Morning Notes

County Demobilizes Community COVID-19 Testing Sites — The Fairfax County Health Department closed its COVID-19 community testing sites at the end of the day on Friday (June 4). Testing is still available through health care providers, urgent cares centers, and pharmacies, and starting today (Monday), residents who exhibit COVID symptoms can schedule appointments at an FCHD clinic by calling 703-324-7404. [FCHD]

Carjacking Attempt Reported in Falls Church — Two men, one of them armed with a handgun, approached a man in the 3000 block of Graham Road on May 29 and demanded his car keys and property, police say. They attempted to leave in the victim’s car but took another vehicle instead when they were unable to drive it. No injuries were reported. [FCPD]

D.C. Area Slow to Distribute Rent Relief — “At least $300 million in emergency funds intended to help struggling renters in the Washington area remain unspent even as a federal ban on evictions is set to expire at the end of this month, according to a Washington Post analysis…Fairfax County, the largest county in Virginia, opened its portal to applications the last week of May. The county quickly received more than 700 applications.” [The Washington Post]

Falls Church Real Estate Taxes Due Today — Real estate taxes are due today for property owners in the City of Falls Church. Payments can be made at City Hall, online, or by text, and questions can be directed to the Treasurer’s Office at [email protected] or 703-248-5046. Late payments incur a 10% penalty. [City of Falls Church/Twitter]

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The Vienna Town Council adopted a new budget for the 2021-2022 fiscal year last night (Monday) that decreases the town’s real estate tax rate for the first time in eight years.

At $43.2 million, the new budget increases funding by 5.4% over the adopted FY 2020-2021 budget, including a 6.9% increase in the General Fund to $26.5 million, but revenues remain 3.1% below the budget that had been proposed for FY 2020-2021 before the COVID-19 pandemic forced the town to revise its plans.

In a press release, the town says the funding increase in the budget for the next fiscal year “reflects a return to more normal post-pandemic operations” as Virginia rolls back public health restrictions amid an ongoing vaccination campaign.

“Last year at this time it was difficult to determine if we had budgeted sufficiently to meet the economic challenges of the pandemic,” Vienna Town Manager Mercury Payton said. “We were pleasantly surprised at how well Vienna survived the initial challenges and how well we are positioned to handle improving conditions.”

In particular, the Town of Vienna anticipates increases in revenue from real estate taxes and parks and recreation fees.

The new real estate tax rate of 22.25 cents per $100 of assessed value represents a quarter-cent drop from the current rate of 22.5 cents — the town’s first rate decrease since 2013 — but residents will still see a $72 increase in their tax bill, on average, due to rising property values.

Residents should also brace for higher water and sewer bills after the town council approved raising the rates by 4.3% to support a 6.1% increase in the water and sewer fund budget, which will be $10.8 million for the upcoming fiscal year.

According to the town, the increase in rates is necessary “to offset increasing costs of sewer treatment and to fund necessary infrastructure replacement.” The average resident’s water and sewer bill will go up by about $11.75 per quarter, amounting to a $47 annual increase.

While the budget was passed unanimously, Councilmember Ray Brill suggested the town should look for ways to reduce the water and sewer rates in the future as much as possible while still addressing the need to repair and refurbish infrastructure.

Federal relief from the American Rescue Plan Act could potentially assist with that goal, but the town is still awaiting guidance for how those funds can be used, Vienna Director of Finance Marion Serfass says.

“We’ll be looking for those opportunities,” she told the council.

The Town of Vienna will receive an estimated $14.9 million from the stimulus package, including approximately $46,900 that has been budgeted for the costs of software to support virtual meetings, but the remaining funds are not expected to arrive until fiscal year 2022, which starts on July 1.

The town says lans for utilizing the funds will be shared in a public hearing when the exact amount and distribution date are determined, and it will require an appropriation and budget amendment by the town council.

As part of the budget adoption, the town council voted to keep $97,000 in reserve for the Parks and Recreation Department with the expectation that the money will become available once COVID-19 restrictions lift and the department can ramp up its operations.

The council also moved to unfreeze $434,300 in funds that had been in reserve for the current fiscal year, including $359,300 for worker compensation increases and $75,000 to cover education and travel expenses for required recertification training for town police officers.

Thanks to efforts to conserve costs by having existing staff cover vacant positions and unexpected budget surpluses in business license and state revenues, the Town of Vienna is projecting a $294,000 surplus for FY 2020-21 of $294,000.

About $125,000 of those surplus funds will go to giving eligible employees a 3% salary increase retroactive to April 1 of this year.

“I’m glad we’re doing that. I think our employees need a raise,” Vienna Mayor Linda Colbert said. “I think they’ve been patient and understanding, but they’ve worked hard this year, so I’d like to see that happen.”

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The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors adopted a balanced budget for fiscal year 2022 yesterday (Tuesday).

It includes some funding adjustments that the board incorporated into the proposed budget during the board’s markup session last week.

The newly adopted budget supports a 1% pay increase for county employees, a 2% raise for Fairfax County Public Schools employees, and 15% salary supplements for staff in the Office of the Public Defender and state probation and parole officers.

“While there were many constraints on this year’s budget, I am tremendously proud of what this Board was able to accomplish,” Board Chairman Jeff McKay said. “My goal was to look for balance in lowering the tax rate, with the understanding of skyrocketing property assessments, while also supporting our County employees and teachers and furthering our priorities in education, affordable housing, environmental protection, and community resources. I am pleased we were able to achieve that.”

The proposed budget from February did not include pay increases for employees, whose pay was frozen in this year’s budget. The new 1% pay increase comes after Fairfax County employees advocated for salary bumps last month.

“The 1% wage increase and one-time bonus come as a response to union members making it clear that two years of frozen pay for essential county workers was unacceptable,” SEIU Virginia 512 Fairfax Chapter President Tammie Wondong said. “We appreciate the approved change. That being said, the concessions fall short of the agreed-upon pay plan and workers are falling behind.”

The county employees’ union will now focus on its push for Fairfax County to adopt a collective bargaining ordinance. A new state law permitting localities to establish collective bargaining procedures took effect on May 1.

McKay told Tysons Reporter last week that county staff is currently drafting an ordinance that will be discussed at the board’s personnel committee meeting on May 25.

“Meaningful collective bargaining is the only way workers can ensure that the county keeps their promise on our pay plans so that we have the resources to provide the best services to the Fairfax community,” Wondong said.

The increase will be funded using $20 million that County Executive Bryan Hill had recommended setting aside in an “Economic Recovery Reserve.” As the county looks to rebuild, it will instead lean on the $222 million in federal relief funds it expects to receive from the American Rescue Plan Act.

“The redirection of this reserve does not exacerbate budgetary challenges in FY 2023,” the final budget document reads. “With this reserve, funding just shy of $30 million is available to be utilized for employee pay in FY 2022.”

Here are some other highlights:

As proposed in February, the real estate tax rate will decrease from $1.15 per $100 of assessed value to $1.14 per $100 of assessed value. Personal property tax rates and stormwater fees will remain the same, at  $4.57 per $100 of assessed value and $0.0325 per $100 of assessed value, respectively.

As considered during the budget markup last week, the refuse disposal fee will decrease from $68 to $66 per ton, but the refuse collection fee will increase from $370 to $400 per household. The rate was reduced from $385 last year because of a reduction in yard waste collection services during the pandemic.

Funding for county government operations and contributions to Metro and Fairfax County Public Schools, or general fund disbursements, totals $4.53 billion. That marks a slight increase from the advertised $4.48 million, and an increase of $55.40 million over the current fiscal year’s disbursements.

More than half of those disbursements (52.6%, or $2.38 billion) support Fairfax County Public Schools. This includes $2.17 billion for operations, $197.12 million for debt service and $13.10 million for school construction.

Fairfax County will create 109 additional positions in FY 2022 to staff new facilities, such as the South County Police Station, a new 61,000-square-foot police station and animal shelter, and the Scotts Run Fire Station. Positions are also being added for the county’s opioid task force and Diversion First initiative.

Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano says the budget marks an important first step toward solving Fairfax’s “longstanding justice crisis,” adding that the 15 new positions his office has been allocated will enable prosecutors to take on more cases.

“As the budget takes effect in July and we fill those, we will be able to expand our caseload to encompass all cases other than minor traffic infractions,” the Commonwealth Attorney’s office said. “We are already scaling up our caseload now and are prioritizing cases that contain an indication of violence between now and July.”

Descano says his office will complement its expanded case load with a “growing use of diversion and alternative sentencing to ensure we are keeping the community safe in a manner that accords with our values.”

Additional staffing alone won’t solve the problem, however. Descano says a multi-year investment is needed to address the “chronic shortcomings that plagued our system,” including a culture of producing as many convictions as quickly and cheaply as possible.

Charts via Fairfax County

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Morning Notes

First Lady Northam Visits Tysons Mass Vaccine Site — “@FirstLadyVA Pamela Northam is visiting the mass vaccination site at Tysons Corner Mall, which just this week became the first vaccination site in Northern Virginia to allow walk up appointments. They are doing them Monday through Saturday, 9 AM to 4 PM.” [Tom Roussey ABC7/Twitter]

Primark Coming to Tysons Corner — The London-based clothing retailer Primark has signed a lease for a two-story, 37,100 square-foot store at Tysons Corner Center. Expected to open sometime between September 2023 and September 2024, the store will be Primark’s first in Virginia. The retailer prides itself on offering “amazing fashion at amazing prices,” but like other “fast fashion” brands, it has been criticized for exploitative labor practices. [Press release]

Vienna Plans to Lower Tax Rate — The Vienna Town Council signaled on Monday (April 26) that it supports reducing the town’s real estate tax rate by a quarter of a cent to 22.25 cents per $100 of assessed value. This would be the first time that the tax rate has changed from 22.5 cents per $100 in six years, but higher assessments mean that most homeowners will still see higher tax bills. [Sun Gazette/Inside NoVA]

Thoreau Principal Selection Process Underway — Fairfax County Public Schools officials held a community and staff meeting on the process to select a new principal for Thoreau Middle School. The school’s last principal, Yusef Azimi, was let go after police arrested him for reportedly failing to report child abuse allegations against a teacher. [Karl Frisch/Twitter]

Attorney General Allows Vaccination Requirements for Colleges — “In an official opinion Monday, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring has concluded that Virginia colleges and universities ‘may condition in-person attendance on receipt of an approved COVID-19 vaccine during this time of pandemic.'” [Falls Church News-Press]

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The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors won’t approve a budget for the next fiscal year until May 4, but the bulk of the work to get to that final document will be done today (Tuesday) when the board meets at 10 a.m. to mark up the proposed budget.

Unveiled during a budget committee meeting on Friday (April 23), Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay’s proposed adjustments to the advertised fiscal year 2022 budget include a small raise for county employees and support for County Executive Bryan Hill’s recommendation of a one-cent decrease in the real estate tax rate.

The proposed cut would put the tax rate at $1.14 per $100 of assessed value, but rising residential property values mean that county homeowners will still see their tax bills go up by $224 on average.

“We all know that many families are struggling because of the impacts of COVID-19,” McKay said. “While the one-cent decrease isn’t a tax reduction for most families, I chose to support it because it provides some relief to families while still allowing the County sufficient funds, particularly with the stimulus dollars, to continue to stand up the programs that I know are needed in the community.”

The county is also considering lowering its refuse disposal fee from $68 to $66 per ton, but the board has proposed increases in sewer charges and for the refuse collection fee, which would go from $370 to $400 per household.

“It should be noted that this rate was reduced last year from $385 per household based on the inability to provide yard waste collection during the pandemic,” the proposed mark-up summary says.

With Fairfax County expecting a total of $222 million in federal relief funds from the American Rescue Plan Act, McKay has suggested redirecting $20 million that Hill had recommended setting aside as an economic recovery reserve fund to instead give county government employees a 1% pay raise.

The proposed mark-up doubles the increase in transfer funds to Fairfax County Public Schools from $14.1 million to $29.3 million — mainly to cover a 2% pay raise for school employees — and includes salary supplements for state probation and parole officers and support staff in the Public Defender’s Office.

“The Board remains committed to both acknowledging the hard work of our employees and maintaining competitive salaries relative to the market,” McKay said when outlining his mark-up proposal.

The board also plans to amend in its FY 2021 third-quarter review package to include $12.6 million for one-time bonuses for employees, along with funding for Celebrate Fairfax Inc., planning studies, athletic scholarships for at-risk kids, and environmental initiatives, including a green bank and zero-waste policies.

The county government employees’ union SEIU Virginia 512 said in a statement that it was “heartened” to see the board respond to the concerns that workers raised at public hearings on the FY 2022 budget last week about the possibility of having their pay frozen for a second consecutive year.

“However, the basic fact remains: the cost of living continues to rise, while Fairfax County workers continue to fall behind,” SEIU Virginia 512 Fairfax Chapter President Tammie Wondong said. “We urge the Board of Supervisors to continue to work to fund the county’s agreed-to pay plans.”

The union has also been advocating for the Board of Supervisors to adopt an ordinance allowing county employees to engage in collective bargaining.

“A union contract would bring consistency, improve recruitment and retention, and improve services for the community,” Wondong said.

According to McKay’s office, county staff are currently drafting a proposed ordinance, and the board will discuss the issue during its personnel committee meeting on May 25.

While the mark-up package mostly focuses on employee compensation, the Board of Supervisors also hopes to address affordable housing needs by allocating at least an additional half-penny from real estate tax revenues to the county’s affordable housing fund, which currently receives one half-cent, in FY 2022 and FY 2023.

Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn said he was glad to see that guidance in McKay’s mark-up proposal, even if it would still fall short of the two-cent allocation he campaigned on when running for office in 2019.

“Getting us back to a penny, at least historically, has been on the agenda for a long time,” he said. “I see the federal money as the opportunity, if you will, to pay back a lot of what we weren’t able to do in some previous years, so I do want to see us get to one penny as soon as possible.”

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With tax season in full swing and Fairfax County plugging away at its latest budget proposal, you may wonder where exactly your tax dollars go.

Fairfax County is hammering out the details of its spending for the 2022 fiscal year, which is expected to gross more than $8.5 billion. But your tax dollars go to a smaller piece of the pie that encompasses funding for county government operations and contributions to Metro and Fairfax County Public Schools.

Totaling $4.48 billion, the general fund disbursements money comes from taxes — primarily real estate and personal property taxes, but also taxes on hotels and retail sales — as well as fees for licenses and permits. About $1.6 billion of this bucket sustains the operations of all county departments.

Real estate taxes paid by individuals and businesses contribute about $3 billion (or 68%) of the money needed to support county departments, schools, Metro, and debt services. In fact, residents’ property taxes make up about 74% of the county’s real estate tax income. The rest comes from commercial properties, such as apartments, offices, retail spaces, and hotels.

While homeowners could see their real estate tax rate lowered by one cent to $1.14 per $100 of assessed value in the upcoming budget, they will likely still see their bill increase due to rising property values. The one-cent reduction, however, will bring in $27 million less than if the current rate remained in place.

The county, meanwhile, is contending with falling commercial property values for its income from non-residential real estate taxes, a nationwide phenomenon.

But where does this tax revenue go?

After schools, which receive slightly more than half of the general fund disbursements, the county’s next two largest allocations go to public safety, including police and fire, and health and welfare, including family and neighborhood services.

Within those areas, much of the recurring spending is tied to personnel, both existing staff and requests for additional hires. The county government says an additional 109 positions are needed to staff new facilities and continue initiatives previously funded by grants and stimulus funding.

County Executive Bryan Hill’s proposed FY 2022 budget devotes $11.91 million to fund 46 positions to continue implementing the police department’s body-worn camera program and to staff the South County Police Station, a new 61,000-square-foot police station and animal shelter, and the Scotts Run Fire Station.

There is also additional funding to support the Fairfax County Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney, which Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano said last year is in a state of crisis and needs more staff, especially to handle the body-worn camera program.

The proposed budget adds seven positions to the county’s opioid task force and five positions for the Diversion First initiative.

Police and fire are the biggest drivers of the public safety budget, each accounting for around 41% of expenses, or $219 and $218 million, respectively. Overall, public safety accounts for 33% of the total general fund direct expenditures of $1.6 billion. Fairfax County lands in the middle of Virginia localities for how much it spends per person on public safety ($671 per person). Read More

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Morning Notes

Virginia to Further Ease COVID-19 Restrictions in April — “As COVID-19 vaccinations continue to rise in Virginia, certain sports and entertainment venues may begin to operate with additional capacity and indoor and outdoor gathering limits will increase starting Thursday, April 1…More than two million Virginians, or approximately one in four people, have now received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.” [Gov. Ralph Northam’s Office]

Fairfax County Board Adopts Resolution Condemning Anti-Asian Racism — The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously yesterday to adopt a resolution condemning “all bigotry, harassment, and hate violence directed at Asian Americans in our community.” The move came  in response to the murder of eight people, including six Asian women, in Georgia on March 16 and reported increases in discrimination against Asians during the COVID-19 pandemic. [Chairman Jeff McKay]

Falls Church City Advertises One-Cent Reduction in Tax Rate — The Falls Church City Council voted 5-2 on Monday (March 22) to grant a first reading to the city’s proposed FY 2022 budget with a real estate tax rate of $1.34 per $100 of assessed value, a one-cent decrease from FY 2021. Public hearings on the budget, tax rate, and capital improvement program have been scheduled for April 12 and 26. [City of Falls Church]

Access to D.C. Cherry Blossoms Will Be Limited — “The National Park Service announced today it will be “limiting all vehicular and pedestrian access” around the Tidal Basin once the cherry blossoms start to bloom, which would close down access to parking and paddle boats as soon as this weekend…Pedestrians will still be able to access the Tidal Basin and admire the flowers, the agency said, until crowds surpass a certain capacity.” [Washingtonian]

Town of Vienna Revamps Website — “We have lift off on the Town’s new website!! Info has been streamlined, and navigation organized to be user-focused. On the homepage, scroll down to see links to popular pages, news items, calendar, and links to meeting minutes & media.” [Town of Vienna/Twitter]

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Morning Notes

Virginia Extends Tax Deadline — Gov. Ralph Northam announced on Friday (March 19) that the state taxation department will extend deadline for filing and paying individual income taxes from May 1 to May 17. The move came shortly after the IRS and Treasury Department pushed the deadline for federal income tax filings and payments from April 15 to May 17. [Virginia Governor’s Office]

Bicycling Still Hazardous in Tysons, Study Finds — A market study commissioned by the Tysons Partnership found a lack of the protected bicycle lanes and connections between neighborhoods and streets needed to make the area friendlier to cyclists. Nearly 10 miles of road in Tysons rank in the Fairfax County Department of Transportation’s most dangerous category, compared to just two miles receiving the highest bikeability rating. [Greater Greater Washington]

Vienna Police Arrest Man Suspected of Burglary — The Vienna Police Department arrested a 58-year-old man on March 15 after receiving calls about a man “pulling on doors, possibly trying to enter businesses in the area” and later entering a resident’s home while they were sleeping. Police are looking for assistance in identifying jewelry and other property that the man allegedly stole. [Vienna Police Department]

CDC Updates Social Distancing Guidance for Schools to Three Feet — “Fairfax Superintendent Scott Brabrand said Friday in a message to parents that the new guidance was “very encouraging,” but under review. He said he will meet with principals and county health officials next week to work on the issue.” [The Washington Post]

Dranesville District Budget Town Hall Tonight — Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust is holding a virtual town hall at 7 p.m. to discuss Fairfax County’s proposed fiscal year 2022 budget. The meeting will be televised on Channel 16, streamed online, and streamed live on Foust’s Facebook page. [Supervisor John Foust/Facebook]

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Wednesday Morning Notes

County Board Advertises Flat Tax Rate — The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted yesterday to set an advertised real estate tax rate of $1.15 per $100 of assessed value for fiscal year 2022, which would keep it level with the current rate. County Executive Bryan Hill had proposed decreasing the rate by one cent, but Chairman Jeff McKay says the board will need to find a balance between giving residents some relief and funding county services. [@JeffreyCMcKay/Twitter]

Tysons Corner Car Show Draws Crowd — Tysons Corner Center’s “The Fast and the Flavorful” car show on Sunday (March 7) drew more than 3,500 people over three hours. Led by the Tysons Regional Chamber of Commerce, the event was supposed to include food tastings, but those were scrapped in favor of encouraging attendees to support restaurants in the mall. [Sun Gazette/Inside NoVA]

Falls Church Swim School Joins Larger Chain — Just over two years after it opened its Falls Church location, the Tom Dolan Swim School has merged with the franchise Big Blue Swim School, which has 123 schools in 19 states and is in the process of establishing sites in Chantilly and Fairfax. As part of the agreement, Dolan, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, will serve as Big Blue’s new president of mid-Atlantic operations. [Big Blue Swim School/PRWeb]

Severe Tornado Drill Set for March 16 — “Virginia Severe Weather Awareness Week, which is the first time Virginia is promoting this combined awareness effort, will be held March 15-19…As part of the awareness week activities, Virginia’s annual tornado drill will be conducted on Tuesday, March 16, at 9:45 a.m.” [Fairfax County Government]

McLean Community Center to Take Comments on Programming — “Join us on Wednesday, March 24 at 7:30 p.m. for our Virtual Public Hearing on FY2023 Programs! If you would like to suggest class offerings, events and other activities at the hearing, call MCC to have your name placed on the speakers’ list.” [McLean Community Center/Twitter]

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Friday Morning Notes

Fairfax County Extends Deadline for Real Estate and Vehicle Tax Relief — Seniors over the age of 65, people with permanent disabilities, and renters may be eligible for tax relief. Applicants must file between Jan. 1, 2021 and May 3, 2021, though exceptions may be available if a late filing is due to a hardship which prevented the application from being filed on time. [Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Office]

New Pedestrian Trail at McLean Metro Station Now Open — “The trail starts on Magarity Road, near Westgate Elementary School and the Pimmitt Hills neighborhoods, running through Scott’s Run Stream Valley Park and Westgate Park toward the Metro station. Robin Geiger, a spokesperson for Fairfax County, said the county started construction on the $4.5 million trail in July 2019 and finished this last December.” [Greater Greater Washington]

Chief Medical and Technology Officer for Tysons Nonprofit Discusses COVID-19 Response — “MITRE helped form the COVID-19 Healthcare Coalition, a private-sector led response that brings together healthcare organizations, technology firms, nonprofits, academia, and startups to preserve the healthcare delivery system and help protect U.S. populations.” [Fairfax County Economic Development Authority]

Falls Church Theater Company Offers Scholarships — “Providence Players of Fairfax (PPF) is offering up to (3) $1,500 scholarship opportunities to college-bound, graduating seniors. Application requirements & details are published on the PPF website under About Us- Community Outreach. The application deadline is April 30, 2021.” [Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik/Twitter]

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