Several weeks ago, the chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, reacting to worsening economic conditions, advocated immediate one- to 2-percent across-the-board cuts in county programs, ignoring the fact that some portions of our budget cannot be cut -- debt service, contracts and leases, for example -- and that other expenditures, such as transportation, clearly require more, not less, money. In addition, state-mandated expenditures for education and human services cannot be significantly reduced by the board.
Although a reduction in expenditures is long overdue, the board rejected chairman Audrey Moore's shotgun approach to cost-cutting in favor of allocating money among the county's programs according to changing needs.
Two priorities for Fairfax are education and transportation, both critical to its continued prosperity and economic well-being. In 1980, the county funded 59 percent of the school system's budget. State and federal retrenchment in education funding coupled with unfunded state mandates has resulted in a system that is now 72 percent county funded.
The transportation needs of Fairfax must also be met by additional county revenues, with greater emphasis on regional cooperation and innovative mass-transit systems. We also face rising public employee benefit costs, dramatic increases in immigrant populations without commensurate federal or state assistance and the effects of possible increased energy costs.
Given this evolving economic equation, the next board of supervisors must:
Eliminate pet programs and nonessential expenditures.
Eliminate nonessential debt until the economic and budgetary picture becomes clearer. Items "cut" from last year's budget that are now reappearing -- such as bond issues for storm drainage and new trails -- must be deferred. It is important to point out that the board has authorized more debt in the past three years than in the previous 20. Meanwhile, the largest bond issue in Fairfax history, the $330 million revenue bond, will not even face voter approval (but will incur a higher interest rate to be paid by taxpayers and delay construction of the parkway).
Examine a new county charter, giving Fairfax residents greater control over their own destiny and less reliance on the state. An elected county executive and county bureaucratic reorganization are essential components of this charter.
Repair and reinvigorate public- and private-sector relationships. Most of the board has been inconsistent in policy toward business, vacillating between enacting higher business taxes while publicly bashing business leaders and renewing its call for business expansion and its opposition to more business taxes. While few companies have been chased out of the county by higher taxes, the board's inconsistency has discouraged investment and encouraged disinvestment.
In spite of the board majority's actions, the county has had some notable successes with public-private sector partnerships. Special tax districts for transportation improvements produced the Route 28 transportation tax district and offer hope for other transportation corridors. The Affordable Dwelling Unit Ordinance provides incentives for the private sector to produce moderate-income housing rather than relying on tax dollars to do the job. Neighborhood Watch, volunteer fire stations, "Adopt a School" and other examples of public-private sector cooperation abound. However, much work is needed to repair relationships among our board, the business community and the General Assembly.
Establish an independent auditor reporting to the Board of Supervisors. The auditor could provide an unbiased perspective on the efficiency of programs and service delivery.
The homeowner and commercial taxpayer are facing a difficult future as the economy slows. The Fairfax community must come together to face difficult economic and planning decisions. One year ago, the board majority supported a county income tax and massive business tax increases while defeating my efforts to return some surplus dollars to taxpayers as part of a residential real estate tax cut. When cutting programs was mentioned, the board chairman became indignant and said that there was no waste and that it could not be done. But there is waste, and it must be done. -- Thomas M. Davis III a Republican, is a Fairfax County supervisor from the Mason District.