Loudoun County Administrator Tim Hemstreet has presented the Board of Supervisors with a proposed $1.8 billion budget for fiscal 2014, a plan that would preserve core government services and allow for limited enhancements but that could leave county schools with an $18 million shortfall.
Supervisors recently backed away from their initial goal of lowering the real property tax rate by about 3 cents by trimming only the school budget. Instead of reducing the tax rate, supervisors directed Hemstreet to prepare a budget that would maintain an equalized tax rate, meaning average taxpayers would see no change in their bills.
In presenting the budget plan Wednesday, Hemstreet said that the most current information about property tax values indicated that the advertised rate of $1.23 per $100 of assessed value, previously estimated to be the equalized rate, would actually result in about a 1 percent increase on most tax bills and would yield an additional $15 million to $20 million.
With the added revenue, supervisors could conceivably close the funding gap for the School Board’s proposed $859.7 million budget, or the board could maintain the same level of schools funding and instead reduce the advertised tax rate, Hemstreet said.
Following the direction of the board, 2 cents of the advertised tax rate would be dedicated to local transportation projects and improvements.
Hemstreet set the stage for his presentation by highlighting the state of Loudoun’s economy, which he said is largely positive. Property values have increased more than was initially expected; locally based jobs grew nearly 4 percent over the past 12 months, more than twice the national rate; and Loudoun’s unemployment rate, which is less than 4 percent, continues to be among the lowest in the state and less than half the national rate, Hemstreet said.
He also noted Loudoun’s thriving rural economy, with farm industry gross sales totaling about $68 million annually, as well as the continued rapid growth of the county population.
As the population continues to grow, Hemstreet said, it becomes more necessary for the county to invest in public safety and human services, and to keep pace with the needs of an evolving community.
The spending plan includes some enhancements, focused primarily on new facilities and meeting “core operational needs,” Hemstreet said. The budget would also provide a 3 percent, performance-based raise for county employees, who have had increased workloads and reduced take-home pay in recent years.
Even with the proposed enhancements, Hemstreet said, the budget is focused on core necessities: 86 cents of every dollar of local tax funding would support schools, capital projects, debt service and public safety.
Hemstreet also addressed the proposed fiscal 2014 Capital Improvement Plan, which includes $260.7 million for general government projects and $13.95 million for public schools. Transportation infrastructure projects make up the bulk of the government spending, with $40 million for Dulles Corridor Rapid Transit, $107 million for roads and $1.2 million for transit buses and facilities.
Regarding school expenditures, $9.3 million would fund additions to Mercer Middle School and Freedom High School, and $4.63 million would pay for upgrades to high school athletic facilities, including artificial turf at two high schools.
Other sizeable public safety projects include $7.8 million for the construction of the Ashburn Sheriff’s Station, $4.9 million for the Emergency Communications/911 Center and $36.5 million for the Dulles Multipurpose Center.
The board will have several public hearings on the proposed fiscal 2014 budget. The first hearings are scheduled for 3 and 6 p.m. Feb. 27 at the Loudoun County Government Center, 1 Harrison St. SE, Leesburg.
An additional hearing, if needed, will be at 6 p.m. Feb. 28, officials said.
A hearing is also scheduled for 9 a.m. March 2 at the Loudoun school administration building.
Residents who want to speak at the hearings may sign up for a slot by calling 703-777-0200.
Comments may be e-mailed to the board at firstname.lastname@example.org; left on the Citizen Comment Line, 703-777-0115; or sent to the Board of Supervisors, P.O. Box 7000, Leesburg, Va. 20177.