If you scream at your political friends when they lose their way for long enough, they’ll probably start to listen at some point. Such is the case with Corey Stewart this week, as Corey tacks back in the conservative direction by embracing budgetary constraint and offering a list of proposed cuts to the county’s budget. It’s a start to what will probably be a lengthy budget discussion this year, but this time we’re at least starting out going in the right direction.
Al Alborn posted a letter from Stewart to the other members of the Board of County Supervisors indicating that he hopes for a “flat tax bill” in the next fiscal year, which one would assume means a slight decrease in the tax rate to offset any assessment increases, essentially freezing spending at the same level as in 2012 budget. That’s a pretty good start, especially compared to how we started the last budget cycle with only a range of options on how to increase spending. During that cycle Gainesville Supervisor Peter Candland strenuously argued for no spending increases but couldn’t get any other supervisors to agree with him, but this year, after plenty of often heated discussion among taxpayers on the issue this becomes the starting point in the budget discussions. That in itself a significant development.
Stewart has outlined a plan to cut spending on non-core government functions in order to achieve this, and that list incorporates a several issues fiscal conservatives in the county have been clamoring for: an end to doling out taxpayer money to arts programs (which probably has more to do with the appearance of corruption in how it is done, rather than whether government should be doing this) and an end to the county’s participation in the Virginia Association of Counties, which used member dues this year to lobby against the constitutional amendment on eminent domain reform that passed 75-25% this year. Other items on the list of cuts are generally items that the county shouldn’t be paying for, participation in programs that aren’t mandatory, or cuts in services that may not survive the budget process because they probably will offend the kinds of constituencies that have such a good track record of begging the Board for money. Other items are a lot harder to figure out.
Here are my thoughts on the items identified for budget cuts:
Juvenile Court Services Unit ($626,372). Probation, intake and parole services for delinquent youth funded by county government that are supposed to be the responsibility of the Commonwealth. This cut may survive the budget process, or it may just be a game of cat and mouse with Richmond over who funds what in the General Assembly budget. Hard to tell at this point, but I suspect the purpose here is more political than budgetary.
“Health Department including non-profits” ($3,675,760). No specifics given here, but this may just be a general cut to the budget for this department. Whether this is feasible or not depends on the specifics of where these cuts would be applied. Given that this line item accounts for about a third of the total cuts and it’s a nonspecific cut, I’m concerned whether this is real or not.
Eliminate Sports Tourism Grants ($10,506). Awesome. Excellent job on this one, Corey.
Bluebird Bus Recreation Tours ($30,000). Make this program fiscally self-supporting. Whether this survives depends on the constituency that is getting the benefits currently. We’ve had discussions like this before, particularly around transportation for adult daycare and the Board caved. Let’s see who starts whining about this.
Close Neighborhood Libraries 2 days a week ($360,362). This perennial whipping-boy in budget-cutting discussions will probably get the ax again.
Move 4 police officers to patrol ($520,000). This takes officers out of four middle schools and puts them in patrol units, somehow saving the county money. Perhaps this reduces the number of officers the Police Department wanted to hire, or perhaps this is a gimmick. Hard to take this one seriously without more information.
TRIP operating and capital funds ($1,960,822). The Transportation and Roadway Improvement Program funds the construction of roads in the county that the state doesn’t fund, and has been a source of pride by the county for quite a while. In order to balance the budget in Richmond the General Assembly has been talking about shifting some of the costs for road maintenance and construction to localities which the county has vigorously complained about. Dropping TRIP may just be part of the current county-state budget battle, although suspending the program for a year might be a legitimate budget decision. I am somewhat doubtful about this line item, given the talk by elected officials about how dedicated they are to transportation improvements during election season, especially when each Supervisor can crow about how they “brought home the bacon” by using TRIP to make improvements in their districts.
Long-term Care Ombudsman shift ($47,000). Bringing this position “in-house” saves us this much money? I have to wonder whether any other “outside” county positions are also costing us more than they should, as the whole idea of outsourcing is supposed to save money. By the way, what the heck is this position for and why are we funding it? Let’s follow this breadcrumb trail a bit father, please, but this is a good start.
Substance Abuse Treatment in Jails ($582,030). ”Cold turkey” works, too, but I bet this starts a lot of discussion. I can easily see a constituency clamoring for a restoration of this program, so I’m not sure this will actually happen.
NoVA Family Services ($170.033). End donation to the “Healthy Families Program.” Good job, Corey. This is not a core function of government and smells like a waste.
Eliminate Arts Grants ($241,000). FINALLY! And end to the corrupt regime that hands out taxpayer dollars to the politically connected is long overdue. Corey listened.
Legal Services of Northern Virginia ($161,729). This non-profit program provides legal services to low-income persons other than Constitutionally-mandated counsel for criminal defendants. This may generate a lot of complaints, so I’m not sure this will remain, but let’s hope it will. Good job on this, Corey. This should not be a government responsibility.
High Growth Coalition ($6,100). This is a voluntary association of localities that thinks it doesn’t have to comply with Virginia’s open meeting laws. Excellent target for the budgetary ax, Corey!
Virginia Association of Counties ($88,440). VACO dues from Prince William County went to lobbying in Richmond against a Constitutional Amendment to protect private property rights from eminent domain abuse, something the BOCS publicly supported. Just one example of the outrageous expenditures made by local governments to lobby other branches of government, usually against the interests of taxpayers and residents. Long overdue. Good job on this, Corey.
National Association of Counties ($5,205). Same this as VACO, but lobbies the federal government. That’s what Congressmen are for. Good job, Corey.
Northern Virginia Regional Commission ($210,432). An association of 14 localities that lobbies, gives money to organizations like the “Prince William Conservation Alliance”, produces obscure documentary films, and sponsors “charettes.” A complete waste of taxpayer resources. Frank Principi will howl about this one, but this was an excellent target that will likely survive the budget process because it just looks stupid. Good job on this, Corey.
Greater Washington Marketing Project ($25,000). Whatever it is, you can’t find it on google, so we’re obviously getting a great return on our taxpayer investment here. Good job on this one, Corey.
ENS Youth Mentoring ($33,357). Donation to a religiously-themed youth non-profit (which also does lobbying) that is possibly in violation of the Code of Virginia and the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. Good catch on this one, Corey.
Eliminate holidays ($900,000). Don’t close government on Columbus and President’s day. How this actually saves money is rather unclear and it may be an accounting gimmick. It costs more money to keep government employees home rather than have them report to work? Or is this a result of not having to pay overtime to essential staff who would have to work on these holidays regardless of the calendar? More detail here would be helpful.
What is not in the budget cuts may be more telling than what is included in them. No cuts are proposed for the Office of Executive Management, which has been paying for free booze for senior county employees, pretty lavish office upgrades for senior staff, and gives debit cards to senior employees for purposes that are unclear. Among the tens of millions of dollars spent for Information Technology there is not a single dollar in cuts that can be made. Everything included in the list is entirely peripheral to any county feifdoms, which makes me suspicious that the list isn’t really much of an effort to actually identify cuts. That’s not Corey’s fault, as this would certainly be the result of County Executive Melissa Peacor trying to maintain bureaucracies important to her and she probably came up with this list.
As the budget discussions continue, some items on this list might be removed due to pressure from constituencies that can effectively scare the board, and some might be removed because they were not entirely serious to begin with, but certainly others can be added. This is the start of a process, but at least the process is starting with a discussion of what to cut rather than what we need to spend more money on. Making this list even better is a task that will probably require a lot of citizen involvement. If you want a more responsible local government, you are going to have to do the work to make that happen. That we’re at this point demonstrates that hard work pays off, because at least now elected officials are listening and responding, and that’s a huge improvement.
A big thank you to Corey Stewart is due on this one for getting this ball rolling.
The opinions expressed here are solely the views of the author, and not representative of the position of any organization, political party, doughnut shop, knitting guild, or waste recycling facility, but may be correctly attributed to the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy. If anything in the above article has offended you, please click here to receive an immediate apology.
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