Fiscal outlook grim for 2 Fairfax agencies

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By Derek Kravitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 15, 2009

Fairfax County parks and libraries appear to face the deepest budget cuts among county agencies as officials begin the process of slashing jobs and programs next year to make up another projected multimillion-dollar shortfall.

Fairfax County Executive Anthony H. Griffin has asked the Park Authority and the public library system to propose 15 percent reductions in county funding for fiscal 2011, on top of cuts of 15 percent or more this fiscal year. By comparison, public safety agencies, including police and fire services, are looking at reductions of 5 to 6 percent.

"The reality is that there is no requirement or mandate to provide many of the library and park programs being offered like there is with our other services," Griffin said. "Parks and libraries are essentially discretionary programs. And we have to look at it in the context of, if they don't get cut, what does?"

Griffin is charged with drafting a budget that eliminates a projected $315.6 million shortfall, caused in large part by reduced residential and commercial property tax revenue.

Fairfax park and library officials say their budgets account for a relatively small piece of the county's general fund and have been targeted unfairly. Those agencies, along with county schools, are planning an aggressive campaign to stave off the potential cuts.

Parks and libraries together amount to about 2.2 percent of the county's $3.3 billion budget.

For fiscal 2010, the Park Authority has a budget of $175.7 million, including $23.5 million from the county general fund. The authority faces a $3.3 million reduction in funding from that source next year.

The library system has a total budget of $33 million, including $28.4 million from the general fund. Library officials are looking at a cut of $3.4 million.

To adjust to the cut, Fairfax's libraries would probably eliminate at least 70 positions and reduce operating hours for the second consecutive year, perhaps closing entire library branches Fridays, officials said.

Park Authority officials said they would have to forgo upkeep on thousands of acres of parkland and sports fields and might have to increase fees, including the unpopular $4 entrance fee that went into effect this past summer at four water parks. More than 50 positions would be eliminated, and the Martin Luther King Jr. swimming pool, an outdoor facility in the Alexandria area, and the fitness center at the Fairfax County Government Center would probably be closed, they said.

"When we do make cuts, they're pretty permanent," said William G. Bouie, chairman of the Park Authority's board of directors. "It is very discouraging that we are being looked at again for cuts because we certainly believe that parks are not discretionary and that they are a fabric of our community."

County parks and recreation centers had about 17 million visitors last year, officials said.


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