Fairfax County officials challenged yesterday a report by the Greater Washington Research Center that predicted the county would have a deficit of $153 million in four years, saying the study was "full of baloney" and contained several "serious flaws."
County budget officials predicted in a report to the Board of Supervisors that the county instead would have a balanced budget in fiscal 1987.
Board Chairman John F. Herrity called the research center study "full of baloney. It's totally not true. It's a dishonest report." Herrity, a Republican, said he challenged Robert McNamara, the former World Bank president who headed the task force that drafted the report, to a debate on the study.
Annandale Supervisor Audrey Moore, however, sided with the research center. "The report very closely reflects what I've been saying for the past two years," she said. Moore, a Democrat who has criticized the county's growth policies, said Fairfax has to "face the possibility" that there is "a potential shortfall, not because the county is mismanaged financially but because of development."
Moore agreed with the research center's conclusion that federal aid cutbacks, Metro transit costs and higher school enrollments may strain the county's coffers.
Philip M. Dearborn, a vice president of the research center and author of the report, said yesterday he believes Fairfax officials had misinterpreted the intent of the report. "The thrust of the project was not to test the financial strength of governments, but to identify the things that would create budget problems for them over the next several years."
Dearborn added that although Fairfax County officials were critical of the report, "I'm delighted" that they are discussing it. "The recommendation was that they take these things seriously and look at them, and that's what they're doing."
Herrity said the county's budget staff had informed the center that there were "errors" in its report after reviewing a draft several months ago. Dearborn said the projections were made last summer, before the comments were received, but he added that all important criticisms, including those from Fairfax officials, were contained in an addendum added Nov. 3.
The county analysis, prepared by County Executive J. Hamilton Lambert, James P. McDonald, deputy county executive for management and budget, and Ilene M. Blake, director of the Office of Management and Budget, criticized the research center report on several grounds. It noted:
* The center's report projected annual increases of 11.8 percent for county employes and 8 to 9 percent for school employes. Board guidelines for fiscal 1984 are 5.9 percent, for fiscal 1985, 6.7 percent, and for fiscal 1986 and 1987, 7.5 percent, according to the county analysis. The research center estimated salaries and wages would cost the county $758.6 million in fiscal 1987, while the county estimated $654.9 million, for a difference of $103.7 million.
Dearborn argued the center's report stated that Fairfax could shave about $37 million off the projected $153 million deficit if it froze nonschool employment at the 1982 levels, and $11 million if it held down fringe benefits. He added that the addendum acknowledged that "Fairfax County is now planning on limited, if any, growth in employment. These policies, if followed, are more conservative than the assumptions used" in the center's calculations.
* The county has a reserve of $11.6 million held as a cushion against future uncertainties. It expects that reserve to total $15.1 million in fiscal 1987. Dearborn said reserves were not included in calculations "because these surpluses represent basic reserves that should be maintained" by the local governments.
* Research center calculations assumed that only 10-year bonds would be sold at an interest rate of 10 percent. The county analysis called the assumption "ridiculous" and said that 10-year bonds have been sold only once by the county. A few weeks ago the county sold 20-year bonds at a rate of 8.7 percent. The county estimates debt service in fiscal 1987 of $71.8 million compared to the center's estimate of $86.7 million.
Other county criticisms were that the report included the costs of a fully self-supporting sewer system and not the revenues, and that it understated fiscal 1987 revenues by at least $208.9 million.