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Votes

County Braces for Worse

State budget cuts may slice into county services.

Longer lines and reduced services may be the hit Loudoun residents take from the state's budget shortfall.

"There is no question there will be a reduction in services in some areas," said James Burton (I-Mercer). "Some are going to be unpleasant and difficult to accept."

On Oct. 15, Gov. Mark Warner (D) announced $858 million in budget reductions, more than half of what the state needs to recover $1.5 billion in funds for fiscal year 2003. That week, county staff began assessing the impact the state reductions could have on county government. Staff made the analysis based on a maximum of 15 percent in cuts, since state law limits midyear reductions to that amount for any appropriations.

"We're reviewing with the departments what the impact would be if they had to make reductions," said Ben Mays, county budget officer. "We will have to see how state and non-profit agencies realign themselves given these reductions. It certainly adds to our difficulties, and we're looking at a difficult budget year next year. It certainly doesn't help us any."

THE COUNTY'S SHARE of the state cuts are estimated at $1.3 million, $540,000 of which may come from a cut in tax proceeds. Warner proposes reducing by 10 percent the transfer of proceeds from the mobile homes sales and use tax, otherwise known as the car rental tax. The state collects about $5.5 million a year in taxes to return to the county.

"We have since received word from the state they probably will not reduce that," Mays said.

The governor's reduction plan for FY03 is expected to be carried into the next fiscal year and possibly at a higher level, according to an Oct. 21 memorandum from County Administrator Kirby Bowers.

"We can probably anticipate that the ongoing trend toward fewer resources at the state level will contribute toward a reorientation of state finances toward maintaining direct services, which will undoubtedly mean that local needs will be de-emphasized," Bowers said in the memo he sent to the Board of Supervisors.

The Board of Supervisors passed a resolution a month ago to not use local funds to cover cuts in state programs. "Local government can't continue to pick up and execute the responsibility of the state government," Burton said.

"Year after year, the state cuts back on its funding for these types of services, and local governments have to bear the brunt of that," said Supervisor Mark Herring (D-Leesburg). "We [are] sending the message we can't do that anymore. We can't continue to make up for the state's shortfalls.

Herring said the state cuts "may create delays in getting the work done in various offices." "They [residents] may have to wait in lines longer. They may have to wait longer for response times from state office personnel," he added.

COUNTY STAFF estimates the following agencies in the county's jurisdiction will undergo state reductions:

* Clerk of the Circuit Court, Compensation Board funding for agency operations and state funding for the Technology Trust Fund reduced by 11 percent.

* Commissioner of Revenue, Compensation Board funding reduced by 11 percent.

* Commonwealth's Attorney, Compensation Board funding reduced by 7 percent.

* Electoral Board, payments to localities reduced by 7 percent.

* Extension Services, state funding reduced.

* Housing Services, Homeless Intervention Program reduced by 7 percent and Indoor Plumbing Program reduced by 8 percent.

* Juvenile Court Services Unit, state juvenile drug assessment position eliminated.

* Library Services, state aid to local libraries reduced by 15 percent.

* Mental Health/ Mental Retardation & Substance Abuse Services, state funding for Community Services Boards reduced by 10 percent.

* Parks, Recreation & Community Services, funding for Area Agencies on Aging reduced by 11 percent.

* Social Services, state funding for local administrative staffs reduced by 1 percent.

* Treasurer, Compensation Board funding reduced by 11 percent.

"I don't think we've seen all the cuts yet," Burton said, adding that cuts in state employee salaries and school funding would not "surprise" him. "We need to prepare ourselves for some very tough times."

"We knew that cuts were coming, so obviously we hope they have a minimal effect on county services. But we are hearing statewide, every municipality, every organization that is touched by state funding is going to be touched by these cuts," said Randy Collins, president of the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce. "We don't think it's going to affect the county's ability to attract business because every jurisdiction will be affected in some way."