reprinted with permission from the Northern Virginia Journal
May 16, 2003
Northern Virginia Journal
Incompetence, or just stupidity?
By Buzz Hawley and Jim Hyland
The recent decision by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors to close the Hidden Oaks Nature Center in Annandale to the public demonstrates, in a nutshell, the many reasons we need new, responsive leadership on the Board.
Is it incompetence - or just plain stupidity - that this county spent over $200,000 to enhance an education center they now claim they can't afford to keep open?
Or is this just a little election year melodrama in the Board's political soap opera?
One thing is clear: The Hidden Oaks example illustrates not only why the county needs to lower the tax burden on homeowners, but also why it needs to put in place a comprehensive plan to review county spending and the efficiency of county programs.
And these basic responsibilities need to be performed on a constant basis - not just when political pressure puts county waste in the spotlight.
Creation of an inspector general's office would go a long way to meeting these goals. Here's how it could help:
First - Act I: The average tax bill on homeowners in Fairfax County has increased by 54 percent in the last four years - conveniently the same four years this current County Board has been in charge.
At the same time, county spending in Fairfax has gone up seven times the rate of inflation the past three years.
But services in the county have been cut or in some cases eliminated, begging the question: Where is all the money going?
Next - Act II: After four years of essentially ignoring the pleas of homeowners to do something substantial about rising taxes and the budget, the board decides to lower the tax rate by five cents for fiscal year 2004.
Certainly it is just coincidental that this also is an election year.
Nevertheless, the average homeowner still will pay more in taxes in FY 2004, even with the tax rate cut.
To finance the election year rate cut, the Board managed to find over $30 million in budget cuts in just 48 hours - in a budget it already claimed to be bare bones.
But none of these proposed cuts are subject to public hearing before the board, and citizen input on them is minimal.
Then - Act III: Funding is eliminated for the Hidden Oaks Nature Center, a jewel of the Annandale community that has delighted visitors for years, and is just finishing renovations financially supported by hundreds of thousands of your tax dollars.
The board members claim they are merely "spreading the pain" - and use Hidden Oaks to make political arguments about why homeowners can't get more relief from their skyrocketing tax bills.
An inspector general would be independent, and free to review policy and spending decisions like this one without the influence of political pressures.
An inspector general would be well placed to root out waste, fraud and abuse from the county budget, making room for tax relief and funding core programs, such as parks.
Citizens would be able to freely participate in this budget process and would have complete access to the work and findings of the inspector general.
At the end of the day, the men and women we elect to the Board of Supervisors would still make the decisions on funding and programs, but their decisions would be informed by the resources and information obtained by the inspector general, in consultation with citizens.
Situations such as what has happened at Hidden Oaks, where the board makes seat-of-the-pants budget decisions in an election year, would be eliminated.
Given that the county has 11,000 employees, we believe it makes sense to add the office of inspector general to the mix.
Finally, Act IV - The 2003 Elections: You will have your chance to determine the future of Fairfax County, and we hope you will decide that we can and will do better with new, responsive leadership that is accountable to the citizens and taxpayers.
These current board members have had their chance to govern, and they have failed.
Enough is enough.
Buzz Hawley is the Mason District Republican nominee for the Fairfax Board of Supervisors.
Jim Hyland is the Republican nominee for County Board from the Providence District.