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Agencies Asked to Cut Their Budgets by 5%

Fairfax County Executive Anthony Griffin last week issued a list of potential cuts that may be needed to balance the county’s FY 2003 budget.

Taken together, the cuts could reduce county spending by about $48.5 million next year. None of the cuts has yet been implemented, but supervisors will consider them as they balance the budget between now and April 29.

Some voices are asking that all the savings be redirected to a shortfall in funding for schools.

Others say taxpayers should get relief in the form of a cut in the $1.23 tax rate.

Griffin said some of the cuts won’t affect service, while others “will result in serious service reductions.”

“A large number of positions would be eliminated as part of the reduction, and actual RIFs may be required,” he wrote to supervisors. Supporting documents show most of the positions suggested for cuts as vacant or temporary

In an e-mail to Fairfax County staff last week, Griffin reassured employees that “I do not anticipate at this time that any proposed reductions that include the elimination of positions will result in a Reduction in Force action,” nor will salaries be cut.

ON APRIL 3, GRIFFIN asked agency heads for a list of potential cuts to equal five percent of their budgets. He stipulated that “no agency is exempted from this exercise.”

When he made temporary five percent budget cuts last October, Griffin exempted public safety, facilities management, and health agencies because of the Sept. 11 terrorist acts. This time, the list of reductions was made across the board.

“Let me be very clear in noting that I am expecting each agency to present reduction strategies that are reasonable and protect the core and mandated services of that agency,” he said. “Proposals that include ‘Washington Monument’ type cuts will not be accepted and you will be required to provide other reductions,” Griffin wrote.

Senior managers had five days to develop their lists. Board Chairman Kate Hanley gave Griffin two days to combine their lists before the April 10 public hearing on the budget.

“THIS GIVES the Board of Supervisors some options, and gives them a lot of information [on which] to base their discussions,” said Merni Fitzgerald, director of public affairs. “They need this information before they start making decisions.”

On Oct. 25, 2001, Griffin directed agencies to cut their budgets by five percent in the third quarter of FY2002 to compensate for an anticipated shortfall in revenue. Police, fire, facilities management, and public health agencies were exempted.

Those cuts saved about $17 million, but still fell short of the $23 million drop-off in the third quarter, she said.

The cuts were achieved by leaving job openings unfilled, Griffin said, but were not applied to the base line of the budget.

At $1.23 per every $100 of market value, Fairfax County’s tax rate equals a reduced tax rate that is proposed for a vote in Prince William County on April 16. The rate in Prince William is presently $1.30.

In Loudoun County, supervisors voted earlier this month to cut the tax rate from $1.08 to $1.05.

Fairfax County would lose about $12 million in revenue for every one cent reduction in the tax rate.

To “equalize” the tax rate and compensate for this year’s 16 percent increase in real estate tax assessments, supervisors would have to lower the tax rate to $1.10 per $100 of value.

Fairfax County would lose an estimated $147 million in revenue if that happened, but tax bills on homes and commercial real estate would hold the line.

This week, supervisors began meeting with Budget Subcommittee chairman Sharon Bulova (D-Braddock) to push their individual requests for what to keep and cut in their respective magisterial districts.

The final meeting of the budget subcommittee is scheduled at 3 p.m. on Friday, April 19, in rooms 9-10 at the Fairfax County Government Center. That is when supervisors tell county staff what to prepare for markup the following Monday. The meeting is not a public hearing, but is open to the public.

Supervisors will “mark up,” or make cuts, to the budget at 10 a.m. on Monday, April 22.

Final budget approval is scheduled during the regular board meeting, beginning at 10 a.m. on Monday, April 29. Both of those meetings will be televised live on Fairfax County Cable Channel 16.