Early voting for the next general election has just gotten underway, but Fairfax County’s elections staff is already planning for next year and beyond.
The county’s Office of Elections has requested $5 million to launch a multi-year rollout of new, updated voting machines as part of a $190 million spending package carried over from fiscal year 2022, which ended on June 30.
Expected to start in 2023, the process will replace more than 1,200 machines owned by the county, according to Fairfax County Office of Elections spokesperson Brian Worthy. The existing machines are now eight years old.
“While the machines are secure, function well and meet current standards, the Office of Elections will replace them to keep up with technology changes, as well as meet new federal security guidelines that will become the standard in the near future,” Worthy said.
The voting machine replacement plan is one of several initiatives covered by the FY 2022 carryover review, which uses surplus funds to address previously approved or new, one-time budget items.
Buoyed by higher-than-anticipated revenue from staff vacancies and close spending management, per an Aug. 1 memo from County Executive Bryan Hill, the package includes a net total of 30 new positions, 27 of them for the upcoming South County Animal Shelter.
The animal shelter positions are needed to ensure the facility is staffed for an expected opening in May, Chief Financial Officer Christian Jackson told the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors’ budget policy committee on Sept. 20.
The proposal raised some eyebrows, since it will require ongoing funding.
“We have traditionally been very, very disciplined about using carryover for recurring expenses,” Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross said. “30 is a lot [of positions].”
Jackson reassured the committee that the carryover will allocate $1.9 million to fill the positions for part of a year, but full-time funding of $2.9 million will be included in the county’s next proposed budget, which is typically presented in February each year.
Other notable items in the carryover review include:
- $10.3 million for environmental initiatives, including electric vehicles and charging stations as well as LED streetlight replacements
- $3.5 million for an expanded child care center at the Original Mount Vernon High School
- $2.58 million for employee pay and benefits
- $2.5 million to establish a Tysons anchor organization
- $5 million for Fairfax County Park Authority capital projects
- About $13.2 million for facility improvements, including the demolition of two Historic Courthouse wings and a long-term design for the Hybla Valley Community Center
The Board of Supervisors has also proposed using remaining unallocated money to help bring permanent restrooms to local high school stadiums, improve sidewalks to Huntley Meadows Park, enhance trails in Gum Springs, and hire a data scientist for the board auditor’s office.
Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity requested that the county address police staffing shortages with a $2.5 million reserve for one-time hiring bonuses. He also proposed letting employees defer retirement for two more years and enabling the police chief to hire retired officers.
Jackson said employees can only use the deferred retirement option for up to three years, but the current average is less than two years. She also said retired police officers can already be hired for a limited amount of time, since otherwise, they’d have to un-retire.
The board will vote on the carryover review after a public hearing on Oct. 11.
With the national shortage of commercial drivers continuing to strain services from trash collection to school buses, the Town of Vienna plans to increase salaries and offer bonuses to bolster its maintenance workforce.
As part of a new incentive program, the Department of Public Works recommends that the town increase its entry-level salary for maintenance workers to $55,000 and offer a $2,000 hiring bonus to new employees with a commercial driver’s license (CDL).
Maintenance workers — who handle tasks from paving and plowing roads to maintaining sewers and parks facilities — currently get a minimum annual salary of $40,354 or $44,490, depending on the exact position, according to Vienna’s pay plan for fiscal year 2022-2023.
The incentive program would adjust the salaries of existing employees with CDLs accordingly “to address compression and years of service,” town staff wrote in a request for $80,000 to fund the plan in the FY 2022-2023 budget.
The program would also give an annual $2,500 bonus to employees who maintain a Class A CDL and $2,000 bonuses to employees who maintain a Class B license.
Per the staff memo, the proposed hiring bonuses are in line with what Fairfax County, the Town of Herndon, and other Northern Virginia jurisdictions are offering. However, they fall short of what workers can get from the private sector, where incentives range from $4,000 to $10,000.
Vienna’s public works department is seeking $80,000 for the program in a $1.28 million set of adjustments to the FY 2022-2023 budget, known as carry forwards.
“Carry forward money is available because the Town had a surplus in FY 2021-22 of approximately $720,000,” town staff said. “The surplus is due to a combination of several General Fund revenues exceeding budget plus salary savings due to position vacancies during the year.”
Intended to address needs identified after the budget was adopted in May, the package includes $100,000 for building maintenance, $15,000 for landscaping at the Bowman House, and $30,000 to switch 60 town cell phones from T-Mobile to AT&T, among other items.
Stricter regulations for massage salons that the town council approved on Aug. 29 will require a new temporary employee to help enforce the new rules, according to staff. The town estimates that the position will cost $40,000.
“During the 2024 budget cycle staff will recommend whether or not this requires a permanent full or half-time position,” the memo says.
The Vienna Town Council will hold a public hearing on the proposed carry forward plan during its regular meeting at 8 p.m. tonight (Monday).
(Updated at 4:35 p.m.) Employee bonuses, facility improvements, and a study of middle school start times are among the priorities that Fairfax County Public Schools can now fund, thanks to some financial leeway from staff vacancies and state revenue.
The school system has about $90.9 million left over from fiscal year 2022, which ran from July 1, 2021 to June 30 of this year, FCPS leaders reported to the school board during its last regular meeting on July 14.
“This expenditure variance represents about 2.5% of the total budget and is a little larger than normal, due to the pandemic and attributed to greater vacancies and turnover in contracted employees and lower costs in hourly and overtime salary and in benefit savings,” Department of Financial Services Assistant Superintendent Leigh Burden said.
Since Virginia lawmakers didn’t adopt a state budget until early June, FCPS has received about $25.3 million more than anticipated in the fiscal year 2023 budget that the school board approved on May 26, taking effect on July 1.
The additional state revenue includes $18.1 million that must be put toward bonuses for instructional and support staff.
In total, FCPS has $116.3 million available for this fiscal year. With staff recommending setting aside about $21.8 million for next year, here’s how the school system plans to spend the remainder:
Employee bonuses ($33.9 million)
Contracted employees would get $1,000 bonuses, and a $500 bonus will go to hourly employees including substitute teachers, who work a minimum number ofdays. Burden said the bonuses are a nod to “the continued impact of the pandemic on education” and an effort to improve staff retention.
Staff reserves ($20 million)
FCPS is seeking to add 190 positions to its staffing reserve, since all 310 positions covered by the current budget have already been depleted.
“We have had increases in student enrollment over the last year, and there is potential for more growth through September,” Burden said. “…We need as much flexibility as possible in this area, and that is the best way to do it at this point in time.”
School construction fund ($16.8 million)
With some help from the county government, these funds will cover installations of permanent restrooms at 15 high school athletic stadiums, some backlogged maintenance projects, new softball dugouts at eight high schools, and synthetic turf field replacements at Oakton, Falls Church, and Woodson high schools.
FCPS has also received $24.2 million in state school construction grants that will be used to add security vestibules and outdoor classrooms at all schools without those facilities, upgrade bathrooms, introduce sensory rooms, replace interior security locks, and make all early childhood playgrounds ADA compliant. Read More
Fairfax County plans to direct $3.5 million in unspent funds to Tysons for two projects expected to play an integral role in the area’s future.
The still-undefined and unnamed “Tysons Anchor Organization” could receive $2.5 million this fall if the fiscal year 2022 budget carryover package presented to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors last Tuesday (Aug. 2) is approved.
Envisioned as a long-term, more sustainable replacement for the Tysons Partnership, the organization will support economic and community development as a nonprofit “designed to serve as a catalyst for the transformation of Tysons into an inclusive, vibrant, and globally attractive urban center,” according to the carryover package.
The county already allocated $125,000 in June for legal, planning and marketing work to establish the anchor organization. Those funds came from a $1 million Economic Opportunity Reserve grant that the board nominated Tysons Partnership for in 2020.
The anchor organization is currently on track to be in place this October.
“The carryover funding, if approved by the Board, would be available beginning in mid-October for the partial first year operating budget of the organization,” Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik’s office said.
The proposed carryover package also contains $1 million for the Tysons Community Center that will be included in the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing’s planned affordable housing at Dominion Square West (1592 Spring Hill Road).
If approved, the money will cover engineering consultant work, county staff time for project management, and a mechanical, electrical and plumbing peer review, though the overall design and construction is expected to be financed by Fairfax County Economic Development Authority bonds.
The county held community forums last month to gather the public’s input on what services and facilities should be available in the upcoming center.
Carryover refers to county funds that went unspent in one fiscal year and can be moved over to the next. The county has $199.61 million available from FY 2022, which ended June 30, thanks to higher-than-anticipated revenue, “continuing close management of agency spending and prolonged vacancy levels,” according to an Aug. 4 news release.
The Board of Supervisors will hold a public hearing and vote on the carryover package on Oct. 11.
FCPS Students Rally in Support of Reproductive Health — “Students are calling on Fairfax County Public Schools to reform its sex education program — adding more information about contraception and increasing student access to contraceptives — in response to the fall of Roe v. Wade.” [The Washington Post]
Local Company Helped Built Groundbreaking Telescope — Earlier this week, NASA released the first images from its James Webb Space Telescope, built with a team of private companies led by West Falls Church-based Northrop Grumman. Offering “never-before-seen glimpses into the origins of our universe,” Webb is the “largest, most complex and powerful space telescope ever built.” [FCEDA]
Dozens Vaccinated Against Covid at Reston Clinic — “After months of planning and preparation, the clinic was held at Reston Community Center, located next to Hunters Woods Fellowship House, on June 15. While an initial survey conducted by the Hunters Woods program coordinator found only 50 people were interested in attending, thanks to community outreach, 72 adults and 14 children ended up getting vaccinated.” [Fairfax County Health Department]
Scotts Run Fire Station Gets New Engine — “A big day this Saturday at Station 44, Scotts Run! Engine 444 will be placed in service joining Rescue Squad and Ambulance 444 at the station. Crews working hard this week labelling fire hose to place on the engine. #FCFRD’s newest station opened on August 14, 2021.” [FCFRD/Twitter]
Vienna Considers Starting Budget Process Earlier — “Starting with its next fiscal-year budget cycle, Vienna government staff will give the Vienna Town Council information earlier in the process so they can set priorities to guide the rest of the discussions. The Council expressed support July 11 after Finance Director Marion Serfass outlined the revamped budget schedule.” [Sun Gazette]
Local Bus Drivers Train for Silver Line Phase II — “Fairfax Connector is gearing up for new bus routes coming with the Silver Line Phase II launch. Here’s a look at the most recent test of the bus bridge. As you can see Connector is joined by Metrobus @wmata and Loudoun County Transit” [Fairfax Connector/Twitter]
Northern Virginia Pounces on Cat Cafes — “Northern Virginia is no stranger to cat cafes, as there are 3 currently-open cafes that are all about 30 minutes away from interested Falls Church locals. Patriot Pawsabilities, Mount Purrnon Cat Cafe and Wine Bar and Meows Corner Cat Cafe and Lounge offer feline enthusiasts and/or the average animal lover a cuddly experience.” [Falls Church News-Press]
Former Fort Belvoir Leader Inspires in Alexandria — “Retired U.S. Army Colonel Gregory Gadson says that success happens by staying present, and letting go of the invisible anchors that hold you back. Gadson knows what he’s talking about. The war hero, actor, photographer, philanthropist and business owner is also the first-ever double amputee to command a major military installation — Fort Belvoir.” [ALXnow]
Young Lifeguards Train With FCPD — “Fairfax County police officers in the underwater search and recovery unit were at Lake Barcroft yesterday — but no one drowned. The Lake Barcroft Association had asked the unit to conduct a training class for junior lifeguards.” [Annandale Today]
Hawaiian Music Group Comes to Tysons — “Join us at our Tysons-Pimmit branch Saturday morning to participate in & enjoy the music performed by Ukulele Hui! This performance includes interactive elements. Ukulele Hui is part of the Hawai’i State Society of Washington, D.C.” [Fairfax County Public Library/Twitter]
It’s Friday — Clear throughout the day. High of 84 and low of 69. Sunrise at 5:57 am and sunset at 8:35 pm. [Weather.gov]
Assessments for Reston Association members could increase by 10% over last year based on preliminary budget talks.
At an RA Board of Directors meeting Wednesday night (June 8), board treasurer Bob Petrine kicked off a preliminary discussion on the budget and a proposed increase.
Last year, the board voted to hold the line on major fee increases, keeping the assessment at $740 with the use of its good cash standing and existing funds. Fees still went up 3%, since RA’s budget has a built-in increase, but a 6% hike had been initially proposed.
However, Petrine said that method is not a “sustainable” way to manage RA assessments into the future.
RA operates on a biennial budget developed in the fall of every odd year. The organization often visits the budget annually between August and November and prior to the second year of the budget.
Board member and vice president Jennifer Jushchuk called the potential assessment increase “a little scary.”
“I think we’re going to have our work cut out for us in the next several months to get to something everyone can feel comfortable with,” she said, emphasizing that the 10% hike was considering “a bare bones” budget.
The proposed budget could include $145,000 for a long-anticipated website upgrade, $70,000 for an administrative assistance for the covenants department, and a $30,000 increase in credit card fees.
The association could also hire a data manager to handle member-facing applications — a roughly $70,000 ticket item.
But the budget is in the initial planning stages, so a proposal will not be formally considered for several weeks.
A vote on the budget is slated for Nov. 17 and will be proceeded by several meetings and opportunities for public comment. The board will formally review the first draft of the budget on Sept. 22.
County Officials React to Oakton Crash — Multiple Fairfax County elected officials expressed devastation at news that two Oakton High School students have died after a vehicle crash in Oakton yesterday (Tuesday). Crisis support services are available for students, according to school board members. [Twitter]
Fire Reported at Prosperity Flats Apartments — “Fire sprinklers extinguished a fire Tuesday night at a high-rise apartment building in Dunn Loring, according to a 6:58 p.m. post on the Fairfax Fire & Rescue Department’s official Twitter account. Fire units were called earlier to the apartment building in the 2700 block of Dorr Avenue after eighth floor residents reported seeing smoke.” [Patch]
Fairfax County Marks Pride Month — “Today, the Board of Supervisors proclaimed June 2022 as LGBTQ+ Pride Month. We urge all county residents, employees and elected officials to celebrate our LGBTQ+ community, and to stand up, speak out and show support for those who face prejudice and discrimination.” [Fairfax County Government/Twitter]
Police Set Up Car Parts Theft Task Force — “The Fairfax County Police Department has created a Catalytic Converter Task Force to investigate the theft of the converters and any organized regional rings behind the increase in thefts…From January to April this year, 333 catalytic converters were stolen in Fairfax County, compared with just 27 similar thefts over the same period in 2021.” [Patch]
Major Broadband Investment Announced in Springfield — Virginia will receive $219.8 million in federal coronavirus relief funds to expand broadband access, Sen. Mark Warner announced yesterday at Northern Virginia Community College’s Springfield campus. The American Rescue Plan Act funds will be allocated to local governments through grants and could improve access in an estimated 76,873 locations. [Mark Warner]
New FCPS Budget Supports Virtual Mental Health Services — “As part of the $3.3 billion budget, school board officials allocated $500,000 for telehealth mental health services for students. The Virginia county is still in the early stages of identifying a vendor for the services, but county officials said program possibilities include access to physical and behavioral health providers and mobile services that would allow students to use their devices for symptom management or tracking.” [WTOP]
Fairfax City Moves Back Fourth of July Celebration — The City of Fairfax will hold its Independence Day Evening Show on July 5 at Fairfax High School due to a shortage of licensed pyrotechnicians. The city says its fireworks vendor has canceled more than two dozen contracts, an issue that has also affected the Town of Vienna. [Fairfax City]
New Urgent Care Clinic Opens in Lorton — Anderson Orthopaedic Clinic has opened a new weekend urgent care clinic in its Lorton office (10716 Richmond Highway, Suite 101) to help patients with acute bone and joint injuries. The clinic, which has also has offices in Fairfax, Arlington, and at Mount Vernon Hospital, accepts both walk-in patients and appointments. [M2 Orthopedics]
It’s Wednesday — Rain in the evening and overnight. High of 82 and low of 69. Sunrise at 5:45 am and sunset at 8:34 pm. [Weather.gov]
Fairfax County Jury Sides with Johnny Depp — After a weeks-long trial, actor Johnny Depp was awarded more than $10 million in his defamation lawsuit against ex-wife Amber Heard, a verdict that has already taken a toll on domestic violence survivors. Heard was also awarded $2 million for a countersuit over comments by Depp’s lawyer. [Associated Press/WTOP]
Calm Returns to Fairfax County Courthouse After High-Profile Trial — “Two hours after the verdict in the Johnny Depp vs. Amber Heard defamation trial was announced, the grounds outside the Fairfax County Courthouse had the aura of a field where a circus had just packed up its tent and moved on.” [Patch]
Woodson HS Apologizes for Teacher’s Use of Slur — “An official at W.T. Woodson High School in Fairfax has apologized for a substitute teacher uttering a racial slur during an in-class reading of John Steinbeck’s ‘Of Mice and Men’ last month…A student notified [assistant principal Amanda] Burke that a classmate had recorded a video of the substitute saying the racial slur and shared it on social media.” [Patch]
Firefighters and Police Rescue Red-Tailed Hawk — “#FCFRD & @FairfaxCountyPD Animal Protection, rescued a Red-Tailed Hawk during special ops training. Crews worked together to disentangled it with special equipment. He appears healthy but will get a check-up. Retrieve kite strings & fishing line! Birds can’t see them.” [FCFRD/Twitter]
Popular Lincolnia Pet Store to Downsize — “Chico’s Natural Pet Market invites the community to a fun event Sunday, June 5, featuring an animal communicator and an auction…Owner Danielle Areco will update customers on the store’s pending move to a new location and will describe the store’s new focus on healthy pet food.” [Annandale Today]
Tysons Real Estate Company Plans Move — “Real estate giant CBRE Group Inc. (NYSE: CBRE) will move its Tysons office, which houses its Northern Virginia operation, a stone’s throw up the road in early 2023, having already inked a new lease. CBRE will occupy a little over 24,000 square feet, or the whole 11th floor, of Boro Tower, a 20-story office building located at 8350 Broad St.” [Washington Business Journal]
General Assembly Passes State Budget — “The Virginia General Assembly passed a two-year state budget Wednesday that both cuts taxes and increases spending, a rare combination that drew extensive bipartisan support in both the Democratic-controlled Senate and Republican-controlled House of Delegates.” [The Washington Post]
Former Vienna Town Manager Dies — “John Schoeberlein, who served as Vienna’s steady-as-you-go town manager for 26 years before retiring in May 2011, died May 30 at age 74…Schoeberlein was a respected leader and well-liked by town residents and staff, said Bill Murray, a retired master police officer with the Vienna Police Department.” [Sun Gazette/Inside NoVA]
Local Farmers Markets Accept Food Benefits — “Four Fairfax County Farmers Markets offer a [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance] Matching Program where you can double your SNAP Benefits…You can use your EBT card in the McCutcheon/Mount Vernon, Annandale, Reston and Lorton Farmers Markets.” [Fairfax County Park Authority]
Park Authority Supports Annandale Vandal — “A bit of mischief was celebrated at Hidden Oaks Nature Center as a clever vandal slipped into the Annandale Community Park playground area and switched a couple of letters on the fencing spelling ‘I [heart] Mom.’ This sweet sign is a salute to all the moms who take their kids to our parks!” [FCPA/Facebook]
It’s Thursday — Rain starting in the afternoon. High of 82 and low of 73. Sunrise at 5:46 am and sunset at 8:31 pm. [Weather.gov]
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.
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