Thanks to higher-than-anticipated revenue, Fairfax County gave a financial boost last week to its affordable housing goals, public library collections and park facilities, among other initiatives.
Before taking a preliminary vote on the next budget, which will be adopted tomorrow (Tuesday), the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved nearly $10.7 million in changes to the current fiscal year 2023 budget — known as the third-quarter review — when it met on May 2.
For the biggest adjustment, the board increased funding for affordable housing by $8 million on top of $10 million already recommended by County Executive Bryan Hill.
The county has now committed over $118 million to affordable housing over the past two years, including $45 million in federal Covid relief funds, as it aims to produce 10,000 new units by 2034, per county documents.
“I think most people in our county, including very profoundly, the business community, understand that affordable housing is an essential ingredient for economic success,” Board Chairman Jeff McKay said. “It’s not just a nice thing to do. It’s a requirement.”
Also included in the package was $300,000 for Fairfax County Public Library materials. FCPL Deputy Director Kevin Osborne says the library was “so pleased” that the board approved the funding, which will go toward research database subscriptions and ebooks.
“Due to the nature of eBook licensing to libraries, adding to the digital collection is more costly than adding to the physical collection so we are also hoping to purchase additional eBook licenses for some titles that have some excessively long hold queues,” he said in an emailed statement.
During a budget policy committee meeting on April 26, Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity put forward an “alternative” third-quarter proposal that gave $2 million to FCPL to expand its collection and hours, which were reduced last summer due to staffing challenges.
At the time, a library spokesperson said the vacancy rate was about 18 to 20%. While current numbers weren’t available by press time, filling the system’s 390 positions evidently remains an obstacle.
“Like many other employers, public libraries continue to face recruitment challenges,” Osborne said. “We have no update as to when normal hours will resume.”
Herrity’s proposal also suggested allocating $5 million to county park maintenance — with the combined $7 million coming out of the affordable housing funds. A version of the proposal without the library money died at last week’s meeting after no one else on the board “seconded” the motion for a discussion.
The approved third-quarter review did include $2.1 million for Fairfax County Park Authority projects:
- $1.7 million to improve six fields at Wakefield Park so they can accommodate softball
- $300,000 to replace and upgrade Lake Accotink Park’s playground, which has been closed since an inspector determined the equipment was unsafe in November
- $100,000 for a safety assessment of other playgrounds with equipment from the now-defunct vendor used at Accotink
The playground at Lake Accotink was removed the morning of May 2, according to the office of Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw, whose district includes the park.
“FCPA is currently in the design process and expects to have information on the concept in the next few weeks,” a spokesperson for his office told FFXnow.
With its adjustments to the third-quarter review, the board also approved $217,308 to hire a contractor to remove signs illegally located in the public right-of-way and a $60,000 contribution to the Northern Virginia Conservation Trust, an Annandale-based nonprofit that preserves land and water from development.
A 12.5% salary increase for police officers will be under discussion later this week for inclusion in Fairfax County’s upcoming budget.
Other items under consideration in the mark-up package include more money for ArtsFairfax, funding for girls’ softball facilities, and establishing a self-help resource center in the Fairfax Courthouse library.
In many years, shifting revenue, expense, and administrative cost estimates enable adjustments to the advertised budget presented in February, opening up funding for some initially unaddressed items.
County Executive Bryan Hill left about $90.2 million in unallocated funds in the fiscal year 2024 advertised budget, but with adjustments, that has now risen to $110.4 million.
As a result, supervisors are able to submit items to be considered at a pre-markup discussion by the Board of Supervisors’ budget policy committee on Friday (April 28) and a mark-up session with the full board on May 2.
Seven items were submitted for the mark-up package, totaling about $26.5 million.
The biggest ask, by far, is a 12.5% salary increase for police officers at rank of second lieutenant and below from Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity. The raises would cost $26.2 million and come in addition to the 2% market rate adjustment increase already in the budget.
“Budgets should be about priorities and public safety is a priority. We are short about 200 officers; we have had to disband many of our specialty units to staff patrol, and changed shifts which have had a negative impact on our current officers,” Herrity told FFXnow. “It is past time to address a staffing shortage we have seen coming for many years. We can address the public staffing crisis without increasing the tax burden on our residents.”
He added that he’s “very optimistic” the board will approve at least some level of salary increase, if not the full 12.5%.
Last year, the county gave raises to certain public safety workers as part of the mark-up package, but it was a step increase and cost the county $6.1 million.
Herrity also is proposing to reduce supervisor office support budgets by $1.1 million, the same amount it was increased by in last year’s budget.
“This is a microcosm for the illogical spending in our County. Last year, no one answered my question about who proposed the $1.1 million increase for Board office budgets,” Herrity said. “We certainly do not need increased staff budgets, certainly not on top of the 38% salary increase. The money would be better spent focusing on improving access and customer service by county agencies as Board staff spend about 75% of their time helping residents with services.”
Also set to be considered is a proposal from Board Chairman Jeff McKay and Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw to provide $300,00 to reduce the “disparity between girls’ fastpitch softball and boys’ baseball facilities.”
In February, the two requested funding after a recent study revealed a widening gap in the quality and quantity of fields in the county available for softball compared to baseball. The supervisors asked for $1.7 million in one-time funding and a recurring cost of $300,000 for consideration in this year’s budget.
Other items that will be considered at the mark-up sessions in the coming weeks include:
- Expanding the Opportunity Neighborhoods initiative into Centreville at a cost of $413,000
- Establishing a self-help resource center within the law library at the Fairfax County Courthouse at a cost of $96,000
- An increase of $200,000 to ArtsFairfax for operating expenses
- Providing $350,000 to nonprofit projects that make home repairs and accessibility modifications so low and moderate-income households who are aging or disabled can stay in their homes
The 2024 fiscal year budget is set to be adopted on May 9.
A $28 million baseball and softball complex in Fairfax officially opened this past weekend, marking the county’s first foray into sports tourism.
The ribbon-cutting for Patriot Park North was held Saturday morning (April 15) with local officials, a Washington Nationals representative, and Little Leaguers all in attendance.
The new facility features four turf, 90-foot, full-size baseball diamonds, two 60-foot smaller diamonds, an elevated press and scouting box, concession stands, warm-up areas, streaming capabilities, and a baseball-themed playground.
The facility was designed, constructed, and is now run by the Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA).
“This is a state-of-the-art facility for youth and adult sports,” Fairfax County Board Chairman Jeff McKay said in a county-produced video. “It is really rare, one-of-a-kind, to have a turf baseball field and to have this many baseball and softball fields in one location. It will not only help this community but it helps with tournaments and other big events.”
A collaboration with the Southwestern Youth Association, Patriot Park North is the first project to come out of a push by the Sports Tourism Task Force and a number of county agencies to build sports facilities that not only benefit residents, but also bring in tourism revenue by hosting tournaments and events.
Patriot Park North has 26 committed events between April and November, per the office of Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity, who chairs the Sports Tourism Task Force.
Each event is “anticipated to net between $162,000 to more than $1 million” with a projected economic impact of more than $11 million, according to a press release from Herrity’s office.
“The opening of this facility is a milestone not just for the Springfield District, but for the county,” Herrity said. “It is one example of the many ways we can partner with great community organizations like SYA, in order to provide top-of-the-line sports facilities for residents and at the same time diversify our revenue and reduce the burden on taxpayers with sports tourism revenues. This is the first of what I hope will be many state-of-the-art athletic facilities we will be opening for our residents.”
It also may be the only completed sports facility of this nature for a while. Back in October, the county delayed plans to seek proposals for new facilities after the Board of Supervisors raised concerns that the task force’s site recommendations didn’t take equity into consideration. Read More
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved a new policy last week that could offer incentives to developers to replace the affordable housing lost to new development.
The new policy wouldn’t just require a one-to-one replacement of units set aside as affordable — known as committed affordable units — but would incentivize the replacement of those that were naturally affordable — meaning market-rate affordable.
In effect, if a new development brings units to a site previously affordable for those making less than the area median income, the developer would be offered incentives to include an equal number of affordable units in the new development. Those incentives could include additional density, building height and financial assistance.
The sole voice against the new amendment at the meeting last Tuesday (March 21) was Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity, who said the county can’t subsidize its way out of the regional housing crisis. According to Herrity:
The requirement to replace market-rate affordable units could inhibit the delivery of much needed housing, especially if incentives fail to cover the cost of the preserved affordable units. It’s a lot of those incentives that are basically making housing unaffordable for many of our residents, because those incentives are paid by our residents. Our young adults and our seniors are priced out of housing. We’re not going to be able to do enough government-subsidized housing to fix this problem. Where we need to start is reducing the cost of housing. I’m not going to be supporting this, that’s probably no surprise to the board, but I think there are better ways to attack this problem.
The rest of the board, though, was enthusiastic in its support of the new policy.
“This is a good next step for us,” Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck said. “The issue is: how do we ensure this distribution of housing is countywide? I think this starts to tackle that issue by highlighting and identifying where those issues and where those needs are. I’m looking to support far more housing that’s affordable in many other areas.”
Storck said the policy is part of the county’s commitment to ensure residents can afford to stay in the county even as overall housing prices continue to rise.
“I have a statement that I say often and my staff will probably roll their eyes when I say this again: we need to make sure we leave no one behind,” Storck said. “If you’ve lived in our community for a while, we need to make sure there are options for you. To get those options, we need to build more housing.”
The policy change was approved in a 9-1 vote.
Following adoption by the Board of Supervisors, staff will work to put together a draft of new guidelines in May and present those to the board later this summer.
(Updated at 12:10 p.m.) Fairfax County’s police helicopters have a new base of operations.
The emergency choppers and their crews will now be housed at the Fairfax County Police Department’s new David M. Rohrer Aviation Center, which was welcomed with a grand opening celebration yesterday (Wednesday).
Located at 4604 West Ox Road, the two-story, 23,000-square-foot facility replaces a smaller heliport that was built on the same site in 1984 but no longer met the helicopter division’s staffing and equipment needs.
Known by the call sign “Fairfax 1,” the division includes two helicopters and flight officers, pilots, paramedics and maintenance crews.
They were performing over 150 helicopter missions per month and more than 80 medical evacuations per year out of the now-demolished, 9,500-square-foot heliport, the FCPD reported when pitching the project for bond funding in 2015.
“Similar to a firehouse, staff remains on-site throughout their shift, but locker space, helicopter equipment space, storage areas and training space is insufficient to meet current operational needs,” the department said. “The helicopter hangers are not large enough to house the county’s two twin-engine helicopters, and the sloped landing pad causes safety issues especially during winter months.”
The project received $13 million from that public safety bond referendum, though the county ultimately approved $14.1 million, according to the current capital improvements program.
In addition to a landing pad for the helicopters, the new aviation center has a two-bay hanger, parking for 25 vehicles, and upgraded locker, storage and training spaces.
At my request, the Board honored Chief Davis’ request to name the heliport after Chief Rohrer in recognition of his 41 years of outstanding service to the County.
The operational needs of our flight officers, pilots, paramedics and maintenance crews have grown significantly. pic.twitter.com/LS0D1Kynrx
— Supervisor Pat Herrity (@PatHerrity) March 22, 2023
The facility is named after former deputy county executive for public safety David Rohrer, who retired last year after a 41-year career that he started as a patrol officer. The name was requested by Fairfax County Police Chief Kevin Davis and Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity, whose district includes the heliport site.
“The operational needs of our flight officers, pilots, paramedics and maintenance crews have grown significantly,” Herrity said after participating in the grand opening. “This new facility will provide lifesaving medical treatment and crimefighting services to our citizens.”
Speakers at the ceremony included Herrity, Davis, Rohrer, Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay, County Executive Bryan Hill and Department of Public Works and Environmental Services Director Chris Herrington.
At the time of the opening ceremony, helicopter crews hadn’t officially moved in yet, but the FCPD anticipates they’ll be able to operate out of the aviation center starting at 8 a.m. Saturday (March 25).
“That depends if everything gets moved over in time,” the police department said.
The toll lanes on I-66 outside the Capital Beltway have been open for over three months now, but some drivers are still getting tripped up by the accompanying signage.
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors directed staff on Tuesday (March 7) to prepare a letter asking the Virginia Department of Transportation to clarify the information on its signs about toll prices and exit locations.
Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity, who requested the move, said his office has continued to receive complaints from confused constituents.
“The signage used on these newly opened Express Lanes is not as clear as the signs on I-495 and I-95 Express Lanes,” Herrity said. “The signage does not provide total cost information for the entire length, and it does not give clear information to drivers on locations of exit ramps to general purpose lanes, which is important for drivers deciding whether to pay additional tolls.”
Covering 22.5 miles from the Beltway (I-495) in Dunn Loring to Route 29 in Gainesville, the westward extension of the I-66 Express Lanes became fully operational on Nov. 22, though portions of the overall $3.7 billion project are still under construction.
The signage was developed in accordance with federal guidelines and approved by the Federal Highway Administration, but both VDOT and I-66 Express Mobility Partners (I-66 EMP), the private company that operates the toll lanes, acknowledged that this is “a learning period” as drivers adjust to new signs and traffic patterns.
“We are looking at areas in the corridor where we might enhance or clarify the signage in an effort to help drivers,” VDOT Northern Virginia’s megaprojects section said in a statement.
Because of their length, the new lanes are split up into three eastbound segments and four westbound segments, charging drivers for each segment they take. Signs for the lanes currently show only toll prices for specific sections, rather than the whole corridor.
Nancy Smith, the corporate affairs director for I-66 EMP, says the operator is “aware” that this approach “may present particular confusion” at spots like the I-495 interchange that are complicated to navigate, but it’s ultimately more effective.
“This system provides our drivers with the most accurate rates as well as greater flexibility to determine when to get on and off the lanes,” Smith said. “An end-to-end rate wouldn’t accurately reflect conditions in the furthest segment by the time a driver gets there. Again, it will take time for all drivers to completely familiarize themselves with our segmental tolling system.”
According to I-66 EMP, the average weekly toll lanes usage increased from about 3% to 5% of I-66 users over the past month, suggesting drivers becoming more accustomed to the lanes.
“That’s a very encouraging growth trend,” Smith said.
I-66 EMP has an online trip planning tool that provides toll estimates. Its customer service center at 1-833-643-2867 will also answer questions, Smith said.
Despite his concerns about the signage, Herrity called the I-66 Express Lanes project an “impressive feat” that provides new transportation choices and “a quicker commute due to the additional capacity from the toll lanes.”
“I thought a letter from the board might help VDOT encourage the contractor to get that signage done,” Herrity said.
Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity is running for a fifth term.
The lone Republican currently on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors officially declared this morning that he will run for reelection again, making the announcement at his alma mater West Springfield High School.
In the follow-up press release, he said that the county is a very different place compared to when he last ran in 2019.
Since I last ran for office, we have faced unfathomable challenges; from a global pandemic to historic unemployment, unprecedented obstacles for our business owners, interrupted education and record-setting inflation…We live in a different world than we did four years ago and I can’t think of a more critical time to need strong, experienced leadership on the Board of Supervisors. That’s why I’m announcing today my campaign to run for reelection for Springfield District Supervisor on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.
First elected in 2007, Herrity is the son of Jack Herrity, a former Fairfax County Board chair in the 1970s and 1980s. As the board’s only Republican, he has clashed at times with the other supervisors.
A challenger has already launched a bid to turn the seat blue. Tech entrepreneur Albert Vega announced in September that he’ll seek the Democratic nomination. If Vega wins the June primary or no other Democrats enter the race, he’ll take on Herrity in the Nov. 7 general election.
“We need someone representing us who has the experience and track record to keep getting results for the County. I humbly consider myself the most qualified to serve our community,” Herrity said in a press release. “I proudly stood as a check on the excesses of the Board, and made sure that each decision made considered the impact it would have on every single one of our county’s residents.”
Herrity’s announcement brings the number of incumbent supervisors seeking reelection this year to six.
Chairman Jeff McKay, Franconia District Supervisor Rodney Lusk, Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck, Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn, and Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw have all said they’ll be running in 2023.
Longtime supervisors John Foust and Penny Gross are stepping down, leaving both races wide open for new candidates.
Sully District Supervisor Kathy Smith and Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik have not made their intentions public yet.
With its lone survivor still hospitalized, this month’s crash that killed two teens on Lee Chapel Road has spurred Fairfax County to step up its efforts to address long-standing concerns about the safety of the key Fairfax Station th0roughfare.
During its meeting yesterday (Tuesday), the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors directed transportation staff to develop a cost estimate for a project that would widen the two-lane road to four lanes and eliminate hills that limit driver visibility along a roughly 1-mile segment between Ox Road (Route 123) and Fairfax County Parkway.
Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity originally proposed the project in 2017 after a 19-year-old died in a crash at the same intersection with Fairfax County Parkway in 2015. However, no funding has been identified yet.
A petition calling for safety improvements on Lee Chapel Road now has over 13,500 signatures. Herrity met the two South County High School students behind the campaign on Monday (Jan. 23), he told the board.
“There’s a lot of community support for doing something,” he said. “Unfortunately it takes a tragedy.”
Unanimously approved, Herrity’s board matter also asks staff to look at more immediate ways to improve the roadway’s safety, such as adding streetlights and clearing shoulders on the adjacent parkland.
It also asks our public works department to look at the feasibility of streetlights and the Park Authority to look at clearing the shoulder areas on the adjacent parkland.
— Supervisor Pat Herrity (@PatHerrity) January 24, 2023
According to preliminary state data, there have been 245 crashes and 149 injuries on Lee Chapel Road since 2010, including the fatal crashes in 2015 and this past Jan. 10. Also the site of a 2005 crash that killed an 18-year-old who had just graduated from Hayfield Secondary School, the road has proven especially dangerous for young, inexperienced drivers.
The victims of the fatal crash on Jan. 10 were all South County High School students. Ariana Haftsavar and Ashlyn Brotemarkle, the two teens who were killed, were 16.
Detectives have determined that the 2019 Lexus IS350 was traveling at 100.7 mph when it veered off the road, becoming airborne for about 130 feet before landing on its roof, the Fairfax County Police Department reported last night.
“Fire and rescue personnel extricated one victim, who was taken to a nearby hospital; she remains hospitalized,” the FCPD said. “The driver and the rear passenger, of the Lexus were declared deceased at the scene. The passenger in the backseat was not wearing a seatbelt.”
In the wake of the crash, Del. Kathy Tran (D-42) will host a virtual town hall on road safety at 7 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 30. Read More
Calls for safety improvements on Lee Chapel Road in Fairfax Station have resurfaced in the wake of last week’s car crash that killed two teens and put a third in the hospital.
As an online petition urging Fairfax County to prioritize regular maintenance and new safety features surpassed 12,000 signatures, Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity — who represents the area — met with state and county transportation staff to discuss short, mid and long-term options for addressing long-standing safety concerns.
Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck and Del. Kathy Tran (D-42) also attended the meeting yesterday (Wednesday).
“Both VDOT and County staff came to the meeting with ideas for improving the safety of the road and will be working to address the feasibility and timing of these potential improvements including those recommended by residents,” Herrity tweeted, adding that another meeting will be held next week.
Both VDOT and County staff came to the meeting with ideas for improving the safety of the road and will be working to address the feasibility and timing of these potential improvements including those recommended by residents.
— Supervisor Pat Herrity (@PatHerrity) January 18, 2023
A key connection between Lorton via Route 123 and the Burke/Fairfax Station area, Lee Chapel Road has been the site of 243 vehicle crashes since 2011, resulting in 148 injuries and two deaths, according to state data.
That includes the fatal Jan. 10 crash, where a sedan veered off the road while going over a hill approaching the Fairfax County Parkway intersection, according to police. The crash killed 16-year-old South County High School students Ariana Haftsavar and Ashlyn Brotemarkle, who were identified publicly by family and friends.
Started by classmates of Ariana and Ashlyn, the petition says local residents have been questioning the road’s safety for years, noting that a 19-year-old died in a crash at the same intersection in 2015.
“The solution for this conflict is to keep the road maintained regularly by doing something big like putting in safety features to something small like filling in potholes,” the petition says. “Safety features include signs that blink when you are to slow down at turns, road lights, safety signs before the road starts, and guardrails.”
After the last week’s crash, the Virginia Department of Transportation added “optical speed bars” on the road last Friday (Jan. 13). The striped markings are thought to reduce speeds on curves with an optical illusion that makes drivers aware of how fast they’re going.
“We are saddened to hear of the loss of two of our community members,” VDOT said in a statement. “As is customary, we allow time for the police department to fully investigate the crash to determine the facts, circumstances, and cause. Once we receive the finalized police report, our Traffic Engineering group will perform a safety review of the location.” Read More
(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.
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.