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School cuts, tax hikes proposed for Fairfax County

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Photo - three little girls and female teacher in kindergarten
three little girls and female teacher in kindergarten
Local,Virginia,Taylor Holland

Fairfax County Executive Ed Long unveiled a $7 billion budget proposal Tuesday that would raise taxes and lead to cuts within county's schools to close a $169 million funding gap.

The county's top administrator recommended a 2-cent real estate tax hike that would raise the tax rate to $1.095 and increase the average homeowner's tax bill by $262, when coupled with assessment increases.

Even with the increase, however, the county will not be able to fully fund its school system, Long warned. His proposed budget gives county schools $1.72 billion, roughly $62 million less than what they requested.

School administrators said full funding was necessary to combat a spike in student enrollment and offset costs associated with employee raises and new programs. But Long said the county's budget shortfall prohibited him from meeting that request.

"I think it was pretty clear in November that we did not have [enough money]," Long said, noting that the Fairfax County School Board may need to delay teacher raises and reduce programs.

Long also recommended cutting a combined $20.5 million from county agencies, ranging from reducing the number of books in libraries and canceling numerous neighborhood cleanups to stopping the renovations of tennis and basketball courts in parks.

Agency cuts would also come in the form of layoffs, as Long proposed the elimination of 91 of the county's 12,000 workers. Twelve of the 91 positions are now filled, while 79 are vacant, he said.

All remaining county employees will see their wages frozen and a massive overhaul of the existing pay system. Under Long's proposal, county employees will receive a cost-of-living raise in odd-numbered years and a performance-based raise in even-numbered years.

Employee groups and board members last week urged Long to abandon the pay system overhaul, fearing reduced salaries and pensions. But he opted to go forward with his plan.

"I think we need to have more dialogue before we take anything off the table," he said.

Long, who also outlined his preliminary projections for the fiscal 2015 budget, said he thought the recommended cuts for next year's budget would make future budget sessions easier because "the heavy lifting on cuts is done."

The county executive's presentation to the Board of Supervisors Tuesday was the first time members were made aware of Long's proposals. Many expressed concerns with the effects of a pay system overhaul and uncertainty with his recommended tax hike.

"The proposed tax increase should be DOA," said Supervisor Pat Herrity, R-Springfield. "We need to focus our resources on our priorities like public safety, schools and those truly in need and not balance the budget on the backs of our taxpayers."

The board must adopt a budget by April 30.

tholland@washingtonexaminer.com

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