PWC Budget ChoicesOctober 9, 2012
The Budget Choice Presentation by County Executive Melissa Peacor to the Board of County Supervisors on October 2nd marked a significant and welcome change in the way the Board approaches the formulation of the budget for the next fiscal year. I am very encouraged that we are moving in the right direction to a greater level of transparency and citizen involvement in the budget preparation process.
First, we are starting much sooner to look at the key components of next year’s budget. In the past, the budget process was initiated largely with a Budget Retreat meeting that was a day-long exercise that few County taxpayers were able to attend, and then little more was done in public until the Board Meetings setting the tax rate in March and April of the following year. This year, the Budget Choice Presentation was put online on the County website prior to the October 2nd meeting (http://www.pwcgov.org/government/bocs/Pages/BOCS-Landing-Page.aspx ), and every citizen can watch the recording of the presentation to the Board by clicking on the following link:
Second, the County staff has responded to the direction of the Board by providing a range of options for consideration that cover a number of scenarios for tax rates and spending plans. This is an excellent reform of the FY 2014 budget process because my experience in last year’s budget process was that there were few options presented and the budget was presented as essentially a take it or leave it proposition.
My personal commitment to reducing County spending to produce a smaller government footprint in our lives is unwavering. I strongly advocate for a reduced tax rate on homeowners than is currently proposed in the previously approved five-year plan. That plan imposes a significant burden on homeowners with a tax rate increase that approaches 5.8% per year, for a total of a more than 30% tax increase over the five years covered by this plan. That level of taxation, and the spending it proposes, is simply unacceptable.
Fixing this current proposed budget plan will take a lot of work. I am ready to roll up my sleeves and start digging into the details of the budget proposal. If you would like to be considered for a position on my Citizen’s Budget Committee, please send an email to Gainesville@pwcgov.org. The input of citizens in this budget process is absolutely critical.
There are three basic principles that guide my thinking on the budget process that I would like to share with you. In my mind, these principles embody what I like to call the “Invest in our Future” budget proposal.
1. Prince William County taxpayers have been asked to shoulder an enormous tax burden during the past five years – a period commonly referred to as the Great Recession. That tax burden has put families in very difficult economic circumstances, and there now needs to be a period of recovery over the next couple of years where taxes are kept as low as possible and County spending is restrained.
2. Prince William County government and the School Board have to establish spending priorities that match the sacrifices that families have had to make over the past five years. That is a process that is long overdue.
3. I believe families in Prince William County are willing to share in the sacrifice, by cutting or even eliminating some programs that provide convenient services, to provide increased funding for essential government services. Those critical priorities include police and fire protection; sustaining a competent group of core County employees to provide needed services; enhancing our communities for families with limited infrastructure improvements; and doing all we can to reduce class sizes in our schools and retaining quality classroom teachers. The critical first step is for County government to commit to a restrained spending plan in FY 2014.
These principles require some sacrifice from County government to achieve the balance between limited government and taxpayers making a reasonable investment in County government. As a starting point, I believe we should start with limiting the tax rate to a Flat Tax Bill amount as presented in the Budget Choice Presentation. Then, the following actions should be implemented:
* Every dollar in increased revenue from rising assessments should be dedicated to a reduction in the Flat Tax Bill tax rate. The County needs to stop being the beneficiary of increases in home values when they did not share in the pain individual homeowners have experienced in declining home values over the past five years; and
* Eliminate unnecessary program spending and cut overfunded programs;
* Eliminate Community Partner funding for all but those non-profits who clearly demonstrate they provide a mandated service more efficiently and more cost effectively than the government can. We need to get County government out of the business of picking winners and losers among private charities that receive taxpayer money; and
* Target budget cuts on specific agencies equal to the average “agency returns” from each of these agencies over the past three years to the carryover fund.
If County government can take these important steps, then I believe taxpayers would be willing to reinvest in the community by foregoing some government programs for funding of the following priorities:
* Increase Police and Fire personnel over the current budget proposals. It is a critical priority to protect the public safety and our homes; and
* Invest in critical community infrastructure, including limited road development and funding for community parks; and
* Provide a dedicated contribution to the Prince William County School Board to increase classroom teacher compensation and reduce class sizes in our schools.
These ideas are presented in the broad context of my belief that we have to balance the burdens imposed on taxpayers with providing critical government services that protect the health and safety of our families, protects our property values by enhancing critical infrastructure in our communities, and invests in the quality of education that we want for all of our children.
Implementation of this plan requires a willingness to accept the shared sacrifice required both by the County government and taxpayers. This plan outlines an investment that I believe taxpayers will willingly accept to invest in our future if they are convinced we have limited government spending to the core services that the County should provide.
We are embarking on a new journey in Prince William County with a new approach to budgeting, and I believe it is an approach that will provide a much needed forum for greater citizen input. I hope you will join me in working to develop a responsible budget that balances the needs of government with the capacity of taxpayers to fund those needs.