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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 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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Morning Notes

Caliburger is among the retailers coming to The Boro in Tysons (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Filler-Corn Ousted as House Minority Leader — Tasked with trying to retake a majority in 2023 — or this year, pending the outcome of a court case — the Virginia House Democratic Caucus removed former Speaker of the House Eileen Filler-Corn as their leader in a secret ballot vote yesterday (Wednesday). Filler-Corn, who represents part of Fairfax County as the 41st District delegate, was the first woman and first Jewish person to serve as speaker in the chamber’s 400-year history. [Richmond Times-Dispatch]

Tysons Housing Project Lands Big Bucks — On Tuesday (May 3), officials from Fairfax County, the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing, and more will announce a $55 million investment in the Dominion Square West project. The county says the funds will allow APAH to construct two planned buildings, instead of just the one that has been approved, accelerating the delivery of over 500 units of affordable housing. [Fairfax County HCD]

Herndon Police on Lookout for Missing Teen — “Town of Herndon Police are asking the public’s help in locating a runaway teenager, according to a post on the department’s office Twitter account. Bryan Escalante Gomez, 17, was last seen by his family at 7:45 p.m., on Sunday.” [Patch]

FCPS Updates Covid Isolation Policy — “In a message to families Wednesday, Fairfax County Public Schools said that starting May 1, students who test positive can return to in-person classes, activities and sporting events after at least five days of isolation. Previously, 10 days of isolation were required.” [WTOP]

Vienna Lowers Tax Rate — “The Vienna Town Council voted [on Monday, April 25] to reduce the Town’s property tax rate by 1.75 cents to 20.5 cents per $100 of assessed value. The new rate is .75 cents lower than the one cent reduction in the proposed FY2023 budget presented by the Town Manager in March.” [Town of Vienna]

Huntington Gets New Latino Supermarket — “There’s a new grocery store in the area. Juana Supermarket officially opened its doors on Saturday (April 23). The new store replaced the La Latina Market at 5838 N. King’s Highway in the Huntington Station Shopping Center.” [ALXnow]

Summer Music Series Schedule Announced — “Fairfax County Park Authority’s Summer Entertainment Series is back! This year the Summer Entertainment Series features more shows at 18 locations, a new global dance and music series Wednesday evenings in Falls Church, Starlight drive-in movies in Centreville Saturday evenings in August, plus 180 live performances to choose from.” [FCPA]

Peloton Instructor Plans Tysons Book Talk — “Beloved Peloton instructor Tunde Oyeneyin is launching a debut book titled Speak, and on May 3 — the day the book comes out — she’ll be hosting the first stop on her book tour at Tysons Galleria…Seats for the event are already sold out, but the event remains open to the public, and additional guests are welcome to join for standing room.” [Washingtonian]

It’s Thursday — Clear throughout the day. High of 56 and low of 33. Sunrise at 6:16 am and sunset at 8:00 pm. [Weather.gov]

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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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The Fairfax County Government Center on a spring day (staff photo by David Taube)

Property tax bills are poised to go up — but somewhat less than initially expected.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors’ budget policy committee discussed a plan on Friday (April 22) to set the property tax rate at $1.11 per $100 of assessed property value, a 3-cent decrease from the current rate.

However, due to increased assessments, property tax bills will still increase by $465 on average, or 6.7%, according to a county projection.

The board is also planning to provide relief for personal property taxes on vehicles, following a staff recommendation. Those bills would only be taxed at 85% of an automobile’s assessment, meaning the average bill would be $307. That’s a $78 increase from the current year.

The proposed budget for fiscal year 2023, which begins July 1, also increases sewer service and base charges.

The board kept the record open for comments following three days of budget hearings April 12-14. Many people called for more funding to parks and other initiatives, while others called for property tax relief.

The board is also moving to provide higher compensation increases than what County Executive Bryan Hill included in the advertised budget released in February. It hopes to improve employee recruitment and retention amid a 15% vacancy rate as of mid-March.

Other planned changes from the advertised budget include more funding for parks, nonprofits, and the arts.

The board will mark up the budget at 10 a.m. tomorrow (Tuesday) and is slated to adopt it May 10.

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Fairfax County worker Karen Johnson speaks at a budget hearing (via Fairfax County)

Karen Johnson commutes two hours each way to get to work in Fair Oaks, leaving at 5 a.m. from her home in Fredericksburg.

Johnson, a child care center teacher, has tried to live in Fairfax County but can’t afford it, she said on April 12 at a budget hearing with fellow union members. She called on the Board of Supervisors to fund proposed raises to the county’s 11,000-plus merit workers.

“The pay we receive every two weeks is a stress day for me because it’s a balancing act,” Johnson said. “Rents are downright outrageous, and the cost of living has soared.”

With labor groups and workers raising concerns about the cost of living in Fairfax County, the average vacancy rate across the government was 15%, representing 2,125 openings, as of March 18, according to a budget question-and-answer response to Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw.

According to county staff, county government employees received nearly 8% in market rate adjustments (MRA) over a seven-year period when their compensation plan called for nearly 14%. Public safety got 11.5% in additional raises out of 16% planned, and general county employees got 10.5% out of 14.5% planned.

“It should be noted that the unfunded budget years for merit/performance/longevity increases in the last two years were due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic,” staff said in a response to Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity.

Service Employees International Union Virginia 512 President David Broder, whose union includes a chapter for Fairfax County government employees, said workers are asking the Board of Supervisors to adopt the pay plan in the proposed budget, which calls for 4.01% MRA increases, merit increases, and longevity raises.

“We’re not asking to get rich,” Johnson said. “But we’re just asking for you to fully fund the raises in the budget…this year so that we can do the job that we love.”

Advocacy groups and residents have pressed for the county to address a variety of priorities in its $4.8 billion general fund budget, from parks funding and affordable housing to relief for rising vehicle and real estate taxes.

Resident Jim McMahon said at a hearing on April 13 that he could face a $3,000 increase in his property bill due to a nearly 20% increase in his assessment, which came after an approximately 15% increase last year.

He asked the board to reconsider the budget, make up for spending increases by reducing other areas, and reduce tax rates. He noted that, thanks to a law from the 1970s, California caps annual assessments at 2% each year.

“They did that so that they could try to give residents the means to continue to be able to afford to live in California, and then they do an adjustment at the sale time to the level of the property tax to the current level,” McMahon said. “But for the residents who are there already, they’re trying to help them.”

The Board of Supervisors’ budget policy committee will meet at 3 p.m. today (Friday) to discuss possible adjustments to the budget. The full budget markup is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Tuesday (April 26).

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When Centreville resident Jim Church received his property assessment, he saw a 14.5% increase, which he calculated would amount to $1,100.

Other residents shared similar concerns yesterday (Tuesday) at the first of three scheduled public hearings on Fairfax County’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2023, which starts July 1.

Several speakers called on the Board of Supervisors to reduce the property tax rate from its advertised rate of $1.14 per $100 of assessed property value. If the board keeps the rate the same, the average tax bill would increase by $666, according to a Fairfax County projection.

“Something is wrong,” one resident said about the property assessment increases coming amid food and gas price increases. “There should be a cap on how much a yearly increase can be.”

The county is analyzing whether to make adjustments and how to do so in its proposed $4.8 billion budget, about half of which goes to schools.

“This budget maintains an investment in teacher pay increases, broadening opportunity and access for all students, and additional support to address critical education gaps that have widened during the pandemic,” Fairfax County School Board Chair Stella Pekarsky said at the budget hearing.

In its advertised budget, Fairfax County Public Schools’ budget projects a spending decrease of 2.3%, thanks to Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds from federal coronavirus aid packages.

FCPS has a total allocation of $272.6 million in one-time ESSER II and ESSER III funds, starting in March 13, 2020 through June 30, 2024.

Several people affiliated with Fairfax County Taxpayers’ Alliance called for a 10-cent decrease in the proposed property tax rate. The group’s president, Arthur Purves, called anything less than that a hidden tax increase.

“The board can and should reduce the tax rate 10 cents,” he said.

Fairfax County staff have stated that a 8.17-cent decrease would generate the same amount of revenue from property taxes in fiscal year 2022 versus 2023.

If the county maintains a flat property tax rate, revenue is slated to increase by nearly $310 million, or 6.8%, to $4.8 billion.

The advertised budget, which was presented by County Executive Bryan Hill in February, includes $79.26 million in unallocated funds that could be used at the county board’s discretion. An additional $83 million has been identified based on increases in vehicle assessment, according to the county.

The board has been evaluating options for tax relief to vehicle owners. The average vehicle tax bill could rise from $229 to $415, based on soaring used-car prices amid a sellers’ market.

While taxes were a central focus of yesterday’s hearing, speakers advocated for other issues as well, from funding for parks and libraries to one group of residents that called for reducing funding to the police.

Another budget hearing started at 3 p.m. today (Wednesday), and a final day for the public to comment starts at 3 p.m. tomorrow (Thursday). The record will remain open for written comments through April 26.

The Board of Supervisors will mark up the advertised budget on April 26 ahead of a vote to adopt the final package on May 10.

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Route 7 seen from Route 123 in Tysons (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Fairfax County has secured all the funding it needs to design a future widening of Route 7 from Route 123 to I-495 in Tysons.

The Tysons Transportation Service District Advisory Board approved allocating up to $7.8 million from the district’s tax revenues to the Route 7 project last month, a move recommended by Fairfax County Department of Transportation staff.

The vote during the March 22 meeting was almost unanimous, but one member of the board said they couldn’t support putting more money to widening a road.

The project design is also expected to receive $2 million from the Tysons-wide Road Funds, which is supported by developer fees.

“That will fully fund design,” FCDOT planner Christina Cain told the board, which advises the county on the district’s annual tax rate and transportation projects funded by the resulting revenue.

Separate from the Route 7 widening under construction to the north, the planned widening from Route 123 to the Capital Beltway will replace the roadway’s existing median with two new lanes to accommodate future bus rapid transit service between Tysons and Alexandria.

Since the new lanes are envisioned as transit-only, Route 7 has to be widened to preserve six lanes for general traffic. The project will also alter the interchange with Route 123, though an evaluation of two possible concepts is temporarily on hold, according to FCDOT’s presentation.

Staff are looking at making upgrades to pedestrian crossings throughout the roughly 1-mile stretch of road, particularly at International Drive, according to Fairfax County Director of Transportation Tom Biesiadny.

“Today, [the crossings] are pretty minimal,” he said. “…What doesn’t exist today are median refuges so that people will be able to cross halfway if they’re not able to make it all the way across. They’ll have a safe way to wait.”

The county is also studying potential safety, operational, and bicycle and pedestrian improvements that could be made in conjunction with the widening and BRT service.

Even before the advisory board’s Route 7 vote, more than half of the $62 million in tax revenue and interest collected by the Tysons Transportation Service District since it was created in 2013 had been allocated to various transportation projects.

As of March 1, about $31.3 million had been allocated, leaving $30.4 million available for projects currently in their preliminary design or engineering phases.

The taxes are generated by residential and commercial properties in the district based on assessed property values.

Property values in Tysons have exceeded the 3% growth projected by the county every year except for fiscal years 2021, when there was a 4.4% decline, and 2022, which saw a 2.3% rise, according to FCDOT.

Because of the faster-than-anticipated growth, the advisory board supported staff’s recommendation to keep the tax rate at 5 cents per $100 of assessed value. The rate needs to be approved by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors as part of the budget for fiscal year 2023, which begins July 1.

“Ultimately, that [growth] probably means that the service district will terminate sooner than we projected, or at some point in the future, the rate can go down at the tail end,” Biesiadny said.

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A Sunoco gas station in Herndon was selling gas for just under $4.40 per gallon on Friday, March 25 (staff photo by David Taube)

As gas prices continue to cost drivers more at the pump, Virginia is looking for possible relief, such as suspending the state’s gas tax.

The average price of gas in Fairfax County is currently around $4.33 per gallon, the only jurisdiction in the Commonwealth averaging over $4.30 at this point, according to AAA.

House Minority Leader Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, who represents the 41st District in Fairfax County, called on Gov. Glenn Youngkin to sign an executive order for a state of emergency to address price gouging.

Earlier this week, Youngkin called the Virginia General Assembly to reconvene for a special session on April 4 to repeal the state gas tax, estimated at 26 cents per gallon.

“Between high gas prices and rising inflation, Virginians are more squeezed than ever and the General Assembly can deliver much needed tax relief to struggling Virginia families,” Youngkin said in a statement on Wednesday (March 23).

He argued that legislators could “produce the biggest tax cut in the history of the Commonwealth” and still “make record investments” in education, law enforcement, behavioral health, and other priorities.

The tax cuts could have lasting implications for local public transportation.

Coalition for Smarter Growth Executive Director Stewart Schwartz said in a statement today (Friday) that suspending the gas tax will mean big cuts in funding for road maintenance, rail, and bus.

“Less road maintenance means more potholes and more frequent, costly repairs for our cars,” he said, calling that state to find funding less dependent on oil for personal vehicles. “It means we’ll fall behind in replacing our crumbling bridges.”

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and other Northern Virginia leaders have expressed similar concerns over how Youngkin’s proposed elimination of grocery taxes could also adversely affect road funding if not replaced.

Board Chairman Jeff McKay said in a newsletter on Wednesday that he supports the grocery tax removal but only “the intent” behind the proposed gas tax suspension:

I support the removal of the grocery tax. I also support the intent only behind the Governor’s proposal to suspend, for three months, the gas tax that aims to alleviate the financial strain our residents are experiencing. None of us feel good about paying astronomical gas prices at the pump, and many of our residents simply cannot afford to fill their tanks. However, a suspension of the gas tax, on top of the proposals to remove other streams of revenue, is not sustainable. Ultimately, it only adds to our financial strain.

I, and many others, are concerned that even a temporary suspension of a gas tax would benefit big oil companies most of all, not our residents who have no guarantee to see any of these savings. What we do know is that, statewide, $437 million would be lost in funding for transportation, including transit, as a result of this action.

McKay suggested that the state should instead provide more car tax relief and increase its funding for education and mental health services.

In Northern Virginia, a 7.7-cent-per-gallon tax affects wholesalers selling fuel to retailers. That money goes to funding for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority and Virginia Railway Express.

For the last fiscal year, which ended in June 2021, the tax brought in $45 million from the region, much of which goes to the Commonwealth. The Northern Virginia Transportation Commission got a share of $18 million, which must go to WMATA capital and operating expenses, according to the commission.

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Route 28 by the Frying Pan Road interchange (via Google Maps)

With property tax assessments skyrocketing, Virginia lawmakers passed a bill this year to change how data centers are valued, which could influence how quickly a local tax district can repay debt for projects that widened Route 28.

The Route 28 Highway Transportation Improvement District’s Fairfax County portion consists of over 1,000 parcels south of the Dulles Toll Road. New assessments for commercial and industrial properties in that area are relatively in line with increases seen in previous years.

Assessed values decreased 4.5% between Jan. 1, 2020 and Jan. 1, 2021 but increased by 3% to nearly $6.6 million on Jan. 1 of this year, according to a staff presentation during a meeting on Friday (March 11) for the Route 28 Transportation Improvement District Commission.

“The main thing we’re at now is just paying off debt,” Fairfax County debt coordinator Joe LaHait said. “There’s no construction left. It’s just paying off debt.”

Over in Loudoun County, however, the total assessed value for around 1,560 commercial and industrial properties in the district shot up by 29.5%, as of Jan. 1.

Officials expect to see assessments decline for properties north of the Dulles Toll Road in Loudoun after the General Assembly adopted House Bill 791, which directs data center valuations to be based on “depreciated reproduction or replacement cost” instead of the income they generate.

The legislative change will take effect on July 1, as long as Gov. Glenn Youngkin doesn’t veto it.

“Based on countywide estimates, Loudoun estimates that the Data Center value could decline by 30% for Tax Year 2023,” a staff presentation stated.

Del. Mark Keam, whose 35th District covers an area ranging from Fair Lakes to Vienna and Tysons, was the chief co-patron of the bill. He didn’t respond to messages seeking comment.

Without the significant increases in data center values, the tax district would generate revenue in line with historical levels, according to staff.

An impact statement for the bill stated there would be no effect on state revenue, but it could result in “an unknown revenue impact to localities.”

Local officials tried to get the bill delayed by a year to understand its effects, but that amendment failed, Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Chair Phyllis Randall, a member of the Route 28 commission, said Friday (March 11).

“We are…in some flux as to knowing what this will look like next year. We know it will decrease, but we don’t know by how much,” Randall said during the commission’s meeting.

She suggested there’s hope that the decrease in valuations won’t be as much as staff projected.

The tax district, which charges 17 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, could finish paying for the completed $105.6 million Route 28 widening projects in 2034 or 2037.

Some local businesses have expressed a desire to not pay the bonds off early, citing benefits of being in the tax district.

Photo via Google Maps

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