Community to comment on proposed service cuts for Fairfax's most vulnerable

Local,Virginia,Aubrey Whelan

Fairfax County's cash-strapped human services agency is preparing to hear public comments on a slew of potential program cuts Monday night -- and locals have said they're worried vital programs for the area's mentally ill, homeless and developmentally delayed face elimination.

But Fairfax supervisors and members of the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board have shied away from the notion that program cuts are imminent -- even though the CSB has indicated it faces a potential $9.4 million budget shortfall in 2013.

"You have your higher elected officials saying no, this is a priority, you cannot cut this," said Lynn Ruiz, the director of community relations at the Arc of Northern Virginia, which serves developmentally disabled Fairfax residents. "But can they help? Can it really be done? You don't want to make the cut, but where's the money going to come from? Someone, somewhere is going to cut it somehow."

The Community Services Board has produced a budget plan that includes drastic cuts to everything from mental health facilities to youth programs. Last week, board members heard emotional testimony from parents and human services advocates who asked the agency to preserve programs they may not be able to afford.

Ruiz's 19-year-old daughter, Lydia, has Down syndrome and will graduate from a vocational program in 2014. But Ruiz says she's worried about the future of programs designed to help residents like her daughter find jobs after leaving school.

"She is one that would fall between the cracks of really, really needing job support," she said. "I will either have to pony up money or leave my job and go home and stay with her."

Fairfax County supervisors have distanced themselves from any proposed cuts. They've gone so far as to develop "boilerplate" statements for irate parents and organizations calling about the reductions.

"We want to make sure we have some consistency in the factual information we're including in responses to people who are contacting us," Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Sharon Bulova said. "What is the reason for the shortfall? It's not because Fairfax County, in our budget that we've just adopted, have cut the CSB."

CSB representatives said they have boilerplate language of their own.

"[CSB Executive Director] George [Braunstein] makes clear when he writes or talks to people who are concerned that what the CSB proposed in its budget management plan is a set of actions that we would be taking in a worst-case scenario," said CSB spokeswoman Belinda Buescher.

Bulova said the agency's funding woes are mostly due to increased demand and decreased state funding and insurance revenues. Supervisors have already agreed to forward $4 million to the cash-strapped agency later this year, but they've been clear that they're concerned about the CSB's plans to cut costs.

Bulova said deciding which cuts to make is up to the agency itself but that the county is "absolutely going to participate in" discussions about those cuts.

"We're concerned about people who are our most vulnerable residents, who need the county's help and need help from the CSB more than ever," she said.

Local government expert Frank Shafroth, the director of George Mason University's State and Local Government Leadership Center, said the county is in a tight spot when it comes to human services cuts.

"We don't think of it happening in wealthier jurisdictions, but the buck stops at local governments," he said. "The board never wants to cut services provided to a citizen in their community and they never want to raise taxes, but it doesn't work that way now."

The agency will hold two more public hearings -- one scheduled for tonight -- on its budget plan before meeting with the county's Human Services Council in July to discuss its options.

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