Fairfax County is considering raising residents' property taxes next year to help balance the budget, but some officials are now questioning whether deeper spending cuts in county agencies might produce enough savings to reduce or eliminate the need for a tax increase.
County Executive Ed Long asked the agencies in August to prepare plans identifying what could be cut if budgets were reduced by 5 percent. Agencies identified dozens of potential cuts, but Long included only a few modest ones in his 2014 budget proposal -- like eliminating 79 already vacant jobs -- even though the county faces a $169 million budget shortfall. Instead of more cuts, Long proposed a 2-cent property tax increase that would add $262 to the average annual tax bill.
But the county Board of Supervisors, eager to avoid any tax increase, has asked to review the cuts Long considered to determine whether additional reductions can offset or eliminate the tax increase.
"After going through that exercise, to have the county executive say, 'I've decided not to take most of them and instead raise taxes,' is disappointing," said Supervisor John Cook, R-Braddock. "I think we're going to go back through and look at some of those reductions."
Long said he is proposing fewer service cuts than the board may want because cutting more deeply would undercut county services and likely anger residents who rely on those services. He noted that most agencies have already endured several rounds of budget cuts in recent years and can't survive many more.
He assured the board that staff had "turned over every rock" since beginning work on the budget nearly a year ago. Among the cuts he did propose was reducing the number of books in libraries and halting renovations of tennis and basketball courts.
Still, board members, who will discuss the potential cuts Tuesday, think more can be done to help lessen the hike's effect on residents.
"The board will be working towards something in between the tax rate that was presented and zero," said Supervisor Jeff McKay, D-Lee. "We need to look at the self-proposed cuts. Those came from department heads who understand inside and out how the county government works."