On Tuesday, the Prince William County Board of Supervisors will decide whether each supervisor should have their own pot of money to be disbursed to whatever group or school they see fit to receive it, with none of the staff review or public hearings normally associated with government spending.
Formally, they are called “office funds,” because the money is allocated for office expenses, and leftover money is simply accumulated for this sort of mad money spending.
Some call them “discretionary funds.” Some call them “slush funds.” We first took a detailed look at them here in December, and found that no other jurisdictions in our area allow elected officials to simply hand out $500 here and $2,000 there to the Boys and Girls Club or a neighborhood school. In February, the Prince William Committee of 100 held a forum where the practice was mostly denounced, and in April the Prince William Republican Committee passed a resolution calling for the practice to stop.
Last month, Supervisor Peter Candland (R-Gainesville) introduced a resolution to do away with the funds, and the board will consider it at its Tuesday afternoon meeting. Meanwhile, the focus on the funds has intensified, led by an entertaining and anonymous blog, The Sheriff of Nottingham in Prince William County, which is taking detailed looks at how the supervisors are spending taxpayer money, with the apparent goal of making themselves look better/more electable. Examples include purchasing ads in charity programs or placards or bricks in public places.
Other bloggers, including Al Alborn, Virginia Virtucon and Black Velvet Bruce Li have also kept up the pressure. And The Post’s Jeremy Borden has a report
in the works today which says the supervisors have doled out about $500,000 in taxpayer money to local groups since 2004, with only a one- or two-line explanation of where it’s going before the board votes on it.
After the jump, we’ll look at how much money was sitting in each supervisor’s account the last time those numbers were made public, and also hear from Supervisor John Jenkins, who believes the funds work well and should keep doing so.
As of last August, when the last Prince William carryover budget figures were released, here is how much each supervisor had sitting in their funds after paying office staff and buying supplies:
Chairman Corey Stewart (R) — $9,855
Brentsville Supervisor Wally Covington (R) — $357,700
Coles Supervisor Martin Nohe (R) — $267,204
Gainesville Supervisor Peter Candland (R) — $85,944
Neabsco Supervisor John Jenkins (D) — $62,297
Occoquan Supervisor Michael May (R) — $17,905
Potomac Supervisor Maureen Caddigan (R) — $87,727
Woodbridge Supervisor Frank Principi (D) — $61,543.
Grand total: $950,175
To recap, each supervisor is given about $335,000 annually to run his or her office. Money which isn’t used can be spent at the supervisor’s discretion, and can build up over a number of years. To dish out some of the money, the supervisor introduces a one-page resolution saying little more than the board should disburse, for example, $500 to the “Prince William County Park Authority/Castaways Repertory Theatre in support of cultural arts for Prince William County residents.”
That item is in fact on Tuesday’s agenda. And that’s all the information about where that money is going. It is proposed by Jenkins and is slotted to be heard before Candland’s motion to stop doing this. It could be the last such expenditure.
I recently asked Jenkins about these discretionary funds. “First of all, there’s no such thing as discretionary funds,” he said. “They’re office operating budget funds.” If he has money that’s left over after paying his staff, “I could put that toward a school, or sidewalks, or anything in my district. If we didn’t have that latitude in managing our own office budgets, then we shouldn’t manage anything.”
Noting that he’d been a supervisor for 30 years, Jenkins said that sometimes projects are budgeted but wind up costing more than is budgeted. By tossing in money from the unused office operating budget funds, “It’s just repurposing of funds.”
Recently, Jenkins said he had given $1,000 to a library in his district to install wi-fi for customers’ laptops. “I transferred it from my operating budget to their operating budget,” he said.
I asked why the money couldn’t all be wrapped into the annual budget and reviewed in the usual way. “That would limit the ability of the board to meet needs in the magisterial districts,” Jenkins said. He said he puts money toward sidewalks and street lights, and that helps protect “the health, welfare and safety of the people I represent.” He noted that though individual supervisors propose the expenditures, they are made on behalf of the entire board.
The objections to this process have been well-documented in the blogs above. On Tuesday, we’ll see if the board is ready to change its process.