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Some unspent Fairfax funds going to workers, schools

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors agreed Tuesday to direct a sizable part of the county's unspent funds from the previous fiscal year to its employees by paying a little more of their current health-care premiums, contributing to their pensions and boosting planning staff.

Board members characterized the measures as modest but overdue benefits for about 12,000 county employees whose pay has been frozen for two years.

The board, as expected, also grudgingly agreed to give an additional $1.3 million to the public schools' Priority Schools Initiative. Although supervisors said they think the program is worthy, they reiterated their dismay at the way the Fairfax County School Board and Superintendent Jack D. Dale had handled the request for additional funds. The supervisors think the school system manipulated the budget process and public opinion to squeeze extra money out of the county -- an allegation that has been denied by school officials.

Supervisor Jeff C. McKay (D-Lee) called the schools' handing of the request a "debacle," while several other members criticized the school district for its opaque budgeting habits and stinginess about sharing public information with them.

"I can get more information talking to a wall than I can asking questions in those meetings," Supervisor John C. Cook (R-Braddock) said, referring to joint meetings between the supervisors and the school district.

Similarly, the supervisors also agreed to commit approximately $674,000 to hire seven full-time county planners, thereby freeing up as many staffers whose time has been taken up with the massive redevelopment of Tysons Corner -- but not without gently lecturing County Executive Anthony H. Griffin about their reluctance to use the so-called carryover funds to hire new people.

The county, with $59.2 million in carryover funds to work with, also elected to use about $10 million to continue overhauling a computer system that tracks budgeting, purchasing, pay and personnel data. In using the unspent funds, the supervisors agreed to set aside $15 million for the employer contribution to county employees' pensions in 2012, $7.2 million for workers compensation and $6.5 million for additional administrative costs, including $2.2 million to pay for two health-care premium "holidays" for its employees.

The money would be used to pay for the employees' share for two days' worth of health-care premiums for employees, who pay about $70 a month for individual plans and as much as $340 for family plans. The payments would be made in December.

Almost $24 million, or about 41 percent of the leftover funds, was put in a rainy-day fund in case of further budget shortfalls in a shaky economy.

Cook criticized the board's budgeting priorities, noting that the county agreed to raise a tax - the vehicle registration fee - but still had almost $60 million left over.

The board voted unanimously on how to use the unspent funds.

By Fredrick Kunkle  | September 14, 2010; 2:42 PM ET
Categories:  Fairfax County, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, Fredrick Kunkle  
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