A citizens committee is recommending that Prince William beef up programs that serve the homeless, people with disabilities, troubled youths and the elderly as officials plot strategies to meet the needs of the fast-growing county.
In its report, to be submitted Tuesday to the Board of County Supervisors, the eight-member panel of experts from a range of social service fields praised the county for serving its needy residents well. But the group, appointed to devise goals for the next few years, noted that the county's growing population of elderly and children could benefit from programs that prevent problems before they start.
"We realized there's a pretty viable system in place, but there are areas where we see room for improvement," said Paul Moessner, a panel member and retired director of Action in the Community Through Service.
The committee also suggests that Prince William combine a handful of programs that serve children into a stand-alone agency. And local officials should develop a computer system for tracking each resident receiving services, so different agencies can coordinate efforts, it suggests.
But the report does not document how many clients are served now by dozens of existing human service programs. It also does not specify how many Prince William residents might not be getting the help they need.
There's no calculation of how much money it will cost, for example, to increase the number of beds for the homeless, expand programs for drug and alcohol abusers by 20 percent and add by a third the number of after-school and summer programs for youngsters.
Those calculations will be up to county officials, who have decided to make human service needs a priority in their next five-year blueprint for Prince William. Human service needs were left out of much of the county's current strategic plan, prompting service providers and some officials to caution that residents who need help could get short shrift.
"Our thinking is, if you don't continue to keep the visibility of what you're doing there, you'll probably spend the money the wrong way or people will fall through the cracks," Moessner said.
Human services programs make up 22 percent, or $48.9 million, of Prince William's current budget, a 9 percent increase over last year's spending, county officials said.