The BOCS Halloween Financial Retreat begins today. Instead of going to some swanky place to convene, to their credit, the PWC BOCS are staying put and doing their work right at County Complex.
Their task is daunting. Running a county on a $190 million dollar shortfall is not for the faint of heart nor for one with a personal agenda. Pre-released agenda documents pretty much spelled out how dire the situation is.
At root of the financial problem is the huge, disproportionate amount of foreclosures in PWC. Each foreclosure lowers the property values of the houses around it. Many people have seen an almost 50% drop in the value of their home in the past 2 years.
The loss of value of the homes naturally changes the property tax assessments. As if things weren’t bad enough, sales tax receipts have dropped for 5 months in a row. The county is hurting.
Each county department was directed to create a budget with 10%, 20%, and 30% cuts. Looking through the documents, there were some extremely severe cuts. All eyes will be on the public safety departments first.
According to the Washington Post:
An advance copy of a report of the fiscal outlook prepared by the county executive’s office suggests that to close the gap for fiscal 2009-10 there probably won’t be any increases in police and fire department staffing. It also means potentially eliminating some capital improvement and road projects. In coming years, parks and libraries might face the same fate, the report says.
“We are not looking for any decisions,” County Executive Craig S. Gerhart said of today’s meeting.
Another option the board will consider is increasing the property tax rate from 97 cents to $1.13 per $100 of assessed value. But because house values have decreased so sharply, the average homeowner’s tax bill would still decrease by 18 percent. Last year, supervisors raised the average tax bill 5 percent to help offset the shortfall.
Even after scrubbing the budget, eliminating some capital projects and increasing the tax rate, the county would still have a $26 million gap to close. That’s where service cuts would come in.
Gerhart asked county departments and agencies to show him what their budgets would look like cut by 10, 20 and 33 percent.
If the police department’s budget shrank 20 percent, it would have to eliminate the Criminal Alien Unit, a key function of the county’s policy to crack down on illegal immigration. It also means Prince William would lose its ability to work with federal authorities in processing illegal immigrants who have committed crimes.
“I can’t imagine we are ever going to cut into safety that much,” said Chairman Corey A. Stewart (R-At Large). “We spent a grueling year putting this policy in place. At a minimum, we are not going to scrap it.”
Unlike other Washington area jurisdictions, Prince William officials do not predict a deficit for the current fiscal year, which began July 1. Spending is down $7 million for the first three months.
Corey Stewart once again speaks as if he is in the sole position of decision making, rather than being one of eight. Several fiscal conservatives have always pushed to have the 287(g) program only at the ADC because it is far less expensive to operate from there. Perhaps that is an area that needs closer inspection.
Chairman Stewart has bragged all over the country of the savings that the Immigration Resolution will bring to the county. It is time for him to pony up with this savings because it sure looks like we are in for a long, rough, tumultuous ride along the bare bones highway.