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The Fairfax County Government Center building (staff photo by David Taube)

(Updated at 1:15 p.m. on 11/30/2022) Local officials are already preparing for “one of the most challenging” budget talks in years due to inflation, the changing real estate market, and staff retention challenges.

Right before the Thanksgiving holiday, Fairfax County staff offered supervisors and the school board an early look at projected revenues, expenditures, and points of potential discussion as the county and Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) prepare to release proposed budgets early next year.

The fiscal year 2024 budget forecast that staff presented on Nov. 22 didn’t paint a particularly rosy picture, however.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay called the forecast “a real mixed bag.” County staff said that generated revenue remained “healthy,” but others weren’t so sunny.

“This is probably going to be one of the most challenging budgets in my 11 years on the [school] board,” Braddock District School Board representative Megan McLaughlin said. “It’s going to be a tough one.”

Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity concurred, saying there wasn’t “a lot of good news in here.”

As is the case across the country, the local real estate market has been slowing due to increasing interest rates and rising prices. While it increased from last year, growth is expected to flatten going forward for the rest of 2022 and into 2023.

Fairfax County staff forecast a dip in revenues available for fiscal year 2024 (via Fairfax County)

Non-residential tax revenue is in even worse shape, at least partially due to the change in work-from-home habits resulting from the pandemic. It’s expected to increase by only 0.6% compared to last year when the growth was about 2.3% compared to 2022.

While hotel, retail, and apartment revenues are all expected to increase next year, office revenue is expected to decline between 5% and 6%, raising concerns among some supervisors and school board members.

Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw said he has talked to companies in the county that have no intention of renewing office leases due to decreased need with more employees now teleworking.

He called it a “slow-moving crisis” that could create a “very significant hole” in terms of missing revenue.

“[This] is very troubling,” Walkinshaw said. “It’s a structural challenge now in our economy…I’m not confident we have our arms around what that challenge is going to look like over the next 5 to 10 years.”

New construction and transient occupancy (or lodging) tax revenue are also expected to grow, but at much lower rates than prior to the pandemic.

Real estate taxes are the largest source of revenue for the county, providing more than two-thirds of generated money. Last year, home values soared, while commercial tax revenue dropped, resulting in a 3-cent decrease in the real estate tax rate.

All told, revenue is predicted to rise by about $266 million, a 3.8% increase from last year, per the presented forecast.

However, revenue isn’t keeping pace with expenditures, due mostly to anticipated staff salary increases.

Between recruitment and retention challenges and inflation, an additional $159 million will be needed for salaries and benefits compared to the current budget — plus another $113.5 million for school staff. Adding in other costs, the county and FCPS are looking at a combined shortfall of about $125 million for fiscal year 2024, which begins July 1, 2023, staff said.

Since this is a baseline forecast, a number of county and school priorities were not taken into account, including infrastructure upgrades, increased investments in affordable housing, and an expansion of early childhood education programs.

As county staff and McKay both reiterated, the forecast is only an estimation subject to change.

“As the economic outlook is uncertain, staff is approaching FY 2024 revenue forecasting very conservatively,” the presentation said.

Adoption of the fiscal year 2024 budget remains six months away. Advertised budget plans for the county and schools will be released in February with final votes coming in May 2023.

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Students at West Potomac High School walked out in September to protest Virginia’s proposed policies on the treatment of transgender students (photo courtesy of Mara Surovell)

(Updated at 5:30 p.m.) The Virginia Department of Education has no clear timeline for when its new policies on the treatment of transgender students will take effect, leaving Fairfax County Public Schools and other local school districts waiting to see if the state makes any changes in response to vocal opposition to the proposal.

It has now been over a month since the state closed its public comment period for the draft “model” policies, which would require schools to identify students based on their sex assigned at birth and prohibit discipline for deadnaming or misgendering a student even if they get their official school records changed.

“The model policies document has not been finalized. The department is still in the process of reviewing public comment,” VDOE communications director Charles Pyle told FFXnow.

The department received more than 71,000 comments on the policies — some supportive, some critical — while the forum was open from Sept. 26 to Oct. 26.

The policies could’ve taken effect as soon as the comment period ended, but the VDOE said last month that the implementation would be delayed by 30 days under a state code provision that requires a delay if a guidance document might contradict state law.

Opponents of the proposed policies have argued that they would violate the Virginia Human Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on gender identity. A section on student participation in athletics also goes against the state law that directed VDOE to create the model policies, which explicitly excluded sports from consideration.

Though the additional 30-day deadline has now passed, Pyle says VDOE has no sense of when its public comments review might finish, citing the volume of comments. The department’s staff can make revisions to the draft guidelines, which must be approved by the state superintendent.

“We have more than 71,000 comments to sort through and the department is exploring options for completing the review,” Pyle said in a statement. “Even after the comments are reviewed, the department will take the time necessary to identify and make any edits identified and warranted by the review.”

The Fairfax County School Board has indicated it won’t adopt the model policies, which contradict its existing policies supporting LGBT students. The Board of Supervisors issued a formal statement opposing them, arguing that they would defy legal precedent and harm transgender and other gender-nonconforming students.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who has championed the policies as “protecting parents’ fundamental rights to make decisions for their children,” will be in Fairfax County tomorrow to celebrate last week’s opening of the extended I-66 Express Lanes.

According to a media advisory, Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay will also attend the ribbon-cutting ceremony in Fairfax Corner, but no policy discussions are expected between the Democratic chair and Republican governor.

“We are guessing the Governor is already well aware of Chairman McKay’s on-the-record staunch opposition to the proposed change in model policies and its impact on Fairfax County families,” McKay’s office said.

After the ribbon-cutting, Youngkin is scheduled to appear in Arlington for an unspecified economic development announcement.

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The cold and rain didn’t dampen enthusiasm for the opening of Metro’s long-awaited, $3 billion Silver Line Phase II.

Yesterday marked the much-anticipated public opening of the 11.4-mile extension of the rail line from Reston into Loudoun County. Along with six new stations, this marks the first time that locals can take a train to Dulles International Airport.

Over multiple ribbon-cutting ceremonies throughout the chilly, wet November day, local officials touted the debut of the line as a “game-changer” and a “new era” for western Fairfax County and the D.C. region as a whole.

“It really is the establishment of a new identity for the Dulles corridor,” Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn said at the new Reston Town Center station. “Now, what we’re going to see is the Dulles corridor tied together with transit in a way that was really never anticipated…We are in a new era.”

Riders, too, recognized what this could mean for the region and their daily travel.

“It’s going to change my life,” Raj Paradaar told FFXnow while riding the extension’s first passenger-filled train heading westbound. He lives in Ashburn and works near the Reston Town Center station, so he plans to ride the Metro most days.

Inside the Innovation Center station, commuters came and went, including a United Airlines flight attendant headed to work at Dulles. He lives in an apartment building across the street from the new station, along with a number of other flight attendants, FFXnow was told.

“That’s where we live,” the United Airlines flight attendant said pointing outside. “And that’s where we work…Honestly, taking a train is just much easier.”

Other riders said the extension won’t significantly affect their day-to-day habits, but they agreed it will make getting to the airport simpler.

Franconia resident Terry Rice, clutching luggage, happened to have a trip to Italy scheduled on the extension’s opening day. While planning, she realized that Dulles Airport was now only a train ride away.

“It may not change my life, but it’s going to make my life much easier,” Rice said.

During yesterday’s ceremonies, officials tried to make clear that the Silver Line extension’s impact is anticipated to go beyond simply being a link to the airport, reiterating a message that many have been saying for years.

“We have within our grasp…the ability to completely reinvent, reimagine [this corridor] as mixed-use development, as transit-oriented development, as environmentally friendly, as improving quality of life, as reducing carbon emissions, and as restoring choices for people who live in Northern Virginia,” said newly reelected Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-11) at a ceremony outside of the Innovation Center station. Read More

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The extension could open in time for Thanksgiving travel.

As the county officially approves paying an additional $40 million to finish the Silver Line Phase II, fare evasion continues to irk supervisors.

At yesterday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, the county followed through on the transportation committee’s recommendation last month to pay an additional $40.25 million to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) for the completion of the Silver Line Phase II.

As noted at the Sept. transportation committee meeting, the board didn’t have much choice in the matter. In July, MWAA agreed to increase the budget for the extension by $250 million which will be largely shouldered by Dulles Toll Road users. Because the original project agreement calls for Fairfax County to pay about 16% of the overage, the county owed an additional $40.25 million.

Last month, Board Chair Jeff McKay expressed his frustration about paying even more money for the much-delayed project but noted that it was a “requirement” and the county didn’t have the flexibility to not pay it “without significant negative consequences.”

At yesterday’s meeting, though, McKay struck a slightly different tone by focusing on the Silver Line Phase II’s potential to be a “game-changer” for the region.

“We can’t understate the importance of this project to the long-term success of Fairfax County,” McKay said. “It’s a major milestone.”

There remains no set date for when the line will be ready for riders, though Metro confirmed to FFXnow yesterday that it’s on track to open by Thanksgiving with the go-ahead to add more trains.

The supervisors also took a few moments at this week’s meeting to discuss Metro’s plans to stop fare evasion. Earlier this month, Metro announced it was ramping up enforcement and will be testing new station fare gates that are more difficult to jump over.

Metro estimates that fare evasion has cost the agency about $40 million this year, or nearly a quarter of its budget gap.

Several supervisors noted that they were pleased there was finally movement on better enforcement of fare evasion. Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn said there are certainly “equity issues” when it comes to enforcement, but “it has to be a level playing field.”

However, Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust called fare evasion the “least of [Metro’s] challenges” in terms of securing long-term funding for a system that could be facing a $500 million funding gap next year.

“They need a plan that goes way beyond [dealing] with fare evasion,” said Foust.

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A Fairfax County Office of Elections ballot drop box from 2021 (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay is calling on a full investigation into an incorrect elections mailing that was sent to 25,000 voters in the towns of Herndon, Clifton and Vienna.

At a board meeting earlier today (Tuesday), the board unanimously agreed to a move by McKay to call on the county’s General Assembly delegation for an inquiry into the botched mailing. Residents were directed to an incorrect polling location in the City of Fairfax.

McKay called the issue “the worst breach of election integrity” he has seen in the county.”

Late last week, the Fairfax County Office of Elections sent letters to affected residents providing correct voter information. The Virginia Department of Elections attributed the mistake to a “printing issue.””

“In spite of our staff’s efforts to distribute accurate information as widely and as quickly as possible, they still fielded a large number of calls from voters confused by this incorrect mailing at a time that is already extremely busy as the election process is underway,” the letter states.

The letter further states that a full investigation is necessary to restore and maintain public confidence in the state’s democratic system.

“The factors that led to this mailing, as well as detailed findings of the investigation, must be publicly released, along with any recommended corrective actions, so Virginians can understand what happened and ensure that it never happens again,” the letter states.

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Students wear and wave Pride flags at Fairfax High School’s walkout (photo by Carys Owens)

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is formally opposing Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s proposed model policies that would limit the rights of transgender and other gender-nonconforming students.

In a letter approved at a board meeting today (Tuesday), board chairman Jeff McKay said that the policies would have a negative effect on the county’s economic position and cites the human impact on students. Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity voted against the proposal.

“Your model policies – and the discrimination inherent to them – will have a chilling effect on our continued ability to attract the world’s most innovative companies to Fairfax County. To put it bluntly, discrimination is bad for business,” the letter, which is addressed to the Virginia Department of Education, states.

Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw noted that the proposal policy is contradicted by U.S. Supreme Court decisions and other legal precedent.

“Thankfully, many school system in the Commonwealth don’t intend to adopt them,” Walkinshaw said.

When voting against the proposal, Herrity questioned why the county was weighing in on a proposal related to the school system when other issues — like declining enrollment, learning loss, and the achievement gap — need exploration as well.

“My biggest problem with the letter, I don’t see any staff working on this at all,” Herrity said. He also said parents need to be involved in “critical decisions of this magnitude,” adding that parental permission to give a child an aspirin in schools.

McKay responded by stating that the board’s letter is part of the  state’s education department call for public comment on the proposal — a comment period that ends tomorrow.

His letter also says that the policies put the county’s children at risk by denying support and affirmation to transgender students.

“A young LGBTQ person attempts suicide every 45 seconds in the United States. Key drivers of high rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide among transgender youth are the lack of social support and affirming experiences that they often face,” the letter states.

The proposed policies are at odds with the school system’s current policies that affirm students’ rights to accessing restrooms based on their gender identity and being called by their chosen names and pronouns. FCPS moved to update its previous policy — last amended in 2020 — based on state recommendations.

A spokesperson told FFXnow that the school system did not have more information to share about its position on the state’s policies. FCPS Superintendent Michelle Reid sent to families last month, stating that FCPS was reviewing the draft policies.

This is not the first time McKay has publicly questioned the draft policy. Earlier this month, McKay told FFXnow that the school system may have legal grounds to go against the model policies.

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Kids play soccer on a synthetic turf (via Fairfax County Park Authority)

Concerns over equity and the recommendation of specific sites have delayed Fairfax County’s push into sports tourism.

At last week’s Board of Supervisors meeting, Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity proposed that the county start advertising that it’s seeking proposals from private entities to develop sports tourism facilities.

However, he pulled the motion when it became clear that there wasn’t enough support from other supervisors to move forward. When he made the request in May, the board voted instead to have staff reassess a consultant’s report to ensure equity is considered when evaluating future projects.

“We’ve been sitting on the sidelines far too long. It’s time for us to get in the game or not,” Herrity said. “This is something the board has clearly expressed that it would benefit both our sports community, our taxpayers, our hotelers, our restaurants, our hospitality industry. We need to move forward and stop trying to find ways not to do it.”

Board Chairman Jeff McKay argued that Herrity, in fact, had “delayed the process.”

“I want to make it crystal clear that this board supports sports tourism…What we are doing is trying clean up the fact that it wasn’t done right,” he said. “Equity was left behind.”

A consultant hired by the county released a report in August 2020 recommending how the county could “more effectively compete within the sports tourism marketplace,” including specific sites where a large facility could go in the county.

The Park Authority-backed study identified nine different sites that it said could support facilities like a rectangle field complex with 16 fields or an ice complex, comparable to the one in Ballston.

However, as several supervisors brought up, none of the sites were vetted for equity, environmental impacts, or even the land’s current ownership.

Many of the preferred sites are in the north and northwest part of the county, while none are located in the south. Several sit in protected watershed areas, while a few others are privately owned, like George Mason University property, as opposed to county-owned.

The equity review requested in May was finished over the summer. Last month, the Sports Tourism Task Force recommended proceeding with an advertisement and “to consider the equity impact review as it reviews potential public-private partnerships” instead of at this stage in the process.

This didn’t sit well with several supervisors, including McKay, who wanted to make sure that the advertisement made clear that the recommended sites in the study were not county-approved.

“Frankly, I wish the consultant report didn’t exist. I think it was created under false pretense…It had no look at equity,” said McKay. “I don’t necessarily support any sites in there…They are in no way in any shape or form an endorsed list of locations by this board.”

Herrity accepted an amendment that the ad include language urging developers to be “creative” and recommend a site not on the consultant’s list.

Additionally, McKay asked that the entire board look at the advertisement to vet the language prior to it being released.

The plan now is to have staff update the report before Herrity resubmits the motion. While he hoped to have it by the board meeting on Tuesday (Oct. 25), Herrity told FFXnow that November now looks more likely, though he “was ready six months ago.”

He said this is the first program, in his recollection, “forced” to have an equity review as well as the first time that he remembers where the board will review the language for a request for proposals.

Nonetheless, he’s ready for Fairfax County to get in the game and build facilities that could help bring more revenue to the county, particularly with increased hotel occupancy.

The rest of the board appears to agree with the idea of exploring sports tourism, but it has to be “done right.”

“We have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to get this done right that will permanently…affect the long-term sustainability of sports and sports tourism in this county,” McKay said.

Photo via Fairfax County Park Authority

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A median on Route 123 at International Drive in Tysons (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Fairfax County is once again discussing how to discourage “panhandling” while also declining — at least for the moment — to make it illegal to engage with anyone in a county-owned road or median.

The subject was revived at last week’s board meeting by Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity after cropping up a number of times over the last several years.

Herrity’s board matter argued that people in the road or median asking for money not only “generates considerable public complaint,” but is a safety risk for both those individuals and motorists.

“Anyone who stands in the median of our busy intersections trying to engage with motorists puts themselves in danger and presents a dangerous distraction to motorists,” Herrity’s board matter said. “This applies to panhandlers, fundraisers, marketers, and anyone else in the medians.”

However, a recent study by the county somewhat disputes this assertion. At Herrity’s urging, the board directed staff in May to conduct a study into if there are “public safety risks” in relation to people being in roads asking for money.

Sent to the board in July, the study results concluded that staff was “unable to find a significant public safety risk related to or stemming from panhandling,” mostly because that data wasn’t being collected at that level of specificity.

“While panhandling appears dangerous and generates considerable public complaint, available FCPD data does not support a determination that panhandlers are more likely to be injured or killed than other pedestrians, or that locations where panhandlers are present have an increased risk of traffic accidents,” the study said.

Nonetheless, Herrity disagreed with the assessment by saying a study shouldn’t replace “commonsense.”

“With as many tragic pedestrian fatalities as we have had in this County, including one panhandler, I am frankly appalled that we have not done more to protect our residents on this issue. We should not need a study to determine what is commonsense,” Herrity wrote in the board matter.

At the board’s Oct. 11 meeting, Herrity proposed directing staff to “draft a curb-to-curb safety ordinance that would restrict anyone from engaging with motorists between the curbs of a road with the exception of recognized public safety entities,” including for the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department’s annual “Fill the Boot” campaign. Read More

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Construction on affordable housing apartments in Herndon is underway (via Jeff McKay)

(Updated to correct number of affordabke units and clarify nature of funds) The Arrowbrook development near the Innovation Center Metro Station got a funding lift yesterday (Tuesday) afternoon.

The 274-unit project, an affordable housing development under the federal Low Income Housing Tax Credit program, received $3 million in funding after the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted to approve the issuance of bonds.

The move fills a $3 million funding gap that the county says was created by “supply change shortages resulting from COVID,” according to county documents.

Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity voted against the proposal.

Located at the future Arrowbrook Centre Drive and Centreville Road in Herndon, Arrowbrook is being developed by SCG Development Partners.

The project is already under construction and is more than 70% complete.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay touted the county’s efforts to reach its affordable housing goals.

“The work to ensure every resident of Fairfax County can live and work here is a nonstop focus of the Board. Earlier this year we doubled the County’s goal to 10,000 net affordable units by 2034, and we have 4,000 units either completed or in the pipeline. We are proud of the work we have done and continue to do with our partners, both non- and for-profit, throughout the region,” McKay wrote in a newsletter following the meeting.

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GSA warehouse in Springfield (via Google Maps)

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay says Springfield would be an ideal choice for a new FBI headquarters — or would be if another agency wasn’t involved in an underhanded attempt to play favorites.

While it’s not exactly shocking that the county’s top elected official thinks Fairfax would be a good choice for the new FBI headquarters, McKay has gone a few steps past that and accused Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) of putting a finger on the scales.

The Springfield site is up against two Maryland locations: one in Landover and one at Greenbelt that is owned by WMATA. Since WMATA is funded by all three jurisdictions, McKay argued that it’s unfair for Fairfax to essentially be forced to fund their competition for the lucrative FBI headquarters deal.

The feud is nearly a decade old. McKay first raised these concerns in 2013 and repeated them in a letter last month. He urged the WMATA board not to consider the Greenbelt Joint Development Approvals plan, which would authorize Metro to make negotiations about the sale of the site with government entities, WUSA9 reported.

The Springfield site is currently home to a warehouse complex owned by the General Services Administration, which is in charge of the site selection process. The warehouse would need to be torn down before the FBI headquarters could be built.

Still, McKay said the site has easy access to several major highways and a direct link to the FBI Academy at Quantico.

“The Springfield site is owned by the federal government and has all the infrastructure, either in place or pledged, to support the relocation of the FBI headquarters,” McKay said in a statement to FFXnow. “It has easy access to Interstates 95, 395, and 495, provides a direct link to Quantico on the VRE, has ample bus lines that stop onsite, and also has a Metro stop. It’s a no-brainer for the FBI and the GSA to choose Springfield for the next FBI headquarters.”

The GSA announced in late September that the new site will be determined by a three-person panel with two of its employees and one FBI representative. The panel will prioritize the site’s suitability to the FBI’s mission and transportation access, but cost, equity, and flexibility will also be considered.

Image via Google Maps

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