Pr. William passes fiscal ‘14 budget; cuts substance abuse program but maintains Columbus Day holiday

April 23, 2013

The Prince William Board of County Supervisors adopted its fiscal 2014 budget Tuesday, but not before some last-minute negotiations due to an unexpected increase in state funds threatened to derail a carefully-crafted compromise.

Ultimately, supervisors voted, 5-3, to adopt a general fund budget of $961.5 million that restored the Columbus Day holiday for county employees, cut a substance-abuse program in the county jail and maintained funds for new voting machines, among other items.

Board Chairman Corey A. Stewart (R-At Large), W.S. Covington III (R-Brentsville) and Peter K. Candland (R-Gainesville) voted against the budget. Candland, however, voted for the real-estate tax rate of $1.181 per $100 assessed, while Stewart and Covington maintained their opposition. Both had sought deeper cuts.

Candland said in an interview his vote was a “protest” because the county allocates its budget based on what was approved for departments the year before, instead of what was actually spent. He said he hopes to change the process in the coming year.

The budget also funded additional School Resource Officers for security at county middle schools and kept the latest school budget request intact by changing the county’s revenue-sharing agreement.

The county usually automatically allocates 56.75 percent of its total operating budget to schools; that percentage was tweaked upward to 57.23 percent to fulfill the schools’ $888 million request.

Stewart disagreed with the change, saying that the county’s revenue split with the school system had worked well for the last 18 years. “You start changing it, and it’s going to start changing every year going forward,” he has said.

The biggest changes Tuesday revolved around an effort to restore funding for the jail’s substance-abuse treatment program and the Columbus Day holiday for county employees, both of which had been cut in initial negotiations.

Supervisors decided to cut the county maintenance program for buildings by $310,000 and its local subsidy to health department employees by $140,000 to fund the Columbus Day holiday for employees.

Firefighters and police officers, among other county employees, inundated supervisors with emails when the holiday cut was proposed. Paul Hebert, head of the Prince William Professional Firefighters association, which advocates for county fire officials, said that the county has had years of cuts due to the recession.

“This would have been yet another cut to employee benefits and compensation,” he said in an interview.

Supervisors used $426,000 in additional state funds that were identified last week to fund three to four additional police officers instead of funding the jail’s substance-abuse treatment program, called the drug DORM (Drug Offender Rehabilitation Module). That brought the total officers to at least 13 for the year.

Cutting the treatment program was over the opposition of the county’s top elected law enforcement officials, Sheriff Glendell Hill (R) and Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul B. Ebert (D).

Seventy-one percent of those who completed the program were not rearrested within three years, according to program data. Judges often reduce jail sentences if inmates complete the program, Ebert said.

However, supervisors said they would try to find additional funds for the program before the fiscal ‘14 budget takes effect on July 1.

Because Prince William budgets in five-year cycles, this year’s cuts also included cuts beyond 2014. The board cut a requested tactical unit of 14 police officers; additional firefighters; a planned expansion of Minnieville Road; and reduced future staffing for the police department from 15 officers per year to 10 officers per year.

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