The economy may be improving a bit, but the county budget picture is not getting any better, County Executive Ed Long told the Board of Supervisors and School Board Tuesday.
Based on current revenue projections and necessary spending increases, the county is facing a $169 million shortfall for fiscal 2014 and a $274 million shortfall for fiscal 2015, Long said. The revenue picture could get even worse, depending on how Congress deals with—or doesn’t deal with— the federal budget issues.
Fairfax County Public Schools is also projecting a $94 million budget gap of its own if it doesn’t get any additional funding from the county, primarily due to projected enrollment growth, according to Superintendent Jack Dale. Any increase in schools spending would mean more cuts in other areas of the county budget.
However, although the next few years will be difficult, Long continues to remain bullish on the Fairfax County economy in the long run, citing the arrival of the Silver Line and redevelopment in Tysons Corner, Merrifield and Springfield.
“The developers have confidence that we in the county are going to take off sooner than other parts of the country,” Long said, noting that the county is seeing some speculative building of office space that it hasn’t experienced for years.
Both Long and Dale said they are exploring every possible option for cutting costs in a way that minimizes the impact on services. However, after years of tight budgets, that is increasingly difficult, Long said.
“Our primary means of addressing this budget gap is service reductions,” he said.
County budget staff are soliciting input from all corners of the community on what programs and services the county might be able to live without for a couple years, and which are most important to county residents. Anyone can submit feedback via fairfaxcounty.gov/dmb
Long has also asked county agencies to propose how they would deal with a 5 percent budget reduction and is taking an across-the-board look at big ticket items, such as restructuring the employee compensation system.
“We want to make sure we turn over every rock,” Long said. “Any idea that anyone has, I’m asking for them to send it to us.”
On the schools side, Dale said Fairfax County Public Schools is undergoing a comprehensive efficiency review through a state program, for which the school system has been on a waiting list for some time. He hopes this will identify at least $10 million in cost savings.
The school system is also out of easy fixes, Dale said. There are already some indications that the budget pressures are affecting student performance, he said. The gap in reading test scores between black and Hispanic students versus their white and Asian peers, which had been shrinking, leveled off during the years the school system had to suspend summer school.
Long will propose his fiscal 2014 county budget in February, and Dale will present his fiscal 2014 budget to the School Board in January.