A member of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors has introduced a measure to eliminate supervisors’ so-called “discretionary funds,” which have long been criticized in some circles for allowing individual supervisors to dole out taxpayer dollars without proper scrutiny.
Funds are allocated to each district to run their office and pay staff — an average of $335,000 for each district office. The bulk of those funds are used to run supervisors’ district offices, but funds that are not specifically allocated can be used for supervisors to donate to non-profits, charities or for school-related uses.
Supervisor Peter K. Candland (R-Gainesville) said he believes the intentions of his fellow supervisors are “on the level,” according to a video of his remarks at Tuesday’s regular meeting, but that the practice must stop.
Candland said that because supervisors are able to give out funds individually, it gives the appearance of impropriety.
“The time has come to hold ourselves to a higher level of accountability,” he said. “[The allocations] can give the appearance of using taxpayer funds to improperly provide a personal or political benefit to the donor supervisor, no matter how worthy the recipient of these funds may be.”
Requests for allocations are present on nearly every board agenda and voted on, usually unanimously, with little or no discussion at each meeting. (See Tuesday’s list on the board agenda and blogger Al Alborn’s comprehensive list from last year, which he said he cut-and-pasted from board agendas).
Candland said that all funds should be subject to the normal budget process. Board Chairman Corey A. Stewart (R-At Large) said during the meeting that Candland’s request would be taken up at the board’s next meeting, scheduled for June 5.
The practice became the subject of controversy this year when Supervisor W.S. “Wally” Covington III (R-Brentsville) considered allocating $100,000 to Rainbow Therapeutic Equestrian Center, a charity in which Covington and his wife have been involved. After an objection from Supervisor Frank J. Principi (D-Woodbridge), the request was withdrawn.
The organization has made a separate $178,000 request that county supervisors will take up in August.
At a forum on the discretionary funds issue in February, Principi defended the practice, saying it gives supervisors flexibility to respond to crises big and small. He said he spends just 3 percent of his district funds on outside nonprofits. Most of the money, he said, is allocated for office costs to serve his constituents.
Last September, supervisors were able to dip into those funds to react quickly after floods inundated Holly Acres Mobile Home Park, leaving dozens homeless, he said at the forum.
Alborn, a conservative activist and blogger, said Tuesday that Candland was the first in the history of the board to make a formal motion to do away with the practice.
Alborn said he has long campaigned against using discretionary funds for non-profits and charities because organizations often give supervisors individual credit for using taxpayer funds — and supervisors benefit politically by being associated with their causes.
“We the taxpayers shouldn’t be subsidizing perpetual campaigns,” Alborn said. He also criticized supervisors giving money directly to schools and school-related causes when the majority of the county’s budget is given to the school system in its budget process.
“Supervisors go around that routinely, totally ignoring the School Board,” Alborn said.
After Candland, it was Supervisor John D. Jenkins’ (D-Neabsco) turn to speak Tuesday afternoon. He asked that $500 from his district fund account be placed on a subsequent agenda for the Castaways Reportory Theatre.
For more on supervisors’ discretionary funds, see Tom Jackman’s previous post, which has totals for each supervisor and where some other supervisors stand on the issue.