From: Thomas Cranmer, First Vice President, Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance
Thanks for the opportunity to comment on the outrageous and unfair proposed increases in residential taxes. The increases are well beyond the ability of many residents to pay, considering the flat level of private sector pay and the lack of adequate return available for investments for retired people like me.
First, I'd like to compliment you on the imagination you showed a few days ago with your mailing regarding car registration. You gave people an opportunity to pay extra amounts to support parks, libraries, etc. For those people who love to increase government programs and advocate higher taxes, this provides a useful outlet. Please publish the results of the solicitation.
Second, please cut the useless spending on sidewalks and bike lanes. For example, when I visit McLean with its new bike lanes, I have never seen a bicycle on any of them. I have heard the County has not done any studies of the utilization of any of the new bike lanes in the County. Is that correct? If there are studies of actual utilization, how could I access them? Every time I've travelled on the entire Fairfax County Parkway, only one guy and a girl and a couple of dog walkers are on the bike lanes. The proposal to have 10-foot wide bike lanes on both sides of the proposed construction of Rt 7 is a clear example of planning a huge waste of our money.
Third, while you are planning a project like Rt 7 from Reston Avenue to Tysons, be honest with the costs, financing and timing. The cost projections of $265 million are in 2012 dollars, but that is not stated in your projections. In my opinion the ultimate cost is likely to be $400 million by 2030, including a new bridge over Difficult Run. VA Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Lane did not dispute the $400 million figure in a recent public presentation. He also said there is no financing arranged for the project. Nevertheless, VDOT stated in the attachment: "Dedicated project financing is being provided through Fairfax County's Tysons Transportation plan on an as needed basis." Where is the documentation for committing this financing and what is the effect on the County budget? Are you planning a bond referendum? This road is a VDOT responsibility. How did it become a County responsibility to finance? This is a project that is unlikely to be completed before 2030 in the phased development shown on the attachment. It does not make sense to have two phases starting at the same time. VDOT staff have told me the real reason is the phases will be started in separate years, and depend on the availability of financing. The proposed width of each lane does not meet federal guidelines and will restrict traffic speed.
There seems to be no limit to County employees’ plans to develop projects. I attended a meeting of your Economic Development group that asked the attendees to identify projects they wanted. There were no costs shown for any of the projects. This is like throwing open the doors of a supermarket with no prices shown and saying take what you want. I suggest you fire the employees with that spendthrift attitude.
Fourth, there are many opportunities to decrease the budget costs to the schools and county, if you are willing to think and act boldly to help residents and not be restricted by unions. For example, the county needs to look at alternatives for every expenditure and the costs versus benefits. The school costs about $14,000 per pupil. Assuming 20 kids per class, the cost is $280,000 for a class. If a teacher is paid $80,000 with benefits, then that leaves $200,000. A house could be rented as a classroom for $60,000. Books, meals and transportation should not cost more than $40,000. The savings would be $100,000. This is a saving of 36%! It is practical: my wife attended for years a one room school with several grades in the one room. It was a great education.
Another example of savings would be offering a tax credit of say, $5,000 to parents who put their kids in private school. This would save FCPS $9,000 per student. If even 10,000 kids (6% of students) take this offer, the county would save $90 million.
The introduction of VA tax-deductible educational savings accounts would encourage parents to put their kids in private schools. This would alleviate the burden of an expanding FCPS population.
Since private sector employees are paid less than public sector employees, substantial cost savings could be achieved by outsourcing most county activities. Essentially a large part of every department could be outsourced. In addition, the County could change pay scales to match the local private sector.
Private sector employees generally don't retire until their late 60's, and have 401(k) plans rather than pensions. The County should go to similar plans and could save massive amounts.
Fifth, the County will be asked to provide much more than the current $100 million for the Metro subsidy ($400 per year for a family of four in Fairfax). The Metro should be charging on the basis of "let the user pay." A tomato farmer expects to charge enough to cover his costs, why not the Metro? The Metro has not been honest in explaining what little of operating expense the fares cover and none of the capital costs. About three years ago I attended a Metro board meeting where the finance director showed the Metro had no financing for about seven billion dollars of capital costs essential to maintain the system by the end of the decade. Almost no publicity resulted from this shocking news, but the Metro Board fired the finance director. Now the chickens are coming home to roost with a system that endangers people. If people want to use the system, they should pay full cost, not the people who don't use the Metro.
Sixth, the tax increase proposed on my house is a 5.4% increase. For the last eight years, taxes in the county have risen roughly three times: (a) the rate of inflation, (b) returns on bond investments and (c) increases in private sector salaries here.
The middle class is being driven out of Fairfax. About eight billion dollars of adjusted gross income has gone to Loudoun, Prince William and Stafford Counties, according to IRS figures.
The Fairfax population has become poorer and less able to pay the high taxes. The schools have to subsidize more lunches and English as a Second Language. These are two indicators the head of the school board has cited annually as increasing poverty. Retired people with lowered incomes as a percentage of the population are increasing. The Washington Post on April 2 said "Since the recession, the number of people in Fairfax living below the federal poverty level has spiked 55% to about 74,200. The decreased number of affluent residents means disproportionately higher taxes for the people remaining."
Attached is a copy of the Fairfax County Taxpayers' Alliance information on County and FCPS fund growth compared to population and enrollment increases. Is there any limit to the BOS crippling residents?
Thank you for considering my remarks.
Thomas L. Cranmer / 221 Donmore Dr / Great Falls, VA 22066 / Tel: 703-450-6576.