State cuts put city in tight spot

Manassas officials are taking a wait-and-see approach as the state begins to make budget cuts affecting almost every aspect of government services.

Gov. Mark R. Warner announced $858 million in spending cuts Tuesday, laying off 1,837 state workers at the same time. The cuts were meant to help close a $1.5 billion revenue shortfall in the state budget.

On average, state agencies were told to reduce spending by 11 percent. The state’s constitution prevents the governor from cutting more than 15 percent without the General Assembly’s permission.

Manassas City Manager Lawrence Hughes believes funds for local governments will be among the first things state legislators will cut when they revise the state budget in January.

“What (the governor) says is just the beginning. Shoes will keep on dropping throughout the General Assembly,” he said.

At this time, the city is forecasting a 10 percent loss in funding from the state. City departments have been told that local funds will not be used to make up for the money the state holds back.

In the present round of cuts, only a few aspects of state government, such as public safety and K-12 education, were spared major cuts.

Starting Nov. 6, Department of Motor Vehicle centers will be closed Wednesdays. State ABC stores will reduce their operating hours.

In Manassas, Jim Oliver, the city’s social services director, is still trying to determine how state budget cuts will affect his agency. Funding for the state Department of Social Services has been cut 15 percent.

“We haven’t gotten anything down from our state department offering guidelines on what we’re going to have to cut,” Oliver said.

Commissioner of the Revenue John Grzejka plans to drop a service subscription that allows him to compare sales of industrial properties in Northern Virginia. Grzejka’s office is losing about $11,000 of the more than $98,000 it receives from the state.

“Those owning industrial property in the city won’t be happy. I’ll have one less tool to support my valuing of property that they own,” Grzejka said.

With the Virginia Department of Aviation reducing aid to local airports by 15 percent, Manassas Regional Airport will have a tough time getting funds for new building projects, said Juan Rivera, the airport’s director.

At an August convention, state administrators told airport directors that they were freezing all new funding for building projects.

With federal funding likely for a rehabilitation of a runway at the airport, Rivera is confident that the airport will get the $320,000 in state funds it needs for the $7 million runway project.

“As long as we have a few building projects to keep us busy over the next few years, I think we’ll be OK,” Rivera said.

Overall, the city has yet to feel the full brunt of state budget cuts, Grzejka said. But with the General Assembly expected to make more cuts early next year, the worst may be yet to come.

“Hopefully, things will get better by next January. But that’s not likely,” he said.

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