Top

Proposed Senior Assist Cuts Trouble Fairfax Supervisors







Budget Cuts to Hurt Vulnerable, Gross Says


As Falls Church and Fairfax County residents went to their mailboxes this week to learn just how far the assessed value of their homes dropped over the past year, Fairfax’ County Manager Tony Griffin proposed a $3.3 billion county budget that would cut vital county social services and keep school funding even with last year despite an expected 5,500 increase in student enrollment.

The budget proposal, reflecting the global recession and the collapse in residential real estate values throughout the county, also dispels any hopes that the lowered home values would result in lower real estate taxes for the coming fiscal year that begins July 1, as Griffin proposes raising the tax rate from 92 cents per $100 assessed valuation to $1.04, the biggest single year jump on record, to keep the net revenue from real estate taxes equal to this year’s.

Cuts in Griffin’s budget include the following: elimination of one lunch per week at all county senior service centers, elimination of the “Seniors on the Go” program providing discounted taxi coupons to seniors, closing of a mental health clinic in Chantilly, of the Groveton Senior Center, the David R. Pinn Community Center, and closer to Falls Church, of the Annandale Adult Day Care Center.

It also calls for the closing of county community libraries in Fridays, and includes personnel cuts in police and fire services, including the removal of public safety officers from the Tysons Corner, Fair Oaks and Springfield shopping malls.

Mason District Supervisor Penelope “Penny” Gross, in an interview with the News-Press yesterday, said the cuts will inflict significant harm and that she, and others of her county board colleagues, are particularly troubled by the cuts in services to senior citizens.

She cited, in particular, the proposal to shut the Annandale Adult Day Care Center, which is in her district. Gross commented more on the proposed budget in her own weekly column, exclusively in the News-Press, on page 13 of this edition.

Annandale experienced one of the highest declines in home values of any sub-region of Fairfax County, a 17.34 percent drop from a year ago. In the third quarter alone last year, the 20170 zip code in Herndon saw values go down an incredible 37.96 percent, the 20124 zip code of Clifton, down 24.53 percent, the 20151 zip code of Chantilly, down 23.11 percent, the 20190 zip code of Herndon, down 20.92 percent and the 20121 zip code of Centreville, down 19.10 percent. Assessed values in the Lorton section of the county are also reportedly down 21.47 percent over a year ago.

By contrast, values in the 22046 zip code of City of Falls Church were down 11.31 percent in the third quarter of 2008. Between the second and third quarter of 2008, the average price of a single family home in Falls Church declined from $713,900 to $567,700, according to the Metropolitan Region Information System (MRIS).

According to the S&P/Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price Index report yesterday, the national average home price dropped a staggering 18.2 percent during just the final quarter of 2008, the biggest annual decline in the index’s 21-year history.

It cited the opinion of Stuart Hoffman, chief economist for Pittsburgh’s PNC Financial Services Group, who said that home prices will “probably fall for years to come, though the declines will get smaller and smaller.”

Fairfax new board of supervisors chair, Sharon Bulova, delivered her first public briefing last week to a luncheon of the Merrifield Business Association at the Fairview Marriot in Falls Church, and before her remarks, she was told by the director of the Food for Others food bank in Merrifield that demand for food assistance was up by 75 percent over a year earlier.

Her remarks came just days before Griffin officially released his recommended budget on Monday, but she could clearly see what was coming, and noted that Griffin’s budget is only “the beginning of the budget process,” with an array of town halls and public hearings scheduled during the period that the county board will deliberate and finally vote on its budget at the end of April.

She also said that federal stimulus money could be available fast enough to allay some of the worst operational budget cutbacks, especially in the areas of education and public safety, but that specifics on that a simply not yet available.

She said the county’s decline in real estate values in the past year “has never been seen before,” and that “never in my lifetime” has she seen conditions so bad for the county budget. She was first elected to the county board in 1987, and named head of the budget committee during the recession of the early 1990s.

She suggested the budget would try to maintain programs aimed at assisting the most needy, as the need for such services will escalate as unemployment rises in the coming year.