Local Commentary

A Penny for Your Thoughts: News of Greater Falls Church

pennymug

It’s Week 3 of Fairfax County’s fiscal discussions for the proposed Fiscal Year 2011 budget, and it doesn’t get easier with time. Last week’s column highlighted some of the concerns about the school transfer. This week, I will focus on parks and libraries, programs that add to the quality of life we enjoy in Fairfax County.

Fairfax County FY 2011 Budget: Part III

pennymug

It’s Week 3 of Fairfax County’s fiscal discussions for the proposed Fiscal Year 2011 budget, and it doesn’t get easier with time. Last week’s column highlighted some of the concerns about the school transfer. This week, I will focus on parks and libraries, programs that add to the quality of life we enjoy in Fairfax County.

At Monday night’s 15th annual Mason District Budget Town Meeting, several attendees spoke of their desire to see parks and libraries protected from the 15 percent cuts proposed by Fairfax County Executive Tony Griffin. In response to a question, Mr. Griffin noted that, unlike schools and many human services, parks and libraries are not mandated services. They are important amenities for county residents, he said, and, in the current economic downturn, parks and libraries are being used more and more as alternatives for those who do not have any others. Still, he reiterated, he recommended a number of very difficult reductions in the budget, and those to our parks and libraries have to be included.

Residents spoke of their concern that library hours will be cut back, affecting evening and weekend use that families rely on. Fewer hours of service mean fewer youth and adult programs, and a shorter summer reading program. Proposed reductions in library hours mean that regional libraries still would be open seven days a week, but some days they would open from 1 to 9 p.m., and other days 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday hours would be reduced to 1 to 5 p.m. Community libraries might be open from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. on the days that regionals open at 1 p.m., so there would be library service available somewhere, but not necessarily at a library closest to where you live. Fewer hours also means fewer staff and, under the current proposal, library staff might be assigned to two or more libraries in a week. Funny, I thought circulation statistics meant books, not people!

Park advocates also spoke out. One of the proposed reductions is about $450,000 which would eliminate grounds maintenance staff. Further reading of the item reveals that, in addition to less mowing and trail maintenance, all restroom facilities will be closed at 15 park properties. Four facilities in Mason District would be affected: Roundtree Park, Annandale Community Park, and both comfort stations at Mason District Park. The Commonwealth of Virginia tried closing interstate rest stops last year, and is reopening many now because of heavy criticism. Fairfax County should not try to emulate a failed experiment. Closing park restrooms is a non-starter for me, and a short-sighted potential health issue.

Several school advocates pointed out that schools, parks, and libraries closely are connected, and warned that the ripple effect of reductions and closures might not be felt so keenly in the first year. Continued reductions in the out years, however, would be much more dangerous to our children and our quality of life. The fabric of our community would be frayed and full of holes, and it might take a very long time to repair and interweave it again.


Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be e-mailed at [email protected]