Fairfax County is again asking the state for money to offset anticipated reductions in resident vehicle tax payments.
At a meeting on Tuesday (Jan. 24), the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a letter written by Chairman Jeff McKay for Gov. Glenn Youngkin, asking him to include money in his budget for localities to blunt the impact of a 15% decrease in car tax revenue.
“We all heard last year the complaints that came in. I don’t think people understand that we don’t set the value of cars. They are set by others,” Chairman Jeff McKay said. “So, the tool that we had in our toolbox was to automatically put a reduction in value on all those vehicles in the county. Even with that, most people’s…tax bills went up.”
Over the last several years, used car prices have increased dramatically, though they’ve started to come down in recent weeks. Because of that, many county taxpayers are paying significantly more in personal property tax — also known as the “car tax.”
Last year, the Board approved assessing vehicles at only 85% of market value in order to give some relief to county taxpayers. That came after Youngkin signed legislation giving localities express permission to do that, in accordance with the Dillon Rule.
However, the county relies on that money as part of its tax revenue to fund services. In 1998, Virginia passed the Personal Property Tax Relief Act, which dictates that the state should offer car tax relief and subsidize localities for lost revenue owed on the first $20,000 of a vehicle’s value.
But the amount of funding provided to localities hasn’t changed since 2007, and Virginia now provides 20% less relief. In other words, both taxpayers and the county government are getting significantly less money from the state than they did 16 years ago.
After cutting another 15% for fiscal year 2023, which began July 1, 2022, the Fairfax County board is asking to get more money back from the state — a request also made to the governor last year, McKay’s board matter notes.
Youngkin has suggested cutting the car tax entirely, but county officials have expressed some trepidation about the consequences unless the money is reimbursed. McKay said reimbursement might be possible now considering the state’s nearly $2 billion surplus.
“While either the state or county could eliminate car taxes all together, the state should honor its pledge of 1998 to eliminate the car tax while reimbursing local governments for lost revenue,” the letter to Youngkin says. “It is essential and possible, particularly as the state currently sits on a significant surplus, to allocate adequate funding to provide residents with effective personal property tax relief.”
Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw argued that the state can’t truly claim to have a surplus until “the Commonwealth pays its bills…and this is an example.”
“If it doesn’t happen this year with the surplus that exists, it ain’t going to happen next year or the year after that,” he said.
Fairfax County’s top priorities for 2023 will be increasing mental health services, boosting police retention, addressing commercial office vacancies, and improving pedestrian safety, Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay says.
With the county increasingly reliant on real estate taxes, officials expect this budget cycle to be one of the most challenging in a decade.
As property values rise, the tax burden on property owners is already “significant” and hurting residents, McKay said. To not “exacerbate” the situation, the county likely needs to lower the real estate tax rate.
“I personally believe absolutely we have to reduce the tax rate as a part of this next budget,” McKay said.
Continued recovery from the pandemic is paramount, informing all the board’s priorities for the upcoming year, McKay said.
While economic recovery from the pandemic tends to get a lot of attention, there remains “a lot of work to do” on human services, according to the chairman.
“The thing that keeps me up at night is the ongoing growth of mental health challenges, especially with some of our young people,” McKay said. “I do think that a good chunk of that is a byproduct of what we’ve been through with Covid.”
Mental health-related challenges affect everything from police calls to unemployment and schools, he said. The county’s current budget gave close to $186 million to the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board, which provides support services.
McKay believes the state’s $37 million contribution isn’t enough, arguing that mental health funding should be “primarily a state responsibility.”
“This is something the state has to get really serious about addressing,” he said. “Frankly, if they provided the level of support that the county did, we probably wouldn’t have near the mental health challenges in Virginia that we have now.”
Increasing mental health services could mean more educational programs, staffing, and supportive programs.
It also ties into public safety, as the Fairfax County Police Department struggles with understaffing and retention. McKay says officers are being asked to take on responsibilities that they shouldn’t have to handle.
“Increasingly our police are almost being asked to be mental health clinicians [when then are] mental health service calls,” he said. “It’s stressing them out and getting people not interested in joining police departments.”
In 2021, the county instituted a co-responder program where a crisis intervention specialist joins police officers on certain mental health-related calls. Alongside the county’s Diversion First program, launched in 2016, it provides treatment to individuals instead of incarceration. McKay says the programs need to “grow dramatically.” 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.
(Updated at 1:45 p.m.) Fairfax County is considering automatically filing vehicle tax returns for residents in the future, potentially saving more than 70,000 residents money.
At last week’s Board of Supervisors meeting, elected officials authorized a public hearing for Dec. 6 to discuss a possible county code change that would eliminate a step for residents when registering a vehicle.
Currently, when a resident registers a motor vehicle, trailer, or semitrailer, the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) notifies the county. Then, the county’s Department of Tax Administration (DTA) sends “a courtesy letter” to the resident reminding them to separately file a tax return within 60 days.
If the resident doesn’t register in that time, they face a 10% penalty on top of their owed personal property taxes.
Approximately 72,000 residents do not file tax returns for their vehicles in a timely fashion on an annual basis and are subject to the 10% penalty, a DTA spokesperson told FFXnow by email.
On average, that’s about 54% of residents who either bought a new vehicle or moved one into the county, they said.
If approved, the proposed change would eliminate that extra step. The county would automatically file the personal property tax return on the resident’s behalf within 30 days.
(Correction: This story initially said the DMV would automatically file tax returns for residents, but a Fairfax County spokesperson clarified that the filing would be done by the county itself.)
The amendment would also get rid of the 10% late penalty “if the vehicle is timely registered with the DMV,” notes the staff report. If approved, the change would go into effect on Jan. 1, 2023.
“This proposed change will make it easier for taxpayers, as well as help them avoid unnecessary penalties,” the DTA spokesperson said. “Many taxpayers who buy a new vehicle or move one into the county don’t understand that they are required to separately file a personal property tax return in addition to registering it with the state Department of Motor Vehicles.”
The proposed amendment would also clarify that taxes on trailers and semi-trailers would be prorated based on when ownership changed during the calendar year.
Getting rid of the late penalty would result in a loss of about $2.4 million in revenue for the county on annual basis.
“The potential loss incurred is a small fraction of the revenues generated from the personal property tax,” the spokesperson noted.
In the current fiscal year 2023, though, the net loss would be about half of that since the change in code would not be retroactive, with January marking the halfway point of the fiscal year.
The adopted 2023 budget already reflects the potential $1.2 million loss, per the staff report.
Fairfax County deserves more local authority, Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay says, calling Virginia’s Dillon Rule “increasingly more intrusive” in day-to-day operations.
The Dillon Rule dictates that localities only have the authority to create laws, set guidelines, and wield power if the state expressly grants it to them.
However, McKay argues this system treats counties as so “unsophisticated” that they need the state to make decisions for them — an assumption that seems particularly outdated for a locality like Fairfax County, which is home to nearly 1.2 million people and an annual budget of $4.7 billion.
“It’s a…broken, inconsistent, and non-responsive system for our constituents that needs modernization,” McKay told FFXnow. “Every time we need something, we’ve got to go to Richmond and beg because most [Virginia] localities don’t need or want that authority. And that’s a problem.”
McKay told Axios D.C. last month that he wanted the county to have more control over its destiny, including the option to levy personal income taxes.
He calculated that Fairfax County only gets 23 cents for each dollar it pays in state taxes. While some disputed that exact calculation, McKay says the county sends enough revenue to the state that it should have more authority to determine how it’s generated.
“I think the county should have the authority to levy any tax that they want and let their voters hold them accountable,” he said. “The state should not be telling them, ‘You can’t raise revenue this way or that way or any other way.'”
If allowed to do this, he would consider a personal income tax as a means to lower — or, even, eliminate — the real estate tax, which provides over $3 billion, or roughly 68% of the county’s annual revenue. He says it would be a fairer, more equitable, and less risky way of raising revenue.
The Dillon Rule’s restrictions on local authority go beyond taxes, hampering day-to-day operations of the county, McKay says, arguing that the “one-size-fits-all” mentality of governing no longer works in a state where counties are diverse in size, population, and budgets.
For instance, rewinding to 2020, McKay says he and other Northern Virginia leaders had to “compel” then-governor Ralph Northam to delay rolling back Covid restrictions in the region.
At the time, Fairfax County’s infection numbers were a lot closer to those in D.C. and Montgomery County than to Roanoke or smaller Virginia localities. Yet, while D.C. and suburban Maryland could keep their covid restrictions in place, Northern Virginia was initially on the same timeline as the rest of the Commonwealth.
“I didn’t have the same authority that they had to do what they were doing,” McKay said. “I was beholden to negotiating, in essence, with the governor about what was in the best interest of Fairfax County.”
McKay says the Dillon Rule is also a factor in the case of the Glasgow Middle School counselor who was arrested last year for a sex crime but stayed employed by Fairfax County Public Schools for months after.
“Another example of a challenge in my community that…fell through the cracks because of a lack of detail, lack of aggressiveness, and lack of awareness of what the Virginia standard or requirements are for localities reporting these incidents,” he said. Read More
But Fairfax County’s commitment to provide $6.2 million remains unchanged, according to the county.
The plan would redevelop nearly 5 acres of land into a mixed-use project with 273 apartments and roughly 17,000 square feet of retail. An arts center and a 726-space parking garage are also part of the project.
“The market pause has delayed when those payments are expected to be made between the County and the Town due to the construction delays pushing out the previously mentioned payment triggers. The overall obligation remains in place for the County to provide those payments to the Town when those phases are met,” said Scott Sizer, catalytic development division manager of the Fairfax County Department of Economic initiatives.
The county offered two pledges for the public-private partnership. The first agreement of $1.2 million — approved in 2018 — kicks in when Comstock and the Town of Herndon have contributed at least $1.2 million in value for the construction work.
Sizer says that’s expected to happen after building construction begins.
The second agreement states that the county’s contribution of $5 million will happen after the first residential structure gets its first occupant. The payment — which will likely take place at the end of site construction and the beginning of operations of the apartments — will include annual payments over five years, Sizer said.
A spokesperson for Comstock told FFXnow that no timeline is currently available for when the project might begin.
The project, which was expected to break ground nearly two years ago, could be on pause for up to two years, the town stated in July.
The cost of the $101 million project increased by $25 million due to issues related to materials, labor, and workforce restrictions caused by the pandemic, according to town officials.
In addition to support from the county, Comstock will receive $2.5 million in fee reductions and $1.9 million in real estate tax breaks through an ordinance that was established after the town approved the project.
The project has been marred by delays since its inception. Groundbreaking was originally planned for December 2019.
Two Face Drug Charges After Seven Corners Police Shooting — “Two men have been charged after an officer-involved shooting that occurred last night at approximately 10:45 p.m. in the 6100 block of Arlington Boulevard in Seven Corners…The officer involved in the shooting has been identified as an 11-year veteran assigned to the Street Crimes Unit.” [FCPD]
Local LGBTQ+ Student Group Speaks Out — Fairfax County’s Pride Liberation Project released a statement backed by more than 600 students criticizing a proposal from the state Department of Education that they fear will classify any references to LGBTQIA+ people and events as sexually explicit. The guidelines address a new law that requires parents to be notified when school materials include sexually explicit content. [The Washington Post]
Meet Reston Association’s New CEO — “On Thursday, July 28, the Reston Association board of directors voted unanimously to confirm Mac Cummins, AICP* as the next chief executive officer of the non-profit organization…Cummins sat for a Q&A with the Connection Newspapers on Friday, July 29.” [Connection Newspapers]
Police Chief Addresses Staffing Emergency — The Fairfax County Police Department declared a personnel emergency last week, requiring officers to work mandatory overtime to compensate for staff shortages. Chief Kevin Davis says the department’s 189 operational vacancies are exceptionally high, though 51 recruits currently in the academy will eventually join the force. [ABC7]
Back in Nature, Snake Found in Fairfax Is Healing — “K2C Wildlife Encounters, LLC, received a call on June 5 from a Fairfax resident who had a snake in their backyard that they wanted removed…The female, eastern ratsnake had a torn jugular vein, a hole in her trachea, a protruding eye, numerous lacerations, and broken ribs.” [Patch]
New FCPS Teachers Prepare for School Year — “Minutello and Edinborough are among the newest teachers in Virginia’s largest school system, and are starting at a time when staffing challenges are making headlines. The county had hundreds of vacancies at the end of the last school year, but 97% of staffing positions have been filled as of last week, Superintendent Michelle Reid said.” [WTOP]
Centreville’s Ellanor C. Lawrence Park Lot to Temporarily Close — “The parking lot and entrance for Cabell’s Mill will be closed from Aug. 8 through Oct. 7, 2022, for construction. Work related to the new Stewardship Education Center will include a larger parking lot that will include features and a design that will better control and filter water from rain and runoff from the adjacent neighborhood.” [FCPA]
State Sales Tax Holiday Starts Tomorrow — “The 3-day sales tax holiday starts the first Friday in August at 12:01 am and ends the following Sunday at 11:59 pm…During the sales tax holiday, you can buy qualifying school supplies, clothing, footwear, hurricane and emergency preparedness items, and Energy Star™ and WaterSense™ products without paying sales tax.” [Virginia Department of Taxation]
It’s Thursday — Humid throughout the day. High of 95 and low of 76. Sunrise at 6:14 am and sunset at 8:18 pm. [Weather.gov]
Real Estate Taxes Due Today — For Fairfax County property owners, it’s the final day to send in the first installment of your annual real estate taxes, which saw significant increases this year even with a 3-cent reduction in the county’s rate. Payments can be made to the Department of Tax Administration by phone, mail, drop box, mobile app and online. [DTA]
Springfield Man Convicted in 2020 Murder — A jury convicted Carlington Fitz Auther Campbell yesterday (Wednesday) for shooting and killing Anthony Sullivan outside a West Springfield apartment in November 2020, Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano announced. Campbell was found guilty of second-degree murder and a weapons charge, which carry possible prison sentences of five to 40 years and three years, respectively. [WUSA9]
Decision on Mosaic District Skating Rink Postponed — “Because of some public pushback, unresolved questions and a legal-advertising snafu, the Fairfax County Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) on July 13 deferred until September its decision on whether to allow temporary ice- and roller-skating rinks in Merrifield’s Mosaic District.” [Sun Gazette]
Fairfax City Veterinarian Helps Ukraine Animal Shelters — “Dr. Courtney Katsur chokes up when she describes what she saw while volunteering for two weeks in Ukraine. The veterinarian with Town & Country Animal Hospital in Fairfax tried for months to find a way to get to the war zone to help animals she was seeing in the news.” [Northern Virginia Magazine]
Clinics Available for Required Student Vaccinations — “Before students return to school in late August, families can check to ensure their students are up to date on immunizations required at Fairfax County Public Schools. The Fairfax County Health Department is offering appointments at upcoming immunization clinics.” [Patch]
Inova to Rebrand Urgent Care Centers With Partnership — Inova Health System will soon let patients make appointments, check wait times and more through the on-demand health care platform GoHealth Urgent Care. Announced yesterday (Wednesday), the joint venture will convert seven existing Inova Urgent Care locations in Northern Virginia into Inova-GoHealth Urgent Care centers later this year, with additional locations planned. [Inova]
Penn Daw Firefighters Help Mow Lawn — “Recently, Station 11, Penn Daw, B-Shift responded to a routine EMS incident for an elderly gentleman experiencing distress while mowing his lawn on one of the hottest days of the year. The #FCFRD crew assisted the gentlemen, and then completed mowing his lawn prior to leaving.” [FCFRD/Twitter]
Park Authority Fall Registration Begins Next Week — “Fairfax County Park Authority registration for fall classes and programs opens Aug. 2, 2022. Fall classes will be in full swing with programs at Rec Centers, nature centers, historic sites, lakefront parks, golf courses and schools. Virtual classes are available for those who prefer or cannot attend in person.” [FCPA]
McLean Lidl Hosts Kids’ Drawing Contest — “Lidl is holding a drawing competition for children at its new McLean store as part of a benefit for the SHARE of McLean food bank. Starting Wednesday, children can participate in the drawing competition, with a chance to win a $100 Lidl gift card…Once the competition closes on Wednesday, Aug. 3, Lidl will narrow down the entries and ask McLean community members to vote for their favorite piece of art.” [Patch]
It’s Thursday — Humid and mostly cloudy throughout the day. High of 86 and low of 75. Sunrise at 6:08 am and sunset at 8:25 pm. [Weather.gov]
Fairfax County is on track to bring in more than $1 million in revenue from the first year of its plastic bag tax.
In the first five months after the tax took effect on Jan. 1, the county government received over $500,000, the Office of Environmental and Energy Coordination said in a memo to the Board of Supervisors.
That’s even with retailers allowed to retain two out of every five cents collected on each disposable plastic bag they distribute in 2022, a provision intended to offset the costs of transitioning away from plastic for businesses.
The OEEC projects that the tax will generate $1.2 million for the county over its inaugural year.
“Revenue is likely to fluctuate in the first few years of implementation,” OEEC Director Kambiz Agazi wrote to the board, noting that the amount of the tax retained by retailers will drop to one cent on Jan. 1, 2023. “…As has been observed in other jurisdictions with a plastic bag tax, over the long term, tax revenue is likely to trend downward as consumers begin reducing their use of disposable plastic bags.”
The revenue that the county has “regrettably” collected so far suggests many community members haven’t gotten into the habit yet of bringing their own bags to grocery stores and other businesses, Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck observed yesterday (Tuesday) at the end of the board’s environmental committee meeting.
By a matter of days, Fairfax County became the first locality in Northern Virginia to adopt a plastic bag tax in September. The 5-cent levy was enabled by a 2020 state law and is supposed to encourage people to use more sustainable alternatives.
Under the law, revenue can be used to support educational programs, clean up pollution and litter, and provide reusable bags to people who receive federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Women, Infants and Children (WIC) food benefits.
In his memo, Agazi proposes allocating $511,000 already accrued from the tax to existing county programs, including:
- Operation Stream Shield, which pays people experiencing homelessness to help clean up local streams ($370,000)
- Storm drain education and labeling projects ($70,000)
- Maintenance activities by the Community Labor Force, which the sheriff’s office says will be suspended in September ($30,000)
The plan also designates funding for technology that collects litter in county waterways, gloves and other materials for volunteer stream cleanups, and reusable bags for SNAP and WIC recipients, food pantries, and farmers’ markets.
For future beneficiaries, staff proposed having a formal process where county agencies apply for funding. A project selection committee would prioritize the submitted projects, which would then be reviewed by the county’s chief financial officer and Department of Management and Budget.
In addition to meeting the state criteria for the plastic bag tax, the projects would have to be based in the county or part of a regional initiative that directly benefits the county and scheduled to start in the same year that money is requested. They also can’t require new, permanent staff positions, be part of the capital improvement program, or have other sources of funding.
“This is an opportunity for us to repurpose those funds, if you will, to hopefully make a difference in our environmental management,” Storck said.
Photo via Christopher Vega/Unsplash
GW Parkway Rehab Breaks Ground in McLean — “Top federal and local officials participated in a groundbreaking ceremony Monday morning on a $161 [million] project to upgrade the northern section of the George Washington Memorial Parkway.” [Patch]
W&OD Trail Detour Starts in Reston — “In preparation for the future bridge there, underground utilities along the trail on the west side of Wiehle Ave in Reston are being relocated, necessitating a detour to the gravel trail to the north. This detour will be in effect from Tues, July 19 to Fri, July 22.” [W&OD Trail/Twitter]
Plastic Bag Tax Coming to Fairfax City — “Effective Jan. 1, 2023, disposable plastic bags provided at point of sale to consumers at grocery stores, convenience stores, and drugstores in Fairfax City will be subject to a 5 cent tax. To avoid the tax, consumers can provide their own reusable shopping bags, or opt out of bags altogether.” [City of Fairfax]
NoVA Leaders Advocate for More Express Lanes — “Northern Virginia has been transformed for the last decade by Express Lanes projects and regional leaders say more of the same is needed — including over the Potomac River and into Maryland — if the metropolitan area is to continue thriving.” [Sun Gazette/Inside NoVA]
Wegmans Plans Hiring Event for Reston Store — “Wegmans Food Markets will be hosting a virtual hiring event Thursday to fill 100 full-time positions at its new Reston grocery store, which is set to open in early 2023…The virtual hiring event will run from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., on Thursday.” [Patch]
County Brings Public Safety Talks to Barbershops — “@fairfaxhealth along with @FairfaxCountyPD and @FairfaxCSB is hosting a series of conversations at barbershops around the county. The focus will be on community policing, substance abuse, and building trust in our community. No RSVP is required.” [Fairfax County Government/Twitter]
Vienna Student Wins State Tennis Title — “Unlike the previous season, Simone Bergeron was totally satisfied with her perfect campaign in girls tennis this past spring. The Madison Warhawks junior capped the 2022 season by winning the Virginia High School League’s Class 6 girls state-championship singles tournament.” [Sun Gazette]
It’s Tuesday — Humid and mostly cloudy throughout the day. High of 87 and low of 74. Sunrise at 6:00 am and sunset at 8:33 pm. [Weather.gov]