The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors received a report from its Human Services Council during a budget meeting on Monday, and the news was not good. Council Chairman Kevin Bell noted that the cumulative impact of several consecutive stringent budgets has resulted in a critical juncture for the community, balancing human services needs against available resources. The situation is compounded by the fact that, while federal funds comprise just one percent of the county’s General Fund, federal funds contribute about 20 percent of human services revenues.
Service and program utilization numbers reflect high demand for programs that serve at-risk county residents: public assistance caseloads increased by 50 percent; Child Protective Services Assessments or Investigations increased more than 29 percent; attendance at senior citizen centers increased 14 percent since 2010; and the demand for speech, physical, and occupational therapy, as well as family education for Infants with Developmental Delays increased by 46 percent during the past two years. A perfect storm is likely to be created as more county residents feel the effects of federal job cutbacks at the same time that expenses are rising for food, fuel, housing, and taxes. Although Fairfax County is touted nationally as a very wealthy jurisdiction, county residents are rightly concerned about both the need for additional resources and the possibility of continued reductions, due to a struggling economy and many competing demands for the use of tax dollars.
County Executive Ed Long rejected a five percent across-the-board cut for human services in his proposed FY 2014 county budget, but the Human Services Council identified an additional $3.3 million to restore funds for the Community Health Care Network, the Housing Blueprint goals, and the Department of Justice settlement with the Commonwealth of Virginia for the Northern Virginia Training Center closure. Mr. Long’s budget does include an $8 million reserve to address potential impacts of federal budget cuts, but not the unfunded items identified by the Human Services Council.
In his presentation to the Board’s Budget Committee, Chairman Bell pointed out his annual report conclusion: “The funding that Fairfax County devotes to human services is a prudent investment. It sustains a basic quality of life that our Fairfax County residents want and deserve.” The challenge for the Board is to balance the needs and available revenues, while still providing a vast array of services demanded by constituents, including a quality public school system, well-trained and equipped public safety personnel, an efficient and leading-edge public works department, improving the environment, parks and libraries, and prudent and award-winning financial management.
Discussions about the proposed budget will continue through the end of April, when the Board must adopt its budget. Rest assured, unlike the federal government, Fairfax County will have a balanced budget, and it will be on time! We always have, and we always will.
Earlier this month, Delegate Jim Scott (D-53) announced his retirement from the Virginia General Assembly. Jim always represented a few Mason District precincts during his 20-plus year tenure, and I am pleased to count him as a friend and colleague. Thanks, Jim, for your dedicated public service.