FTCA's Charles McAndrew in attendance on 03/01/2014
Rob Whitfield and I attended a 4 hour Hunter Mill District town hall meeting this morning at 9am at the Frying Pan Park facility. This is the first in a series of budget meetings that are taking place throughout Fairfax County. There were more than 100 in attendance at this meeting. We had Congressman Connolly, Chairman Bulova, former Chairman Hanley, Hunter Mill Supervisor Cathy Hudgins, Patricia Hynes, Hunter Mill School Board Member, Ted Velkoff, School Board Member, Susan Datta, CFO And Director of OMB, Susan Quinn, CFO of the FCPS system, Ed Long, County Executive, Patricia Harrison, Deputy County Executive , Tom Biesiadny, Director of Transportation, Bill Bouie, Chairman County Park Authority, Frank De La Fe, Hunter Mill Planning Commissioner, Mercury Payton, Vienna Town Manager, Deputy Mayor of Vienna (I don’t remember her name), Ken Plum, Delegate, Michael Wall, Commander of the Reston Police Station, Bob Simon, founder of Reston and various other county officials.
Congressman Connolly stated that he helped procure a loan of $1.9 billion for Phase II for the Dulles Metrorail system. This will put a downward pressure on the toll increases for the Dulles Tollway. He said that the original Metrorail system was funded with 80% of Federal funds. In Phase 1 of the Dulles Metrorail system, only 16% comes from the Federal government. Supervisor Hudgins stated that her district stretches from Reston south to Floris and Frying Pan Park east to Tysons, and west to Herndon. Her area includes the city of Herndon and Vienna. Her district is one of the largest in Fairfax County and has around 126,000 residents. Metrorail station at Weile Rd. will have 2,300 parking spaces. Construction of Phase 1 is completed. Testing remains to be done by the contractor.
Ed Long and Susan Datta gave the presentation on the budget. Her staff handled out the County Executive Presentation of the FY 2015 Advertised Budget Plan. She stated that the value of real property throughout Fairfax County is still not back to the values that peaked around 2006-2007. Although she said that the average price of homes sold rose around 8% during 2013. The number of home sales increased 8.4%. The county’s commercial vacancy rate remains a problem. Currently, there is around a 15% office vacancy rate, the highest on record since 1991 and up 14.4% in 2012. The total leased in 2013 rose to 11.6 million square feet, an increase over the 2012 level of 10.7 million square feet.
Ms. Datta stated that the total recommended FY 2015 budget of ALL funds is $6.955 BILLION. General Fund Disbursement total is $3.704 BILLION which is $40.92 million or 1.12% over the FY 2014 Revised Budget Plan and $118.02 million or 3.29% over the FY2014 Adopted Budget. General Fund Direct Expenditures total is $1.361 BILLION or $0.82 million or 0.06% over the FY 2014 Revised Budget and $51.89 million or 3.96% over the FY 2014 Adopted Budget Plan. The projected shortfall for FY 2015 is $39.4 million. There will be a total of 58 new positions as follows: 8 in Public Safety, 13 in Human Services, 20 in Community Development, and 6 for all others. However, there will be a reduction of 45 positions as part of the School-Age Child Care (SACC) staffing alignment or a NET increase of 13 new positions. General Fund Revenue is expected to rise in FY 2015 to 3.44%. 63% of the revenue comes from real estate taxes, 15.6% comes from Personal Property taxes, 13.5% comes from local taxes, the rest is smaller amounts from different revenue sources.
Susan stated that the General Fund support for debt service involving the Capital Construction & Debt Service requirements is $133.74 million, an increase of $14.94 million over the FY 2014 level. She mentioned that many high schools were built during the fifties and sixties and now need MAJOR renovation which will be very expensive!
As to Employee Compensation, Ms. Datta stated that employee pay will go up 1.29% Market Rate Adjustment for all employees of $14.10 million and an additional $7.76 million required to increase to 2%. An increase of $5.19 million for Fire and Rescue staff, an increase of $1.55 million for Public Safety longevities for employees eligible for 15 or 20 year longevity increases, and $0.62 increase in employer share of Police retirement contribution for a GRAND TOTAL of over $29 million for employee compensation. Retirement funding will require an additional $2.74 million to meet actuarial requirements, health insurance and other benefits will require an additional $4.04 million.
Susan said that they have received many complaints about the very slow court system. The Commonwealth Attorney’s Office requested $0.54 and 3 new county attorney positions due to the fact that Fairfax County has an average of one attorney to handle 44,744 cases in one year when other VA. jurisdictions have much less to handle such as Richmond that has one attorney to handle 5,534 cases in one year.
Next, we had Pat Hynes and Susan Quinn present the SCHOOL BUDGET. Pat Hynes handed out the Advertised FCPS Budget for FY 15. Pat Hynes said that Fairfax County’s graduations rose to 92%.She said that 16 high schools have been awarded either the GOLD, SILVER, or BRONZE AWARDS by the U.S. News and Report study for excellence. She said that about 95% of the graduates reported plans to continue on to postsecondary education. Pat Hynes said that the latest school budget gap is now $64 million. This means for this increase amounts to 3 cents to be added on to the real estate tax rate! WOW! The budget gap was at $98.1 million for FY15. This is because the State plans to give Fairfax an additional $30 million or so. The student population is expected to increase from approximately 185,000 students to 188,000 for FY15. They are planning for huge reductions. For example, they plan to reduce Assistant Principals for smaller schools, instructional aides, human resources, information technology for a total of around 731 positions. The growth of students continues with 28% of students are projected to be eligible for Free or Reduced Price Meals, 13.7% of the students are in Special Education classes, 15.4% of the students are in the English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL). 25% of all families have children in the FCPS. The average per pupil cost is $13,535 for FY15. FCPS receives 72% of its funding from a transfer from Fairfax County government. State aid funds around $376 million or about 15% of the funding, sales tax provides around $172 ,million or about 7%. No mention as to what funding is available from the Lottery? The overall budget of the FCPS is $2.5 BILLION or an increase of $59.4 million or 2.4% from the FY 2014 Approved Budget and a decrease of $34.8 million or 1.4% from the FY 2014 Revised Budget. There is a total of approximately 23,514 school Operating Fund positions. The majority of the budget is for employee compensation including fringe benefits which is 88.6%. Susan Quinn said that there are significant cost drivers of the FCPS budget. They are: ENROLLMENT GROWTH which amounts to about $26 million, RETIREMENT RATE INCREASES amount to $40 million, the large portion going to VRS which will increase 24.4% in FY15. The employer rate increased from 11.66% to 14.40%. The new rate of 14.50% is approximately 80% of the actuarially-determined contribution rate. State legislation requires that employer contributions reach 100% of the actuarially-determined rate by July 1, 2018. Next is HEALTH INSURANCE RATE INCREASES of about $24 million. These costs have had a dramatic increase! Next is the STEP INCREASE FOR EMPLOYEES of around $41 million which will provide an average step increase of 2.5%. Included in the step increase is a salary scale adjustment for teachers and instructional assistants. School student growth is about 2% per year. Pat Hynes stated that the FCPS SAT scores average of 1663 exceeds the state average of 1517 and the national average of 1474.
After these lengthy presentations, they allowed a brief question and answer period. About 25 people lined up to talk. So Cathy Hudgins kept each person to a short period of time. I mentioned that I have preached for the past 10 years to have Fairfax County establish an Office of Inspector General (OIG). Such an office provides independent audits and also conducts inspections and investigations leading to prosecutions for fraud, and/or corruption. Such activities lead to improved integrity and accountability. It encourages the most efficient, effective, and economic use of resources and ultimately improves management. The OIG recommends constructive solutions. I mentioned that the D.C., Montgomery County, Prince George County governments all have the OIG. Susan Datta stated that they have a few auditors that she feels is sufficient for their government. I asked her to send me an email with these details.
I also talked to Pat Hynes on why , according to the Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance, school spending has increased more than double the rate of inflation from FY2000-FY2014. Her answer is unfunded mandates such as more required retirement funding, ESOL and Special Education dramatic increases during this period. Then while she was still smiling, I asked her how much does the students of illegal alien parents cost the FCPS? That took the smile off her face! She said this was a Federal issue. She resented my stating the words illegal aliens and that I should refer to them as "undocumented immigrants". HA! I asked her if she knew what the words “illegal” and “alien” meant? Anyway, I told her my solution to that problem. Validate one of the parents identity and if she or he is here illegally, submit a bill to the Federal Government for reimbursement since, as she says, it is a Federal issue.
Hopefully, Rob Whitfield will fill you in on what I may have missed.
-- Charles McAndrew, FCTA Board Member