FAIRFAX COUNTY, VA (WUSA9) - Controversy involving the upcoming meals tax referendum in Fairfax County. A republican board member is accusing Chairman Sharon Bulova and School Board Chair Sandy Evans of ‘illegally’ using taxpayer resources to promote the meals tax.
The Republican Board member is Pat Herrity who said county leaders should not have used county messaging systems to promote a political issue.
Chairman Bulova said they did absolutely nothing wrong sending out a factual statement explaining what the meals tax is. The statement had no opinion in it, though she and Evans, and the majority of both boards, are backing the meals tax.
If Fairfax County voters approve the meals tax on Election Day, it will add a 4 percent tax on all restaurant meals and purchased prepared food.
"I'm out talking to people about the meals tax," said Suzanne Zurn as she knocked on a neighbor's door.
Zurn, a Republican, started a not-for-profit organization called IAmFCPS to advocate for passage of the meals tax which she believes is needed to fund the school system and give teachers pay raises.
County officials estimate the meals tax would generate $70 million annually for the school system, and school board members said they are committed to using it primarily for teacher pay, which has lagged behind neighboring districts.
"The population of students continues to grow. And some of the special needs are also continuing to grow. And that costs more money,” Zurn said. “And even though the supervisors have transferred more money every year, it's not kept pace with the needs or the growth."
The other 30 percent of the meals tax would go the county's general fund and to provide property tax relief, according to wording on the referendum. But Herrity said supervisors cannot reduce taxes without reducing spending.
"If you don't address spending, you're not going to get property tax relief because taxes are going up next year unless we cut spending because the tax increase that's on the able already is greater than the meals tax," Herrity said.
John Wood, who owns 29 Diner, supports the meals tax. His restaurant already tacks on a 4 percent meals tax because it's in the city of Fairfax, which like Herndon, Vienna, Clinton and the city of Falls Church, already has the tax. He doesn't believe he loses any customers because of it.
"They pick and choose a restaurant based on the quality of food, the quality of its service, the quality of how well it takes care of its community. And John Wood and the 29 Diner takes care of its community,” he said. “We're all about the high schools, we're all about the middle schools, the elementary schools the kids, the teachers the administrators. That's my bread and butter. How dare I not stand behind them?"
The 4 percent meals tax would be on top of the current 6 percent sales tax in Northern Virginia. Washington, D.C., has a 10 percent meals tax on top of a 5.75 percent general sales tax. Maryland has a 6 percent sales tax.