Yesterday Governor Tim Kaine and his financial advisors discussed a nearly $2.8 Billion dollar deficit for the state. He will present his budget revisions to the General Assembly December 17. The news is going to be grim. Yesterday Gov. Kaine met with Barack Obama in to discuss the economy. The FY 2010 budget begins July 1.

The pain, however, is not being evenly felt. Arlington has a huge commercial tax base which will help keep it from total hard times. The huge decrease in home values in Prince William County has eviscerated county finances. PWC lacks the extensive commercial tax base that Arlington enjoys.

Less money will go to Richmond and in turn, that means less money for localities. Arlington County officials are considering an increase in 1.7 cents for next year, although that wouldn’t totally fix their budget deficit.

The PW BOCS is still playing around with the tax rate. At last glance it appears that $1.13.[correction from $1.16 to $1.13] was being considered. Currently the tax rate is at $.97. Even with the increase in rate, most residents will find their tax bill less because of the substantial drop in property value. The average home value in PWC has dropped about 30%. PWC has the most foreclosures in the state of Virginia.

The PWC BOCS is looking at a variety of ways to help keep the wolf away from the door, including enacting cigarette, admissions and meals taxes. Chairman Corey Stewart was quoted as saying “We ought to focus our guns on core issues and not get sidetracked by other things.”

According to an article in the Washington Post:

Prince William, which has the highest number of foreclosures in the state, wants additional authority to place liens on vacant property to help recover the cost of cleaning graffiti. It also wants to extend liability protection to neighboring property owners who mow grass or remove trash and debris from vacant properties.

What else does Stewart have in mind? Obviously his Immigration Resolution didn’t bring in the savings we were promised. Of course, no one believed that one. That was just a way to fool people and even at that, only a few bought in to that blarny.

The school system will be slammed by these cuts. Already there is talk of no cost of living increase for employees and larger sized classes. There is also talk of delaying capital improvements which would include delaying the building of a new, much needed high school.

Are there solutions to lessen the problems facing PWC? Would people be content having the 2010 tax rate even higher to maintain services? Would a higher tax rate drive out businesses?

Having the most foreclosures in the state of Virginia is sure a distinction I could do without.

54 Thoughts to “VA Budget Woes Increase Financial Anxiety in PWC”

  1. Moon-howler

    Comparing government to for-profit business often comes up with unrealistic expectations from both the government or the business.

    Business isn’t government and government isn’t business. Both have different functions. Both have different ways to raise revenue.

    I simply do not feel you can run government like a business or business like a government without making accommodations for the differences in each.

    It only sounds good on paper. I remember when my kids were in school and the students became ‘customers.’ No, they were students. Big difference. You can call things anything you want. Doesn’t make it so.

  2. Opinion

    Moon-howler, we’ll just have to disagree on this. Actually, Government at all levels is BIG business (and the engine of our local economy). I am not sure what incentives Government would have to run efficiently if they don’t manage it like a business. How does that work, Moon-howler?

    (IMHO) you would be better off if you (and your children) did ‘”think like a customer” demanding you be treated like one. Your children are both students and customers. You (as their advocate) have the right (and obligation) to demand that money devoted to education be used wisely and that the education provided to your children be absolutely the best (within the constraints of our budget).

    (IMHO) when you walk into a Prince William County Government building for service, you should look around and think, “I pay these people, I paid for this building, I expect to be treated like a customer.” Ironically, that’s the model I believe PWC County Government uses. The budget issue aside, I have always been treated like a customer and received excellent service when I called upon the the county for service. I just expect to receive less services options in the future (as things we can’t afford “go away”.)

  3. Moon-howler

    Treating children in a school like customers is very unrealistic. They are a captive audience. When people are required by the government to go to Macys or Best Buy, then we can have the discussion. Until then, it quickly goes to the absurd. Some institutions are unique. Hospitals have patients, schools have students. I don’t mind the county having customers or clients.

    Non profits and government simply acquire their money differently. That is the main thing that makes them not function like business. Now, if a local of state government picks up some attributes of business, fine. but one cannot be a mirror of the other.

    Let’s move from the abstract. What are some departments you would abolish? Some ideas please!

  4. Opinion

    Moon-Howler, here’s a few ideas:

    I would eliminate neighborhood services by moving their zoning enforcement functions to (surprise here… wait for it) zoning. County clean-ups and Litter crews can be handled by (wait for it…) solid waste. Neighborhood university is an unnecessary expense that serves a small percentage of County citizens. Information they provide really belongs in other domains (traffic calming – PWC Police public outreach for example) or should simply be “dropped” (HOA education?). We pay unnecessary overhead and add complexity to Government by duplicating functions (zoning, clean-up) that may easily handled by other existing organizations (vice centralizing them under a new administrative entity.)

    I also don’t think we need two Assistant County Executives in a down-sized environment (or the current Government, for that matter). A second position was probably created to handle the growth of Government. One of these positions plus related support staff should go away as we downsize government.

    We also don’t need a local human rights committee. The State has a human rights committee (and it appears to have what I consider a good grasp or our current immigration situation). There is no reason for the County to duplicate a function that the state performs. The BOCS would like to replace public entities with private groups wherever possible. I would suggest Unity in the Community would be the place to go for local advocacy.

    Several positions could be downsized and/or made part time. For example, I’m guessing the Development Ombudsman isn’t that busy lately (and I’m not that sure we need such a position. It duplicates Zoning functions). Make it part time.

    Training and development could be outsourced (eliminating healthcare, facility, and pension costs while turning this function over to specialists.)

    Information Technology should look at open source software. It would significantly reduce IT costs (deployment, licensing, infrastructure, etc.) The EU has moved to open source software in a big way (with success). Several commercial businesses and local Governments (D.C. for example) are moving to open source.

    Public works is doing a good job down-sizing. Check out the Agenda for next Tuesday’s BOCS meeting and you will see they plan to save the County approximately 1.75 Million in FY 09 thanks to down sizing. They are doing what all County Agencies should do: re-scaling to meet the new budget reality and the fact that demand for certain services are going down as a result of the economic environment. On the other hand, they are a prime candidate for outsourcing. Such services as Property Management, Building Development, Historic Preservation, etc. can easily be outsourced. (Note that outsourcing creates small business opportunities that both offer jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities to PWC citizens while increasing our business tax base).

    I would outsource the county surplus store to a private entity (perhaps ACTS or SERVE to put revenue into private organizations helping our community – a stated BOCS goal).

    I would stop paying for Gypsy Moth control. Nature will win, I would let nature take its course so natural succession may re-populate our woodlands.

    These are just a few ideas. They are examples of the type of analysis I would propose to get through the budget crisis (and, in fact, I believe a lot of this type of analysis is going on). I fear that our current BOCS and staff may not have the skills to manage to budget and “trim around the edges” vice making the hard choices that will strengthen our county in the long run. While that sounds like a criticism, it’s just an observation of leadership styles. It’s like the military. Any veteran knows that there is a difference between peacetime Generals and wartime Generals. The different environments require different skills. Not all Generals transition to war easily.

    What is your approach to getting through what is predicted to be an extended recession followed by a slow recovery?

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