County supervisors approve budget

Independent Hill Neighborhood Library, where James Moore searches for a book, avoided closure in the final budget.
Independent Hill Neighborhood Library, where James Moore searches for a book, avoided closure in the final budget. (The Washington Post)
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By Jennifer Buske
Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Prince William Board of County Supervisors adopted an $844 million general fund budget Tuesday that restores funding for nonprofit groups and allows all libraries to remain open but still eliminates jobs and halts capital projects.

"It was another tough budget year, but we got through it . . . and we were able to reach across party lines," said board Chairman Corey A. Stewart (R-At Large). "This is something to be proud of. We started the process three years ago when we made hard cuts to the budget, and it prepared us well."

The fiscal 2011 budget is based on a real estate tax rate of $1.236 per $100 of assessed value. The average residential tax bill will rise about 2.5 percent, and commercial tax bills will fall an average of 16 percent. County officials said residential tax bills remain lower on average than those in neighboring jurisdictions, including Loudoun and Fairfax counties. But until more commercial development comes to Prince William, residents will continue to carry the tax burden, Stewart said.

"This is typical for a suburban community," Stewart said, noting that 85 percent of the tax base is residential. "But the only way we can lower tax bills more is with commercial development."

The tax rate is slightly higher than what Prince William County Executive Melissa S. Peacor had proposed, and it gave the board latitude to restore several items Peacor had suggested cutting.

The budget allows Independent Hill and Lake Ridge libraries to remain open and restores funding for four police positions and two deputy sheriff positions. It also avoids a proposed 15 percent cut to nonprofit groups and community organizations that receive county support.

"We have a lot of great charities in Prince William County," Stewart said during a budget markup meeting last week. "I understand the rationale behind the 15 percent cut to nonprofits, but I think it's very clear every dollar spent of county money, they have leveraged [for additional state and federal funds]. I think it would be shortsighted to pursue this cut."

The budget cuts the equivalent of 18.06 full-time positions through the elimination of vacant positions and layoffs -- half of which are coming from the police department and library system -- stalls road and park bond projects not under construction and freezes salaries.

The general fund budget includes a roughly $405.5 million transfer to the county school system to help with its $760 million operating budget and puts about $2.8 million into reserve, a move county officials said is important to maintain Prince William's AAA bond rating.

The general fund, which supports the majority of county services, is part of a $1.7 billion total fiscal 2011 budget that was approved Tuesday. That budget includes all the school system's funds and smaller county funds such as for fire and rescue. The board adopted a fire levy of about 7.6 cents per $100 of assessed value. The levy will generate about $26.6 million for fire and rescue services.

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