MCA budget resolution seeks higher police pay, reduced property-tax rate
Expressing concerns about high real-estate-tax bills, escalating police attrition and declining quality of life, the McLean Citizens Association (MCA) board of directors on April 6 passed a resolution calling for at least a 3-cent cut in the county’s tax rate, higher police salaries and additional funds for tree maintenance and pedestrian-and-bicycle projects.
The resolution, which passed on a 26-1 vote, was crafted by MCA’s Budget & Taxation Committee with input from several other committees.
“Notably this year, people were much more concerned than in the past about rising property taxes,” said Louise Epstein, chair of the Budget & Taxation Committee.
Some residential properties in McLean saw their assessments rise by 20 percent or more and many of those were smaller, older houses whose owners rely on pensions, Social Security and other fixed income sources to pay their bills, she said.
MCA’s resolution sought at least a 3-cent cut in the county’s real-estate-tax rate, which currently stands at $1.11 per $100 assessed value. Supervisors have advertised a maximum $1.11 rate for this spring’s budget negotiations, but several have indicated they will insist on a rate reduction for fiscal 2024, which begins July 1.
As in previous years, MCA’s budget resolution was a heavily researched, multi-page document.
“I think many of you will be glad to hear that we’re taking a break from pensions this year,” Epstein when beginning her presentation. “But don’t worry, they’ll return soon.”
The resolution especially emphasized McLean’s quality of life, given the rise in crime and exceptionally high percentage of police-officer vacancies.
“Every week, we are losing another three to six police officers and not hiring people to replace them,” Epstein said, adding that the vacancy rate is even higher at county police department’s McLean District Station.
MCA’s resolution recommended that the Board of Supervisors request a survey of current police salaries and benefits that includes recommended fiscal 2024 salaries and benefits for competing law-enforcement agencies in the region.
Supervisors also should boost county police officers’ salaries by an additional 15 percent so as to stem attrition and expedite filling all vacant sworn-officer positions, the resolution read.
As of MCA’s consideration of the resolution on April 6, county police were short 206 officers from the full complement of 1,492, Epstein said.
After studying salaries offered by other area jurisdictions, MCA board members found Fairfax County is “truly at the bottom” when it comes to starting pay for police officers, Epstein said. The town of Herndon leads the pack at $67,356 versus the $57,830 in the proposed Fairfax County fiscal 2024 budget. It would cost the county about $33 million to raise officers’ starting pay to $65,000, she said.
MCA’s resolution asked county officials to obtain and analyze data on trends in how many police officers are leaving the Fairfax County Police Department before becoming eligible to receive pension payments, and where those officers are headed for their new jobs.
The MCA resolution also requested that supervisors boost the fiscal 2024 transfer to the Fairfax County Park Authority by $682,463 more – a figurative drop in the bucket compared with the $5-billion-plus overall budget – to cover fully the agency’s funding request for forestry management.
The extra resources would ensure the Park Authority had the resources to “remove high-risk, mature, dead and dying trees that have the potential to fall on people and to damage expensive property,” Epstein said.
In another safety-related matter, MCA’s resolution recommended that supervisors prioritize the county’s active-transportation projects that would improve safety for pedestrians and bicyclists and increase access to public transit. MCA also urged advancing projects that would reduce the number of students who use Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) buses because they lack safe routes for walking or biking to and from their homes.
These initiatives could be financed using fiscal 2023 budget-carryover funds, as well as proposed fiscal 2024 moneys for high-priority active-transportation projects, according to the resolution. MCA’s document also suggested county officials should explore the possibility of including an active-transportation bond referendum on the 2024 ballot.
The resolution also looked to the future. MCA members recommended that supervisors, starting in fiscal 2025, direct the board’s auditor to inspect and amend “questionable FCPS enrollment assumptions and computations” within one month after the school system releases its proposed budget.
Supervisors should adjust the school system’s transfer requests annually, taking into account prior years’ inaccuracies in enrollment and demographic- or geographic-distribution assumptions that affected the requested transfer amount.
“On the Budget & Taxation Committee, people felt very strongly that the supervisors should look more closely at the data used by the school system to justify its annual transfer requests, especially in future years,” Epstein said.
MCA’s resolution suggested supervisors’ fiscal 2025 budget guidance should ask County Executive Bryan Hill to review how much the number of school administrative positions (e.g., specialists, supervisors and assistant principals) has grown since fiscal 2019.
Supervisors also should ask the county executive to identify major cost savings that could be implemented in fiscal years 2024 and 2025, keeping in mind those additional administrative jobs and the declining ratio of FCPS students to the county’s overall population. The goal is a fiscal 2025 budget that “funds public safety and other core government services without raising the property-tax rate,” the resolution read.