From: Arthur Purves, President, Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance (www.fcta.org)
Madam Chairman and Members of the Board:
My name is Arthur Purves. I address you as president of the Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance.
The advertised FY2017 budget continues a 16-year trend of raising residential real estate taxes three times faster than household income. Household income, by the way, is not keeping up with inflation. The typical homeowner's real estate tax will have increased from $2400 in FY2000 to $6100 if the advertised tax increase is approved.
To support these tax increases, county leaders make misleading statements about the budget. The school superintendent repeatedly states that since FY2008 the Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) budget has been cut by $500M and 2000 positions, when in fact the budget has increased by $490M (from $2144M to $2634M) and 1608 positions (from 22,261 to 23,869).
The county executive states that since FY2009, the county budget has been cut by $300M and 700 positions, when in fact the county non-school budget has increased by $347M (from $1571M to $1918M) and 301 positions (from 12,101 to 12,402).
The school superintendent speaks of program cuts due to inadequate revenues and says we need to "save FCPS", and the county executive also speaks of inadequate pay and deferred maintenance. In fact since FY2000, both the school and county budgets have increased five times faster than enrollment and population. Even when adjusted for inflation, real county and school spending has increased twice as fast as enrollment and population.
Do tax increases impact the economy? The county has the highest office vacancy rate since 1991; local real estate is underperforming the nation; job growth in 2015 did not offset job losses the previous two years; and the commercial percentage of the real estate base is 19%, compared to 24% in FY2000. In FY2000, there were 209 clerks handling public assistance applications; now there are 362 clerks.
If taxes and spending are up, why are class sizes larger and parks and libraries neglected, as was eloquently summarized in a recent Washington Post article (" This model of wealthy suburban living is starting to fray", 4/2/16)? The article, however, incorrectly states that teachers have gone "... several years without a raise." In fact school employees have had salary increases each of the past five years and county employees have had raises four of the past five years. Since FY2000, inflation-adjusted salary spending for schools has increased faster than staff; for the county real salary spending has increased four times faster than staff. Real spending for benefits has increased four times faster than staff for schools and 18 times faster than staff for county employees.
For FY2107, the schools and county wanted $170M more for 3.5% raises, Cadillac health plans, and pensions with retirement at 55. A meals tax, which would provide a one-time increase of $90M, would only pay for half of one year's compensation increases unless there are significant compensation reforms.
Especially in an aging county, real estate taxes should be increasing no faster than inflation, if that much. To match inflation since FY2000, the real estate tax rate should be 68 cents, not the $1.1575 being advertised. The typical real estate tax should be no more than $4000 instead of $6100. To do this the county budget must be cut by $1B, from $4B to $3B, which would translate to a reduction in county and school positions from 36,000 to 26,000. (Of the school system's 24,000 employees, only 9,000 are regular classroom teachers.) Or do as the private sector has done: Switch to high-deductible health plans to create an incentive to avoid degenerative disease through nutrition and exercise. Increase retirement age from 55 to 75. Use raises of 3.5% or higher to attract and retain the best employees, through bonuses or merit pay. Paying all employees the premiums required to retain the best employees is unsustainable.
If taxes are not cut, the county will be another step closer to Detroit, a journey, which according to the Washington Post article, we may have already begun.