Board evaluates spending surplus funds
Large chunk of $93 million needed to cover outstanding commitments from 2013 budget
On Tuesday, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors will decide how to spend $93 million in surplus funds left from fiscal 2013, which ended June 30.
A chunk of that money is expected to go to county employees, although the exact amount and other key details are still being worked out among county supervisors.
The surplus funds primarily came from two sources — real estate taxes coming in slightly higher than estimated, and about $63 million in savings from county agencies.
However, much of the $93 million is already spoken for, said Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Sharon Bulova (D).
About $37.5 million is needed to cover outstanding commitments from the fiscal 2013 budget.
County Executive Ed Long has proposed spending about $14 million on one-time expenses like maintenance, renovations for Americans With Disabilities Act compliance and turf sports fields. He has also proposed accelerating one-time investments slated for the fiscal 2015 budget, including voting machine replacement, to help offset the projected deficit in that budget.
The latter approach is not something Long has done before, Bulova said, and it is made possible by the county’s new two-year budget planning cycle.
“I think that was a pretty smart move on his part,” she said. “It will put us in a better position for when we’re making some decisions for next year.”
After Long’s proposals, there is about $27 million left for the Board of Supervisors to spend or to put in reserves for next year.
Bulova is proposing a one-time bonus for county employees that will amount to $500 after taxes, at a cost to the county of about $9 to 10 million.
“I think it’s important, because much of that positive balance is due to the savings and the frugalness of our county employees … that behavior is rewarded and some of that positive balance is used as a bonus for our employees,” she said.
However, county employees would much rather see a permanent pay increase than a one-time bonus, said Karen Conchar, of the SEIU-affiliated Fairfax County Government Employees Union.
She says providing a market rate adjustment would cost about the same amount as providing a bonus, except that it would be money that employees could count on in the future.
“We are concerned that Fairfax County employees are not being valued as much as other things in the budget,” Conchar said.
Most of the savings came from employees shouldering extra work while positions remained open, she said. “Fairfax County employees took up the slack from vacant positions and provided quality services by making things work, under budget,” Conchar said.
Bulova says she does not believe it is a good budgeting practice to use one-time money to funding a recurring expense like employee salaries.
“It would actually make the projected budget shortfall [for fiscal 2015] greater,” she said.
As of Wednesday afternoon, Bulova said board members were still discussing the employee pay issue, with some favoring a bonus, others supporting a market rate adjustment and others wanting to set aside the money to go toward salary increases next year.
In addition to employee salaries, there are a few lower-cost proposals from individual supervisors that will likely receive funding from the carryover package.
Supervisor John Cook (R-Braddock) asked for funding for a public awareness campaign to combat speeding on neighborhood streets.
“We noticed that the No. 1 complaint we were getting from people was neighborhood speeding,” Cook said, both from talking to civic associations as well as constituents contacting his office.
The public awareness campaign and several other initiatives to reduce speeding were proposed a couple years ago, but there has not been funding to support the campaign due to tight budgets.
Cook said he would love to see a public awareness and engagement from civic associations to pledge not to speed in neighborhoods, in the same way past efforts to take on drunken driving changed the conversation around those issues.
“How those terms like ‘designated driver’ got out there was through a public awareness effort,” he said.
Other initiatives that may receive funding include $1 million to replace some of the federal housing subsidies lost to sequestration and investments in trail maintenance and making The Grange in Great Falls ADA-compliant.
The housing initiative would not allow additional people to receive housing subsidies but would prevent the county from having to take away subsidies from those who already have them, Bulova said.
Prior to voting on the carryover package, the Board of Supervisors will hold a public hearing on the spending proposals. The hearing is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. in the Fairfax County Government Center auditorium.