experiencing more crowded vehicles.” [DCist]

Great Falls Road Closure Starts Today — “Springvale Road will be closed for 48 hours starting Tuesday to allow VDOT crews to reconstruct the road’s approach to Route 7. During the closure, drivers on Springfield Road can access Route 7 by taking Georgetown Pike to the Utterback Store Road.” [Patch]

Mental Health Services Facility to Be Renamed — “Fairfax County officials on May 12 will celebrate the renaming and dedication of the former Merrifield Center as the ‘Sharon Bulova Center for Community Health’…Bulova served as chairman through 2019, when she retired after 31 years on the board.” [Sun Gazette]

Route 7 Bus Service Plan Inches Forward — “Plans to create a bus-rapid-transit, or BRT, line using Route 7 to connect Tysons to Alexandria continue to move forward, with the next installment to hire a consultant that will guide the next phases of the project.” [Sun Gazette/Inside NoVA]

Fort Hunt Teacher Reflects on Three-Decade-Long Career — “Reading Specialist Jill Norris joined the staff of Stratford Landing Elementary School in Fairfax County last August after a break from a 35-year career as a teacher. ‘To share my passion for reading and writing with kids and teachers,’ is what brings joy to Norris.” [ABC7]

It’s Tuesday — Clear throughout the day. High of 66 and low of 46. Sunrise at 6:02 am and sunset at 8:11 pm. [Weather.gov]

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Fairfax County Government Center (file photo)

While many Fairfax County homeowners are bracing for jumps in their real estate tax assessments, the overall property tax burden on commercial and industrial property owners is projected to drop.

With the market upended by the pandemic, telecommuting, and other factors, the county’s property tax revenue for commercial and industrial properties will decrease by $8 million for fiscal year 2023, which starts July 1.

Meanwhile, the residential property tax base will increase by $155 million after a surge in housing demand fueled rising assessments. Bills are expected to increase even with the Board of Supervisors planning to reduce the tax rate when it adopts a new budget on Tuesday (May 10).

Real estate taxes are the primary funding source for county services, including schools, fire, police, social services, libraries and parks.

The residential property tax base is projected to bring in $2.2 billion for the current fiscal year 2022, which concludes on June 30. With 240 new parcels and the tax rate change in the coming fiscal year, the properties will produce a 6.9% increase in revenue.

Commercial and industrial taxes should generate nearly $550 million for fiscal year 2022, but the base only added two more parcels, resulting in a 1.5% reduction in anticipated revenue.

“Commercial assessments were down almost across the board last year (FY 22) because of the pandemic,” a county spokesperson said in an email. “Some property types dropped in value more than others. For this year (FY23), the effects of the pandemic have started to subside, and commercial property values have, by and large, started to recover. As with the previous year’s assessments, not every commercial property type is recovering at the same rate.”

Offices and other commercial properties are assessed based on the income they produce for the property owner, according to the county. The value of some commercial property types — such as gas stations, fast food restaurants, and commercial condominium units — is determined “using a sales comparison approach,” the county says.

Delinquent taxes weren’t included in figures the county provided, and Public Service Corporations assessments, such as utility taxes, were excluded because they are assessed separately by the state.

County staff said that while the ratio changes from year to year, residential properties typically make up approximately 75% of the tax base.

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The Fairfax County Government Center (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is slated to adopt its budget on Tuesday (May 10), triggering a series of raises for workers starting in July.

Nearly a third of public safety workers will see increases of up to 14.01% during the year, following an additional increase approved by the board on April 26.

Other county workers, in addition to getting performance, merit and longevity increases, will also get 4.01% raises through market rate adjustments to make their salaries more competitive.

The budget process also covers the Fairfax County Public Schools, which will pass its own budget, covering nearly 25,000 positions. County funding is slated to cover 4% raises and step increases of eligible employees for the district.

The county’s push to improve compensation for its workers comes amid a 15% vacancy rate, as of mid-March, representing 2,125 openings, and concerns about employee recruitment and retention.

What do you think of the proposed compensation increases for county workers? Is it critical to ensure the people who keep schools, the police, and other services running can live where they work, or is it too much at this time, given the area’s rising property taxes?

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Fairfax County Chief Public Defender Dawn Butorac at a budget hearing on April 14, 2022 (via Fairfax County)

Fairfax County’s upcoming budget won’t fully resolve funding disparities between public defenders and the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office.

Instead, county leaders said they’ll continue working with General Assembly representatives to fix funding disparities, where Fairfax County public defenders say they’re underfunded and underpaid.

“I want to acknowledge the request that we received from that office, and I do recognize the ongoing struggle to create parity between their office and the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office,” Lee District Supervisor Rodney Lusk said.

The Board of Supervisors agreed on Tuesday (April 26) to reduce Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office contribution of around $804,000 and funding to add six positions there, changing its local spending of its advertised budget for prosecutors.

Chief public defender Dawn Butorac was unimpressed by the commitment.

“It is incredibly disappointing that the Board continues to gloss over how important we are to the criminal legal system in Fairfax,” she told FFXnow by email. “Their budget decisions demonstrate that the poor and marginalized citizens in this community are not a priority.”

She said the board told her at the budget meeting that they’ve been trying to resolve the pay issues through the General Assembly.

“Many other jurisdictions in Virginia supplement public defender salaries and do so at a rate higher than the 15% supplement in Fairfax,” Butorac wrote. “Several, in fact, have pay parity or are working towards that goal.”

Butorac wanted around $825,000 for her office, up from its current allocation of $525,000. The office also receives $3.9 million in funding from the state.

Last year, the county extended 15% salary supplements for staff in the public defender’s office.

“We must find more sustainable pathways on working with the state to fund the public defender’s office,” Lusk said, noting he’s committed to working with the rest of the board, Butorac, and state legislators on the matter.

Lusk, who chairs the Board of Supervisors’ public safety committee, said he would participate if necessary in a hearing or meeting in Richmond on the issue.

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Herndon government offices (file photo)

The Town of Herndon has held the line on its real estate tax rate as the council approved its $57.3 million budget for fiscal year 2023.

The budget, which represents a nearly 3% increase over last year, includes the first pay raises for the Herndon Town Council in nearly 15 years.

The real estate tax remains unchanged at $0.265 per $100 of assessed value, but property owners will see hikes in tax bills in the next fiscal year due to big jumps in real estate values.

The town also increased water and sewer rates from $6.28 to $7.16 per 1,000 gallons for sewer and $3.21 to $3.31 per 1,000 gallons for water along with an increase in fees for the Herndon Centennial Golf Course and Chestnut Grove Cemetery.

In response to some residents’ and councilmembers’ concerns that the increases were too high, Town Manager Bill Ashton noted that costs of maintenance for both systems have increased between 2011 and 2018.

“We weren’t covering over that period the money that would cover that operational capital expenditure,” Ashton said, adding that maintenance issues like pipe replacement are becoming more commonplace.

Not everyone was amenable to pay increases for the Herndon Town Council and mayor. Councilmember pay increased from $4,000 to $15,000, and the mayor’s pay increased from $6,000 to $16,000. The increases will go into effect in the 2023-2024 term.

The measure passed with Mayor Sheila Olem casting the lone dissenting vote Tuesday night (April 26).

“It’s too big of a raise…especially for this time,” Olem said, adding that she had hoped to examine more modest pay increases for all boards and commissions instead of a big hike for the council.

Others said the move incentivizes more candidates to seek office.

Councilmember Signe Friedrichs said that, while she was conflicted about her support, the raise simply “doesn’t look good in a time of inflation.” Still, she joined the rest of the council in voting for the proposal.

“Sometimes you have to make concessions to make sure that something gets done,” she said.

Former mayor Lisa Merkel said that, while the salary increase for the mayor was appropriate, councilmembers should not receive a similar raise due to the differences in the mayoral and council roles.

“I am aware that there is a considerable difference in time and responsibility between serving as a council member verses serving in the mayor role,” Merkel wrote in a letter to the council. “The mayor signs all leases and legal documents, contracts, plats, and many other legally binding documents.  While Councilmember’ records and emails remain on the record and FOIAable for 7 years after their final term ends, the Mayor’s records remain on record and FOIAable in perpetuity.”

The first proposal included more modest increases — $10,000 for council members and $12,000 for the mayor.

The council will approve the town’s Capital Improvement Plan next month.

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Kids gather at Lake Fairfax Park for a day of fishing on Saturday, April 2, 2022 (via Fairfax County Park Authority)

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors agreed yesterday (Tuesday) to advance proposed spending adjustments to help its park authority, ArtsFairfax and nonprofits.

County leaders approved the changes at a budget markup meeting, serving as a final step before the board adopts the final fiscal year 2023 budget on May 10.

The approved adjustments to the advertised budget, which was presented in February, include:

  • $751,954 and three new positions to support the Park’s natural resources sustainability efforts to help maintain the system’s actively managed acres
  • $250,000 for ArtsFairfax to supplement the organization’s existing grant program for the arts
  • $825,000 in additional funding for nonprofits to cover contract rate increases for direct health and human service providers
  • $6.1 million for a salary increase for certain public safety workers
  • Removal of an additional six positions and a decrease of $804,258 in funding that was initially proposed in the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney

“Fairfax NAACP is pleased to see the [Board of Supervisors’] recognition of the importance of parks shared extensively in their pre-markup plan,” Lydia Lawrence, the organization’s environmental and climate justice lead, said in an email to FFXnow.

The park authority had wanted $5 million to reduce financial barriers to certain fee-based amenities, such as golf courses and the RECenters. The $500,000 allocated to the equity program will stay the same as the advertised budget, but the budget markup suggests it could serve as a pilot for possible expansion in the future.

FCPA board members also expressed concern over how changes to a bond referendum cycle could affect capital projects.

“We are glad to see the BOS recommendation to meet FCPA’s natural resource ask,” Lawrence wrote. “While there were no changes to the County Executive’s proposed equity funding and bond movement, we trust the BOS’s commitment in the pre-markup plan to work closely with FCPA and the community to adequately fund FCPA’s future capital improvements and equity projects.”

Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said the board will still support capital projects, such as planned Audrey Moore and Mount Vernon RECenter renovations.

ArtsFairfax President and CEO Linda Sullivan said the arts agency wants to be able to better serve the 200-plus nonprofit arts organizations that are still striving for recovery following the sector’s mass closures, staff reductions and income loss during the pandemic.

“With the County’s additional funding, we hope to reach those organizations who have not benefited from past emergency relief funding, as well as arts organizations who represent historically underserved or economically disadvantaged areas of the County, and organizations who represent cultural traditions that reflect the diversity of County residents,” she said in a statement.

The budget markup process followed three days of public hearings on April 12-14, where community members expressed their opinions on issues from affordable housing to employee vacancies.

Other changes include a reduction in the machinery and tools tax from $4.57 to $2 per $100 of assessed value. Supervisors said that would help small business and economic development.

The budget will also bring changes to employee compensation, county services and tax relief, most notably for real estate and vehicle assessments.

Photo via Fairfax County Park Authority

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The Fairfax County government logo (staff photo by David Taube)

On average, Fairfax County residential property owners will see a bigger hike in their tax bills this year than at any other point in the 21st century.

Based on a real estate tax rate three cents lower than what was originally advertised, the average increase of $465 will come once the Board of Supervisors officially adopts a budget on May 10 for fiscal year 2023, which starts July 1.

The spending plan calls for numerous compensation increases, as the county government struggles to fill worker vacancies, along with funding for other initiatives, such as affordable housing and county parks.

At a meeting yesterday (Tuesday), the board agreed 9-1 on a set of adjustments to the proposed budget that County Executive Bryan Hill presented in February. Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity, the lone Republican, dissented, saying that he supports the planned employee raises but feels costs could’ve been cut elsewhere.

Fairfax County real estate tax rates per $100 of assessed value (numbers calculated via Fairfax County budget documents)

“This is not a budget I can support given the very realistic options to bring down the rate much further,” Herrity said. “We need…to get back to reviewing programs for effectiveness and some for elimination.”

He said the upcoming budget includes the most significant increase in real estate taxes since 2006, when the board dropped the tax rate 11 cents and kept it flat at 89 cents in 2007 as the county sought to move past the housing bubble and financial crisis.

As consideration items for the budget mark-up, Herrity proposed eliminating $81.3 million from the county’s funds for Fairfax County Public Schools and a “$96.4 million surplus…to reduce the taxpayer burden,” among other cuts.

Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw, responding to Herrity’s comments, said the average tax bill is increasing less than inflation. That consumer rate was 8.5%, as of March, over the last 12 months, whereas the average residential property tax rate increase would be 6.7%.

In other budget years, the average bill has increased anywhere from $19 to $360 in today’s dollars. Among those increases, property owners typically face $170 upticks on average, adjusted for inflation. Read More

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