Part of the two-page "budget simulation" form that citizens can use to show how they would cut, or raise, Fairfax County funds and balance the budget. (Supervisor John Cook)

UPDATE, 3:15 p.m.: The form is now actually interactive, not just a PDF, and numbers can be entered and played with here.

ORIGINAL POST: County budgets are massive, complicated messes. Fairfax County’s budget used to come in giant phone book-like volumes, and now it’s online in a thousand different chewable chunks, but still hard to get your brain around.

But Supervisor John Cook (R-Braddock) and his staff have come up with an easy to understand interactive version of the county budget where you become Ed Long, the Fairfax County executive. The county’s proposed spending is divided into nine manageable areas, such as schools, public safety and salaries, and simplified the dollar figures. You figure out how much to add or cut from each area, then come up with a tax rate that will pay for it all. It’s like “Fantasy County Executive.” Easy, right?

It’s a good primer on how county officials have to manage funds, and Cook is inviting people to fill out their two-page form and send or e-mail it in to him. (It would be easier if you could just click on each box online, rather than using an actual pen and paper, but they’re not there yet, Cook spokesman Charlie Szold said. But you can scan or fax it in.)

This week, Cook’s staff began mailing the “Design Your County Budget” form (game?) to constituents, handing it out at meetings and distributing the link online. “Here’s your chance to show us what you’d change,” Cook wrote in a cover letter for the “budget simulation.” Szold said suggestions sent in by April 8, before the public hearings on April 9, 10, and 11, will be compiled for guidance, though not binding.

The simulation is here. And here is a very good eight-page “Citizen’s Guide” to the Fairfax County budget which provides a handy summary of County Executive Ed Long’s plan, where the money comes from and where it’s supposed to go. The bottom line is that the county’s tax rate is proposed to rise two cents, from $1.075 to $1.095 (per $100 of assessed valuation), which will cost the average county homeowner an extra $262 in taxes.

Can you do better?