I believe it is important to clarify certain facts in the controversial study by the Greater Washington Research Center, which projected a $152.4 million budget deficit for Fairfax County in FY 1987. There have been a number of statements made, and editorials written, that suggested my response to this study was inappropriate and failed to address fiscal realities. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The study contained two conclusions or findings that I believe to be either inaccurate or dishonest. The first was that there would be a budget deficit in Fairfax County in FY 1983 and that it would increase through FY 1987. This was based on erroneous financial data. The second conclusion involved the study's recommendation that local governments -- by inference including Fairfax County -- do not plan for the future and should begin to do so by implementing long-range financial forecasting.
An argument might be made for defending the report's long-term projections of revenue, expenditure and deficit totals. Indeed, no one can claim with certainty what the FY 1987 economy holds for local governments.
However, one can state with absolute certainty and accuracy what is true for FY 1983. The research center report understates the county's actual revenues which primarily are based on actual property tax billings for the current fiscal year by $60 million. This is a gross error of fact and contributes significantly to the distortion in the report's future years' projections. Such a major error of fact brings into question the accuracy of the center's data base.
Other mistakes were made in developing the financial data base for Fairfax County, including:
* Exclusion of all tuition reimbursement revenues, primarily those received from Fairfax City.
* Exclusion of all interest earnings in the capital construction funds.
* Inclusion of an expenditure category -- sewer fund personnel costs -- that the authors specifically stated was not included in the study.
* Assumption, in error, that all county bonds would be sold for 10 years; the county's policy clearly is to sell 20-year bonds only. However, assumption of 10- year bond sales requires the further assumption that there will be a more costly accelerated debt payment.
The cumulative effect of these errors is to show the county in a deficit position beginning in the current fiscal year, which began July 1, 1982. In fact, the county has a surplus of revenues over expenditures in the current fiscal year. Moreover, at this time, there does not appear to be any need for a tax rate increase in FY 1984, given the county's commitment to continued prudent fiscal management. The unanimous vote of the board of supervisors and the school board, at the beginning of this fiscal year, made a hard and fast commitment to hold expenditure growth to 5.85 percent for future fiscal planning.
In addition, the county's staff has been directed to maintain the policies that have been instrumental in recent year triple-A bond ratings. These include maintenance of a managed reserve for unforeseen contingencies, a reasonable relationship between net bonded indebtedness and market value of taxable property and restriction on issuance of general obligation bonds so that debt service expenditures are limited to 10 percent or less of total general fund disbursements.
The second issue for specific discussion is the study's recommendation that local governments should develop long-range financial projections. Without question, long-range financial forecasting is an essential tool for sound financial management. Recognizing this fact, Fairfax County in the early 1970s instituted long- range financial forecasting as a management tool. In fact, because Fairfax County has automated its forecasting, the board of supervisors is provided with monthly updates of the county's revenue forecasts.
Fairfax County recognizes that it is facing a time of uncertainty and change. We further recognize that many difficult decisions will be required in the future to maintain the county's excellent financial posture. The county has and will continue to do whatever is necessary to protect the interests of the county taxpayers.
Studies, such as that performed by the Greater Washington Research Center, do not address the difficulty of decision-making, nor do they attempt to portray fairly the positive actions taken by local governments to cope with the economic uncertainty. In that respect, such studies constitute a disservice to the area's local governments and elected officials.