Almost 70 people voiced their concerns about Fairfax County's advertised Fiscal Year 2003 budget at the April 8 public hearing held by the Board of Supervisors, the first in a series of three hearings set to take place this week.
Arthur Purves, president of the Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance was first to address the supervisors. He urged the board not to raise the effective tax rate and suggested ways of cutting approximately $400 million from the county's budget. Among his proposed measures were cuts of $10 million to the Fairfax County Public School's Department of Public Services, cuts of $6 million and $7 million respectively for social workers and psychologists employed by the schools, reducing the school system's clerical staff by half, abolishing elementary school physical education courses and redirecting $11 million from the reading resources program, replacing it with programs based on phonics.
Purves also called on the county to limit child protective services and to reduce funding for the community services boards, arguing that "the county should expect families to take care of its own."
At a rally of about 15 people calling for a reduction of the real estate tax rate from 1.23 percent to 1.06 percent organized by the Taxpayers' Alliance and the Fairfax County GOP before the hearing, Purves also said he was considering challenging John F. Herrity for the Republican nomination in next year's race for the chairmanship of the Board of Supervisors. According to Purves, Herrity "let spending spin out of control" when he was board chairman, increasing school staff by 25 percent while enrollment dropped by 5 percent.
"His track record does not indicate that he can control county and school spending," said Purves.
GEORGE WATERS, CHAIRMAN of the Coalition for Good Schools said that "the world apparently stopped in 1975" for Purves. He said it was "interesting" that Purves should complain about rising property taxes when he had himself lobbied in Richmond against the half-cent sales tax increase, which, according to Waters, would have made a cut in the property tax rate possible. "We ask that you please not lower the assessment rate on property tax," Waters told the board.
Diana King, a teacher at Cooper Middle School also criticized Purves' suggestions, calling them "ludicrous," "inconsistent" and "a return to the 1950s."
"He ignores all the things that have changed over the last 30 years in school or in society," she said. "He doesn't recognize anything that actually works," she said.
King attended the hearing as a member of the Fairfax Education Association, which held its own rally in the Government Center, which drew about 200 people wearing red shirts and twirling specially designed umbrellas, calling on the Board of Supervisors to fully fund the School Board's budget request of $1.6 billion.
Richard Baumgartner, the president of the FEA asked the board to dip into its "rainy day fund" if necessary to finance the school board's request. He added, however, that such spending was only a short term measure. "For the long term, you must show leadership," he said. "We must muster our local resources to solve these problems ourselves."
SEVERAL SPEAKERS also urged the board to address the question of Woodson High School, a 40-year-old school that advocates say is falling apart. Speakers called on the board to approve the proposed line item in the budget that seeks to raise the amount of bonds for sale from $130 million to $135 million and to use part of that additional $5 million to begin the renovation process for Woodson. Renovations were set to start next year after the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously in 2001 to accelerate the project but the School Board refused to move the project to the top of its list. It is unclear at present when Woodson High School will be renovated.
"The School Board has made it abundantly clear from its actions that promises are meaningless," said Ellen Oppenheim, president of Renovate to Educate the Next Era at Woodson, an advocacy group.
IN OTHER NEWS, Marlene Blum of the Fairfax County Health Care Advisory Board stressed the need to create a public information officer position at the agency. "The critical needs the [Health] Department has for this position was highlighted by the anthrax crisis," when the lack of a knowledgeable public information officer made it difficult for the agency to provide "consistent and accurate information," she said.
Alice Starr, chairman of the Fairfax County Public Library Foundation, said that the 5 percent budget cut envisioned in the FY 2003 budget was "cutting our very meager budget by $1.4 million." She urged the board to approve a bond referendum for libraries.
The chairman of the Commission on Aging, Richard Risk asked the board to add $15,810 to the commission's budget to fund an additional Meals on Wheels route in the Centreville and Chantilly area.