Loudoun administrator presents proposed $1.98 billion spending plan

Loudoun County Administrator Tim Hemstreet last week presented the Board of Supervisors with a proposed budget totaling $1.98 billion for the upcoming fiscal year — a spending plan that would leave county public schools facing a potential shortfall of about $40 million.

The presentation Wednesday came just hours before the county School Board adopted a $949 million budget for the 2014-15 academic year. The School Board trimmed about $2.7 million from the $952 million spending plan proposed last month by outgoing Loudoun School Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick III, a significant pivot from the previous two budget cycles, during which School Board members voted to cut more than $12 million from Hatrick’s proposed budget before sending it to supervisors for review.

Following supervisors’ directions, Hemstreet prepared the county budget assuming an equalized real property tax rate of $1.155 per $100 of assessed value, which would mean that the average Loudoun homeowner would not have an increase in real property tax.

But at the $1.155 rate, Hemstreet acknowledged that the school system would be left with a sizable funding gap. He recommended that the board ask the School Board for more detailed information about how the school budget would be affected at different funding levels, ranging from the equalized rate of $1.155 and the advertised tax rate of $1.215.

“In order for the Board of Supervisors, the School Board and the public to engage in the dialogue appropriate to balance needs with resources, additional data should be requested, or existing data reformatted and provided by the school system that gives insight as to what can be accomplished on a programmatic level through options at different tax rates,” Hemstreet said in his presentation.

The county’s current advertised tax rate is well above the equalized rate, at $1.215, Hemstreet said. That number represents the maximum possible funding level that supervisors could consider, affording them flexibility to determine if and where to increase or lower costs. At the advertised rate, the county would potentially have enough revenue to fund the School Board’s adopted budget.

The plan adopted by the School Board includes salary increases for school employees, an expanded full-day kindergarten program and a reduction in the number of students in elementary classrooms.

Supervisors will meet with the School Board on Feb. 18 to review the proposed operating budget and capital program, officials said.

Hemstreet said the proposed budget focuses on the board’s strategic priorities, including development and transportation projects, and also continues a pay-for-performance plan for county employees, enhances public safety services and protects human services safety-net programs.

“I believe the plan I am presenting today reflects the board’s commitment to providing quality services through open, accountable, efficient and responsive government,” Hemstreet said.

The proposal also reflects a positive economic outlook for the county, with property values having increased by more than 8 percent in the past year, Hemstreet said. Those values are projected to increase by more than 5 percent in the coming year, he said.

Supervisors will determine the final tax rate and related spending decisions during budget work sessions next month, with adoption of the budget expected by April 2, county officials said. The personal property tax rate of $4.20 per $100 of assessed value would remain unchanged under the proposed budget.

Residents will have a chance to comment on the proposed budget at several public hearings, scheduled from 3 to 5 and 6 to 10 p.m. Feb. 26 at the Loudoun Government Center, 1 Harrison St. SE, Leesburg. If additional speakers want to comment, a follow-up hearing will be from 6 to 10 p.m. Feb. 27. A final public hearing is set for 9 a.m. to noon March 1 at the School Administration Building, 21000 Education Court, Ashburn.

Residents can also present feedback on the budget during regularly scheduled public hearings and can e-mail comments to supervisors at loudounbudget@
loudoun.gov
or mail them to the Board of Supervisors, 1 Harrison St. SE, Fifth Floor, Mail Stop 01, Leesburg, Va. 20175. Residents can also leave a message on the supervisors’ comment line, 703-777-0115.

Caitlin Gibson covers Loudoun County for The Washington Post.
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