Fairfax County government communicates with its 1.1 million citizens in many ways: through daily news releases, an award-winning Web site, a citizens' guide to the budget, financial and economic reports, an emergency information hot line, kiosks, a weekly agenda of meetings, Channel 16, brochures and newsletters put out by several agencies and county supervisors.
Now comes another strategy that is scheduled to go before the Board of Supervisors tomorrow: a $100,000 annual report on the government's progress in providing services.
"The best way to provide information is in many redundant ways," said the county's public affairs director, Merni Fitzgerald, whose office is requesting the money as part of an ongoing initiative to improve communication. "The more times people hear something, the more chance there is that they'll receive information to empower them to make good decisions."
But several skeptical supervisors say taxpayers may not want to pay for such a vast flow of information.
"You can get a report on pretty much every activity in the county," Supervisor Joan M. DuBois (R-Dranesville) said. "There's so much stuff out there. I, frankly, am not sure it's needed. We're pretty much promoted as it is." DuBois said she would rather see the money -- albeit a sliver of the county's $3 billion budget -- go toward property tax relief.
Funding for the report is included in the annual year-end spending package the board will vote on tomorrow, a total of about $46 million that hasn't been spent.
Fitzgerald said no decision has been made on whether the report would be sent to each home and business in Fairfax, or be limited to distribution in high-traffic public buildings.
"Part of the goal is to make government actions more transparent to the taxpayer," Fitzgerald said.
But Supervisor Sharon S. Bulova (D-Braddock), whose county-funded "Braddock Byline" newsletter is a staple of local news for her constituents, said the report "sounds to me like it could be a redundant document."
County officials describe the communications initiative as a proactive effort to give their government more of an identity to residents. Agencies that rarely interact are working together to get messages to the public, and employees are following uniform guidelines for answering phones and writing newsletters, for example.
The cost so far has been in staff hours. The annual report would be the first major expense.
The document would show the county's "effectiveness in providing services," including comparisons with the success of neighboring cities and counties at providing the same service, according to a description in the list of year-end spending priorities. It also would highlight "initiatives relating to the board's priorities," which include more affordable housing and transportation improvements.
In other words, a report card that one Republican supervisor predicted would be glowing, just in time for the board's Democratic majority to gear up for reelection in 2007.
"You don't think it's ever going to say that we've done anything ineffectively?" asked Supervisor Michael R. Frey (R-Sully), one of the three Republicans on the 10-member board. "This is nothing but county funding for a political propaganda piece to promote . . . the board's majority."