Supervisors include raise in budget

The Prince William Board of County Supervisors slipped in a pay raise for themselves in a preliminary budget agreement that also added money for indigent hospital care, a pilot program for expanded county retirement benefits and additional aid to cash-strapped non-profit organizations.

The eight-member board will get 2.5 percent pay raises the next four years. The raise applies to the next slate of supervisors elected in November because state law does not allow a county board to give itself a raise.

The county chairman’s current salary is $41,000 and the other seven members get paid $36,000.

County supervisors held off on trying to find cuts to lower the tax rate beyond the $1.16 after saying earlier this month it would likely fall.

“I’m not happy we’re going to be at a $1.16 rate,” said Supervisor John D. Jenkins, D-Neabsco, but looking at the items added Tuesday to the budget and promises by the School Board that they “scrubbed” as hard as they could for cuts, he acknowledged he didn’t have the votes to take it lower.

“The federal cuts and the state cuts that we’ve had have put us in a bind,” he said.

Prince William agencies absorbed $1.6 million in state revenue reductions this year and the budget made up $276,000 in state cuts.

One penny on the real estate tax rate equates to $2.7 million in revenue.

Real estate revenues fund two-thirds of the county’s $600 million general fund, which sends approximately $300 million to the schools operating fund of $555 million.

The total county budget on paper is $1.3 billion with the two operating funds plus debt service, levies for fire and rescue and gypsy moth and mosquito control and — because of accounting requirements — fund transfers that get double counted and several years of capital improvements lumped into one year’s budget.

Supervisors said they shaved 7 cents off the real estate rate, which against higher assessed home values is an effective tax increase of 9 percent.

But supervisors said it costs money to add all the schools, roads, police, fire and other infrastructure going into the county, which grew from 215,686 residents in 1990 to 280,813 in 2000 but faced revenue shortfalls in the early 1990s the budget has just now made up for.

“I do believe this county is in the best financial condition in its history,” said board Chairman Sean T. Connaughton, R-at large. “We are making this county a better place with this budget.”

County staff receive an average raise of 6.5 percent, of which 3 percent is a market adjustment, and the board directed staff to develop enhanced retirement health insurance benefits to bring the county more in line with area jurisdictions. Set aside was $750,000 for the benefits that if phased in would go first to police officers followed by sworn fire and rescue personnel.

The Prince William County Park Authority will get no county funds next year if it builds a driving range at Lake Ridge Park, according to proposed budget language.

Also sought is an allowance for senior citizens on fixed incomes to defer higher tax payments or pay in installments without interest, but the county attorney said this may not be allowed under current state law. Staff will come back with a recommendation Tuesday when the final budget is approved.

The county’s two hospitals had requested $1 million this year to help with the costs of indigent care. The budget includes $100,000 for each hospital.

The performing arts group Vpstart Crow got a one-time infusion of $25,000 and $10,000 in continuing funding.

Other additions: $600,000 for human service non-profit groups that could be impacted by lower donations; $50,000 for Northern Virginia Family Services pharmacy program; $50,000 for the cooperative extension to offset state cuts; $40,000 for the American Red Cross; $30,000 for a western county primary health care van; $20,000 for the Prince William Symphony; $900 for the Dumfries neighborhood library sign; and $800 for a television at the Adult Day Care Center.

Staff writer Chris Newman can be reached at (703) 878-8062.

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