Prince William officials paused last week to reshuffle scant resources at the halfway point of the worst fiscal year in recent memory.
Between state cuts and reduced tax revenue, the county will receive $9 million, or 3 percent, less money than the officials anticipated. At the same time, demand for human services has risen as the economy has slumped, and other county programs ranging from commuter buses to the county Sheriff's Office needed emergency infusions of cash.
January traditionally is the time when Prince William officials take a second look at the budget and allocate leftover money to cope with unanticipated needs. This year marks the first time in recent years that the supervisors had to slash the budget rather than add to it.
County Executive James H. Mullen recommended, and the Board of County Supervisors unanimously approved, plans to slash the budgets of the development-related agencies, hold positions open and delay or scrap several major building projects to eliminate the deficit.
But the supervisors did agree to finance $572,000 in new programs and transfer $567,000 from less-important projects to those that desperately need money.
"Agencies didn't request as much this year," said budget officer Kathy Lueckert. "We kind of sent the word out: Don't ask."
Most of the $9 million revenue shortfall stems from the development slump or unexpectedly low business and sales tax revenue, Lueckert said. Fees from development permits will bring in $6.3 million this year, instead of the expected $11 million, and business license taxes will be $1.5 million, or 22 percent, short of what was expected. Sales tax revenue will be $1 million, or nearly 6 percent, less than expected.
But real estate and personal property taxes, which pay for nearly 70 percent of Prince William's budget, will bring in slightly more than anticipated.
Prince William officials have been gradually shifting resources to cover the shortfall. The county saved more than $4.2 million by delaying plans to purchase land for a new jail and choosing not to sell bonds last fall. Mullen also saved money by scrapping plans to renovate the Central Library in Manassas and to expand the Juvenile Detention Home.
Similarly, the development agencies, primarily the Planning and Development Administration, have cut $2.2 million out of their budgets to compensate for the drop in development permit fees. Agency employees also are being shifted to positions elsewhere in county government to reduce expenses further.
At the same time, the Social Services Department, which has seen its caseload rise rapidly, received authority to hire 14 workers to process new applications. The department also increased the funding for foster-care and day-care programs by $111,500, and the supervisors gave the agency $132,900 for transitional housing for homeless families in Woodbridge.
The Community Services Board received permission to hire a consulting psychiatrist to fill in while the agency seeks a replacement for the staff doctor who quit.
The supervisors also approved funding additional overtime for workers in the Juvenile Detention Home and for pretrial warrant servers in the Sheriff's Office.
Rising gasoline prices prompted the supervisors to set aside $169,000 for fuel, and the county added nine routes to the commuter bus system. The supervisors also approved $50,000 for recycling bins.
The supervisors accepted most of Mullen's recommendations without comment, but several questioned a $25,000 grant for Little League tournaments.
"I have heartburn over that," said Board of Supervisors Chairman Robert L. Cole (D-Gainesville). "Two years ago they asked for $5,000. I feel like we're being abused."
The board unanimously approved the grant after Supervisor Edwin C. King (D-Dumfries) directed the county government to work with the Park Authority to reduce the tournaments' cost.