This year, Fairfax County will see a new Silver Line train begin operating in Tysons, a $250 million mall redevelopment opening in Springfield and state-funded road improvements countywide, Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Sharon Bulova said in an annual state of the county speech Wednesday.
But with a projected budget shortfall of $25 million and the county’s vaunted school system hurting for money, those successes will be tempered by hard choices that could make 2014 challenging, she acknowledged.
“We are still struggling from the impact of the great recession and what has continued to be a slow and tepid recovery,” Bulova said in the speech that began airing Wednesday on YouTube and the county’s cable Channel 16.
To ease some of that fiscal stress, the county plans to lobby Richmond for more education dollars and funds that could be used for social services, she said, after a press screening of the videotaped address.
The county is also looking for cuts in its next budget, which will be released for public comment next month, Bulova said.
She declined, however, to specify which expenses or services are potentially on the chopping block, adding that “the low-hanging fruit” in terms of cuts has already been plucked in years past.
“It won’t be easy,” Bulova said, predicting intense public reaction if some cherished services, such as libraries, are tapped for spending reductions. “You can reduce so much, and then you find that maybe you’re going too far.”
The video of Bulova’s speech is mostly a primer in county services offered and a celebration of accomplishments achieved during 2013.
Using graphs and charts, it highlighted reductions in crime and homelessness, while boasting about preparations underway for the World Police and Fire Games to be hosted by Fairfax in June 2015. The 11-day event that brings in first responders from 70 countries in an Olympic-style competition is expected to generate $100 million from tourism, Bulova said.
The video also features some new leaders in the county of nearly 1.2 million residents.
In their portion of the video, law enforcement leaders pledged to bring their departments more in synch with Fairfax’s increasingly diverse population, with Asians, Latinos and Middle Easterners the fastest-growing groups.
“I will be out in the community listening and learning and bringing the new ideas as well as any concerns back to the office,” newly elected county Sheriff Stacey Kincaid said, adding that her office intends to recruit more from ethnic communities.
Fairfax Schools Superintendent Karen Garza said she’s developing a long-range strategic plan for the system of 184,600 students.
Garza recently introduced a $2.5 billion budget that calls for a 5.7 percent increase in county funding, or roughly $66 million more than what the county board said it’s prepared to allocate.
“As you know, FCPS is facing some challenges as well,” Garza said, referring to plans to cut 730 staff positions and increase class sizes at all grade levels under the proposed budget.
“We remain committed to work with the community to maintain excellence in the face of our challenges,” she said.
In the video, Bulova thanks Garza, saying, “We look forward to working with you as a partner in the school system.”
After the press screening, the chairman’s remarks about budget talks indicated that, as in years past, 2014 will see some friction between county and school leaders.
“The schools are just not going to get everything that they’ve asked for,” Bulova said, adding that both school and county officials will need to find more places to cut.