Prince William residents protest nonprofit, library cuts

By Jennifer Buske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 8, 2010

Zelda Sligh said she has hit a few bumps in life, but with the help of a Prince William area nonprofit group, she has remained on her feet and kept a roof over her head.

Now, however, she is worried about the future of the SERVE (Securing Emergency Resources Through Volunteer Efforts) shelter in Manassas she calls home as proposed budget cuts threaten nonprofit organizations that receive support from Prince William County.

"We have heard there is going to be a 15 percent budget cut, and hearing that breaks my heart," Sligh told the Prince William Board of County Supervisors on Monday. "SERVE has the resources to help us be successful in life."

Sligh was one of about 30 people who spoke at the public hearing on the county executive's proposed $836 million general fund budget for fiscal 2011. It includes about $38 million in total cuts to the general fund and the schools.

Like Sligh, several others spoke on behalf of some of the 19 nonprofit groups and community organizations that would each take a 15 percent funding cut under the proposed budget. Those cuts are expected to save the county $300,000 in fiscal 2011.

"SERVE has been a lifesaver for me," said Veltrinna Bell, who has lived at the shelter for about three weeks. "They treat you like people and help you get back on your feet. I never thought I'd be homeless . . . but life changes, and I'm grateful to SERVE."

Several speakers Monday also discussed proposed library cuts. Under the county executive's budget, Independent Hill and Lake Ridge neighborhood libraries would be closed, saving about $460,000 annually.

"The libraries are an important facet of this community," said Anthony Foster, a member of the library board of trustees. "For the record, I find the proposal by the county executive's office simply unacceptable. . . . Libraries are more than just a line item on a budget, they are more like investments for our literate and educated community."

Others touted the services of such nonprofit groups as Action in Community Through Service, Project Mend-A-House and the Prince William County Arts Council, which distributes grants to arts and entertainment organizations.

"Prince William County used to mean people who care, and we have wonderful nonprofits in this county . . . that have really worked hard to make this a world-class community," county resident Jean Reynolds said. "I think the supervisors really need to consider what they are doing if they do go through with this 15 percent across-the-board cut."

Reynolds also said she disagrees with a statement by board Chairman Corey A. Stewart (R-At Large) this year that it is an honor to be in a county where the average property tax bill is lower than those in surrounding jurisdictions.

"I don't think it's a badge of honor for Prince William to have the lowest tax rate," she said. "That is not a county that cares. That's not a world-class community."

Resident John Dawson also spoke about the proposed property tax rate of $1.236 per $100 of assessed value. He asked for a way to keep taxes low, especially for those who are living in the mobile home park he operates. He questioned why the county doesn't tax boats or RVs to limit some of the real estate tax burden placed on people he said could use a break.

"These are the people who are out there working, who are cleaning the schools . . . who are taking your trash," he said. "People running this county deserve a break. You give all these other people exceptions. . . . Start charging them."

Supervisors will hold another public hearing at 7:30 p.m. Monday at the James J. McCoart Administration Building, 1 County Complex Ct., Woodbridge. Supervisors plan to adopt a final budget April 27.

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