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Fairfax may have to cut social services

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Local,Virginia,Aubrey Whelan

Funding for social services in Fairfax County has been dwindling for years, but the county's Community Services Board resisted slashing programs to make up for the losses.

Now the services board faces a $9.4 million budget shortfall and the ire of county supervisors, who are fuming that the agency didn't warn them earlier about the impending financial woes.

State funding for social services has been dropping since 2008, but not until this year did the board seriously consider reducing services to the county's homeless and mentally disabled.

County supervisors, who learned earlier this year just how serious the funding shortfalls had grown, are now at odds over what to do about the services the board.

The county has already set aside another $4 million in its 2013 budget to bail out the struggling agency, but more may have to be done.

Springfield Supervisor Pat Herrity proposed auditing the services board and investigating how it collects insurance fees for the Infant & Toddler Connection program that helps developmentally delayed kids. But Dranesville Supervisor John Foust, who heads the county board's audit committee, called Herrity's request "inappropriate."

Supervisors, too, are reluctant to begin slashing social services. The service board's problems are the result of decreasing state funding and insurance company revenues, not mismanagement, they said.

"I don't think you're going to see the board looking at how you're going to make the long-term cuts," said Lee Supervisor Jeff McKay. "What we need to do is a combination of efficiencies -- looking at eligibility and enrollment criteria."

George Braunstein, the services board's executive director, said his agency relied on hiring freezes and outside funding to stay afloat over the past several years.

Now, the agency is faced with what Braunstein calls "a perfect storm." Its efforts to work around the reduced funding fell short this year, and a slew of services could be nixed within the next year, he said.

The services board will hear comments from residents on the proposed cuts next Monday, including whether to close mental-health facilities and slash youth programs.

Braunstein said the agency opted not to start cutting services when money funding began to dwindle four years ago because the recession meant more Fairfax residents would need those services.

"The last thing you want to do is end a service that ends up being a higher priority," he said. "Politically, it would have fit the tenor of that time. But from the standpoint of the needs I was seeing, if we could find an alternative way, it didn't make sense to close."

awhelan@washingtonexaminer.com

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