County Budget: Human Services, Parks and Libraries Among Final Hearing Topics
More than 40 people testified during the four-hour hearing.
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors wrapped up three days of public hearings on the county’s proposed fiscal year 2013 budget Thursday afternoon.
More than 40 speakers, an unusually low number for the final hearing, testified before the board during the four-hour hearing, advocating for funding in human services, fair employee compensation, and parks and libraries.
One common theme among many speakers, regardless of their cause, was support of the advertised real estate tax rate of $1.08 per $100 of assessed value – an increase from the current $1.07 rate. Supporters said the revenues from that tax increase could go towards any number of programs in danger of cuts.
But not everyone supported the budget.
John Carlson, of Mount Vernon, said that $6.7 billion was simply too much, and that a 6.1% increase from FY2012 was "excessive."
"Affordable housing in the county is an unaffordable expense," he said, asking for a property tax reduction to $1.05 per $100 of assessed value.
Many of the speakers over the course of the three days wanted to see more funding for human services, including programs that helped the homeless and the intellectually disabled.
Outgoing County Executive Anthony Griffin said that he has not made any cuts to the Community Services Board, who help fund human services programs, but they are facing shortfalls in their own budget and need more funding.
Alec Christoff, vice president of the Advisory Board to the Gartlan Mental Health Center, said the Community Services Board had faced $15 million in cuts in the last four years. Without increased county support, programs will have to be eliminated, and reinstating programs can take years, he said.
"It is unconscionable to expect severely mentally disabled people to wait for services," said Anne Andrews of the South County Task Force for Human Services.
Lisa Escoto spoke to the board on Wednesday with her daughter, who has intellectual disabilities. She said that the lack of increased funding for Fairfax County's early intervention services at Infant & Toddler Connection (ITC) is a big mistake. Without ITC, her daughter would not be doing as well as she is today, Escoto said.
Delmar Sands also testified on Wednesday to urge the board to reinstate funding to the county’s adult dental program. According to other speakers, the current budget cuts $50,000 from the program, which helps to provide dental care to low-income citizens. With the current cuts, roughly 500 people wouldn’t get the services they need.
Sands recounted an emotional personal story, telling the board that when he was homeless and suffering from alcoholism, the county’s human services programs helped him get back on his feet. The dental program helped Sands' repair badly damaged teeth.
Speaking on behalf of the Fairfax Area Disability Services Board, Kelly Greenwood told the board Thursday that home-based care (HBC) services could not take any more cuts. Greenwood, who is disabled and must use a wheelchair, said she has used HBC for six years, and has seen the effects of less funding.
Care providers are to perform “four loads of laundry a month” and perform “light housekeeping.” Greenwood said that was not enough.
“Is my option to live in squalor?” she said. “Without HBC I would not have basic necessities that make my life bearable.”
Parks & Libraries
During the three hearings, county employees and residents advocated strongly for funding restorations to libraries and parks.
William Bouie, chairman of the Park Authority, said he and his staff were "starting to fray at the edges" due to cuts. "To put it mildly, we are now cutting into the bone,” he said. He said manpower is definitely a problem, and asked for funding for limited-time staffing, as well as repairs to aging infrastructure, courts and joint programs with schools. "We look forward to new ribbon cutting ceremonies throughout the year," he said, asking the board to keep in mind, "A penny for parks."
Craig Stevens, of the Fairfax County Park Foundation, lamented the funds that have been lost in the system. "We'd hate to see this award-winning park system fall into disrepair,” he said.
Susan Thorniley, chair of the Fairfax County Public Library Board of Trustees, urged the board to not cut a proposed $300,000 from public libraries. With just that money alone, libraries could be open nine more hours a week, she said.
Jeff Armstrong, chair of the Fairfax Library Foundation Board of Trustees, agreed.
He said libraries were a multi-million dollar investment in the county's future that couldn’t be capitalized on without the proper funding. If the system is to remain a model for both the commonwealth and the nation, it needs more money, Armstrong said.
The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to formally adopt the budget on May 1. More information about the budget calendar and process is available at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/dmb.