Pr. William to Spend $6.9 Million on Crackdown

By Kristen Mack
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 17, 2008

Illegal immigration enforcement will cost $520,000 more than anticipated in the coming budget year because of crowding at the county jail, Prince William County Executive Craig S. Gerhart told supervisors Tuesday.

That raises the cost of the initiative to $6.9 million for the budget year that starts July 1.

The Board of County Supervisors directed police to check the residency status of criminal suspects who they think might be in the country illegally, under a policy that took effect last month.

Not mentioning the recalculated cost of the initiative, board Chairman Corey A. Stewart (R-At Large) praised U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which started expediting the removal of illegal immigrants from the county jail last weekend in response to complaints from local officials.

"They are quickly eliminating that backlog. I want to commend them for that. I expect, as time goes on and Prince William sends a message that it will not tolerate illegal immigrants who commit a crime, the numbers will dwindle," Stewart said, calling the county's stepped-up enforcement a "nominal success."

"We need to give this program a chance to work," he said. "We are blazing a new trail. It's not easy. We need to define ourselves and not let the naysayers define us."

Although the illegal immigrant initiative goes forward, other spending is being cut. As part of his budget recap, Gerhart recommended the board contribute $4.8 million less than originally proposed to the county's "revenue stabilization" reserve fund to make up for its shortfall.

He also recommended tapping into the county's capital reserve fund to pay for a regional public safety communication system. The county has a separate emergency fund for natural-disaster expenses.

"It's unfortunate, but true, that we only get to demonstrate our ability to plan and save when times are bad," Budget Director David Tyeryar said. "Reserve funds are only there once. So when you use them, it limits your flexibility."

The revenue stabilization reserve is accumulated money set aside each year to use in hard times. The fund has $7.1 million.

"It's a prudent thing to retain," Gerhart said. "This is going to get worse before it gets better."

Prince William's reduced revenue is attributed to decreased real estate and sales taxes. "Some of our major revenue categories have seen significant changes," Gerhart said. "We tried to solve for that."

To add to Prince William's woes, the state is sending $1.1 million less to the county. Some road projects will have to be scaled back or eliminated because of the loss of the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority funding. Work on Route 1 will be reduced, and projects on Route 28 and the Prince William Parkway will be removed from the Capital Improvements Program.

"We're not suggesting we slow down" capital projects, Gerhart said. "A small portion of the resources we intended are no longer available to us."

The board is scheduled to mark up the budget next week.

"I'm afraid we'll come in next week blindly," Supervisor Maureen S. Caddigan (R-Dumfries) said. "We need to take ahold of this budget and make it ours."

Supervisors advertised a real estate tax rate of $1 per $100 of assessed value. If adopted, that rate would boost the average homeowner's tax bill by 8.25 percent.

Several supervisors have suggested adopting a lower tax rate. Each penny knocked off the rate equals $5.1 million less in revenue. The board is expected to adopt the budget later this month.

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