New Vienna finance chief

Marion Serfass is finance director for the town of Vienna.

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Vienna is in solid financial condition as the town, like the rest of the world, weathers the pandemic and its resultant economic downturn, town officials said.

Halfway into fiscal year 2021, the town government has nearly $5.52 million available, said Finance Director Marion Serfass while presenting the fiscal year 2021 mid-year financial report at the Vienna Town Council’s Jan. 11 work session.

That total includes an unassigned fund balance of almost $4.47 million, a $500,000 reserve and $550,000 in the revenue-stabilization fund, she said.

As of Dec. 31 last year, town officials were projecting a net surplus in fiscal 2021 of $61,683. Projected general-fund revenues are up $70,918 as a result of an estimated $399,700 more in state and federal revenues, $65,200 in zoning fees, $61,600 in state sales taxes, $19,500 in property taxes and $17,218 from other sources.

Not all the revenue news is good. Town officials are projecting $270,900 less in parks-and-recreation fees, $146,300 for use of property and $75,100 in court fines. Projected fiscal 2021 expenditures are down $9,235 overall.

Vienna’s real-estate-tax rate has stayed steady at 22.5 cents per $100 assessed valuation. Town residents also pay Fairfax County’s real-estate tax. County officials are projecting assessment increases of about 3 percent this year, Serfass said.

Vienna was on track for a banner year financially when the pandemic struck last spring.

“Everything was just swell last year until about March,” Serfass said.

At the end of fiscal 2020 last June 30, town real-estate-tax revenues were up 4.1 percent (the 10-year average is 3.2 percent); sales-tax revenues had risen 1.4 percent; business, professional and occupational license (BPOL) revenues remained unchanged and consumer-utility taxes were down 2.1 percent.

Vienna’s meals-and-lodging tax revenues declined 12.5 percent in fiscal 2020, but most of those losses occurred in the final three months as the pandemic set in. Bank-franchise taxes yielded 10.6 percent less, in part because of industry consolidation, and tobacco taxes dipped 10.1 percent.

“People are smoking less and vaping more, and vaping is not taxed,” Serfass said.

Several other revenue categories also took big hits in fiscal 2020. Fines and forfeitures dropped 15.5 percent, revenues from the use of money and property declined 19.7 percent and charges for services (such as parks-and-recreation program fees) were down 48.8 percent. Town revenues for permits, however, jumped 22.9 percent.

“Permits have been knocking it out of the park,” Serfass said.

Town officials this year are trying to fill vacancies in the police, public-works and parks-and-recreation departments, Serfass said. Two recruits are about to enter the Fairfax County Police Academy, which will chip away a bit at the police department’s six-officer staffing shortage.

Serfass said since Town Manager Mercury Payton arrived, he and she have halved the town’s line-item budget reserve in the general fund to $500,000. The item is used to make revenues appear to exceed expenditures, artificially helping to balance the budget, she said.

“We want that to be zero,” Serfass said. “We don’t want to have a fake sort of placeholder in here. [Fiscal] ’21 was not a year to make any changes. In ’22, we’ll see.”

Town officials thought they were going to have to dip into that reserve in 2020 because of the pandemic and the resultant economic downturn, but federal CARES Act funds cushioned the blow, Payton said.

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