Libraries. School resource officers. Senior centers. These things are all part of the question facing the Prince William Board of County Supervisors: what does the county value—and how much is it willing to pay for those services?
County Executive Melissa Peacor gave a presentation last week to the Board of County Supervisors on the budget choices for the upcoming 2014 fiscal year. Peacor presented a wide range of choices that the county could make with its $914 million budget, making a distinction between mandated services, strategic choices the county has made in the past, and discretionary spending.
The county has already made steep cuts to some agencies in recent years, which narrows some of the options on the table. Peacor stressed that the choices she outlined were not necessarily paths she thought the Board should follow.
"This is the beginning of the discussion, not the end of the discussion, and I think that's important for everyone to understand," Peacor said. "Choices are choices, they are not necessarily recommendations."
Prince William County Schools takes up the lion's share of the budget—over 56 percent.
Public safety also takes up a sizeable portion of the budget. Prince William spent nearly $240 million on public safety in 2013. Just 8 percent of that are optional choices the county has made to provide services, Peacor said.
For instance, police enforcement on illegal immigration cost nearly $600,000. The county could also save millions by eliminating school resource officer positions and crossing guards at schools. The fire marshal's office is also a discretionary choice that the county has made in lieu of state services.
But other areas, such as the library, human services, and parks, have a much wider discretionary budget, since much of these services are technically not mandated.
Human services has a budget of $33,580,942 each year, and funds services like mental health services and addiction treatment for adult detention center inmates.
Nonprofit organizations provide many of the county's community services and would take a hit if the county chose to stop funding.
"If we eliminate a community partner, that doesn't mean we're eliminating a need, and if we feel the need needs to be met, it could actually cost more for the government to provide it than it does for a nonprofit organization," Peacor said.
Prince William spends over $4 million for the Department of Public Health, a state agency. Only about 2 percent of that is mandated, Peacor said.
"The issue here is whether Prince William County wants to use local taxpayer dollars to fund state programs," Peacor said.
The library system is one of the most widely used county services. Over 62 percent of residents have library cards, Peacor's presentation showed. After $2.8 million in cuts over the past five years, choices are limited to drastic measures like closing all neighborhood libraries, shutting down neighborhood libraries two days a week, eliminating library educational and recreational programs.
Parks are another popular area with local residents. Nearly $30 million was spent on the park and recreation department last year.
Compensation was also an area of discussion, with the possibility of the county changing its overtime calculation and worker's compensation calculation, or passing on more health care costs to employees.
As the county eliminates services in other areas of government, the Board will review overhead costs as well.
The Board will consider Peacor's presentation and reconvene soon to discuss their recommended areas for cuts. To see the slides from Peacor's presentation, click on the PDF on the upper right.
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