Department Heads Defend Their Budgets

Department Heads Defend Their Budgets

City Council studies proposed budget.

John Veneziano’s pled his case on March 15. His proposed budget included hiring two new full-time and two part-time employees for the City of Fairfax’s Department of Public Works. The hires, he said, were necessary to accomplish departmental priorities in a timely fashion. "We’re reacting to what we saw as what the council wanted," he said.

Each of the city’s department heads came before the mayor and council over two days, March 15 and 16, to present and answer questions about their proposed budgets. Each of them had to justify desired spending increases in their operating budgets, and desired purchases and projects in the capital budgets.

Some of the most intense scrutiny, however was reserved for proposed new employees. "We’re going to painstakingly go through all these new positions job by job," said Mayor Robert Lederer.

Councilmembers questioned Veneziano about not only the need for new people, but asked if he had been searching for ways to find higher productivity from his staff. "We’re trying to get our people to work better, smarter, faster," Veneziano replied.

The workload is increasing rapidly, Veneziano said. Simple jobs, such as painting traffic light poles, were once completed annually. Now, however, with more traffic lights to paint, not every pole can be painted every year under current staffing levels. "You can ignore it for a while, but you can’t ignore it forever," he said.

A decision about the proposed new hire for Public Works, or the other city departments, are not made during these preliminary work sessions, but will come later in the budget process. A series of public hearings, other meetings and work sessions about the proposed $110 million budget are scheduled for the next month, with final adoption set for April 12.

One area not receiving much fiscal scrutiny is the school system. Primarily, this is because the majority of the city’s school budget is a function of a contract with Fairfax County Public Schools.

The City of Fairfax owns the school buildings, but Fairfax County staffs them. The city pays a tuition fee to the county to cover the expense of educating its children. Part of that fee is rebated as a "classroom rental" fee because some county children attend schools within the city.

This year, the city will end up paying the county a little over $31 million. The total school budget for this fiscal year is about $37.5 million. "I’m not here to tell you that $37 million for the school budget is a small amount," said Janice Miller, chair of the City of Fairfax School Board. Other than the contracted obligation with the county, another large chunk of the education budget goes to paying off debt. "Neither component is flexible in terms of funding," Miller said.